5 THINGS WHITE-LED ORGANIZATIONS CAN LEARN FROM THE BLACK MAMAS DAY BAIL OUT ACTION
How many of us have read articles about ‘what can we do’ since Trump became President? How many of us have sat in meetings with good people asking the same question? How many of us are asking that question ourselves? Five pieces of the answer to reflect on today:
- Most campaigns that spread like wildfire do so because no one organization is obsessing about getting the credit
Much of the campaign planning I hear is mostly about how we can get our own organizations to gain recognition, and not enough about how we can support concrete wins for the communities who we say we stand with and for. Especially for those of us who are white and have some resources, our desire to shine in a leading role is palpable right now. From the Women’s March to this Bail Out, we see that when we surrender that urge and seek to gather as many of us to common and honorable purpose as possible we get much more accomplished. I know who had the idea for this Bail Out, and if you pay attention (which you should) you will know too: but Mary Hooks has never been about getting her name out there for her own ego, she has always been about liberation, winning and creating a united front. The problem is that our organizations have had to compete so hard for resources (and women of color leaders generally are so under-recognized) that the landscape becomes one of in-fighting and competition. The communities we want to build alongside are turned off from us before they even come in because all they see is that we are turned towards each other (even in strife) and away from them.
2. Most of the time actions really do speak louder than words
Institutions make us get so good at speaking on panels. So good at writing articles like this one. So good at delivering one-liners in a rushed interview with the press. I know I for one have to work to stay good at organizing, at base-building, at just getting out there and planning the action. James Baldwin said: “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” As white progressives, we say that we are deeply committed to the liberation of Black and Brown people. But, only our actions (from reparations, to true power sharing, to conceding power, to real risk) can create a path to trust where what we do aligns with what we say. We have to prove we love the people we say we do, we have to prove that we believe their lives matter to us.
3. We have to be about our people, not just about our friends and our enemies.
Those of us who coming from working class white backgrounds say we love the people we come from, but most of us are not by their side bailing them out, supporting them through opiate addiction, helping them get jobs. If we were, we might have a different branch to stand on when we seek to organize them away from white supremacy that infests all white communities. Black Mamas Day Bail Out shows us what it means to launch a tactic that invites everyone into an origin point of love and care towards Black women in jail. It raises the visibility of the bullshit that is money bail. It shows us all what it means to say to people we claim to love: “Just because Trump is President, does not mean I have forgotten that you are sitting in a cage.” Too often I am in organizing spaces, and we all know each other. My heart sinks, though I like many of the people I am keeping company with. It sinks because we are still failing to do the work that means people know that our organizations exist for them, that our organizations belong to them, care whether they live or die. It means we are failing to do the work to share what we have beyond our cliques of care or cliques of spite. There is another way, but it means moving beyond that status quo.
4. We don’t get to not act just because it is hard to know where to start
This point is especially for all my ‘type A’, ‘big strategy’ white organizer friends: We do not know where to start. We cannot make the perfect strategy chart for this moment. We do not have clarity on our ‘roles’. We just have to pick worthy campaigns, targets, and alliances and get to work. Expand the circle. Move in the red states. Support other leaders. Every time we see something good popping up and gaining traction: get behind it.
5. We can re-define what it means to root our organizing in our deepest spiritual values
Thousands of us are longing to ground our action in our deepest spiritual values: to make what we do count. That does not have to require a lot of fanfare and preaching (though it might have some): we can begin by supporting and building campaigns that answer the origin point questions. Questions like: what does liberation in our lifetime look like to you? To me, it looks like getting people out of cages. It looks like Pat Hussein saying: “Money kept them in, Black Love got them out.”, and then making it so. When we lend a hand to people liberating themselves, we lend a land to the purest, most selfless form of compassion. It is not pity. It is not charity. It is us in service to the best we can offer. We do not have to wait for someone to ‘sanctify’ that work and say it is holy. We know it is. So, let’s keep at it.