By all means be mad if you are committed to racial justice and are disgusted by the travesty that occurred with the decision of a grand jury in Ferguson Missouri to not indict Officer Darren Wilson, the local police officer who killed teenager Michael Brown. If you are Black or Latino your anger is particularly justified since we are more often at the receiving end of police violence and injustices generally. And don’t listen to racism apologists who attempt to shame your anger and downplay this nation’s historical and current practices that have injured Black people. Your anger is legitimate. We must now go about the business of organizing our outrage and transforming the very institutional structures that are contributing to our marginalization.
This isn’t ‘rocket science’ so to speak; in fact, if we just exercise common sense we can help ourselves and simultaneously rearrange the political and economic landscape. However, the work begins in your backyard. While we can empathize with injustices in locations that are in the news cycle, there is enough for you to do in your own community to keep you busy. We often become intoxicated with outrage that is delivered into our homes via television, the internet and radio but lose sight of the landscape of inequity that is visible outside our front door. The real work begins at ‘home’ and the collection of grassroots victories ultimately translate into significant national change. We revere the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s as the model for social change and lose sight that we gained national momentum for equality only after hundreds of localized campaigns.
Practically, there are several action steps that should be on your ‘To Do’ list if you are truly committed to social change. The first, in my estimation, is to use the power of social media as a tool for information and education, and create electronic learning networks to expand public knowledge. Next, you have to take voting seriously and commit to making certain friends and acquaintances in your network are registered and actually vote; whether they are local or outside your community. And vote in all elections and not just presidential elections. On a day-to-day basis, the decisions and behaviors of local elected officials, school board members and state legislators have far greater impact on our quality of life than Congress or the occupant of the White House. Don’t get seduced by the trappings of power and miss the opportunity to exercise real power. The third action step is to make conscious decisions about how and where you spend your money. Our purchasing has political consequences as corporations make political contributions through PACs, influence workplace racial and gender diversity through hiring practices, and affect income inequality, impact the environment through its production processes, and affect the built environment with the siting of offices and plants. Too often we make blind investments in businesses working against our interests through our pension and 401K plans. Take control of your spending decisions.
If you take the steps suggested above there is still a very important commitment we must all make if we want to move past the rhetoric of racial justice and inclusion. Children and young people must be a priority and adults must invest the necessary time and energy to advocate on behalf of youth. This means attendance at your local Board of Education meetings is not optional. If you cannot attend, form a parent committee to make certain that someone is present or watching the meeting if it is aired on your local cable access television station or webcast. At the same time you must become familiar with school district policy and state education law; it’s not as daunting as you think and increasing your education policy IQ will level the playing field. You must become proactive in communicating with school district leadership and school staff, and become a very visible presence in your local schools. For too long we have left our children to fight on their own, vulnerable and the results have been disastrous.
It is past time to dig in and push back. The emotional release of looting and protest is no match for the emotional and physical healing that occurs when we shift the national pendulum toward justice. Our stagnation is not simply the result of complacency or apathy, as so many suggest. We have been paralyzed by the frustration and anger of false prophecy and dashed hopes, and have surrendered in the face of what looked like insurmountable odds. Then the equivalent injustice of Emmett Till and the Birmingham church bombing occurred at a point in time when some, including journalists, were trying to sell us on the idea that America had achieved a post-racial nirvana with the election of the first Black President. What Ferguson reconfirms is that until corrupted institutions are reformed, individual acts of injustice and hate will occur on a daily basis. Darren Wilson is simply the latest manifestation of structural racism that no President can address or eliminate without an aggressive and unapologetic movement for justice.
So, be angry. Every day wake up with that anger and use it to organize and agitate. Don’t let anyone rob you of that anger. Don’t let anyone shame you out of it and distort history by suggesting Blacks are prone to violence when the truth reveals that we are very much victims. And do not be silent in your anger and disgust. We must speak truth to power and challenge this nation to be what it purports to be in symbol and legend.
Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.