The results of the 2016 presidential election will lead to seismic shifts in the policy landscape. What are the most strategic opportunities for systemic change? What are the battles confronting racial justice leaders in ensuring that all children, regardless of race or zip code, have an equitable opportunity to learn?
Here are eight major takeaways from Schott’s 25th Anniversary panel discussion, Addressing Racism — Strategies for Systemic Change:
#1. You’re not alone – there are a lot of us fighting for racial justice and equity in education.
Dr. Ted Shaw
Coming together to share thoughts and strategies for action, participants felt buoyed by the realization that we will, indeed, in the words of Maya Angelou, “rise” and do this work together. Jenny Sazama, Director of Youth on Board and a member of the audience, said after the forum, “I felt different and more solid than I have since the election. Something shifted for me…I just don’t feel so alone.”
President-elect Trump won the electoral college and the presidency, but he lost the popular vote by a wide and still-growing margin. Millions of American voters—including the vast majority of people of color--did not support Trump, his values, or his agenda.
Professor Ted Shaw noted the shared frustration over how much had been within our grasp until Election Day. “Truth forever on the scaffold,” he quoted, “wrong forever on the throne.” While those of us who struggle for justice are up against incredible odds, we have history, demographics and right on our side.
“We always knew we had to run a marathon,” said Schott President and CEO, John Jackson. “We just didn’t know it was going to be uphill.”
#2. Our struggle needs the power and buy-in of institutions in order to truly succeed.
Dr. John H. Jackson
As State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz reminded us, Massachusetts is “shorting public education” by over $1 billion every year – but the Commonwealth can and should be a leader for our sister states and focus on getting 100% of our students the resources they need.
Frederick Douglass, Senator Chang-Díaz said, did not consider the issue of slavery and decide that he didn’t “have the capacity” to tackle it. We don’t have the luxury of making that call, either.
John Jackson encouraged all foundations to use their “cash and cachet” to further racial justice. The movement needs institutional support, and not only for organizers; Boston Public Schools student and youth organizer Gabriela Pereira of the YOUNG Coalition told us that young people feel discouraged and disengaged when opportunities – like art, music and extracurricular activities – are cut from school budgets.
#3. The time to act is right now.
Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz
Immigrants and people of color are fearful and face immediate challenges that require all people of conscience to act in solidarity with them and stand up to oppose threatening actions. As of November 18, the Southern Poverty Law Center had collected over 400 reports of hate-related intimidation and harassment since the election. Senator Chang-Díaz urged us all to “suit up really quickly, because people really need us right now.”
In the 2016 presidential election, the conservative movement gained control of both the U.S. House and Senate, and there are very real implications for the Supreme Court – including the possibility of a generation of conservative nominees. There are also 33 states with conservative control of legislatures and governors’ mansions; if that number reaches 34, progressive forces would not be able to block passage of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which require ratification by 2/3 of the state legislatures.
“We can’t wait 10 years to see if this is really fascism,” Rinku Sen cautioned.
#4. Anyone can be involved in the movement – just pick something, and do it.
Senator Chang-Díaz emphasized the need for action. “Never do nothing,” she told us. “Just pick something, and do it.” She urged the audience to engage in mass action, applying pressure to officials, in particular. “Pressure someone in elected office once per month!”
Gabriela Pereira shared a friend’s wisdom, believing that this is the best time for community organizing, because “a revolution has begun.” It’s time to double-down on local civic engagement.
“Even if you don’t think you’re an organizer,” she said, “you are.”
#5. A bigger, broader strategy is necessary.
Movements are not created or sustained by individual actors. “Rosa Parks didn’t just sit on a bus and things changed,” said John Jackson. “Her actions were part of a bigger strategy.”
Jocelyn Sargent, Executive Director of the Hyams Foundation, stressed the importance of supporting racial justice work on the ground, making sure advocates and organizers have the tools they need to “keep communities engaged and mobilized to really fight back [against] what we expect to see coming forward.”
“We have the opportunity to reshape racial justice for the 21st century,” she said.
As an audience member astutely offered, if the South is the “belly of the beast, then Massachusetts is the head.” Racism exists here, as well, and we can address it through taking control of state and local policies.
#6. Youth are an important part of the strategy, and their voices are needed.
Gabriela Pereira emphasized that young people will be the ones leading the way in this and future movements; multigenerational buy-in is tremendously important. She and her peers feel the pressure of “adultism” and the invalidation of their opinions and life experiences based on age. “But young people pave the way,” she said. “Nothing will happen without us.”
Ted Shaw talked about the frustration that some older folks harbor toward those in the Millennial generation who chose not to vote because they feel the political system is corrupt. But young people, he said, need to vote and be active, eventually taking the reins from older people. “Old folks don’t make revolution,” he warned. “Don’t wait for that!”
Senator Chang-Díaz acknowledged that, even though we all feel frustrations about a system that really does need fixing, we have to work together to make change. As Gabriela frankly reminded us, “When all these politicians are dead, we young people will still be here fighting!”
#7. White folks have work to do.
Whatever the statistics show about voter turnout among communities of color or young people, one thing is patently clear: it was the white vote that elected Donald Trump. Asked about the role of white allies, panelists agreed that, now and urgently, white people need to engage and talk to other white people.
Thanksgiving is around the corner, and our panel suggested possible conversation-starters that can help to begin this process:
- Asking “What’s your vision for America? Who gets included, and who gets left out of that vision?”
- Questioning friends’ and family members’ analyses, not their values, and offering something better to them; focus on why they should be with us, instead of why they should be against other ideas.
- Asking “What is your greatest fear?”, then guiding them through an analysis and “walking them off the ledge.”
#8. Self-care is essential.
Rinku Sen reminded us that self-care is essential for the difficult road ahead, urging all to pursue both physical and emotional health and to remember that, while the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, it cannot bend at all without us.