Rest in Power George Floyd

June 4, 2020
Kelsey Taylor

On November 1st, 1859, much to the chagrin of his socially respectable friends, Henry David Thoreau stood up to deliver a defense of John Brown, a controversial abolitionist on trial for treason. A month earlier, Brown had led a failed raid on Harper’s Ferry, a federal armory in Virginia. He had been attempting to arm slaves with weapons and inspire a nationwide insurrection for their freedom. Though Frederick Douglass, the famous black abolitionist, was not supportive of the raid, a letter from Douglass was found in Brown’s pocket; it was enough evidence to issue a warrant for Douglass’s arrest. He was forced to flee to Canada, and the “Fraternity Course” lectures were left without their speaker. Thoreau, a white abolitionist, was asked to speak in his stead.

In front of nearly 2500 people at Boston’s Tremont Temple, Thoreau began his plea with “the reason why Frederick Douglass is not here, is the reason why I am.” It was an acknowledgment of what we’re still fighting today – when black voices and bodies are unfairly oppressed, the responsibility to speak out lies with those who have the privilege to do so freely.

During his oration, Thoreau said, “when a government puts forth its strength on the side of injustice, as ours to maintain slavery and kill the liberators of the slave, it reveals itself a merely brute force, or worse, a demoniacal force.”

It’s been over 160 years. When we as a country refuse to make changes that liberate people of color from the shackles of systemic racism, are we meaningfully different from our 1850s brethren?

Thoreau went on in his defense of John Brown, “There sits a tyrant holding fettered four millions of slaves. Here comes their heroic liberator. If he falls, will he not still live?” John Brown was executed a month later, but Thoreau was right. His death precipitated the start of the American Civil War.

John Brown hoped that his actions would ignite a nationwide uprising against slavery. He knew his tactics were controversial and risky. George Floyd, on the other hand, wasn’t trying to incite violence or lead an armed rebellion. He was just another black man with a family, complying with the police, trying to breathe. Nothing we do now will bring him back, it’s already too late. We can only honor him now.

Walden is owned by people who will never personally know the pain felt by the black community, but we can strive to be like Thoreau, the man who inspired our name. We can work to dismantle prohibition and end the drug war that has disproportionately impacted people of color. We can fight for serious police reform. We can use our platforms to lift up and amplify the voices of people of color that have been silenced for far too long. And we can start talking seriously about the racial wealth gap and have the moral courage to talk about… gulp, here it goes… reparations. Yeah, I said it. Reparations.

In honor of George Floyd, and Thoreau, and all of the people of color whose voices have been silenced and whose bodies have been beaten, Walden stands with you. We are not free until we are all free. We won’t rest until we can all breathe.

BLACK LIVES MATTER. Rest in Power, George Floyd.

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