On becoming politically active

Since the election, a lot of people have started to become politically active. I think this is great. However, there are better and worse ways of doing this. For those who have not been plugged in, there is a powerful impulse to get together with friends and create a new organization or organize a demonstration all by yourselves. But seeking out and supporting existing organizations that have already been doing the work is super important.

Yesterday, I had a choice. Well, I had several choices because there were actions and meetings taking place all over Atlanta on Saturday. But I’m going to focus on just two: the one I went to and the one that would have been easiest for me to go to.

There was a #BlackLivesMatter march in Atlanta, about a 45 min drive from where I live. It was focused on a specific issue: seeking accountability for DeAundre Phillips, a young black man who was killed by police on January 26. Specifically, they are demanding that the Atlanta PD “1) release the names of the officers involved in the shooting and 2) release all survelliance footage of DeAundre’s murder.” It was organized by some groups that have already been doing work around Atlanta, like Solutions Not Punishment Coalition – SNaP Co, which is “a Black, Trans-led, Atlanta-based coalition working to build a Black, Queer, Trans, Feminist movement toward practical abolition.” Their facebook page says they were founded in 2012, so they’ve already been at this for a minute…

Or I could stay in the town I live in and participate in a white-led “Carrollton Stands for Love Again” march, with no coherent message or purpose beyond a feel-good demonstration of “love”. According to posts on the event page, one of the organizers shared the event with the campus LGBTQ group but “couldn’t figure out who’s in the black student alliance on campus”…

You know which one I went to. You know which one I will always choose.

The hard part is trying to communicate to those white folks how fundamentally flawed their approach is.

There is also a new Indivisible group starting up in my town. Though it’s another new upstart, I have hope that it can be good overall. There is, of course, value in organizing at the very local level and getting to know the people who live near me. I hope and will push for it to be a place where we can share information and organize carpooling to go support actions organized by established groups in our town and around Atlanta.

We had our first meeting this past Friday evening. I tried to bring this issue up during the meeting. Some others had commented on the overwhelming whiteness of the room, and suggested reaching out to other groups in the area to bring them in. So I responded that we need to think about the power dynamics there – we need to go support existing groups, especially those led by marginalized groups, on their terms and following their lead, instead of planning our own thing based on our inexperienced & privileged idea of what will be useful, and then asking those other groups to do the work of showing up to our thing and/or guiding us. Unfortunately, I was very quickly spoken over by some white woman who was super excited about her march for love.

There is so much work to do. We will persist. Luckily, there were several people at the meeting who also “get it”, so I don’t think I’ll be alone on this.

Of course, it should be noted that I came to this perspective by reading tweets and blog posts by many marginalized writers (including many intersections of race, gender, sexuality, etc). I’m not directly citing anyone, because I’ve read and try to take their wisdom to heart, and am now doing my best to apply this understanding. But I want to thank the black women, queer folks, black queer folks, Muslims, and others who do the work of teaching for free via twitter and blogs… And encourage white folks reading this post to also read and consider contributing to sites like Black Girl Dangerous (contributions help pay the authors for their work). Also, thinking about the people who have most influenced my thinking on this, I’m realizing some outlines of my information bubble, and where I need to do more to diversify who I follow!