Thursday, October 1, 2015

Twin Cities Marathon and the Black Lives Matter Protest

Black Lives Matter in St. Paul has planned a protest to block the finish this weekend at the Twin Cities marathon. Here are my thoughts and hopes for how this goes.

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We all know that running is an expression of great individual freedom, which is why we value it so much.

A marathon race boils down so many of our values and creates a pure space for their expression -- hard work, execution, effort, risk. Because all distractions have been cleared away, and the course has been marked off from the chaos of life and the politics and all of that, the individual runner is freed to maximize his or her potential.

It's interesting to reflect on how artificial the conditions of a big city marathon are: how many roads have to be blocked, how many policemen enlisted in the effort, how much work and resources goes into creating this clean slate for achievement, especially when it is mapped out over a normally chaotic public space, as in the case of the big city marathon.

Reflection brings the realization that the expression of great freedom, the maximization of individual effort, depends on a prior effort that requires social coordination and agreement, and it takes very little to disrupt that organization. Marathon races show what becomes possible for individuals when like minded people work together.

It's for all of these reasons that a blocked or disruptive marathon works well as a metaphor for blocked social justice and disrupted democracy. But of course it is just a metaphor; life itself is not at stake in a marathon, only the expression of life.  A marathon is a medium through which we work out our relationship to life. It's not "real" in the way that life is. It is constructed.

The constructed and metaphorical nature of marathoning, however, is what gives it great power for life. We need artificial forms and media through which we can work out our relationship to life. This is why art -- and marathoning is art -- is so precious. When life itself gets into these artificial forms of understanding life and messes them up, we feel a loss of control and understanding.

The protest is positive in the sense that the BLM is inviting runners into reflection on these things, and helping us draw connections between ourselves and the communities that we only run through, and often times do not even run through.

However, I hope in the end they let the runners run, not because marathoning is more important than black lives, but out of a sense of empathy for and kinship with the marathoner and the community that makes marathoning possible.

Black Lives Matter has a chance to say something like the following -- "though black lives are often disrupted, and though we have the power to disrupt as well, we will choose not to disrupt the lives of individuals or the organization that gives them meaning." This choice would be highly meaningful and richly demonstrative as well. It would not only raise awareness, but do so in a way that builds the empathy and understanding that is the necessary precondition for the forms of community upon which deep social justice depends.

6 comments:

  1. "However, I hope in the end they let the runners run, not because marathoning is more important than black lives, but out of a sense of empathy for and kinship with the marathoner and the community that makes marathoning possible." - Completely agree. I believe more people can better empathize with them if they promote their advocacy without disrupting other activities/lives.

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  2. I'm really glad you wrote about this, Jeff. It's been on my mind. I just finished reading Ta-Nahisi Coates' "Between the World and Me," and the book was like a slap in the face. BLM is doing exactly what Coates suggests they should do--they are taking the marathon as an example of a "Dream" that some of us can live and others cannot even consider because institutionalized racism has never allowed them to travel paths like that. I know how I would feel had I trained for this race--resentful, anxious and maybe even violated--but I think, having read Coates, that this is exactly what the protesters intend.

    My full review of the book is here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1373841014. It's interesting to have its ideas hit close to home for me personally so soon after reading it. It's also interesting to find myself not entirely unsympathetic with the protesters, whose methods may be required to really wake us all up from what Coates calls the Dream. And of course I'm sympathetic with the marathoners too.

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    Replies
    1. I just finished Coates' book as well (my 15yr old daughter is reading it now) and I completely agree with you.

      Excellent review by the way

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    2. Thanks, Geoff. I'm glad the marathon went well for the runners in the end, but I admit I'm curious about what the reaction would have been if the protesters had been as disruptive as originally planned.

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  3. What's good to know about long distance relationships?
    Movers in San Deigo

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