We Stand Together

by

07/12/2020

Neighborhood: Astoria

As I approached Astoria Park, I was struck by a wave of incongruities. It was a gorgeous day—the trees lush with leaves, a nascent summer sun beaming from a clear blue sky—but I had to keep it at a distance. I wore a mask for protection from the pandemic, which still loomed despite it being eclipsed by current events. People were gathering for the first time in months, but it wasn’t to enjoy the weather. Instead, it was an outpouring of anger, frustration, and pain over the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and so many others at the hands of police.

Conflicting images and emotions roiled within me as I walked to the meeting spot, and I listened to Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” on a loop to self-soothe. I wanted it stuck in my head. I wanted it to remind me that we’ve been here before—that we have succeeded in the past.

Not far into the park, I started to see people, clusters of them, holding makeshift signs, masks covering their faces, walking together. I followed, my shyness forcing me to keep a distance, the weight of what I was feeling forcing me to avoid eye contact. I looked around and saw we weren’t many—75, maybe 100 of us. “It’s gonna be a small one,” I thought.

Then, I heard the chanting. I turned and saw more people, a few hundred, making their way across the field in our direction. As they got closer, their words became clearer.

What do we want?

JUSTICE!

When do we want it?

NOW!

I watched as the two groups united to cheers and applause, people lifting their signs up into the air. Black Lives Matter, the signs said. Say their names, said another. Our blood is the same color was the one that struck me most deeply.

Through her face mask, a young woman began to speak to the crowd. “We stand for what is right,” she said. “We are the generation that will make a change.” The crowd cheered. “I’m going to cry,” she continued, “seeing so many people, so many beautiful colors, coming together. Let’s do this!”

We marched along the East River, chanting, holding up signs, offering one another water. At the end of the road, a few police cars were stopped with their lights on. Four officers in face masks approached us and one, with his hands up, began to speak.

“We’re here to keep you safe,” he said.

“We’re here to protest peacefully,” the young woman who’d spoken before replied.

The policeman asked us our planned route and then said, “Ok, we will be right beside you.”

“Thank you,” we said, and the march continued. 

Passing cars honked in solidarity. People crowded at their apartment windows cheering us on. I briefly made eye contact with a man in a Parks Department uniform and reflective vest, long, graying dreadlocks tucked under a bandana and hanging behind his head. With his fist in the air and his eyes reddening, he mouthed the words “Thank you,” to us as we passed.

I’ve always been moved by crowds. To be honest, they can wreck me. Whether singing, chanting, or standing together in silence, the power we have when we act together overwhelms me. It creates something, a force that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Something beautiful. Something transcendent. That force has affected me since I was a boy, barreling into my chest and sometimes forcing me to cry uncontrollably before I could ever understand the meaning of the words or the causes being stood for. The force of people together is visceral. It’s instantaneous. It can move mountains. We can move mountains—together.

I didn’t join in on the chanting. I couldn’t. I knew that if I tried, only tears would come out.

We stand together, another sign said.

Yes. Yes, we do.

“It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it will.”

***

Angel Eduardo is a staff writer for Idealist.org, and has been published in The Ocean State Review, The Caribbean Writer, and Label Me Latino Journal, among other publications. See more of his work at angeleduardo.com.

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§ 2 Responses to “We Stand Together”

  • Susan T. Landry says:

    thank you for this profile of a park that i love. it’s so poignant to visualize it in a different era and very different circumstancs than when i was last there.

    for several years (2006 – 2009) i lived nearby and walked there very early each morning when it was empty; just me and the squirrels…

    thank you for this return to our new reality: for allowing me to feel as though i were there with you, seeing & feeling what you saw & felt.

  • Thanks very much for the support, Susan! Astoria Park is one of my favorite things about the neighborhood.

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