In June, as the country reeled from social justice protests, the Gabber covered local Black Lives Matter demonstrations around Gulfport. At least one group is still going strong.
Every Tuesday and Friday evening since, from 4:15 to 5:15 p.m., a group, primarily made up of seniors and organized by Gulfport resident Phyillis Plotnik, has gathered at the corner of Gulfport Boulevard and 49th Street South.
“In early June, I felt that Gulfport would be a wonderful community to show support for the Black Lives Matter/racial justice movement,” said Plotnik. “I asked a friend to join me and we each asked a few friends to meet us with masks, signage and adherence to social distancing at the intersection of 22nd Avenue South and 49th Street South.”
At times there have been as few as six people and as many as 22.
The group holds signs saying, “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace,” and “All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter.”
The protests are silent. Participants hold signs and wave, when approached by those who would oppose them, they stay silent in an effort to not breed more hatred.
“I’ve been so happy to just be a part of a peaceful protest,” said participant Susan Canty. “We don’t talk back; we just hold our signs and smile.”
It’s not always an easy task.
“Once I had a man ask me why I wasn’t home baking cookies for my children instead of being out on the corner causing trouble, I stayed quiet,” said Canty. “When he left, I turned to my friend and said, ‘I baked my children cookies last night.”
According to many of the protestors, the majority of the feedback has been positive.
“I think there’s an appreciation by most people who drive by; there’s a lot of positive energy and thank yous,” participant Christie Aird said. “Every once in a while we get a middle finger or angry shouting, but it’s mostly positive.”
“Some people will shout out, ‘All lives matter,’ when they drive by,” participant Liz Snow said. “Of course all lives matter, but the point is that not all lives matter if they’re not treated equally. We need to bring things into balance, when all lives are treated the same that’s when we can say ‘all lives matter.’”
The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others sparked protests across the country over the summer, but many protest groups have petered out. What keeps the fire fueled for these Gulfport participants?
“We can see that we are making a difference,” said Aird. “As time has gone by, we’ve noticed more positive reactions than negative ones. That shows progress.”
“As we protested through the holidays, we noticed an influx of people excited to see us around,” participant Pat Cohen said. “That’s what has kept us there – we see that there’s change coming.”
“For me, it’s not often demonstrations and reactions to social injustices happen,” Snow said. “As time goes by, sometimes people forget – we have lives and things get in the way – but, we keep showing up to keep these injustices fresh in people’s minds. It isn’t over just because there hasn’t been a recent incident to cause a major uproar.”
Keeping the issue at the forefront of people’s minds is paramount, says Snow.
“We need to let people know that this is still happening and we still need to make changes,” Snow said. “It’s not a lot to give two hours a week to hopefully change something that is wrong in our community.”
“The connection that has developed between the drivers-by and our group has been the most important thing to me,” Plotnik said. “The simpatico, smiles and sense of oneness bring a feeling of hope, of togetherness, of possibility so needed in our fragile, fractured world. There is something about being there twice a week, every week that sends a message of reliability and commitment.”
What kinds of changes are the participants looking to see?
“Unity,” Canty said. “We need justice and we need to get rid of racism; we need equality and love. I wish more people would just show love. If everyone would just show love and see what’s in someone’s heart instead of their skin color, I think that would put a stop to most of these horrible things that are happening to our society.”
“I would hope to see less murders – that’s the extreme end goal,” Snow said. “Less abuse and murder, more communication and an expansion of services, like experienced professionals for the mentally ill.”
Snow hopes to see this as a turning point for communities.
“I don’t think people intend for bad things to happen, but we need more education,” said Snow. “What’s happening is not OK and things need to change.”
“I hope there will come a time when we no longer need to protest,” Plotnick said. “I hope there will come a time when Black lives will matter in all ways without exception, when justice will prevail, and when no life will be tragically, senselessly lost or harmed because of racism.”
All are welcome to join the group every Tuesday and Friday evening. Masks and social distancing required.