We are seeing protests, civil unrest, and even uprisings sweep across cities and towns all over the United States. What started in reaction to the brutal police murder of George Floyd has become about the systematic abuse, oppression, and destruction of black and brown communities nationwide.
This is, of course, happening within the context of a deadly and terrifying global pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in this country alone and put more than 40 million people temporarily or permanently out of work. A few months ago, those frankly felt like unimaginable numbers. But of course, we have to be real and recognize that the hardest hit communities in all of this are communities of color, where inequality and the legacy of racism has made people more vulnerable to the devastation of the virus.
And so people are scared. They are angry. They want things to change. Rightfully so.
At a time like this, understanding how to affect change is more confusing than ever. So we at The TESA Collective put together a robust – but by no means definitive – guide to understanding what you can do right now to help the protests and the movement to end police brutality and murders. We’ve got resources, links, places to donate, ways to have conversations, signs to put up in your windows, free ebooks, advice on how to participate in protests safely in a pandemic, and more.
It is possible some content in this guide may lose us some people. But as we argue below, none of us can stand by right now, and we have to face these difficult conversations, even if they strain cherished relations. So we hope you will join us in saying: black lives matter.
One more thing. Not every piece of advice or every action below will be applicable or useful to everyone. That’s okay. Ignore what doesn’t work for you, and use what does work for you. Because no matter what, it’s time to act.
Become Aware of Systematic Racial Oppression and Police Brutality
The police murder of George Floyd is not an isolated incident, though much of the coverage of the protests by mainstream media have made it out to seem like that is the case. Police forces have been terrorizing and oppressing communities of colors for ages, and in many ways this terrorization is escalating as more military-grade equipment pours into police departments.
To become more familiar with this topic, Haymarket Books is offering the ebook version of its title, “Who Do You Serve, Who Do You Protect?” for free right now. You can download it here.
If you want to dive in immediately, here’s a 7 minute clip of Dr. Cornel West laying it out on national TV:
Understand Police Are Instigating Much of the Violence
Yes, there is civil unrest right now. What is not getting enough coverage, however, is that much of the violence we see is being instigated by the police themselves. Police are responding to protests over police brutality with more police brutality. We have to recognize the implications of the fact that we live in a country that can’t get personal protective equipment to frontline medical workers, but that has police forces everywhere already equipped with military-grade weapons and gear. And they have come ready to use it.
This is perhaps one of the best articles we have seen on the issue: Police Erupt in Violence Nationwide. In this article there are numerous examples of police abusing protesters and innocent bystanders alike in just the past few days alone: people are shot by rubber bullets while in their homes, two black people who are driving have their windows broken and are tased and dragged out of their car, two NYPD SUVs run right into a crowd of protesters, and so much more. If you’re following this at all on social media, however, you will see that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
As the police get more violent, more people will get hurt, and more people will get angry. The police must stand down.
Read Up On What Alternatives to Police and Policing Look Like
A common question people have is: well, what are we supposed to do instead of police and policing?
It’s a fair question because it’s the only system many of us know. But the truth is, it hasn’t always been this way, and it isn’t this way everywhere. There are alternatives to police and policing that we must adopt, especially as police have become increasingly militarized nationwide. If you want to learn more, Verso Books is currently offering the ebook version of its title “The End of Policing” for free. You can download it here.
What about on a personal level – what are your alternatives to calling the police? You might find the following resource we published on our blog in 2016 useful, which is unfortunately still relevant today: “What To Do Instead of Calling the Police.”
Speak Up, Be Vocal. Even When It Is Uncomfortable.
It’s time for people – and this primarily, but of course not exclusively, goes for white people – to have difficult conversations with friends, family, and other loved ones who may not agree with them on issues of racial justice and police brutality. To be honest, it’s been time. If it might lead to awkward familial situations, or threats of being unfriended on Facebook, or whatever else… it’s worth it. Black and brown people’s lives are worth it. Standing up against police brutality and institutional racism is worth it. Because being silent is being complicit. As the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire once said:
“Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ”
Here are some key talking points on the issue that you might find useful:
- These protests aren’t just about a single incident. People have been protesting over police brutality against black and brown people for ages, and no meaningful changes have occurred. Communities of color continue to be terrorized every day.
- People are angry, and rightfully so. That will be expressed in different ways.
- Saying “Black Lives Matter” means that the system we currently live in does not value the lives of people of color, and that it must be changed to do so immediately.
- Saying “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter” misses the point completely. Right now, we live in a system that does not believe that all lives matter. Supporting black lives matter means you want to change the world so that everyone’s lives are equally valued, protected, and nourished. But right now, that is not the way things are.
Here is a helpful comic that expresses the issue from the website Chainsawsuit:
- George Floyd was murdered by the police. Any underlying health conditions he had has absolutely no impact on this statement. He, and his family, deserve justice. And we must fight to make sure this does not happen again, and again, and again.
