I’ve always been an outspoken individual. Ask anyone that knows me—for better or worse, I don’t shy away from saying how I’m feeling. While I also try to listen, there often isn’t much I hear that can sway me away from certain core values that I hold close. I grew up as an abused gay kid in a tight-knit Pentecostal Christian community, and my history has given me a fire in my belly for justice and an empathetic heart for those who are ostracized and rejected for simply being who they are. So when Trump became President, I knew there would be lots of standing up to be done.
Since Inauguration day I’ve been a part of the Million Woman’s March in DC, the No Wall / No Ban protests at JFK, Cadman Plaza, and Battery Park in New York City, and just a few days ago I marched through Soho up to Union Square, where a small group of protesters were gathering to proclaim “No Hate, No Fear, Immigrants are welcome here.” At each of these various gatherings I felt immense gratitude and respect for all who came out to fight against injustice and bigotry. But while I was deep in these crowds, chanting along, I occasionally found myself retreating, becoming more of an observer, and sometimes when this happened, I saw things that bothered me.
Photos taken from Jonny’s Instagram
For instance, at the March in DC people seemed more interested in taking selfies—myself included—and posting them to social media than being present in solidarity with fellow marchers. At JFK, I saw a protester who appeared to crave crowd control more than he craved the justice we were fighting for. On our march through Soho, as the crowd blocked traffic one protester slammed her hands down on the hood of a yellow cab, pointed at the driver, and proclaimed: “We’re doing this for you! You’re an immigrant!” It was an exchange that made me cringe. When I saw protestors ordering Ubers home from Union Square, I was also confused. I wondered how these people could be fighting for justice on the streets and at the same time giving their business to a company that seems to be in bed with Trump!?
Some might say I want to hold myself and others to a high standard. Perhaps I’m being judgmental. I honestly don’t know, I think I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, but the questions that pop into my head are as follows: Is it fair to ask those who march to always act in ways that reflect the values we’re fighting for? And irrespective of whether we march or not, can we expect ourselves to bring our core values into all we say and do? How close to perfect do we need to be to express outrage when we’re aware of the actions of others that we find horrible and hurtful? Can you unknowingly buy clothing sourced from a sweatshop and march for workers rights? Can you watch Dog the Bounty Hunter and march against racism? Can you give money to a fundamentalist Bible-believing church and still march for science? Is it OK to jokingly call a female friend a disparaging name and then march in DC for equal treatment of woman? Can you buy Kanye West concert tickets and march against Trump? Can you share a meme that softly bullies Trumps 10-year-old son and then speak out against bullying?
I’ve always craved a black and white answer for everything, just as I’ve wanted my heroes to be pure and perfect, but what I’ve started to realize is that these issues are infinitely complex. We need to honor our values and bring them into everything we do, but that doesn’t mean that any of us is perfect, or isn’t going to fuck up. Sometimes compromise is necessary. The reality is that if we have to wait to speak out until we ourselves are without spot or wrinkle, then no one at all would be marching, no one would be calling out injustice. The streets would be empty and evil would prevail.
There is no Perfect Protester. We are all learning and growing. You might be someone who never recycles, or who finds yourself avoiding gay people. You might have voted for Ted Cruz in the primary and feel really stupid about it. You might not feel educated enough about trans people and their rights. You might not know where Russia is on a map. You might do lots and lots of cocaine. And thats all OK. For now.
I’m not writing this article to encourage bad behavior. I’m writing because I think there are still people who want to speak out against today’s injustices, but don’t feel adequate. Some of us still do stupid and hurtful things. Let’s ask everyone to be at their best, as best they can manage, but let’s not beat up on ourselves, or others, when we’re not perfect. We’ll fail miserably. Instead, let’s make a choice to do all we can to live with integrity—always listening and learning and always walking the path to justice and equality. And if you or I fuck up here or there, lets try to learn from it and try to be better. But please don’t let those fuck-ups keep you quiet today. And please, please, please, don’t be a judgmental asshole like I was. As they say in the subways: “If you see something, say something.”
We all want to do good and we all need each others help.
Finally, here is a quote that I love: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” – Voltaire.
Jonny Pierce is the singer in The Drums. Follow him on Twitter.
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