‘Beyond the Borders,’ Black Lives Matter Rally in Palos Hills, IL
I got the call from an ex-sheriff in the area that found out from the local paper that the Black Lives Matter organization planned to march down our local street. The social grapevine in this neck of the woods is beyond Facebook or Twitter. In fact, I’m pretty sure you mention social media to these ladies and they’ll ask their grandkids before answering. Around here, it’s all about the senior citizens relaying feedback they heard from other seniors who got their information from the area newspaper. Which only got to me when I overheard my mom was scheming with her friends about going.
Yep. How did you hear about the rally? My mom told me. Wonderful, I feel stupid on so many levels. If you’re shaking your head, so was I when I asked her to call her friend back. See, the people around here are all about talking to one another on the phone, not social media but the telephone. I haven’t touched a phone in years, so the thought of listening to someone ramble on about a possible event coming to a town closeby was not big on my priority list. On the other hand, my mom loves chatting away, so I let her have at it with her friend as I listened while scrolling through social media.
I went to work researching while she chatted with her other friends. They spent most of the time talking about grabbing some lawn chairs and watching the march with cocktail drinks in their hands, which I thought kind of takes away from the rally's effort. Who am I to judge? Anyway, I found out this group that goes to neighborhoods tends to push for awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. A worthy cause for sure; however, I feel like they chose the wrong neighborhood.
Let me explain why I feel this way. When I went to their website, I found they were indeed coming to my parents' area. Okay, more like one town over but still close enough. I saw this and thought, “holy cow!” Then I shook my head, “why in the world would they come to that town? The street they intend on marching down doesn’t even have traffic. Or a lot of people. Or many businesses. Or — well, anything really. There’s a Greek church, fire station, senior center with rehabilitation building, gas station, and a bar.
Who in the world would pick the one place that had hardly any people? Palos Hills, really? You chose Palos Hills to march for a Black Lives Matter event. Why?
Growing up in this area, I’ve seen some incredibly weird things and even weirder people. From supremacists burning crosses in front yards of people that lived blocks away from me. To the klan chanting in front yards at houses on Saturday nights. Yeah, this area can be nuts at the worst of times and crazy at the best of times, but that was some thirty-plus years ago. Today, things have significantly changed. Thank goodness. This area is now a culmination of cultures with hopefully more progressive citizens than those I once saw, but that was one town from which this group intends to rally.
The town of the rally tonight is not one for racism or cultural diversity issues; it’s a town built on Indian burial grounds — yes, talking about the police station hill and the library where they had to stop construction when they hit Indian burial grounds. (Archaeologists and surveyors had to redo the plans to accommodate the artifacts that didn’t already ruin.) To the home of the community college that regularly expands into the forest preserves. (My understanding is the college owns that part anyway, so it shouldn’t be a big deal. But, it’s swampland with leeches and vultures. *Eye Roll* Whatever.) But racism? No. Wrong town.
The time of the rally began to approach, and I felt like a newbie on their first date. My heart pounded in my chest full of anticipation of what might transpire. Would it be like downtown with the vandalism and rioters? Could I get a lot of photos from the event that will live on for years to come?
I over-planned, over prepped, and went to the journalist organizations to get some insights into how to protect myself — just in case. Let’s face it, these types of rallies happen only so often and I wanted to be prepared for the worst. Without the protective vests or the backup person they suggested, I mustered up the courage to go to the rally. Not knowing what to expect, I mean the night before’s rally in downtown Chicago required teargas, so I was a bit nervous.
After the stated start time, I arrived well and circled the area to witness the gatherers paying special attention to the police protecting the area. The BLM organization is starting at the local high school parking lot to march down the main road to the center of town. (It was very nice of the school to fix the parking lot for the photos. I mean who wants faded lines in rally pictures anyway.) I found a spot across the way at the Greek Church, waited, and waited. A half-hour later the stage was set! The players were gathered, and the locals were rallying to witness this historic event.
Yep — a handful of people rallied to watch. All three of them couldn’t wait to see what would happen, or they were annoyed the cops were blocking the roads off and couldn’t get their sub sandwich and Chinese food at the endpoint of the march. Well, either way, the natives were getting restless. I, on the other hand, photographed it all.
Leaving my post at the church I moved to the mid-point of the route. Watching as the community pulled out chairs to gather along the sidelines. It’s impossible to know how things will transpire but still watching the people for this rally I felt a bit of ease knowing things should be low key.
After the four people pulled out their Trump signs and leaned against posts, I felt the window of time to move on before the streets closed completely slipping away. Moving to the final spot of the march I watched as the police officers shook their heads setting up roadblocks.
The mayor for the town stated earlier he was not informed ahead of time of this march occurring, which I found odd considering the amount of police presence, the school parking lot being seal coated the day the before, and the large dump truck waiting to finish off the route. Fine, sure he didn’t know ahead of time — I believe. (Sarcasm is critical at times like this. I did yawn so much my jaw hurt, but still the excitement grew!) Along with the large truck blocking the road for the final destination next to the gas station.
Standing, I took photos of those gathering around and waited. And waited. And waited. Given the event was supposed to start at a certain time and didn’t, I figured the organizers were holding off for a much bigger crowd — they never got one. I saw the employees exit the rehabilitation/senior center walking to the street's sidelines, talking amongst themselves.
As the police stand waiting for something to happen, and the works barricade the side roads. I left. Yep, left. This excitement was enough for me, and I got what I was looking for. The story I considered was no more. Now, I felt the real story of this event is… “What were you thinking of coming to Palos Hills?” Really? I was more interested to see how the media was going to spin this than actually waiting around to see nothing happen. Watching paint dry would have been more entertaining.
Days later and nothing transpired. I thought maybe they were ignoring the elephant in the room — there was no story there!
Then it happened…
A small article with a single photo of a handful gathered in front of the large truck; I photoed waiting to be moved to the end of the route.
The entire piece focused on peace when there wasn’t anyone there to even bring conflict. My focus was on who’s defining the story from what I saw and what I showed in this article. The narrative is being redefined to sell the news. Sure, the protests, conflict, and riots are there. I just wonder after what I witnessed, how many rallies are this peaceful that don’t make the news? Who knows, but the people witnessing it firsthand the extent of the violence because what we see on social media makes me wonder how much is being spun.
On a final note. I just want to say be kind because you never know when peaceful protests escalate to riots and conflict. Everyone I met while I photographed the area was trying to stand by something they believe, and thankfully there was no real escalation of violence that came from it.