Understanding “Both And” Activism and Finding your Place in it

Due to a blog hiatus, and my own life craziness, this blog was supposed to have been publish in March.  My deep apologies to the always froggy and totally on point Janjay.  The content is so on point with current events happening in Baltimore, MD, and indeed all over the US right now, that I hope it’s long awaited publication will be able to help us to continue to consider these important issues.


The death of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, both black men whose lives were claimed by white police officers, sparked a national social movement to bring attention to the ever pervasive problem of racism in America that is currently nurtured by systemic policies. The movement which became popular due to the power of social media lay bare before us the shared, yet tragic narrative of black people in America; that the presumption of danger projected on them out of fear is probable cause to kill them. This gave way to the creation of  hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #ICan’tBreathe and #HandsUpDon’tShoot, which turned into protest chants, fueled demonstrations such as die-ins, and ultimately set the stage for necessary conversations about race in cities across america.

Irrespective of the consciousness that these acts have raised, many continue to question the direction and validity of the movement under claims that, “protests do nothing but disrupt people’s routines and disturb the peace without creating any change.”  Other critiques have given way to the conclusion that the multiple non- indictments of killer cops have caused a paralysis among young black protesters and organizers who have accepted the status quo. Furthermore, the attempt of these sweeping conclusions is to portray black people as overly emotional to the point that they cannot be rational and come up with a strategic means to the end seek.  So that these assumptions that, “the fight for racial justice is over,” do not prevail, it is essential to clarify how public demonstrations such as vigils, protests, and die- ins fit into the larger movement for racial justice.

Along with it being our first amendment right to freely assemble, protests are effective for the sake of publicly expressing disapproval and objection to what is unjust.  More importantly, protests are a firm and emphatic declaration that calls the oppressors to make right the grievances of those hurt by unjust laws and policies. Being that American individualism has rendered many incapable of acknowledging the humanity of their neighbor,  protests are an instantaneous way to be seen, heard and bring to light the absurdity of demanding all the things are inherently ours by nature of being human–dignity, respect, access to opportunities to thrive. Our emotions are a significant and meaningful part of it as they convict the complacent, but we are fully aware that strategy is necessary to indict the guilty and prevent their further detrimental actions.

It is in this spirit that young people of color all over the country are organizing.  For this reason young black organizers all over the country have made a list of demands that they will not let go of. They are demanding that public officials be in conversation with them and see to it that these demands come to fruition. For organizations like Hands Up United, borne of Ferguson, MO, it’s both demanding a federal and local investigation on police brutality and  promoting Science Technology Engineering Math (STEM) literacy for young people in their communities  who otherwise won’t have access to it.  In my current community, it’s both creative protest that infuses poetry, dance, song to get young people to tell their everyday stories of racial disparities and voter education. This movement has also opened up conversations about better ways to do intersectional work as black women and LGBTQ people’s stories of oppression are often lost in the struggle for black men’s liberation. These conversations have given life to networks of mentor-ship for black girls and hashtags such as #BlackTransLivesMatter which aims to get all of the missing voices and faces to the table and provide them all with the safety net they need to fully thrive. With the fight for racial justice being a 400 plus years old fight, we’d be remiss to not acknowledge that there are leaders of the past who see clear parallels between yesterday and today’s struggle, and are willing to mentor young people who are on the front lines of organizing today.  The media’s inability to go beyond the sensationalism and see the “both and” element to this movement is disappointing. When we fail to imagine our world, its people and their realities more complexly, we dwell on dualism, understanding the world by compartmentalizing it into two opposed or contrasted aspects.

With the fight for racial justice being a 400 plus years old fight, we’d be remiss to not acknowledge that there are leaders of the past who see clear parallels between yesterday and today’s struggle and are willing to mentor young people who are front lines of organizing today.  The media’s inability to go beyond the sensationalism and see the “both and” element to this movement is disappointing. When we fail to imagine our world, its people and their realities more complexly, we dwell on dualism, understanding the world by compartmentalizing it into two opposed or contrasted aspects.

Just like the kin-dom of God is both at hand and in a time to come, just as the body and soul are not separate entities, but intertwined, we can both proclaim with a loud voice in the streets that black lives matter while registering people to vote for people who have their interests at heart.  We can both advocate for policy change and have a candlelight vigil to honor the slain. We can both partake in die-ins that make people face the reality that every 28 hours a black person is shot by the police and work to build an accountable police force that knows their community it polices. We are activists for the causes that matter to us because we believe equality and justice is for all. If you believe in this promised end, bring your gifts and find your place in the movement.


Janjay InnisJanjay Innis.jpg
Tacoma Community House, Tacoma, WA
US-2, Class 2013
Advance # 3021836

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