America’s uprising: small towns, big ambitions

Mutiny interviews Tzipporah Goins, an organiser for the York, Pennsylvania BLM protests.

11 June 2020

One of the many remarkable things about the BLM protests is who has been organising it. In the UK, the Daily Mail, in predictable Stürmer fashion, tried to finger two young black women for organising the huge London protests. It does look like this has been led by a whole new layer of activists.

In the US, students did it in Oakland, California; and protests have also mushroomed all over America, in places that haven’t got the same international airing as New York or Minneapolis.

Mutiny spoke to 17-year-old high school student Tzipporah Goins who, along with her best friend Arlette Morales, organised a protest of thousands in her hometown of York, Pennsylvania, just one week after the murder of George Floyd.

‘This is exciting more than anything else – it’s all happened so quickly,’ says Tzipporah. ‘Arlette was heartbroken by the death of George Floyd. I was more… desensitised, I suppose,’ she says.

‘We’re not taking this anymore’

I ask Tzipporah why she thinks it’s all kicked off now. After all, Floyd wasn’t the first black man to be killed by the police and, as she says, she herself had become desensitised to it all. She pauses for a moment. ‘I think people had just got tired of this. We’re not taking this anymore.’

If you’re black, protesting about what happened to George Floyd isn’t just a matter of solidarity, but of self-defence – it’s personal and permanent. ‘My best friend can go home and not have to think about this,’ says Tzipporah: ‘I have to – it follows me home.’

They’d never been involved in any protest movement before, but wanted to do something, so they set up a Facebook page to build for an action: ‘I’d never actually been on Facebook,’ she says. Within three days of the page going live, they had 1500 people interested, and had got together a list of speakers – mainly young people of colour. As Tzipporah says, ‘we wanted to amplify black voices.’ They’d also got the mayor and chief of police to speak at the rally.

‘The mayor contacted us and wanted to help. He was actually really useful, as we had to move the protest because so many people were coming, and helped by blocking out a number of streets.’

York seems to have a more collaborative relationship with its police, with the school holding regular meetings with the city department and the black clergy. While there have been issues with the police – most recently, allegations that a cop had posted a picture on social media mimicking Floyd’s death – York isn’t Minneapolis.

Tzipporah says she had to deal with threats from both white supremacists in order to bus people in, and anti-racist youth saying they wanted to riot. In the end, it went off without violence from either side. The white supremacists stayed away – although Tzipporah reckons their threats put a lot of people off – and no one rioted. ‘That was kinda difficult,’ she says, with regard to the latter. ‘Some of these were teenagers I knew, just angry. We had to take control and calm things down.’ She adds that she doesn’t want to demonise those who have rioted elsewhere – ‘I understand why’ – but thought that it would be counterproductive in building the protest in York. Anyway, it worked – ‘people actually paid attention to us,’ she says, rather surprised.

Paid attention, and came out in their thousands, mainly young people. Tzipporah’s clearly still buzzing about it. ‘When I stood on the stage and looked out at all those people, I’d never felt so much like me,’ she says, adding: ‘I want to get this right.’

What next?

Tzipporah says, ‘We can’t just keep having demonstrations. We need organisation. We also have to think of this on a national level – but it has to start in York first.’

What does this mean in practical terms? ‘Well, if there’s a Back Lives Matter chapter in York, we want to join it,’ she says. ‘If not, I guess we’ll have to set one up.’ It’s amazing that not only has this been done outside of any existing organisation, but that the pair don’t even know if it exists. Tzipporah shrugs – it is what it is. At the moment, it’s still just her and Arlette: ‘But we definitely need more participation.’

In the States as in the UK, there’s an increasing focus on the goals of this movement – anger isn’t enough, neither is just getting people on the streets. What do they want to happen? ‘First, get those four cops committed. Then we need to reopen the other cases of people killed by the police, such as Breonna Taylor,’ says Tzipporah.

I ask Tzipporah about demands to defund or even abolish the police. ‘I’ve researched a bit and I’m still conflicted,’ she says: ‘I like the idea of not needing the police as much. Especially with the history of police and black Americans, I think there’s a lot of work to be done on reforming the departments. I learn best when someone explains something to me face to face, so I still can’t give an opinion of it without feeling like a fraud. I don’t want to pick a side when I don’t understand it.’ But she is researching it: ‘I’m meeting with some organisers this week, so hopefully I get the chance to ask them some questions about it.’

Right now, Tzipporah and Arlette are looking to build on their initial success. ‘I’d love to do this again,’ she says: 'We’re rising up’ – adding ‘I don’t want to still have to be doing this when I’m 50.’


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