I was struck by how candid and ‘normal’ or ‘average’ David Hilliard came across when speaking and telling his story of the Black Panther Party. He was so personal with his descriptions, and at times, so scattered that it reminded me of listening to a story told by one of my grandparents. It occurred to me that if he appears so ‘normal’ and ‘average’ – would I have listened to his message without knowing who he was? Or would I have dismissed him as another random, passionate, radical that lives in Oakland? That makes me wonder – I always assumed when I read about the civil rights movement in high school that I would have picked up a sign and rallied the masses, but would I really?
In the moment of a great movement does anyone recognize it? I asked David if he recognized at the time how much power he had, or if he only realized his significance in hindsight. He explained the movement happened so quickly, they were just a bunch of kids trying to keep up. I asked what it felt like personally and he said, “Isolating. It’s lonely when your government is waging war against you; when FBI agents bang down anyone’s door who donates a dollar to the cause. No one wants to be around you.”
It made me ask the question to myself – would I recognize a great movement when it was happening? A righteous movement? If the movement looks like what David does –no I wouldn’t recognize it. I would dismiss it and walk on by, much like I do every week when I get on BART. I wonder how many movements I have already missed out on because the person handing out the flyer near the platform didn’t pass my ‘inspection’ or ‘approval’ – because maybe they were not ‘hipster enough’, ‘too black looking’, or ‘too liberal’?
I’m not talking about popular movements, like gay rights or Occupy Wallstreet, not that their work isn’t important, but the cost of being associated is different. Most everyone applauds supporters. What would happen if after you announce your support to the world people suddenly defriended you, both on Facebook and in real life? What if the police began profiling you, harassing you, and routinely finding ways to put you in jail? Would you still support the cause then? Would I still support causes then even knowing I’m called (Isiah 1:17) ? It’s a question worth pondering.