This weekend is the one year anniversary of the death of Mike Brown. I am a woman; like so many in my city, I will be spending it on the streets.
Over the past year I have met hundreds of brave women. I have seen their courage spread like blood across our city streets. Some of their names you might know, but many are the unknown women who are demanding justice for brothers and sisters and who are paying for it with their suffering.
The decisions I make are influenced by the bravery of the women I see around me. I am not as brave as they are, but I cannot leave my sisters to fight alone. On New Year’s Eve I watched as the St. Louis Police dragged people (mostly women of color) off an otherwise deserted street, pulling them by their arms and legs from the place where they sat or laid, because they were “obstructing traffic.”
On the night of the non-incitement of Darren Wilson in Mike Brown’s shooting, I marched with thousands of people down the street in protests and, when protesters, many of them women, tried to stop the three or four people who showed up to destroy property, the entire crowd of seven or eight hundred was tear-gassed. One brave woman stood with her hands in the air while the burning clouds billowed around her.
I ran away. I ran toward the lines of riot cops because, somewhere in the back of my brain I still thought that the fact I was an unarmed and frightened woman running in terror with her hands in the air would keep me safe, but they locked their shields and took out their batons, and I was so afraid they would beat us. I was so frightened, not just for myself, but for the women of color who were next to me. I knew that even if our collective gender wouldn’t protect us, my light skin meant I was safer than they were. The risks they were taking were so much greater than mine.
We ran from the police that night and, because I was afraid for my friends, I pulled them with me, trying to find a place of refuge. As we ran, we passed a female Episcopal pastor from a neighborhood church and I shouted at her, “Don’t go down there, they’re tear-gassing everyone down there.” She looked at me and said, “I know,” and then ran toward the riot cops and tear gas to try to protect those who were in danger.
As a Christian, I know the Bible stories well, the women who stayed at the foot of the cross when all of the disciples abandoned Jesus. The woman with the issue of blood who had faith that even the hem of Jesus’ garment would bring healing while all of the men around her questioned Jesus and asked for credentials. Ruth refusing to abandon her mother-in-law and earning her place in the genealogy of Jesus by risking starvation rather than leave Naomi. I know their names–Mary Magdalene and Martha and Lydia and Esther and Deborah and Hannah and Priscilla and Phoebe. I know how little the ancient world valued their voices or their lives, but I see them in the pages of the Bible, and the women I see in those pages are women I recognize from the street.
I know first-hand the bravery of women. I know women who, like Esther, are ethnic minorities who risk their own lives to try to save the lives of their people, knowing full-well the consequences. I know women who, like Ruth, refuse to abandon those in danger, staying up night after night as unpaid street medics who have learned the hard way to treat tear gas. I know women like Mary who speak the truth of Jesus with power to people who, like the disciples, doubt their words because of their gender. I know women who pray, with tears in their eyes, like Hannah. I know women who sing praise in the midst of persecution, like Mary. I know women who pull people back from the brink of death like Rahab.
So, when you watch this weekend from afar, know that you are watching the movement of women; that we are on the street because that is where God is moving. Say a prayer for us and know that we are praying too. We are praying to the same God. We are sisters in the Family of God and we need our sisters to be as brave as possible, to stand with those who are fainting, to hold out hope in the midst of despair, and to speak the truth even when it kicks them in the teeth. We are women and because we are women, we know how to be brave.
Amy is a freelance writer who lives, works, and goes to church in St. Louis, Missouri. She is honored to be able to help and serve in the fight against racism and inequality in her community.