Note from Michele: This week we have a guest post from Kate Tanner, who recently graduated from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. I think you’ll find her perspective on our world right now enlightening – and inspiring. Thank you to Kate for sharing your story:
Two presidential elections bookend the bulk of my teenage years. I was in fifth grade when President Obama won his first term. I was three months into my freshman year of college when President Trump won the 2016 election.
Like many middle schoolers, I formed my first worldly opinions with a stubborn eagerness that stemmed from a largely inadequate knowledge base. I knew the world was ripe with problems, but the leaders in my textbooks – suffragettes, civil rights heroes, and climate activists – felt less like myths with President Obama at the helm.
I wanted to be a “change-maker;” progressive action felt tangible. At the time, I couldn’t articulate the difference between equality, equity, and justice, but I had hope. What more did my generation need?
I cried in my dorm room the night of November 8th, 2016. Suddenly my passion to ignite change felt inadequate, unreasonable. I was angry and defeated.
I spent the subsequent four years researching a seemingly bottomless library of problems: broken political systems, institutionalized systems of oppression, new and historic discrimination patterns. I listened, I read, and I parsed through layers of my privilege (one being the very act of elective, second-hand learning). Nothing seemed fixable.
The more I learned, the more it felt like the momentum of the country worked against justice. How had I been so naive to think I knew what change would look like, much less assume it was in reach?
Then the promised welcome to the “strongest job market in 50 years” evaporated with a global health pandemic just 3 months before my graduation. The same week my university ceased in-person learning, Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police in her home. The month before, Ahmaud Arbery was murdered by two white supremacists while running. And in May, George Floyd was murdered by police after calling out, “I can’t breathe.”
The world was moving with an irreparable speed – in the wrong direction.
I explain this to say, growing up, my understanding of justice was challenged and refined in sync with two national leaderships. My knowledge base expanded with the help of forgiving mentors and friends, and experience. Yet, my faith in progress was connected to national messages.
Today, a singular voice does not control my hope; the millions of Americans marching across the country seeking a more just world are speaking louder. The passion we see in the streets, online, and at dinner tables is not something to seek solace in, but rather to ignite overdue engagement. Are you listening?
This moment is here to challenge us, to change us. My generation won’t wait for change. We will fuel each other and act with eagerness.
Let’s get to work.
Tuesday: Keep signing. Keep donating. Keep learning.
Several organizers have compiled single-page websites as resource centers for links on ways to get involved, organizations to donate to, and petitions to sign to support Black lives and racial justice. I encourage you to utilize these websites to ensure that you’re both maximizing the impact of your voice (Is there a petition you haven’t signed or a protest in your neighborhood this week?) and constantly expanding your knowledge (Is there another book on anti-racism you can pick up from the library or an article you can share with your friends?). Take a look at these two websites, here and here.
I’d also like to remind anyone looking to compile links or create a resource guide specific to your city to first look to uplift the voices of people who have been doing this work in your community for years! There are many on-the-ground activists who have spent countless hours researching, writing on, and sharing action items, Black-owned businesses directories, literature recommendations, and protest calendars. Share their resources and support their work before assuming you are filling a resource void.
Wednesday: Call Congress to Support the Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act
Last Friday, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ayanna Pressley announced complementary Senate and House bills calling for expanded legal accountability of police officers. The Andrew Kearse Accountability for Denial of Medical Care Act would hold law enforcement officers criminally liable for failing to provide medical care to individuals experiencing medical distress in their custody.
In 2017, Andrew Kearse died in a police cruiser from medical complications after begging for help. The policemen in the car were never held legally responsible for his death. Senator Warren and Representative Pressley are demanding justice for Andrew Kearse and other Black men and women killed in police custody. Senator Warren said, “This legislation is just one step – I will keep working with my colleagues for a complete overhaul of our policing and justice systems.” Call your Congresspeople and ask for their support of this bill.
Thursday: influence how funds are allocated locally
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights published an incredible advocacy toolkit on fair, safe, and effective community policing. If you can find the time, I highly recommend reading the entire (yes, all 153 pages) packet. I guarantee the read will inspire you to start organizing on behalf of your community. For now, direct your attention to section two and three, “Policing by the Numbers” and “I Am Concerned About…” These sections can equip you with talking points to address your local elected officials.
One of the best ways to hasten a rebuilding of community-led public safety is to change how funds are allocated – locally. You can influence budget decisions by showing up. Many cities are currently hosting budget meetings over Zoom, making sharing your voice even easier.
To get involved, some preliminary research is required: First, find next year’s budget proposal and timeline for your local jurisdiction. This information should be readily available on .gov websites and in local newspapers. How much money is your city planning to spend on policing? Public safety? Public health? Education? How is money being allocated in your city/municipality?
Then, strategize which city council, county council, or local official meeting you can join during the public comment section to discuss budget decisions. In most cases, you can call in to a set weekly evening meeting.
Next, write yourself a script. Most meetings have a time limit for guest speakers, so keep it short and to the point. Pull quotes and facts directly from the advocacy toolkit! Finally, follow through with your plan. Attend the meeting; call the public line; wait for your turn to speak; share your demand. Grassroots pressure is working across the country. Several cities are already re-evaluating budgets and pledging police department cuts, and reinvestments (see Seattle, Austin, and LA).
Friday Support #PoliceFreeSchools
Black students are three times more likely to attend schools that employ more security staff than mental health personnel (source). This is not an environment setting students up for success. Recently, Denver, Portland, and Minneapolis public school systems have vowed to end police contracts. In response to this progress, the Dignity in Schools Campaign shared this:
“As schools divest from policing and other practices that contribute to the surveillance and criminalization of students and families, they can invest in these transformative, culturally responsive, and effective approaches that support students’ full academic, social and emotional development.”
Here are three petitions you can sign to demand #PoliceFreeSchools.
- Tell D.C. leaders: We Demand Police-Free Schools
- Tell the School District of Philadelphia: We Want Police Free Schools
- Demand Police Free Chicago Schools
But, again, this is an area where you can have an oversized local impact. Find out what’s going on in your own town in your own local school district.
WHEW! GO TEAM!
P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.
If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!
Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.