Identify one organization in your area working for justice. Take time today to reach out and see how you can get involved in their work.
Last year, shocking videos of police murders led to between 15 and 26 million people participating in the largest social movement in U.S. history. Between May 26th and June 3rd of 2020, there were an average of 140 protests each day (Harvard). But white support for Black Lives Matter plummeted starting on that very date. Today, white Americans are less supportive of Black Lives Matter than they were at the start of 2020 (NY Times). This shocking fact points to the necessity of commitment for the long haul. We need to be in the fight until oppressive systems are actually eradicated, not just until they fade from the news cycle.
Some so-called allies “saw it as a trend,” said Colorado activist Melissa Boateng. “Their lives went back to normal whereas our lives were stuck in the same place” (Colorado Sun). Against superficial allyship, author Kim Tran says solidarity may involve some degree of sacrifice or risk: losing a job or friend, breaking the law and risking going to jail. As Deepa Iyer of the Building Movement Project put it, “when we build relationships, that’s when solidarity becomes a practice. Otherwise, it’s just a vision or a hope” (LA Times).
But for every case of fairweather allyship, there are examples of commitment and solidarity. Grace Lee Boggs, a Chinese-American activist, supported Black liberation and youth organizing in Detroit until she passed away at 100 (Guernica). Black Panther Party member Jalil Muntaqim continued to serve as a mentor and scholar during nearly 50 years of incarceration (The Guardian). Angela Davis is active in social movements half a century after being placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list (Biography).
The Puerto Rican Young Lords, the white Young Patriots, the Chinese American Red Guard Party, the Mexican and Filipino United Farm Workers, and the Black Panther Party organized for economic justice alongside one another. They faced political repression alongside one another, as well (Truthout). Many leaders from those movements would continue organizing in their communities for decades to come.
Building mutual commitment and solidarity continues today. For instance, in recent years, a multiracial coalition including the Arab Resource & Organizing Center, BAYAN USA, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and Palestinian Youth Movement launched a multi-year campaign to end an annual police weapons expo and SWAT training convention called Urban Shield (Stop Urban Shield). Protestors stormed city council chambers, blocked intersections in unpermitted protests, and one year, dozens of activists locked themselves to the gates of the convention itself for hours (TeleSUR). Though activists came from the different communities impacted by policing in different ways, solidarity and trust allowed them to take real risks and win. In 2019, after years of struggle, Urban Shield was effectively canceled (CBS).
This is not to say that you need to be comfortable going to jail tomorrow. It also doesn’t mean you must give the rest of your life to the movement or do nothing at all. But it’s important to remember that movements for justice take time and that there are many ways to be actively involved.
As Deepa Iyer identified, getting to know other organizers and activists is an important step. If you went to a protest last summer, consider reaching out to one of the organizations who planned it and see if you can get involved. If you have a group of friends with similar views and interests, see if there’s a project you can do together like fundraising for a community bail fund (PCBF) or setting up mutual aid in your community, creating a model for non-hierarchical mutual support (AFSC). If a local grassroots organization is working on an important issue, take the time to reach out and find a way to connect. And if your friends or family members are among those whose support for Black liberation dropped off, have hard conversations with them — and see if they can get involved as well.
We should also support projects that attempt to foster connections of solidarity and commitment between activists and organizers, despite their differences in perspective or positionality. These are politically generative spaces that can provide the social infrastructure necessary to sustain momentum within and between movements.
In our society, we have inherited ideas about when it’s appropriate to protest: as a college student, perhaps, or when a social movement gets a critical mass of support from media, politicians, or private companies. To build lasting change, we should think outside the box and instead choose a lasting commitment to positive change.
White support for Black Lives Matter plummeted after last summer.
We should emulate social movements that work across differences.
Amplify the work of activists who made sustained personal commitments to positive social change.