Whose Streets?, Charlottesville, and Activist Storytelling

Last Saturday morning, I headed to the movie theater, eyes glued to my phone as I tried (unsuccessfully) to navigate and check twitter at the same time. I found my seat in the dark, still trying to piece together what was happening and what had already happened in Charlottesville.

Then I shut off my phone to watch Whose Streets? — which is, well… the short version would be to say that it’s a look at community activism in Ferguson after the killing of Michael Brown. But that’s a sanitized and simplified version of the truth.

A few weeks earlier, my sister told me to go watch Whose Streets. I forgot about it until the 9th, when I read an interview with activist Ashley Yates about what happened in Ferguson three years ago. It reminded me of why I’d stopped trusting my local newspaper, the paper I’d grown up reading: During the protests that continued for years in St. Louis (and still continue), the newspaper said one thing, and my sister said another. The crinkled newsprint said that the protestors turned violent, and my sister said that the police tear gassed MoKaBe’s, a local coffee shop.

St. Louis ArchSo I went to watch Whose Streets?, meeting up with a friend and sidling into a mostly empty theater where only a few older white folks were. It was chilling to watch the documentary and make the obvious connection to the weekend events — how the police met the community in Ferguson with violence, while Nazis in Charlottesville marched freely. How activist Brittany Ferrell was charged with a felony for kicking a car plowing through a protest line (read: a woman trying to drive over protestors, wtf) — and how that morning, a white supremacist had driven into a crowd of anti-racist counter protestors.

I was reminded that (racist) history repeats itself, and that the only way to break that cycle is to learn from it. That’s why Whose Streets? is so important. According to its website, it’s a documentary “told by the activists and leaders who live and breathe this movement” and “an unflinching look at the Ferguson uprising.” It’s about what really happened in Ferguson, not some distorted, sensationalist version shown in the news half a country away.

What I want most in this push for diversity in YA lit is for marginalized writers to get to tell their own stories, whatever that may be – immigration, slice-of-life romance, social justice, magic boarding school, you name it. Storytelling is how we connect with others, help people feel less alone, and learn from (and fight) the past. It’s crucial that the people who should be heard, get heard.

Whose Streets? does that and far more. It’s activist storytelling (well, truthtelling) – and we can never have too much of that. You should absolutely go watch the documentary if it’s still showing in theaters in your area. For more on this:
Theater showtimes
Whose Streets? trailer
Ferguson Doc ‘Whose Streets’ Shows The Power Of Black People Telling Black Stories
Non-profits to support in Charlottesville
RIC Teaching, self-care, and resources round-up in re: Charlottesville

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