VOICES OF THE UNHEARD: ACTIVISM: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’RE NOT SURE WHAT TO DO
The year 2020 has been equal parts catastrophe, chaos, and revolution. The year began with the emergence of a global pandemic, followed by an uncoordinated (and woefully inadequate) response that disproportionately impacted marginalized populations. But even in a pandemic, police brutality persists. The resulting protests were met with more violence. And quite frankly processing this all has been crippling.
Over the last few months I have been grappling with how I plan on protesting. For some, their activism of choice is marching or attending a rally. With a global pandemic, I didn’t feel comfortable joining large demonstrations. Instead, I learned to carve my own path and contribute to the cause in ways that made the most to sense to me. If you are unsure how you can help, here are some suggestions:
This may be the most important election of our lifetimes - DON'T FORGET TO VOTE. Too often, I hear people say that our votes don’t count. Then why do they work so hard to suppress our vote? Since the end of the Reconstruction Era, violence and discrimination were used to disenfranchise Black voters. From lynchings and literacy tests to gerrymandering of districts, voter intimidation, and voter ID laws, they are all methods to temper your vote. In fact, the location of prisons in rural areas -- where prisoners are not from -- bolster the voting power of that rural district. Meanwhile, after their time is served and debt repaid to society, many citizens are stripped of their right to vote. So vote. Your vote matters and it counts.
Arm Yourself With Information
In his seminal work, The Mis-Education of the Negro, Carter G. Woodson (1933) wrote,
"The same educational process which inspires and stimulates the oppressor with the thought that he is everything and has accomplished everything worthwhile, depresses and crushes at the same time the spark of genius in the Negro by making him feel that his race does not amount to much and never will measure up to the standards of other peoples. The Negro thus educated is a hopeless liabIlity of the race."
Racism is insidious. From our history books to school policies, movies to media depictions --we have all been taught racial strata to support discriminatory policies and disparate outcomes. We all need to rethink our understanding of race and racism.
Knowledge is power. Study the history of race and racism. Understand how policy and politics work. Arm yourself with the information you need to be a change agent.
As you study the history of race and racism in this country, here are some good places to start:
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi
How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo and forward by Michael Eric Dyson
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
Racism Without Racists: Colorblind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States by Eduardo Bonilla-Silva
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Call and E-mail Public Officials
Citizens often underestimate their level of influence on public officials. Meanwhile, lobbyists who represent major corporations and industries, ensure that their interests are heard. Participate in public meetings; speak out during the public comments section. Know who represents you. Not sure? You can check state and federal sites, but for a quick overview of who represents you go to Ballotpedia.org. Call their offices. E-mail them. (There are often e-mail templates to help.) Comment on their social media. They represent you. Hold them accountable.
Sign petitions (And Donate)
Would you like to amplify the voices of just causes? Sign a petition. It takes less than a minute. And once you sign your first petition, look for other petitions, and quick-sign in less than a second. Change.org, the world’s largest social change platform, amassed over 600 million signatures in 2018 to educate and influence decision-makers in tens of thousands petitions. In case you were wondering, your signature does make a difference. If you would like to have an even greater impact, start your own. Elementary school children have started petitions, so don’t feel intimidated by the process. And if you have money to spare, consider donating to organizations like Change.org and ACLU; they work on our behalf to incite change.
Practice Self-Care as a Form of Resistance
Audre Lorde once wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Write. Dance. Pray. Meditate.Read. Journal. Do what you need to do. Center and ground yourself. This will be a long and arduous fight. Recharge so that you are prepared for the long haul.
Dr. Latoya Watson, EdD, MPA, is an educator, writer, and equity advocate. She has worked for over 16 years in the fields of higher education and education policy. Her research focuses on equity mindedness and systemic change.