A Guide to Action

A b&w photo of James Baldwin with a quote in white text.
Image created by JJackson — Photo is Open Domain

As a Black woman living in the US, I’ve been doing risk assessments everyday for as long as I can remember. I made sure that my training as an attorney and an environmental educator gave me specific tools for the ongoing resistance movement, but the lived experience of being a Black woman in the US is at the heart of the information I am about to share with you. My bones and my skin and my heart are filled with the generational wisdom of fear and survival. Listen to me, so that together we can transmute the fear and continue to build a movement set on freedom.

This is an emergency. For hundreds of years we’ve been living in an emergency. The lives of Black people are being exchanged for the supremacy of whiteness on a daily basis. Often through death, always through fear. The coordinated systems of oppression that course through the veins of this country are lucid and agile and fundamentally inhumane and immoral. Our response requires a decentralized borage of constant presence that is informed by deep connection and care. As brother Cornel says, our “justice is what love looks like in public.”

Begin with yourself. In order to be prepared for the commitment this movement requires, you must be fortified with the truth. Seek out the skill of Black women actively in the work of educating us about the invasive spectrum of racism in our lives — from systemic racism to the inherent racism of white people (yes, every white person is racist) to non-Black POC racism to internalized racism. These powerful truth tellers include Austin Channing, Rachel Ricketts, Layla Saad, and Rachel Cargle. Seek them out and pay them to steward your ongoing internal anti-racism work.

The external work is next. Get activist training that includes conflict analysis, de-escalation, and other practical strategies for activist engagement. Yes, there are essential social justice actions you can take without training — phone calls to government officials, donations to Black organizations, getting out the vote — but that isn’t the movement work we are addressing in this article. I need you to be ready to engage with the systemic racism that lashes out and that requires training to withstand retaliation.

With a great deal of humility and respect, seek out your local chapter of Black Lives Matter and Showing Up for Racial Justice. You can also do Kingian nonviolence training with the King Center, East Point Peace Academy, Resource Center for Nonviolence, and The University of Rhode Island Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies. Typically the most effective and comprehensive activist training occurs under the radar amongst trusted and vetted individuals. Start with BLM, SURJ and nonviolence training and continue to learn more as you go.

Next I need you to think about your personal safety. Electronically, this means many folks will generate a generic online presence completely separate from their personal one in order to safely undertake the ongoing research required for effective activism. Examples include using a separate device, different IP, anonymous email, encrypted hard drive, etc. Your physical safety is another consideration. During this pandemic it’s possible that there won’t be as many live protests, but it is important to be prepared by knowing your rights, having a face cover, wearing different layers of clothing to avoid surveillance, learning how to make and safely use anti-tear gas canisters, first aid training, etc. Your emotional and mental safety is also crucial. You need to have a set of practices in place for your daily care and embrace therapy as an ongoing gift to yourself amidst repeating traumas. This work is exhausting as much as it is necessary and restorative. Be sure to resource yourself accordingly.

You can’t do this alone. Create a decentralized, non-hierarchical activist pod of four to five people who you trust. Protect and inspire one another. Be sure to use encrypted modes of communication such as Signal. Make certain that your shared values are in alignment with liberation. Social justice insists that power structures of classism, sexism, and racism find no place to rest in the movement. Intersectionality is key to our collective liberation. Our work is always inclusive of the many identities and abilities and families that benefit from anti-racism and anti-oppression activism.

Research is paramount. What specific issues are you committed to digging into and staying with until systemic change has occurred? I propose that these are the twenty issues that are presently impacting the insidiousness of systemic racism and need our unrelenting attention right away.

  • Police Brutality
  • Prison and Police and ICE Abolition
  • Cash Bail Eliminated
  • Decarceration
  • Death Penalty Eliminated
  • Gun Reform
  • Disenfranchisement
  • Protect our Black Trans Women
  • Houselessness
  • Food Insecurity
  • Environmental Justice
  • Unemployment
  • Education Reform
  • Net Neutrality
  • Media Integrity
  • Generational Trauma Healing
  • Reparations
  • Human Trafficking
  • Maternal Mortality
  • Health Care — including access to safe abortions and treatment of drug addiction and COVID-19 race disparity

If you select one or two of these issues to commit to, take each one in turn and learn everything you can from all sides of the issue. Please proceed with a baseline understanding that internet research is fundamentally biased in favor of upholding white supremacy (i.e. racist search engine algorithms), so in addition seek out primary resources and first person testimonials whenever possible. Find aligned organizations already doing work in the area you are researching and learn from them. Familiarize yourself with the public figures, politicians, organizations, and corporations that are attempting to maintain the oppressive power structure. Learn everything.

Now I need you to act. Action is sometimes prevention, sometimes sustaining, and sometimes reaction. I’m going to lean more toward prevention — dismantling and replacement — in this article. Now, if you are white, I need some of you with heightened capacity and training to join the police force, join the board of directors of the private prison corporations, join the secret societies of lawmakers. This is the “dismantle from the inside” approach. This takes years of work and support from an established network of movement builders. People who are reading this article are likely unable to act at this level, but I mention it because it’s important to know what’s possible and have goals for the future.

Another level of preventative action is becoming a watch dog. You will get clear on your area of concern and monitor every move made within it. Your role is that of protector that gives warning when harmful impact is expected. The Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU are considered watch dog organizations as are Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting and Corporate Watch. These are examples of large organizations, but as an individual you have the power to make a big difference as well. PLEASE check out the Community Tool Box from the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas for a huge amount of activist resources including Section 8. Acting as a Watchdog.

Another prevention based action is to activate all of your relationships and communities of influence to work on behalf of a singular goal every week. Organize through collaboration. In your local area, for any given issue listed above, identify the oppressors and the oppressed. Create a virtual direct action campaign in both directions. One is to put pressure on the oppressive force to cease and desist and the other is to uplift and amplify the lived experience of those being oppressed. Always ask permission before amplifying personal testimonials. The goal is for these direct action campaigns to prevent things like police brutality or incarceration or unclean water before they happen. Put the public figures and governments and corporations on notice and keep them there. Don’t let up.

As a watch dog and with virtual direct action campaigns you are preventing harm and leveraging momentum. In both cases you need to collaborate with folks doing similar work so that when the opportunity is created you can help replace the oppressive system with a liberatory alternative.

As you can imagine, I hesitate to write this article because it is also a “how to guide” for people with horrible intentions to attempt to infiltrate the social justice movement. I weighed the positives and negatives and concluded that the emergent need for people to have more tools to hold our society accountable for its centuries old tradition of white supremacy and racism is the priority. I intentionally kept some descriptions and examples vague and also didn’t include links throughout in order to protect the work of the activists and organizations from automated trolls.

As I said before, justice and accountability after specific horrors occur are crucially important and we expect everyone to show up for those moments and be responsive. This article is framed toward prevention because I want us to remember that our personal agency is also proactive. The feedback loop of reacting can be demoralizing so we must remember our power begins anew with the start of each day and our responsibility for collective liberation cannot wait. White supremacy is terrorism. This is an emergency. Rise up!

Living life from the perspective of a Black woman artist, attorney, environmental educator, cook, organizer, and Aunty

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