If you were on the Quad on Wednesday or saw on social media, a girl sat on the Wilson Hall steps for 24 hours with a sign that read “our America is FRIGHTENED of FACT, of HISTORY, of PROCESSES, of NECESSITY -Richard Wright … continue the REVOLUTION.”
If you’re wondering who exactly she is, you’re in luck — we’ve talked to Paige Evans, a graduate student in the English department at JMU and “the girl behind the sign.”
1. What sparked this idea? Had you been planning to do this if Trump won all along or was it a spur of the moment decision?
It was not about Trump at all. I woke up that day afraid, and I knew I wasn’t alone in that. But that meant I also wasn’t alone in wanting to fight back. I made the sign so that anyone doubting that there’s still something worth changing in our country could feel a bit more certain. After sitting down, I realized that certainty requires a certain stamina, a stubbornness. So I decided to do 24-hours on the spot. As a white cisgender woman attending university, I have a lot of privilege. I knew that if I stayed there for 24 (eventually 28 outside) hours, I would be safe in a way that a person of color or transgender person can never be sure of. It was a very spur of the moment decision based on a long-felt sense of responsibility.
2. Were you bored throughout the 24 hours? What were you thinking about? Did you talk to people or just stay silent?
The time actually passed very quickly. I had friends come visit me throughout, and surprising number of people come check on me during the night. My mind rarely wavered from what I was there to do. I had an alarm set for every hour to check-in on Facebook, so it was always on my mind. I spoke when spoken to, really. Had conversations with whomever ventured my way. I hadn’t intended to actually engage anyone; I saw myself more as a flyer, there to be ignored by those who don’t care and act as a reminder to those who do. That’s why I’m more likely to call it a demonstration than a protest.
3. Did you get any negative reactions? If so, how’d you respond?
I think I had one group of (drunk) young man (wearing the red Trump hats) yell “Is this the Anti-Trump rally?” as they walked by. I curtly answered no and they continued on their way. Some people approached me wanting to be aggressive — asking, “Well, do you want to hear my point of view?” As soon as I would answer “yes,” the tension eased. They would tell me what they wanted to tell me and then move on. My goal would always be to create a conversation, do more than just say our opinions. But some people simply want to be heard, and I was okay with listening.
4. Is this something you’d do again?
I would do it again. Not once have I regret my decision. I would actually like to do something similar, possibly more organized, on East Campus. Wilson is surrounded by the more “liberal arts” departments and I think that showed. It is stagnating the way our campus is so divided, and on such disciplinary lines. I think this demonstration, or forum would be just as important for students who are learning different things and in a different way.
5. Can you explain what your sign means?
I began with a quote by Richard Wright, who I encountered as the author of Native Son. His works tend to focus on the systematic nature of racism. When picking what to write, I knew I wanted to put some thought into who I was quoting. I felt it was important to share words by a person of color. If I had given myself more time and the matter more thought, I may have tried to find someone else. But the point was to draw attention to oppression by paying attention to those speaking from the position of being oppressed. The quote itself is about the inevitability of change. Our America is currently digging its heels into the things it was built on (which, let’s face it, have been deeply rooted in the oppression of anyone who is not a rich abled-bodied white cisgender man in some way) in the face of what must happen. Of processes and necessity. But for those of us fighting, those who will continue the revolution of thought and compassion, it is a reminder that the change we want will take time. It will be a process, it will be part of history.
6. Did you keep your head down the entire time? Or was that only when you were sleeping (did you even sleep)?
By the end of the day, I had removed the hood and scarf from my face. I was surrounded by a lot of really great people by that point and I wanted to talk with them more freely. But I had slept as bundled as possible. I managed to doze off a time or two, but never for too long.