The atmosphere surrounding the Laquan Mcdonald killing in Chicago has sparked a litany of marches across the city and activism is the word of the day. Since the release of the video showing McDonald getting gunned down by former police officer Jason Van Dyke, the floodgates have opened. Officers have been arrested and fired, the federal government will be investigating the Chicago police force and the city is asking for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to step down.
Many movements have surfaced asking for justice, however, it is important to be clear that the youth have spearheaded this revolution. They are intelligent, calculated and media savvy and expect results. BYP100 has led the charge in many of these demonstrations. We had the opportunity to speak with Page May, one of the members of BYP100 who was arrested the night the Laquan Mcdonald video was released.
Tell us who you are.
My name is Page May I’m an organizer in the larger movement for Black Lives, specifically I organize with We Charge Genocide Assata’s Daughters and BYP100.
That is the hardest question for me to answer. I grew up in rural Vermont. I went to an almost all-White school; out of maybe 1,000 people there were 10 people of color. I come from a mixed race family. My mom’s side is White and my dad’s side is Black. My grandma on my dad’s side ran a daycare and I spent almost every day there. She was the first unapologetically Black person I ever met. She raised me and my cousin who is like my best friend, and we are really close in age. So I think spending time with my grandmother influenced me a lot.
How did you end up in Chicago?
I went to a women’s college in Western Mass. I was doing environmental studies. When I graduated, I did a fellowship that focused on hunger. I ended up getting placed in Chicago for the first half of it working for an urban agricultural organization. Moving to Chicago was a very important moment for my politicization. I worked with many black people from Cabrini Green and Englewood. I’ve been here for 5 years. I went to DC for the second half of the fellowship and decided to come back to Chicago after I was done.
What does it mean to be unapologetically black?
I can speak compared to the rest of my family, my Black family. There is a kind of desire to be accepted by white people, a willingness to act differently around White people, an a deep concern of what white people think of them. My grandfather would say if someone calls you a n—r or whatever just turn the other cheek unless you were down south then he would say run. My grandfather came from a deep poverty and abuse. My grandmother also came from poverty but she was never ashamed of being black, she always loved black people and has always wanted more black people in her life. She is very proud of the Black community I have built for myself, because I didn’t have that growing up. Growing up my best friend was a high-yellow, mixed-race girl who identified strongly as Black and pushed me. She was the second unapologetically Black person I met.
Tell us about the organizations you are part of.
When I came to Chicago I fell into a very white queer community when I first got here and it took a lot to build with who I had. I owe a lot of it to BYP. Blackout Pride is a really beautiful Black queer community. There is a real strong history on the South Side when it comes to Black queer and trans folks, and it’s part of the ways that Black people have been racialized in Chicago; It’s through the understanding of sexual deviance and that’s helped to enforce segregation. All three of the organizations that I am part of have different origins, I think what’s important is to realize the significance of organizations. I’m someone who is very wary of institutions but what I’m learning is that people need an organization to plug into. They need a space to know where it meets, when it’s meeting and has core folks that are making decisions. What we are trying to do is rebuild a world that redistributes power so that our communities are making decisions. It’s not that I have the answers and it’s just a matter of implementing them in communities, it’s that we need to rebuild our ability to figure this out. An organization is part of rebuilding that world. It’s a lot of six hour meetings till 2am. You hate it but it’s like a book that I reading now called Freedom is an Endless Meeting. I think that’s very true. Organizations hold space for folks to get involved and they literally organize people, so when something goes down you email one list serve and it reaches hundreds of people.
We Charge Genocide comes out of the murder of Dominique Franklin, he was a friend of my friends and is the most abstract in its structure, as a result it has remarkable efficiency. It was really like a boot camp for me and I learned a lot. BYP 100 is 3 years old with chapters all around the country. It’s started with a convening that happened outside of the city. [A police officer walks in that Page recognizes, this police officer was intimidating them with a knife scraping it along his head and tapping it against his watch while they were being detained.] It was created around the same time that George Zimmerman was acquitted. There is so much knowledge and wisdom in BYP100 and I have access to so many resources and I learn more about how to build a suitable organization. Assata’s Daughters is an organization I spearheaded, recognizing that I believe in organizations, I believe in black woman and knowing that if you are under the age of 18 there is no organization for you to join. Assata’s Daughters grew out of that need. It’s a space for young black women to learn about black radical tradition and the black lives matter movement. All of these organizations are not in competition with each other there is no separation.
What are your thoughts in with regards to the shakeup of the CPD?
This is amazing what is happening. We heard that the video was going to be released. We didn’t have an expectation of what was going to happen but we knew we needed to be ready. One of the first things we had to decide was if we were going to take this meeting with the mayor’s office. I was on the side of taking it and fought really hard for it, then I came late to a meeting and the decision had been made not to take the meeting without me. They were right to make that decision. They were so right. It’s because we have been showing up to get Dante Servin fired for months, so in their back of their minds they had to wonder what are they going to do. We have been showing that we will turn up. If this is something that really mobilizes the people how are we going to hold that? How are we going to help organize that and support that in ways that realize demands? This is all about damage control; this is not about them doing the right thing. It’s just them saying there is a problem now we fixed it. They fired McCarthy, they charged Van Dyke, but it takes much more than that. We are excited about the firing but who are they replacing him with? People complained that McCarthy was not tough enough on crime so we have to be concerned about who they bring in.
What happened on the night you were arrested?
We were marching, there was a planned route but someone changed it. I see a young black person being wrapped up by the cops. I see them and I run toward the police. They were grabbing people trying to arrest them. We were working to de-arrest them. I also think that some of us were targeted. The try to grab Damon I see a cop with his baton raised and I run over and for what ever reason a cop grabs me and I’m doing everything I can to get free. Ultimately five cops had to bring me down. I know they wanted me. It made everything so much bigger.
What is your feeling in terms of elders being involved?
Elders are involved and should be involved. BYP100 has advisers who are elders. It would not work without them. This might be youth led but nothing happens without elders. There are some elders who don’t know how to be elders, they just got older. They don’t know how to support there youth.
So whats next?
I’m loving this firing of people. Anita has to go and Rahm has to go. We are pushing for Rahm to go. The IPRA chief needs to be fired. They took forever to do the first level of firing. We have to hold individuals accountable. It’s beautiful what is happening. This situation is being implicated as a cover up and its much larger than that. This is bigger than McCarthy and Alvarez trying to protect Rahm during an election. This is what they do. None of us are free till all of us are free.