Thursday, July 2, 2020

14 years!

As longtime readers know, I started this blog 14 years ago last Friday, June 26, at the age of 18. I was passionate about this place, but it was a lonely effort. Most of my friends had other things to worry about, and they were tired of me ranting in class or at parties or at shows about the Purple Line.

I wish 18-year-old me could see how much things have changed!

BLM protest at Walter Johnson High School
A socially-distanced protest at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, organized by two recent graduates. Photo by the author.
This spring, I've had the chance to meet a number of young people in Montgomery County who are leading the fight for equity and justice in our community, from the MCPS school boundary analysis to over two dozen Black Lives Matter protests that have happened here since May. They live in all parts of the county. They come from a variety of different backgrounds. What unites them is their energy, their persistence, and their willingness to say what needs to be said.

Zoe Tishaev, a graduate of Clarksburg High School, organized a two-hour discussion on exclusionary zoning in Montgomery County called A Legacy of Segregation, where I spoke along with Jane Lyons from the Coalition for Smarter Growth and Planning Board member Partap Verma. You can watch it here:

Last weekend, I had the honor of speaking at a BLM protest at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda organized by Matt Garfinkel and Nat Tilahun, two MCPS grads who understood the power of making yourself heard right here at home.

These are just two examples, but I'm constantly inspired by the hard work of our student activists - and challenged to push harder for what's right. As grown-ups (am I a grown-up yet?) we would do well to listen to them.

Anyway, here's the text of my speech on Saturday. Here's to 14 years of Just Up The Pike, and here's to 14 more years:

Hey! My name is Dan Reed, I grew up in Montgomery County, went to MCPS, graduated from Blake High School. I want to thank Nat and Matt for inviting me here today, and to thank Congressman Raskin and Councilmember Jawando for speaking this afternoon.

The past few weeks, and the past few months, have been hard for all of us. Yet through all of this one thing that gives me hope is discovering that things we assumed to be impossible were, in reality, bent branches ready to break. Put together, we can squint and see little glimpses of a very different world, one where people could have vastly improved lives and we, as a society, can actually make the changes needed to realize them.

Growing up here, I got used to the casual, pleasant bigotry of my friends and classmates and people in this community. I learned where the good and the bad neighborhoods and good and bad schools were, the assumptions about how you’re supposed to talk and how you’re supposed to live, the coded language and dogwhistles and ignorant jokes. We all grew up in this. It took moving away and coming back to realize that Montgomery County has this reputation for tolerance and openness, but doesn’t always deliver.

For the first time, I wonder if we might actually live up to our name. I never thought four weeks ago I would see people march through the streets of Bethesda and Silver Spring and Gaithersburg and White Oak and Damascus in support of Black lives. Over the past few weeks a lot of my white friends have asked me what they can do to help, and I struggled to find an answer.

Marching and protesting is a start. Putting a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard is a starts. Reading books is a start. Supporting black-owned businesses and organizations is a start. The work is doing. I’m a half-black, half-Indian queer person, I don’t speak for everyone, and I can only tell you what I know. But I have a list, and I’ll share it with you. Here are 10 things I am asking you to do:

  1. Listen to Black people. Do not complain that something is just their opinion, that you don’t want to talk about race. If you’re getting defensive, think about why, and listen some more.
  2. Think about the words you use, the way you describe neighborhoods and schools, the way you value or devalue the signifiers of race and class, and where that came from.
  3. Anti-Blackness rolls deep, and with it comes other forms of racism and classism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and ableism. Being anti-racist means deconstructing all of your other biases.
  4. Stop saying “I love diversity, but.” Within that "but" are people's hopes, dreams, and opportunities, and whatever words follow it have the power to extinguish them in the name of your comfort.
  5. Teach your boys, especially, to respect women, to stop saying “that’s so gay,” that spray-painting the N-word on your school is not a joke, and teach them to hold themselves accountable the way everyone else already has to.
  6. Vote in local elections. Donald Trump does not control zoning or schools or transportation, and those are three things that we can directly affect here in our community. Give your voice, and your donations, to candidates who support equity and justice. We have a school board election this November.
  7. Fight for integrated neighborhoods. Montgomery County was built on racist zoning and redlining intended to protect white neighborhoods and wealth from black and brown people. We need to change that. Fight for affordable housing, for getting rid of exclusionary zoning rules, and stop saying Not In My Backyard.
  8. Fight for integrated, equitable schools. School boundaries aren’t the total solution but they’re a start, and it’s time to change them. Tell the Board of Education you want the boundary analysis, and you want schools to have resources based on their needs, not based on how rich the parents are.
  9. Fight for safe streets for everyone. Our roads were built for moving lots of cars, which privileges people with money, but also excludes people who can’t drive or don’t want to drive from fully participating in society, which often means Black lives. 17-year-old Jake Cassell was not Black, but he died on Old Georgetown Road last year because there was no place for him to bike.
  10. Stop making excuses. Share. This is Montgomery County, one of the wealthiest places in the wealthiest countries in human history. We have enough resources to share for you and for your child and for everyone else. We don’t have to treat this as a zero-sum game.
This list, like this meeting today, are a start. I want to believe that this place that raised me and made me who I am is capable of everything we claim to be. It starts today, and it starts with you. Let’s do it.

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