By Abigail Rumpp, contributing writer
Photos by Abigail Rump
“I’m really nervous.”
My best friend Sam’s words rattled around in my brain as we walked through downtown Knoxville, making our way to the gathering protest in Market Square. The city was quiet – a few people ambled around the streets, but there were hardly any cars, noises, or sounds besides some gusts of wind. To be completely honest, I was pretty nervous too. Headlines from the past week kept buzzing in my mind, recounting violence, anger, and police brutality in neighboring states and cities. Tennessee has never had the best track record with progressive ideas, and being a red conservative state in the south doesn’t help either. Even so, I wanted to be part of the national change that was occurring. I have a voice, and I wanted to put it to good use.
As we approached Market Square, I heard quiet chanting from the shifting, growing crowd:
“No justice,” followed by a confident “No peace”.
People of all colors, creeds, and origins had gathered in the square, most wearing masks, and the overwhelming majority were sporting signs scrawled with mantras and the names of those who had died in the unjust act of police brutality. I was honestly taken aback – I knew Knoxville was one of the more liberal areas of Tennessee, and I was still surprised as to how many people came in support of the protest. It’s difficult to explain it, but I felt an overwhelming sense of pride for where I live. I felt proud that within our conservative state, Knoxville came together for this incredible display of adversity and change. From within the masses, a group of people suddenly came forward, parting the massive crowd. It was led by a young black woman carrying a megaphone, cheering: “Black lives matter!” She began walking towards the deeper part of the city, and the crowd followed suit. As we left the square, I remember an older black gentleman leaning on one of the statues in the square. He asked us to vote, and to use our voices to change the world around us. I silently wished for the same.
The walk through Knoxville was peaceful, calm, and energetic. There was cheering, chanting, whooping, and clapping. Police were around to make sure the event didn’t get rowdy, and it never did. I saw many faces that I knew, and many that I didn’t. It didn’t really matter to me, though; the fact we all came together to support such a genuine, just cause made us look powerful, provocative, and known. As we swept our way through the city, people in cars and motorcycles revved their engines, honking at us and cheering us on. People were holding up their fists in solidarity, chanting the names of deceased black Americans who died from police brutality, while others remained silent, holding up their homemade signs instead. It was a powerful moment for my city, and I’m proud that I was there to support it. I hope that protests like ours, and the many others taking place across the country help bring much needed change to our society and police system as a whole.