These Peaceful Protests Are the World I Want to Live In

Some lady yelled at me, “Do you want a Gatorade?” and it helped strengthen my faith in humanity.

A stranger driving a car leans out of her window to yell at me “You want a Gatorade?!” 

On Tuesday, June 2, before there was tear gas, before a cyclist was taken into custody, before a Molotov cocktail was allegedly thrusted at police, there was Gatorade, water bottles and granola bars.

I was walking down Water Street in the Third Ward with my camera dangling ’round my neck when that stranger yelled at me. On a normal Tuesday, some random person hanging out of their car offering electrolyte-laden sugary beverages would make me assume I was about to get drugged. People don’t just give out free drinks unless you’re a pretty girl in a bar, which I’m decidedly not.

But on Tuesday, June 2, all I do is flash her the OK sign. I’ve got a Gatorade and a bottle of water in my car anyway. (Unfortunately, that good Samaritan drove off before I thought to snap a photo.)

Once these protests started in Minneapolis, demonstrators have been incredibly trusting of their compatriots.

Every couple blocks in Milwaukee, there has invariably been a group young people with 24-packs of wholesale water bottles. (You gotta love Costco.) At Humboldt Park, where Tuesday’s march started, there were stacks upon stacks of water bottles and granola bars to get marchers through the 91-degree heat.

It feels awfully like communal living, the kind of thing utopian societies will supposedly be based on — minus the tear gas and, in some cities, burned-down department stores.

Someone I met at a summer camp as a teenager participated in Occupy Wall Street in 2011. He said all the participants wanted was to “share their stories, to be heard.” That always stuck with me. That the demand was so simple but so tough to achieve.

Those same words are being spoken here, at every rally across the country in the wake of the needless death of George Floyd: That too many people have been unheard. That we, as an American society, have chosen to ignore rather than deal with critical issues — income inequality, what freedom actually means, the inequities in our criminal justice systems, police brutality.

But as more stories get out about voices having been silenced thanks to these protests, the more sense Occupy Wall Street makes in retrospect. When someone or a group of people has been ignored and put down and shut up for decades and centuries, you need to get your voice out there. It’s why Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Don’t understand the protests? What you’re seeing is people pushed to the edge.”

As disruptive as it may be for those not participating to be stopped on their work commute or deal with constant echoing shouts in the city, protests have not ruined Milwaukee. Windows have been smashed and cell phones have been stolen and injuries have occurred, yes, but our city still functions. We are still alive.

Tuesday’s rally started at Humboldt Park. When I stopped by there at 5 p.m., two little kids — one white girl and one black boy — were trying to learn to skateboard together. That’s the kind of thing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed about.

A few water bottles were left behind on the stage at Humboldt Park on Tuesday after one of Milwaukee’s biggest George Floyd protests so far started there.
Leftover water bottles and granola bars sit underneath a tree in Humboldt Park Tuesday afternoon, hours after protesters started their march there.

Families walked through the paths of the park. They walked past piles of leftover water bottles and granola bars from earlier in the day. Next to one pile, at the outdoor stage, was a sign that said “Food & Water: Please help yourself! Stay safe MKE. WE ♥ YOU.”

Early Catholics practiced communal living; those who had resources would supply those who did not while on pilgrimages. Similarly, for guys just getting sober in Alcoholics Anonymous, many of them experience the same communal living, with more experienced sober men providing food, shelter and housing until they’re stable enough to safely get back on their own.

These same practices are being exhibited across the country.

There are scattered stories coming out of the Twin Cities and elsewhere where some looted materials even are being redistributed to other demonstrators. 

As abhorrent as thievery and destruction can be, on occasion they’re not entirely self-interested actions. The chairman and CEO of Target Corp., which is based in Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, said he still sided with the protesters’ plight even while one of his department stores was being ransacked.

But across the street from Humboldt Park Tuesday afternoon, a Speedway gas station was being boarded up in fear of vandals. These are things I and MilMag do not support. No business or person should fear their home will be broken into and their legal belongings taken.

But when it comes to the sharing of resources, to the genuine support of human beings supporting strangers, that’s what we can get behind. Americans so often preach how willing we are to help one another, but never in my life did anyone just approach me with a free Gatorade or soda or sandwich or granola bar. On Tuesday, it happened countless times.

Sitting in the back of their vehicle being used to distribute water to protesters in Milwaukee are, from left to right, Marissa Widdifield, Olivia Gonzalez and Isaac Chavez.
A woman moves water bottles back into a van after a protest passed by on North First Street on Tuesday, June 2.

Olivia Gonzalez, of Whitefish Bay, made a post on Instagram earlier this week. In it, she asked friends and followers for donations to buy water and granola bars to support the cause. She ended up raising enough money to fill an SUV’s trunk with water bottles and snacks, and she and a couple pals spent their Tuesday hydrating protesters for hours.

I talked with another group who was passing out water bottles on South First Street on Tuesday. They told me they had planned to run to Costco to buy their own water after dropping friends off at Humboldt Park. But when they showed up, they saw the piles already provided. There was no need to spend more.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in. Where we do actually help each other and look out for one another, and not where we just talk about it. Where we give water to the thirsty, and we don’t expect others to do it for us. Where we can do it together. Not alone.

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan