Activism 101: Ways to Stay Woke
Believe it or not, agitation is a legitimate form of activism. There is constant debate over when and where agitation is appropriate, who should be doing it, and whether or not it “further drives the divide”. The real is, the divide has always been there. As Black folk, we have taught our children and ourselves that we have to wear a mask to survive in this world. When we think about what equality really means, I can't help but wonder whether or not we will ever achieve it if we continue to walk on eggshells for white fragility or out of fear of persecution.
Things to Consider: Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.
Protesting can occur in many forms. Perhaps the most commonly used form of protesting in recent times is demonstrating. For BLM and other organized groups, demonstrating has mostly consisted of street protest where groups meet in specific locations. There are often speakers, songs or chants for the cause. Protesting has also come in unique forms such as die-ins and hunger strikes. Do you remember Jonathan Butler? He was a student at Mizzou in 2015, when a series of racist incidents was ignored by administration. Butler’s hunger strike ended with media attention on the school's problem with racism and the resignation of the school's president.
Things to Consider: Protesting, particularly demonstrating, is a form of Civil Disobedience. When attending and participating in protests, remember that there is a possibility that you will be arrested. I hear people compare Black Lives Matter and the current unrest to the Civil Rights Movement. They will say things like “MLK never shut down a highway”, as if Selma didn't happen. Remember that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested at least twenty nine times.
Boycotting is the ultimate “stick it to the man” activist method. The idea is to financially starve institutions that oppress or benefit from the oppression of groups of people. For this form of activism I use oppression lightly. I have read and observed that people who are not from oppressed groups will stop financially supporting institutions that they believe do not support them or their views. They don't call this boycotting. They call it common sense. As people of color and working class individuals, we are often given the idea that resources are scarce. That we have to make due with what we have. This mentality causes us to support many institutions out of convenience and familiarity, when in reality, abandoning that institution would create more opportunities and potential equity for us.
Things to Consider: Boycotting takes discipline. In 2015, many activist groups worked together to plan a Black Friday boycott with the intentions of hitting WalMart, and other conservative supporters, in their pockets. Though the news never credited Black people or our activists groups, they reported that Black Friday sells in stores were the lowest they have ever been in history. Good right? However, they followed up with that report by saying that online sales skyrocketed. Remember, the idea is to eliminate financial privilege. It takes longevity, consistency, and there’s always power in numbers.
If you’re like me, you’re probably super busy, have a demanding day job, and you’re just out here trying to function; You can still volunteer though. If you are in a stage where you are tired of injustices, but you aren't sure how to help such a long standing, negative situation be more positive, know that volunteering is always an option. If you’re worried that Black children and families may not have adequate resources, volunteer with Urban League or local schools. If you worry about the safety of the protesters but don't feel as though demonstrating is the best strategy for you, then donate water bottles or food. If you have money to spare, help with court costs for protesters- Yes, there are still people in St. Louis going to court over the unrest in 2014. There are so many ways to be involved.
Things to consider: Oppression compounds oppression, and we’ve been at it for a while. When the going gets tough remember that every bit of help does count. It is easy to get discouraged when you feel like you are dedicating your time to a lost cause. Equality is not one of those situations. I know quite a few people who have slowed down or given up on activism because they can't see the results. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Lobbying is one activism method that always seemed so far fetched to me, but it shouldn't. While completing my MSW, I was tasked with doing assignments such as writing to individuals in Jefferson City about mental health reform. It occurred to me at that time that if it werent for my privilege of attending college, I wouldn't think this was practical for someone like me to influence political decisions and talk directly to politicians. That mindset needs to be broken. If the only people putting pressure on politicians are other politicians and other individuals with class privilege, then the needs of the underserved don't get acknowledged. Petitioning, writing letters, and reaching out to politicians through organized groups are just a few ways to start the conversation about policy change.
