A four-foot-nine-inch Mexican-American woman on standing tall for her people, and taking it to the streets for all oppressed people.
Each month, Narratively’s “People of Interest” series offers an up-close look at one New York community or subculture, Since January 2015, New York activists have gathered every Monday evening for “People’s Monday.” Organized by NYC Shut It Down, the event draws protesters to Grand Central Station and other locations, where they share one story of police violence against a person of color. They then set out on a march – chanting along the way and stopping in crowded areas to continue telling the victim’s story. Each week in January, one People’s Monday participant will share their story with Narratively’s Daniel Krieger and explain why they’re taking action.
Who: Abby Rojas; 22; spoken word poet; Upper West Side
I got arrested when I went to a protest for Akai Gurley near Barclays Center in Brooklyn last May. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I just touched an orange net – the kind the police use for breaking up or stopping protesters – and then a really tall white-shirt cop picked me up, swung me around and tried to slam me onto the ground. I was trying not to hit the ground, so I lifted my legs up and he put down. Then four other cops helped him by pushing me against a car, and he handcuffed me. (I’m four-foot-nine.) A police officer asked me afterward, “Is it all worth it?” I was like, “I think Akai Gurley’s life was worth it.” She didn’t have a response and just walked away.
I was charged with resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration. My criminal attorney, who was from Copwatch Patrol Unit, told me that NYC Shut It Down did jail support for me and invited me to march with them at People’s Monday. I went the next day.
I grew up around activism. My mom and grandpa were activists in Mexico, and my parents met at a protest there. When I was young, my mom taught me about different activist movements against capitalism and got me books about the Zapatistas, Che Guevara and Hugo Chavez. I grew up as a very proud indigenous person and participated in an immigration rally when I was eight.
I think it’s important as an indigenous person to stand in solidarity with black liberation. As people whose land was stolen from us, we need to stand with people who were stolen from their land. We’ve had the same struggle against the same system, so it’s important that we stick together. This country was built on the backs of black people, and on the bodies of Native Americans. At last week’s march, we spoke about gentrification. This form of displacement is really modern colonization. Moving people out of their area is just another Trail of Tears, getting them out with eviction instead of roads.
Shut It Down came out for a protest about teachers in Oaxaca fighting for free education who were met with police violence and has shown solidarity for Standing Rock and the forty-three disappeared Mexican students of Ayotzinapa. I feel included because they believe indigenous lives also matter. The solidarity is powerful because a lot of people will do their thing, but they won’t show up for others. But we’re a family. It’s really powerful when we hit the streets.
I didn’t go to the women’s march on Saturday. I like how uplifting it was, and it was great to show that all those people could come together, but I don’t really want to say I’m completely supportive of the women’s march. A lot of them just care about trendy feminism, which is white privileged feminism. It’s not helpful for us because people of color aren’t even there yet. It pushes our issues aside. There are different struggles going on here, and not everyone is struggling on the same level. I feel like white women should care about Black Lives Matter because if you’re marching for feminism and women, then you should be including all women, and not just your issues. If you’re fired up about your issues, you should be fired up about issues affecting your sisters, too. They like to throw the word ‘sisterhood’ around, but they’re not really family. And they should be understanding that if you’re angry, of course other people who are more oppressed than you are also angry.
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Come back to Narratively every Wednesday this month for more Protest People.