Like a lot of people in my community, I was out this past weekend at a couple of different actions/protests regarding the killing of Philando Castile (and others across the country). Rather than write my own big think-piece here, I thought a better use of this platform would be to collect a bunch of the links and resources that have been helpful to me over the past week (I also did this back in 2014, but it’s time for an update). I’m framing this around the question “BUT WHAT CAN I DO?” which has come up a lot recently.
I think it’s important to note that there’s no easy answer to that question. I want to say “organize.” I also want to say, though, that at different times, “doing something” will look different. It might be calling a jail to check on arrested protestors. It might be just showing up to whatever action is happening and standing in solidarity. It might be donating money to a bail fund, or dropping off supplies at an occupation, or filming a police encounter, or going to a meeting, or being there for a friend, or organizing a healing space or benefit concert, or a million other things. It doesn’t mean, however, sitting back and criticizing what’s going on when you have no skin in the game. It doesn’t mean emailing your one Black friend and asking them what to do (they probably have enough on their mind right now). And it certainly doesn’t mean business-as-usual. There’s always something that can be done, even if that “something” isn’t a big red button that fixes everything right away.
So here are a few starting points. Feel free to add more thoughts in the comments.
Follow: Activists and Organizers Doing the Work
No matter who you are or in what ways you want to get involved, I think the first step would be to follow the organizers on the ground– not just the media talking heads, or artists who support the work, but the actual activists and organizations on the front lines. I will list Twitter handles here, but many of these orgs are also on Facebook and other social media.
- Twin Cities:
- Black Lives Matter MPLS
- Black Liberation Project
- MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (an organization that has been involved in specific protests, but that also does broader organizing around equity issues)
- Voices for Racial Justice (less involved in day-to-day protests, but a great resource for ongoing racial justice work in MN)
- Communities United Against Police Brutality
- Nekima Levy-Pounds (the MPLS NAACP President; I’d link to the org, but Nekima is much more active on Twitter than the local NAACP itself)
- Unicorn Riot (indie media collective that livestreams protests)
- You can also check out the #PhilandoCastile hashtag.
- There are a number of individual organizers who are worth following too, but I’d hesitate to list them all in one place here, just in terms of troll traffic. There are also more organizations doing this work (shout to Million Artist Movement too). These links are a good start if you just want to know what’s going on.
- Part of the strength of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is that it’s pretty local-focused. There are “chapters” in some cities, but there are also organizations and collectives that use the phrase as a rallying cry rather than a specific organizational relationship. That being said, a few accounts that tweet info regularly include @BreeNewsome, @DeRay, @Nettaaaaaaaa, and the national BlackLivesMatter account. I also always appreciate @PrisonCulture‘s perspective on the broader project of abolishing the prison-industrial complex. Note that this is not a list of the “most important” organizers, or founders of the movement– just a few links for people interested in more information. Feel free to add more.
Learn: Readings and Resources
Here are a few links to readings that have been useful this past week, both in terms of learning and challenging myself, and in dialogue with others.
- Roxane Gay on Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering
- Info on the scope of the police violence problem
- Thread of Clint Smith tweets very clearly illustrating what’s wrong with the jail system.
- Thinking Through the End of Police (Prison Culture’s list of readings about the larger project to dismantle the prison industrial complex and policing in general).
- Campaign Zero (a ten-point plan to organize for policy solutions to police brutality).
- Track the progress of legislation in your state and figure out which politicians need to be pressured.
- An Open Letter to Our Asian-American Families About Black Lives Matter
- Bao Phi also posted an important addendum to this letter, RE the importance of more nuance in conversations about how Asian-Americans are impacted by police violence.
- This Is What White People Can Do to Support Black Lives Matter (I like this because it isn’t just an essay written by a white person– it’s a dozen short interviews with activists).
- Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism–from Ferguson to Charleston (a large bank of links and readings).
- Showing Up for Racial Justice (lots of resources and toolkits here; focused mostly on how white people can support the movement; there’s also a MN chapter)
- The Dark Noise Collective’s “Call for Necessary Craft and Practice,” a must-read for artists.
- Ryan Virden on White Silence and Alton Sterling
- What To Do Instead of Calling the Police
- My own framework for how I think about social media as a movement-builder and signal-booster.
- A list of responses to “All Lives Matter.”
- There’s a whole section of spoken word poem videos about anti-Blackness, African-American history, and #BlackLivesMatter in this collection.
- Finally, this is an older piece, and longer than anything else here, but Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Case for Reparations” is an important takedown of the idea that racism is just an attitude. It’s built into our history, and knowing that history has to be part of any next steps.
Organize: Get In Where You Fit In
I know that this is sometimes easier said than done. But it’s still the answer. Change happens when people get together and make it happen. What might this look like?
- Joining, supporting, and/or donating to existing organizations. The links in the first section of this piece might be a good start.
- Showing up. Rallies, marches, vigils, and protests don’t solve problems on their own. But the bigger they are, the more energy gets infused into the movement that will solve those problems. Apart from that, these are the places to go to get plugged in.
