Anger is a vital place to begin. But we cannot simply point our fingers and aim our profanity-laced Facebook messages at a ‘system’ that has failed us. We cannot blame ‘the racists’ or ‘the media’ either. If you know what the words ‘by the people, for the people’ are referring to, then you know it’s we-the-people who have failed Trayvon, and we have failed each other. We can argue about government and corporate power (both merit serious discussion and reform), but it’s our system, we agree to live by it, and for a very long time we have allowed it to exist and deteriorate this way.
For a very long time we have rested on the victories of generations that have come before us. We could believe (or at least rationalize) that the hard work was done. That racism, if not defeated, retreated to a few dark corners of the South while the rest of us – so enlightened and equal-ish – carried on. Reality, of course, did not bear out that idea at all, but somehow we agreed to continue to pretend. We were busy. And so now, jolted from what remained of our willful blindness by a verdict on a gunshot that tore through our denial and our hearts…here we are.
Gone now are the days when we can rationalize, however thinly, that the laws that currently govern us, however cold or complicated or corrupted, could produce some semblance of justice. Further diminished, with each such verdict and unpunished hate crime, is the political illusion that we are equal under the law. We are not. Worse, we are clearly not yet equal to each other in our own eyes, and most of us are not doing anything about it. We don’t get involved, and we don’t do anything to hold others accountable. Let’s not start pulling our punches now that we’re in the fight. Trayvon is dead because we did not raise our voices against our own system that is clearly and undeniably not equal. We allow each other to pass judgement based on racial prejudice because having the conversations that can bring change is uncomfortable. We lash out into the abyss of social media and then, in real life, we do nothing. Or perhaps more hopefully, we did nothing.
Right now is an extraordinary moment to be alive. Not because of how lucky we are, how much stuff we have, or even how screwed up the world is – but because of the potential we have at this moment to shift the course of our future. We’re standing on the edge of that moment. You. You are standing on the edge of that moment. As the ones who are still alive, we have a chance to make this right.
We log on to our computers (because who the hell still watches news on TV) and we are bombarded with images of yet another protest in another part of the world – from the people who are there. Every day the world is smaller. And it’s as if, all at once, we have remembered that we have voices – that those voices have power – and that our continued silence gives power to someone else. We don’t want that ‘someone else’ to have our power anymore. They have abused and wasted it.
More every minute, people are realizing that their voice is (and should be) equal in worth to others. That laws that diminish that fact are not laws we should allow ourselves to be governed by. And that our voices – standing together – create something stronger and more powerful than the laws of any establishment. It is that awareness that creates the space for extraordinary change. The time for that change has arrived.
In the wake of this raise-your-voice protest culture, the Trayvon Martin verdict has sent people pouring into the streets. Rightfully outraged. But once in the streets – what’s next? How do we get from here to the change we seek?
The framework – the treasure map of change – that can answer that question exists in our own history – but the answer itself is up to you, and to all of us.
Here is your map: Organize, strategize, act – and repeat. Repeat until you cannot be ignored. Repeat until you win.
These protests – this visible outrage – is important. This shared sense of anger and purpose is a vital beginning. But protest is not organizing. Organizing is also not a list of email addresses. It’s not a Facebook group. It’s work. Organizing is knocking on your neighbours door. Sitting down at their kitchen table. Telling your stories. Arguing. Listening. And finding the common ground you need to stand together.
And then doing that again. And again. And again. Organizing is kitchen tables.
Strategy is understanding what obstacles need to be overcome to achieve the change you seek and then relentlessly pursuing creative ways to overcome them. Protesting is not a strategy. It’s a tactic that, in order to be successful, should be tied to a larger strategy. Know what you want, and design a way to get there – step by step, action by action. Then, tomorrow, when things change, re-design it. Again and again until you win.
Meaningful action is rarely – if ever – spontaneous. Action is organized, strategic and disciplined. It’s focused, creative, and resourceful. And the best part is that with these tools, violence is both unnecessary and counterproductive. Real change happens without it.
If you believe the civil rights movement we so often turn to as a reference point for greatness was nothing more than a series of protests, there is a world of undiscovered truth and possibility that awaits you. In rediscovering our past, there is a wealth of knowledge, resources, and strategy that can help us carve out a future without any more Trayvon Martins.
At this very moment, we have a choice, and this choice will determine how many more Trayvon Martins there will be. This choice is yours to make.
Organize. Strategize. Act. Repeat.