Because racism is a pandemic, then so too must be our sustained response. The solution must be proportionate to the problem.
The first step needed is an attitude shift which is covered in the companion article, “Dismantling Racism: first step is changing white attitudes”. The second step is action. People may shy away from the hard work that action requires; or it may sound too radical to them. To get to any goal, I urge that we “bite the goals into bite size bits.” As I say in the attitudes article, there is a continuum of where people stand. Some people do not identify with activism; they will help in their own way. The goal is to get people to the next step. Protests were the first step in waking up this country; now the next step is sustained action.
From protest to power
People turning out in hundreds of towns and cities in America have been a spark or wake-up call; now we must make sustained change. Many protest movements – whether it was the Vietnam anti-war movement or Lebanon’s WhatsApp Revolution – articulate what they are against, and not what they promote or advocate.
Empowerment is taking responsibility to create our lives and our world as we wish it to be.
A movement really gains traction when people can envision a better future or policies, and break those into tangible action steps to tick off. This is a way of measuring: how far have we come? What have we achieved? What else do we need to tackle?
Barack Obama urged in his essay, “How to make this moment the turning point for change: basic lessons to draw from the past” in The Medium on June 2, 2020, that we must develop ways to make sustained change.
Writes Obama: “So the bottom line is this: if we want to bring about real change, then the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.”
This is the map of where protests occurred in the US in June 2020 (courtesy of al Jazeera)
Looks like the measles? Yes, let’s make a contagion of sustained activism.
So what to do to shift from protest to power?
Urge others to do likewise. Work on campaigns. Register voters. Make phone calls to swing states… it is an interesting conversation. It is especially the local elections that influence racial justice issues and gerrymandering which impacts voter suppression.
Continues Obama: “It is mayors and county executives that appoint most police chiefs and negotiate collective bargaining agreements with police unions. It’s district attorneys and state’s attorneys that decide whether or not to investigate and ultimately charge those involved in police misconduct. …. Unfortunately, voter turnout in these local races is usually pitifully low, especially among young people—which makes no sense given the direct impact these offices have on social justice issues, not to mention the fact that who wins and who loses those seats is often determined by just a few thousand, or even a few hundred, votes.”
2. Education and health programs which impact many Americans may be gutted. Don’t let this happen!
This, I believe, is where the most vigilance and action is needed. Long debates and battles have been fought over how to make the American Dream a reality for everyone. Don’t let DACA, Pell grants and Head Start be eliminated. Likewise, years of work have gone into creating quality of life for everyone in this country, to ensure that families can stay healthy and children are fed. Don’t let SNAP, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and school lunch programs be decimated. Stay on top of things and tell your legislators what matters to you. Do not let years of civil rights work and activism be in vain.
I found this resource helpful to stay on top of this:
3. Corinne Shutack compiled the most comprehensive list of action steps I have seen:
97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice
4. Join or follow organizations doing important work
We do not need to re-create the wheel. Join well respected organizations to guide your action steps:
a. NAACP – America’s oldest – started in 1909 to fight Jim Crow – and largest civil rights organization.
b. Stacey Abrams Fair Fight to ensure fair elections
c. Urban League – working on economic empowerment through education and job training, housing and community development, workforce development, entrepreneurship, health, and quality of life.
d. Van Jones’ Dream Corps is doing across the aisle criminal justice work
e. Some predict a backlash to the protests. Thus The Southern Poverty Law Center and the ACLU will be as important today and in the near future as they have always been.
f. Color of Change designs campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champion solutions that move us all forward.
g. Showing Up for Racial Justice
I thought: there must be to racial justice what PFLAG – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays – has been to the LGBTQ movement. I do not know SURJ well, but I think it may be the closest that currently exists. “SURJ works to bring more majority white communities into movements for racial justice. You’ll be connected to a community of people taking collective action for racial justice. We offer opportunities for you to stay connected to those on the frontlines and make meaningful action to dismantle white supremacy.”
As Corinne Shutack who compiled “97 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice” comments, “Our work to fix what we broke and left broken isn’t done until Black folks tell us it’s done.”
These protests are just the beginning
Dorian Wilson, President of Community Change, an organization whose mission is to build the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that impact their lives, notes, “In some ways we’re seeing the vibrant renewal of civic engagement in our democracy.”
I believe these protests are just the beginning; that there will be a tidal wave of change as different groups and different countries say. “Enough!” For real change to happen, it will require us to envision what we really want in a proactive, positive way; and to nurture, water, weed and push for the rooting of the changes these protests have seeded.