- Think about your own positionality and the spaces you have access to. For me, since my job is to build with college and high school students around the country, it’s pretty easy to make sure that a racial justice focus is part of that. Depending on what identities you hold, what your job is, or what spaces you have access to, this will look different. But thinking about our peer groups, workplaces, places of worship, families, neighborhoods, and beyond is a good step. Make problems that are so often so huge and overwhelming local. The thing is, there’s no easy five-step checklist to do that. It takes critical thought, and work, and dialogue. But it can definitely be done.
Think Critically: Whose Narrative is Valued?
Thinking specifically of this past weekend, if you only listen to what the nightly news says, or what St. Paul’s mayor says, you’re not getting the whole story. Because where are they getting theirs? Often, the “official” police narrative becomes the story that gets repeated, even if that narrative isn’t entirely accurate. A few links:
- While a lot of the local media’s coverage focused on the simplified narrative of “violent protestors,” this piece from HuffPo’s Black Voices gives a more nuanced report of what actually happened.
- Do You Know the History of the Rondo Neighborhood? The march that shut down I94 had a lot of symbolic weight behind it. If anyone is going to be angry about a march shutting down a freeway, they should be a lot angrier about a freeway tearing apart a neighborhood. We need to know our history. Fadumo says it best.
- Finally, the homie Abeer Syedah posted a firsthand account of what went down:
The narrative that’s being painted about last night’s protest is appalling. As someone who, in my work capacity, engages with mainstream media & with liberal/progressive public figures, I find myself sometimes frustrated with the way stories are warped and repeated by those who aren’t experiencing it. But it’s been a while since I’ve seen anything like this.
Some of my role last night was to help people stay safe, peaceful, and resourceful. This means that I witnessed, or was involved in, some of the incidents being very much so warped in the storytelling of this protest. Yes, rocks, water bottles, and other items were thrown at the police. Majority of them were thrown by folks who identified themselves as attending the march “for myself” and disrespected Black Lives Matter. I personally confronted two of them on two separate occasions, before things were thrown, and they made it clear that they weren’t going to listen and their goal would endanger the entire crowd. Mica begged over the bullhorn for them to stop. Community members would ambush them and make them leave. On several occasions, I watched (and filmed) community members de-escalating folks ready to cause harm. I cannot put into words the DESPERATION in people’s voices & actions as they told agitators to “stop throwing shit, stop agitating, you’re endangering everyone, this isn’t us.”
Before the march began, through the bullhorn during the entire march, and after, Black Lives Matter pleaded for nonviolence and non-agitation, even though the Black community has not been afforded that treatment.
I counted at least a dozen firecracker-like items thrown at the crowd by the police. At one point we were gassed. I coughed so much, I vomited with blood. A woman next to me was heaving on the ground while folks ran over to her with gallons of milk to lessen the burn. Rubber bullets and markers were shot at the crowd. At this point, most major news media outlets, aside from the people of Unicorn Riot who livestreamed everything, had left the ground scene.
All the while, before things started getting really poor, people were told to make sure kids were out of the crowd. They were put on the pickup truck used by BLM to drive them away from the situation and keep them safe. Instead, the cops blocked them from leaving and, eventually, maced this truck with kids on board. Mayor Chris Coleman grossly and falsely claimed kids were being used as shields. Was he there? Where are the kids’ stories?
If you disagree with this protest style or the cause as a whole, that is a different conversation (that I had in 2014 and you’re welcome to use those Facebook statuses as my responss to critiques of protest styles and the BLM cause) but what I’m trying to make clear is that the stories being told are biased. Ignoring our words. Because, you know what I saw?
I saw hundreds of white people link arms and stand ready to defend the black community from danger or harm. I saw people whose cars got blocked on I94 raise their fists in the air with us, give us thumbs up, and chant #BlackLivesMatter from their cars. I saw families, couples, friends, strangers, black people, white people, APIs, Latixs and/or Native people, queer/trans people, straight people, men, women, folks of all gender identities, old people, young people, parents, and kids, marching together. I saw people carrying pictures of Philando while singing and dancing to Purple Rain.
I saw, and joined, people grabbing empty water bottles from the ground so they could recycle them later because “we respect our streets.” I saw people, with tears in their eyes, chant “no justice, no peace,” and could only imagine which of their loved ones they saw in Philando, Alton, Tamir, Freddie, Walter, Jamar, Eric, Mike, Sandra, Akai, and hundreds more. I saw people making sure we never forget these folks who were LOVED, had FAMILIES, had ASPIRATIONS. I saw people who were demanding that people not forget, not move on with their lives, not be comfortable, with the executions of people who did not deserve to die at the hands of those sworn to protect them. I saw a lot of radical love.
Fuck violence against anyone. Stop provoking a war when we want it to be democracy. Tons of arrests happened last night. The agitators don’t seem to be among them. Students, young people, old people, people of all races, are. UMN students are among them. I support them & am requesting their release as a civically-engaged Minnesotan. If you want to donate to the bail fund, send via Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to request the release of protesters, call Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi’s office at 651-266-3222. You can also contact St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.