Cities, towns, and communities across the country are still reeling from some of the biggest protests in recent memory. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there have been dozens of demonstrations all over the U.S. decrying centuries of racism and the murder of George Floyd, as well as several other unarmed African Americans, including David McAtee and Breonna Taylor of Louisville, KY.
While the vast majority of these protests were peaceful, some turned violent as outsiders and extremists began breaking windows, spraying graffiti, and looting local businesses. It’s unclear who has been responsible for the violence. Some may be trying to distort the message of the protests, while others may have been trying to seize the moment by sneaking off with some free stuff.
To repair the damage, hundreds of volunteers all over the country have come together to support local businesses owners who are struggling to reopen.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors
America has come together in some surprising and organic ways over the last week. We have seen vibrant protests in over 30 cities across the country, with many attendees never having protested before, including rural towns in the Midwest and major urban cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
Many small business owners quietly took to the streets to take care of their own properties, but it wasn’t long before their neighbors started pitching in. As they told local press outlets, they were sweeping up glass, scrubbing off graffiti, and picking up trash when strangers would appear out of nowhere and offer to help. Some were on their way to church or the grocery store, but they ended up staying for hours on end until the entire neighborhood looked as good as new.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she plans to spend $10 million on restoring businesses that were damaged during the protests, but residents are beating her to the punch. Chicagoans are helping each other get back on their feet. Not only are they cleaning up the mess, they are also raising money for damaged businesses and bail money for protesters who were arrested on the street. Major celebrities like Chance the Rapper have started crowdfunding sites to help fund local causes.
We saw similar scenes in San Jose, California. Volunteers soon started flocking to the City Hall where they handed out brooms, gloves, and cleaning supplies to those who wanted to help. The city also plans to create an economic stimulus plan to help local store owners reopen.
The same thing happened across New York City, Boston, Denver, Minneapolis and more. As soon as a few people would start cleaning up, more would offer to pitch in, creating an organic movement in many areas. Locals started driving up with free food and beverages as well to keep the volunteers going.
Why Cleaning Up is So Important
For many of those cleaning up the streets, removing graffiti and sweeping up broken glass is about more than just getting the community back to normal. It’s about clarifying the message of the protests.
Many volunteers were outraged at the destruction and looting. Others were more concerned with how the protests would be perceived across the country and abroad. Images of violence and destruction could easily derail the Black Lives Matter movement or lead some to believe that all the protests were violent in nature.
Justine Sandoval, 34, the president of the Denver Young Democrats, organized a cleanup event in the city after the protests. She’s seen overwhelming support from other young people in the community. Speaking with the New York Times, she said, “So many people were worried that the message was getting lost in the violence. They want to show up and say, ‘These protests are important, but we’re going to be there to pick up the pieces afterward.’ It felt good because we want to keep this conversation going.”
If there were protests in your area, contact local groups that are trying to clean up the mess. If you see a neighbor or local store owner cleaning up the streets, pull over and offer to help.