Things to consider: Politicians can be tricky. I’ve seen very intelligent people try to influence decisions and policies and end up getting swept into another political discussion. Remember that time terrorist Dylan Roof murdered our beloved victims of the Charleston church massacre? Remember how the community was so shaken up? Remember how a couple weeks later all the state wanted to talk about was removing the confederate flag? Now don't get me wrong, the flag should have been banned years ago and having statues of white supremacist shouldn't even be an option. But why did that become the topic of conversation at that moment? Remember when having a one on one with politicians that you both have an agenda.
In times of conflict and confusion, we need people to explain these circumstances to our vulnerable populations as well as our not-so-vulnerable populations who are in need of clarity. The “Blue eyes–Brown eyes" exercise changed the lives of Jane Elliott’s students when she first introduced the activity in 1970. Other educators have used this exercise to teach about racism and prejudice for decades following.
Things to consider: Everyone does not want to learn. There are many people who become uncomfortable learning about the oppression of others. Focus your energy on the people who are willing to listen and have open dialogue.
Maybe you’re in a stage where you are fed up with injustices but you aren't sure how contribute. Maybe you’re like me and you love learning, writing, and planning. Researchers are needed as activists so that we can know where we’ve been and where we are going. When the Department of Justice released their report on Ferguson Police Department in 2015, the results were unsurprising to many locals. Though, it did put pressure on businesses and community leaders to pay attention to the proven, flagrant racism.
Things to consider: It may become difficult to look at data and facts objectively. Be willing to consider all causes and effects. Remember, some people are comfortable with believing lies. There is always a possibility that they will choose not to accept the realities proven to them.
I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about social media activism. It is my opinion that social media is one of the best things to happen to oppressed groups in decades. Just a few years ago, if racial inequality was happening to someone in California, I wouldn't know anything about it in Missouri. Now, with a like, share, or comment, I am aware within seconds what is happening. The elders say that nothing is new under the sun. That racism isn’t getting worse, people are just talking about it again. I would add to that by saying, we have camera phones now. We have mass communication now. We have a platform to express ourselves now. There is power in the ability to find and socialize with your tribe.
Things to Consider: Everything we see on the internet isn't real. I’m not just talking about photo shopped memes (though that is a legitimate concern). I’m talking about alternative facts. Make sure before posting anything pertaining to activism that it comes from a credible source. If you are one of the demonstrators, report as much as you can. We know by now that popular media outlets have not been the most reliable in reporting unbiased information about the call for social change.
They say that art is supposed to imitate life. It is my belief that art, in all it’s forms, is an opportunity to teach, to peak emotions, and to be heard. Today we look back on the Harlem Renaissance and marvel at the art and that beautifully written poetry. They used their art to tell the stories of what was happening. It crossed cultural barriers and generational barriers that still show us today what life was like. In 1977, Alex Haley’s miniseries Roots changed the way society visualized and talked about slavery. It was his storytelling, his art, that forced the nation to acknowledge the hardships of slavery. It is a conversation that we haven't stopped having.
Things to consider: Be mindful of people and families who have experienced tremendous loss recently. When a Chicago artist created a Michael Brown exhibit, it upset the family and supporters. Michael Brown Sr. called it “disturbing” and “disgusting”. Remember that even as artists, we still have a responsibility to think about the consequences of sharing certain works.
How do you show solidarity?
Activism 101: Ways to Stay Woke
By Hybrie Jenae
Apuzzo, M., Eligon, J. 2015.Ferguson Police Tainted by Bias, Justice Department Says. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/05/us/us-calls-on-ferguson-to-overhaul-criminal-justice-system.html
Ford, Dana. 2015. Jonathan Butler: Meet the man whose hunger strike flipped the script at Mizzou.
Jane Elliott. 2003. http://www.janeelliott.com/.
Payne, E. 2015. Michael Brown art exhibit is 'disturbing, disgusting,' father says. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/16/us/michael-brown-art-exhibit/index.html.
Shoichet, C., Fantz, A., and Yan, H. 2015. Charleston: Governor, senators join in saying Confederate flag should go.http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/22/us/charleston-church-shooting-main/index.html.
Zorthian, Julia. 2015. Black Friday Sales Down More Than $1 Billion http://time.com/4128592/black-friday-sales-down/.