As a writer, words are important to me. I usually write quickly, but still choose my words carefully. When I type, my cursor usually doesn’t just go one way. It goes forward and backward as I write and rewrite, making sure to choose the words I really want to say. When I choose the wrong word, I pick another one.
In the wake of the uprisings following George Floyd’s death, words matter more than ever. A group of artists are showing that now in an area hit by destruction.
Last week, following protests in Madison, Wis., windows on some of the businesses along State Street were smashed. State Street runs from the Capitol Building to campus and is lined with shops, bars, and restaurants. It is closed to traffic and has seen festivals, fun, and protests for years.
Today the businesses are boarded up with plywood, but it is not as dismal as it may seem. Artists have covered the boards with hope. I was struck by how many used words. These are words of great thinkers like Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, Audre Lorde, Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Angela Davis, and Martin Luther King Jr. Simple words with difficult concepts were painted too, like Inclusion, Hope, Peace, Justice, and Love.
Also, the names of those who have died appeared again and again: George Floyd, Tony Robinson, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Miles Hall, Kwame Jones, Sam Dubose, Jamar Clark, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown, and many more.
The Definitions of the Words We’ve Been Using These Past Weeks
These past few weeks, as people have made their voices known, people have been throwing around words like protest, riot, and looting, saying one word when they may mean another. Or insinuating one thing by using another word. Let’s look at the meanings of these words:
Protest: A protest is a public expression of objection, disapproval or dissent towards an idea or course of action, typically a political one. Protests can take many different forms, from individual statements to mass demonstrations. (according to Wikipedia)
Riot: A riot is a form of civil disorder commonly characterized by a group lashing out in a violent public disturbance against authority, property or people. Riots typically involve destruction of property, public or private. The property targeted varies depending on the riot and the inclinations of those involved. (according to Wikipedia)
Looting: Looting, also referred to as sacking, ransacking, plundering, despoiling, despoliation, pillaging, and marauding, is the theft of taking of goods by force as part of a military or political victory, or during a catastrophe, such as war, natural disaster, or rioting. (according to Wikipedia)
One artist seems to make note of this importance of words. The sign below was maybe the most poignant. It says: This is Not a Riot. This is a Revolution.
Revolution: In political science, a revolution is a fundamental and relatively sudden change in political power and political organization which occurs when the population revolts against the government, typically due to perceived oppression or political incompetence. (according to Wikipedia)
We have an obligation to choose our words carefully and to know the meaning of the words we say. We also can learn from the powerful words of those who have been speaking on this for generations. These State Street artists are teaching us how to do that now.