Skarlet Dior Black isn’t waiting for a revolution. She’s walking it to your front door.
“People were screaming and freaking out,” she recalls of the first few days of protests, when police were still throwing explosives and spraying tear gas. “I was like, ‘people can run away and that’ll be it for the day’ … or I can say, ‘let’s hit this hard left, let’s keep going up the hill.' Every time we stopped and people wanted to stand against the barricades, I was screaming at the top of my voice, ‘let’s keep moving, let’s march through rich neighborhoods. Let’s get them to care.'”
A local drag performer, cannabis advocate, and community activist, Skarlet’s just getting started.
When the protests began, a little over a week ago, she says she approached them tentatively at first, watching from a distance. “At Westlake Square it was people listening to speeches and singing,” she says. “But right around the corner were flash-bangs and yelling. People pouring milk in their eyes because they got tear gassed. Flames and madness. I see teenagers running around with jeans laughing, and it’s like, this is not what we’re here for.”
When she came back the next day, things seemed to be deteriorating even further, she says. “They were flash-banging, people were getting pepper sprayed at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.”
That’s when she decided to put her skills to work. As a performer, Skarlet knows how to rally a crowd, lead a chant, and get people moving. When bars were open, she performed with her drag mother, Amora Dior Black, and was the co-host of the monthly cabaret show Noir.
She’s modest about her natural charisma, but anyone who’s seen Skarlet perform knows that it’s hard to take your eyes off of her. So she began shouting for protesters to move out of downtown, where their calls for change weren’t being heard, and into residential areas where they couldn’t be ignored.
“We need to be where people who have the means to make a change are at,” she says now, looking back on the last few days. “We need to be in their neighborhoods, we need to make noise, and we need to be doing peaceful protest.”
Though she was already active in the community with her group The Colored Cannabis Collective, she’s never been so directly engaged at the street level, Skarlet says. “These past few days have made me start paying attention and opened my eyes. … When the world was, you know, quote-unquote normal and I had all these distractions, my shows, cannabis, it was easy to share a link and keep moving. But now that the world’s stopped and things are falling apart, I have more time to look into things.”
Now, she barely recognizes the life she was leading last week.
“If someone would have told us eight days ago we would be planning protests and marches and getting protective gear for tear gas, I’d have been like, 'you’re talking crazy,'” she says. “I think the next few weeks are going to look real foreign. … It’s going to be a weird world.”