Tipping Point

They say one person can’t make a difference.

Tell that to Darnella Frazier, age 17, the young woman outraged at what she saw there on the street in front of her when she went with a friend to the corner deli. She saw George Floyd being murdered. She got out her phone and made a video, from pain and rage, not knowing it would change the world. She kept the video rolling despite glares and threats from the police and shouts from bystanders. She posted it online. Then she suddenly was faced with an avalanche of hatred and the glare of fame.

They say it’s a bottomless well, that no matter how much or how long you pour yourself into it, trying so hard to fill it, it never will brim. They say the tipping point is an illusion. They say that there is no real winning—there’s only settling, or being co-opted. They say some things will never change. Their power rests in the assumption that we believe these lies. But even when they erode us beyond weariness, our work is to wait it out, try to stay alive, hide if necessary, hang in, hang on.

Because sooner or later things always change.

History proves that accuracy. The laws of physics prove that accuracy.

What is inaccurate, however, is the phrase “the tipping point.” Tipping point is not singular. It’s plural. It’s an ongoing series of tipping points—like rapids in a river, where energy and movement gather speed and build power as they rush toward the falls.

Sustaining the flow—that’s the trick. These past and continuing weeks show people in the streets, peaceably demonstrating, at risk of health and life in the midst of a pandemic, from Fayetteville, Arkansas to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro; from Nome, Alaska to Nagasaki, Japan; marching against the systemic racism that infects the United States (and indeed most countries on the planet), and making the connections between white supremacy and supremacy beliefs of any other kind. Hell yes, that’s a tipping point!

It’s easy and forgivable to feel what in the Civil Rights Movement we called a “freedom high,” and by god are those moments ever precious and needed! But to those folks gasping at how swiftly things seem to be moving, I’d say Yeah sure, it’s a 300-years-in-the-making overnight success. Most recently, you could say that people in the streets in righteous fury–with that action catching fire globally–began hours after Trump’s inauguration, with the Women’s March. You could also say this all began when the first amoeba crawled up out of the ooze and tried to evolve. In any event, now is the time to keep the pressure on, in fact to extend it from the streets of the world to the halls of power.

That actually seems—seems—to be starting. Police miscreants are being charged with crimes, police chiefs and local officials are being forced to step down. (By the way, anyone feeling sorry for the police right now might focus on what cops have been asking for for years: getting the NRA to stop buying politicians who legitimize flooding America with combat-level weapons.)

Municipalities are re-envisioning how fair and just policing would look and act. New laws are being fielded and some even already passed. European Americans in the US—white people in every country—are showing up in larger numbers than ever before (although still more women than men), to commit to action against supremacies of race and any other kind; it’s as if even those people who previously may have grasped the idea of “racism” only now finally got the concept of “systemic.” Arts establishments are waking up, not merely re-setting their rhetorical alarm clocks on snooze. Beginning in New York and spreading across the country, theaters, museums, and galleries threw open their doors so marchers could use restrooms and have refreshments—and to make commitments to exhibit and present more artists of diversity. Redneck America blinked when the NFL reversed itself and took a knee protesting racism, and OMG finally NASCAR dumped the flag of the rebel “confederacy.” Statues of generals and other leaders of that slavery-defending insurgency that traitorously took arms against the United States are falling like autumn leaves. Buildings and landmarks are being renamed. Yes, much of this is symbolic and costs little. But it would be fatal to underestimate the power of symbolism: these symbols have been ferociously defended for decades. People who criticized them did so at the price of livelihoods, and even the price of lives.

Then, suddenly, attenshun! Gravity shift. The Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff apologized to the American people for having obeyed Trump’s orders to participate in his horrendous photo op, and for using troops to assault peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Park. This is huge (and more than a little reassuring) because we really seriously do want the military on the side of the people and the Constitution, not that of Trump and dictatorship, when he refuses to leave office or tries to start World War III as a diversion.

All across the United States of America, cities and towns are abuzz with activity about their own local plans for reform, people feeling the energy of possibility. Possibility.

Possibility feels good. Possibility feels like democracy.

It won’t bring back George Floyd, though. It won’t bring back Breonna Taylor. There is no going back. The arrow of time drives relentlessly forward—and as it does it demands vigilance. Because things will change back if we don’t keep up not just the same but intensified pressure. Tipping points come in plural, remember, not singular.

But sometimes actions come in the singular. Which is why we should never trust anyone who claims that one person can’t make a difference. For me, today I celebrate 5 women in particular, women whose names must not be lost to history in the rush of the freedom high:

* Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullers, and Opal Tometi, the women who coined the phrase “BLACK LIVES MATTER” and founded a movement with three words;
* Darnella Frazier, who made the video that forced white America to see the truth with its own eyes;
* Muriel Bowser, mayor of Washington DC, who denounced Trump for staging his military riot in her city and who, with wit and fire, renamed Pennsylvania Avenue so that the street in front of the now-walled White House is painted in yellow letters so gigantic that they can be read from the moon: “BLACK LIVES MATTER PLAZA.”

Those are 5 women who know a tipping point when they tip it.