Updated: Feb 1
Years ago when I first marveled at the idea of advocacy, I didn’t know how much I still had to learn about the world. About how speaking out about things was less of a choice and more of an obligation than I ever considered. About how those in power would do anything to make the voices of so many just like me sound weak and ineffectual. About how criticizing my elected officials and those with the most social capital meant that I was taking on a much bigger entity of power than simply the issue at hand. To be a person with a conscious means to hold strong convictions, beliefs, and ideas, whatever they may be about. Sometimes it’s very transparent to recognize those who can’t step beyond their own scope of reality in order to care about others, but oftentimes it’s hidden behind disingenuous sentiments and surface-level efforts that inevitably will expire.
Never have I been so stricken within such a short period of time, watching the unjust and cruel death of one man, George Floyd, mobilize the entire nation within a few days. Pushing for the visibility of police violence and abuse of power has always been an uphill battle for me, which is why I felt a shift when one state became fifty in the collective consensus that we’d had enough. This unspoken conclusion felt like the largest and most blatant acknowledgment of our police state and moreover, the repeated consequences of systemic racism.
Overwhelming pessimism is what hit me first. To consider the number of people who watched a man be killed in cold blood and not be able to step in out of fear of what might happen to them. Thinking about what would’ve happened if it was never filmed and hundreds of demonstrations didn’t incite from the trauma and anger of seeing the life go from someone’s eyes at the hands of those who are meant to protect our well being and assess what’s in our best interest as people. Mobilizing on such a large scale had meant that we recognized it’s not just about personal bias or prejudice that drives individuals on the force to abuse their power to hurt others–it’s that it is being allowed. The capital that allows some a better education, better opportunity, a better quality of life, and a better future. A capital that is distributed, both monetarily and socially, based on race and privilege. This same capital funds inherently racist institutions like police and prisons with hundreds of billions of dollars, cyclically repeating the institutionalized targeting of black people.
The thousands on the frontlines these past few weeks are among the most socially disadvantaged and have the most to lose from speaking out against injustice, yet they risk themselves anyway because it isn’t a choice. People protest because power never concedes power, because policies and those who enforce them have failed to protect them. Demonstrations arise when we collectively understand that the powers that be are no longer working for the people.
Black liberation has never truly existed in America; decades and generations of interventions with our government and the prejudiced folk whom we share a colonial space with have never truly proven to remove the shackles of discrimination and subjugation that this country was founded on. The black struggle is truly unique than that of any disenfranchised or marginalized group. Those who ask, “why is racism a debate?” or “how can ending racism be so controversial?”–you’re not wrong to be dumbfounded, but I implore you to move past this shock. If you use this moment to relearn what you’ve been taught and understand the mechanics of our government from a new lens, then you’ll realize there’s no shock at all. Racism and oppression are embedded into every working factor of our country. It is time we stop simply looking at it in merely interpersonal relations or even just generational bigotry. Racism on an interpersonal level is so protected because it used to be sanctioned law. Being a part of the resistance means you understand that the oppressed need to work to dissolve the parts of our system that were built in a time where this law was mandated. A time that existed for hundreds of years longer than what we know currently as modern society has.
The silver lining that has curbed my pessimism was the realization that organizing is the opportunity of the oppressed to use our voice of opposition as a stronghold in the same way that our oppressors use outdated law and police violence as theirs. The existence of racism was never a question, it was just about the moment that we nationally and globally challenged its grip on us in the strongest numbers. This could be that moment. We must call on the accountability of both individuals and the institutions that use these individuals as a pawn to force their hand and maintain their power as has always been done. We need to reimagine these institutions in a way that no longer allows them to leverage hundreds of years of oppression over us and still be able to say that we’ve reached optimum equality for all people. Folks across the country protesting with the words “defund” and “abolish” when speaking of these institutions are so incredibly important. Young activists need to grow up learning to discredit the norm instead of spending years and precious time re-understanding and unlearning the corrupt ways in which this nation’s systems have run since its conception.
We have hope in the coming generations because the idea is that we will take what we’ve been taught with a grain of salt and not consume things as they were intended on face value until they properly reflect our history and the hand that our own government had in repressing marginalized people to this day. Investing in our communities–education reform, social work, mental health resources, safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth etc.–will be the improvement in our quality of life that will furthermore reduce crime and incarceration. Community activists spend their entire careers advocating for such causes in a way that makes electoral politics look like soulless work. We get things done, and it’s time to fight for a system with public servants that will have our backs in these endeavors instead of having to fight them every step of the way. The resistance is loading, and it’s a marathon not a sprint.
Being in a time where group mobilizing is slightly stinted, it’s important to know how to create effective individual outreach. I put together a resource that started as a way to keep track of and compile petitions I’ve signed and funds I’ve donated to or thought were important to share. I put them all on a growing document and shared them with my close friends, then eventually as many others as I could. It’s now a website that I update multiple times a week. Many people are using this as an opportunity to share their personal stories on how the system failed them or how they’ve been forgotten and left behind after not receiving the justice they deserved. At the very least we must read and sign any petition we come across and help them be seen and heard, reviving the muddled names and stories that all serve to attest to this country’s sins. Donating to credible causes and group funds if you have the means, properly informing yourself (even if that means changing your opinion or un-conditioning yourself), and connecting with community advocates and your local officials are all valiant and impactful efforts no matter how ineffectual you think it may seem on your own. Revolution requires resistance and resistance can’t occur if you’re unable to see the impact of actuating on a small scale. Your voice matters.