These conversations with friends and families might be hard and awkward. (Although you might be surprised to find not all of them will be as tough as you think.) But ask yourselves this: if you won’t talk to people who need to hear it in your family and amongst your friends, then who will talk to them? And if you don’t talk to them now, then when will you? (This statement is primarily for white people – people of color should not be expected to educate white people on this topic.)
Make Sure Your Neighbors Know Where You Stand With These Printable Window Signs
While surely most people know what’s happening in the United States right now, it is very easy (and common) for people to stick their heads in the sand and just wait for things to blow over. Especially if you live in a town or a neighborhood that is not being severely impacted.
But we can’t let that happen. Like the section above argued, we must be vocal, and we must be vocal now. We must make sure people know that there are people everywhere who support the movement for black lives matter and who want to stop police brutality.
That is why TESA has put together some simple signs you can print out at home to put in your windows. You can even talk to your neighbors (while remaining socially distant) if you see them looking at the sign as they pass by.
You can download several different versions of the window sign for free here. We aren’t taking your email or anything either to download it. Just download it, and feel free to share it widely.
What we know is that the powers that be will not change things on their own – they have had ample opportunity to do so. It is up to us, the people, to change things. And that starts by normalizing the phrase “Black Lives Matter” and the ideas behind it. We must do so in our homes, our blocks, and our neighborhoods.
Join Protests – If You Can Do So Safely
We can’t ignore that this is all happening within the context of a pandemic. We also can’t ignore that much of what is happening is because of the hopelessness, fear, and anxiety caused by the pandemic. This country shut down with no basic social safety nets, leaving many who are constantly terrorized by police and living on the economic edge with no hope. This is not to argue that the COVID-19 pandemic is the reason this is happening, obviously the historical and ongoing legacy of oppression and brutality is the biggest factor, but it is crucial to comprehend that economic violence is a critical part of institutional racism.
With that being said, protests are one of the most important tools we have as activists. They allow us to organize, become energized, demonstrate our power, bring in new people, and grab media attention. Demonstrating within a dangerous pandemic, however, is a complicated thing. Still, what we will say is this: we have to assume that most of the people joining protests have weighed the dangers of the pandemic versus the dangers of not protesting, and what they have decided is that the virus of white supremacy is more dangerous.
But there are ways to join protests while staying as safe as possible from the pandemic – and this should be especially on the minds of people who are medically at risk or have at risk people in their lives.
First and foremost, if you can’t or don’t want to join a protest because of fear of COVID-19, don’t feel bad. There are so many ways we can affect change in our communities. Build mutual aid networks, support protestors with water or bail funds (more on that below), put pressure on public officials, and so much more. Yes, you should be doing something. But if the totally legitimate fear of a pandemic is holding you back from joining a protest, just know it isn’t the only way. But make sure you are taking action.
Keep an eye out for caravan protests in your cities. With that being said, there are protests where people join by car, taking over the streets by vehicle rather than foot. Over the weekend, one of TESA’s members joined one such caravan protest in Chicago. It was powerful to see so many people come together to support the fight for racial justice, while staying safe from the pandemic that has impacted communities of color more than anyone else.
If you join a protest on foot, do everything you’d do outside of a protest to stay safe. Try to keep your distance and wear a mask at all times. Bring hand sanitizer and apply it often. While COVID-19 is shown to be far less effective at spreading outdoors, still keep your distance. (It’s hard at protests – and especially when police are attempting to disrupt them – but try as much as you can.) If you’re chanting, or trying to communicate with someone, don’t pull your mask down or lean in close. Remember that airborne droplets – which are spread when we talk and shout – are the primary way the COVID-19 virus spreads.
So stay safe while protesting. Because we need you. We need you in this struggle now, and we need you in the future.
Listen to POC Voices and Donate. Then Donate Again.
Below are several organizations led by people of color fighting for racial justice and against police brutality. Visit their websites, sign up for their newsletters, and follow them on social media.
And if you have the means, one of the most effective things you can do right now is to donate to them. We need to donate to organizations who are fighting for this movement and for their communities every day:
- Black Lives Matter official organization. Make sure to sign their petition. And you can donate here.
- Black Visions Collective: “Minnesota-based black, trans, and queer-led organization committed to dismantling systems of oppression and violence.” – Rolling Stone. Donate here.
- Assata’s Daughters: “Assata’s Daughters is a Black-led group of abolitionists and organizers active in the protests on Chicago’s South Side.” – Papermag. Donate here
- National Police Accountability Project. “With over 500 members and growing, we continue to effect change in the flawed legal system and fight to put an end to police brutality of all forms.” – Their website. Donate here.
- And here is a thread on Twitter of bail funds in different cities and states to help arrested protesters
What else should we add?
We do not pretend to have most of the answers, or to have all of the resources. If you see anything that should be added here, you are welcome to contact us and let us know.
If there’s one thing we want you to take away from this, it’s that now is the time to take action. Now is the time to demand change and to say clearly: black lives matter.
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