“That felt like a long time – a really long time. Now imagine how that would feel kneeling on someone’s neck.” These words travelled from the head of the protest, paused at the intersection of Monroe and Third Street in downtown Corvallis on Monday evening.
For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, hundreds of people knelt quietly amid a sea of chalk-drawn names. Names belonging to black Americans killed by police officers: George Floyd, Breanna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tamir Rice. Many more were written on the signs of protestors, who graciously shared them with others handed chalk.
Kneeling in the crowd, I watched the traffic light change as birds sang overhead and beads of sweat trickled beneath my sweater – my breath hot and heavy beneath my mask. Sharp asphalt dug deeper into my knees as I took count of the quivering legs in my periphery. Despite my urge to switch positions or remove my sweater, a voice in my head demanded, “You’re going to feel the pain, you’re going to feel the heat.” A moment of discomfort paled in comparison to the 400 years of suffering imposed on black people in America, the so-called “land of the free.”
The irony was not lost on me – of how difficult it was to breath, of how close our bodies were despite a worldwide pandemic that attacks the respiratory system. Clearly, if all 50 states are rallying for black lives amid a killer virus, the demand for justice has reached a tipping point. The fact that the coronavirus has disproportionately affected communities of color as a direct result of systemic racism only solidified my stance.
Though not the largest protest Corvallis has seen since the murder of George Floyd – at the knee of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin – this was the first time marchers took the streets, blocking off traffic from the Courthouse to Monroe, then passing the Law Enforcement Center on the way to the Memorial Union Quad at Oregon State University.
The crowd grew from hundreds to nearly 1,000 as we reached the Quad, our unified voices ringing, “No Justice, No Peace,” “Black Lives Matter,” “Say His Name, George Floyd,” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” – and more.
The feeling was electric.
Speeches were made at the Courthouse at 6 p.m., then at the Quad before the protest’s commencement at around 8:30 p.m. Many questioned a lack of police presence at the start of the evening. However, cop cars were witnessed blocking the streets from vehicles as marching began, and a handful of officers in neon safety vests were spotted, standing indifferently about a block away from the march.
Leading the march was a group of black community members, holding a sign that read, “White Silence is Violence.” The protest was organized by 2020 Corvallis high school graduate Naveah Bray. Bray is enrolled at the University of Portland starting this fall, and expressed the need to organize after attending Portland protests and seeing little turn-out in comparison in Corvallis. This was prior to Sunday’s crowd of over 4,000, and a crowd of 2,000 the week before. Bray said she plans to continue with regular protests, and will be posting flyers via local Facebook Group, Corvallis People.
Some speakers expressed hesitancy at participating in the event, worrying that it wouldn’t draw the crowd or attention that it did. They expressed feeling proud and grateful in the end, thanking all in attendance.
“We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable,” said the first speaker (name unknown). “I don’t know the oppression a woman faces, but I can listen and understand that I don’t understand.”
A second, school age speaker of white ethnicity echoed, “I will never understand, but I will stand.” The young protestor then asked the crowd, “What really brought you here today? Are you here because you’re concerned about racism, or are you here for fear of being called a racist?”
Speakers urged the crowd to take action beyond just showing up for protests and demonstrations. All were encouraged to continue having tough conversations, to reach out and ask questions to the people of color in their communities, and to start with grassroots action that could affect larger change.
Local resources that support Black Lives Matter include: the OSU Women of Color Caucus, Corvallis SURJ, the Corvallis-Albany NAACP, the Bias Petition, Community Action for Racial Equality, and the OSU Black Cultural Center.
The Advocate is seeking multi-media submissions from Corvallis people of color, to be published continuously. Please send personal essays, open editorials, art of any kind, videos, etc to firstname.lastname@example.org. As allies, we are committed to using our platform to raise the voices of our neighbors who’ve personally experienced or have been impacted by systemic racism and recent events. As such, we encourage any and all feedback on how to be the best allies we can be.
By Stevie Beisswanger