So much of Angela Davis's work is still relevant and urgent now
When you think of the Black Panther Party or Black women revolutionaries, one of the images that likely comes to mind is of Angela Davis and her giant, unapologetic afro, fist raised to the sky.
One of the foremost activists and revolutionaries of the time, Angela Davis is a blueprint for race theory and radical politics. Long before Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality," Angela Davis was living it.
An activist during the concurrent Civil Rights Movement and the second-wave feminism of the 1960s and '70s, Davis made no compromises in her rhetoric for gender or racial equality. Her ideologies were also informed by Marxist analysis and fervent belief in the interlinked oppression of race, gender, and class as a product of capitalism.
Almost 60 years later, the same fight remains and Davis is still at the forefront. Her work, from her speeches to her books, are similarly potent sources of theory and inspiration. It's safe to say that Angela Davis should be required reading — not just as a resource for anti racism work, but just as a model of how to live.
Since so much of her work is still relevant and urgent now, here are some of the most resonant quotes for our current age and why they still matter today.
Join the fight for change.
From climate change to the prison industrial complex to the fact that billionaires exist while other people starve, the world's problems can feel overwhelming.
But the truth is that change starts with one small step, and you don't have to quit your day job in order to maximize your impact in the realm of social change. The truth is, if everyone dedicated some time each day to working on social change, the world would probably be a very different place. Here are seven ways you can help the world this week.
Here are eight small ways to take action and help the world this week.
A lot of horrible things are happening in the world right now. Want to get involved and make a difference? Ready to see a better future come to pass?
It won't happen quickly, though small changes can create movements. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing. If you're looking for a way to take action online right now but need a place to start, here are a few suggestions of ways to do something meaningful this week.
Amnesty International has an amazingly well-designed volunteer portal that lets you choose whether you'd like to take 5 minutes, an hour, or longer to fight for human rights. There are so many opportunities on their website, from signing petitions (questionably effective) to actually becoming a grassroots advocate. While joining for the long-haul is always the best move, signing a bunch of petitions can't hurt, right?
College application tutor
If you're looking to donate some time while online, or want to offer your life skills to an impressionable youth, the Internet offers many ways to become a volunteer tutor, college application mentor, or Big Brother/Big Sister-type figure. You can volunteer to tutor low-income students on upchieve.org, help aspiring college students apply to school, or even join Big Brothers Big Sisters' virtual program.
Donate Your Graduation Gowns to COVID-19 First Responders
Somehow or other, many COVID-19 first responders are still without proper gear. Gowns4good.net allows you to give a healthcare worker the gown that's probably hanging in your closet and tormenting you with memories of a time when you were optimistic and free. Graduation gowns, with their long sleeves and zippered access, are efficient PPE gowns, so you'll be helping out one of our healthcare workers and upcycling while you're at it.
Send Letters and Postcards to Voters
We're approaching one of the most important elections of our lifetimes, and you're not alone if you feel you truly have to do something. You could join the organization Indivisible's groups across the country and write handwritten postcards to swing state voters begging them to get Big Orange the hell out—well, you'll be provided with kinder words to write that are proven to actually persuade voters to vote blue.
You can also register to vote and join a Get Out the Vote campaign. Not inspired by Joe Biden? Remember that a vote for president is also a vote for all the down-ballot candidates who run smaller but incredibly important offices. Check out local groups that fight for progressive champions to get involved in local politics.
Attend and Support Protests and Movements in Your Area
Though the media frenzy around Black Lives Matter has died down, protests are still going strong in cities across the world.
If you're able, attend in-person protests; or, if you're looking for other ways to support, there are still many ways to support the mass movement for justice, from calling your reps to attending virtual events. Just research the events happening in your area and be aware of what's going on.
In NYC the vitriol has shifted slightly from a sole focus on the police towards anger at all the city's billionaires, who keep getting richer while the city suffers. Check out Housing Justice for All, or stay abreast of the momentum in your area.
Public movements and public pressure works. So keep up the pressure.
ICE Neighborhood Patrol
In the middle of a devastating pandemic, when many undocumented people weren't even receiving any government benefits at all and couldn't sign up for aid programs, ICE is still at it, evicting people, tearing families apart, caging children, and being horrible.
If you want a specific event to attend: DSA is hosting a phone zap for Free Them All, an organization that demands incarcerated immigrants be released, on Friday at noon.
You could also watch this video, narrated by Fiona Apple, about how to document an ICE arrest.
Learn About Harm Reduction and Naxolone/Narcan
America is still in the midst of an opioid crisis, and during COVID-19, U.S. drug overdoses have reached record highs.
Harm reduction is one way to help people struggling with drug abuse—and you'd be surprised at how many people are. (If you're struggling, you're not alone). If you want to help, you could learn about responding to an overdose and you can start carrying Naxolone or Narcan, drugs that counter the toxic effects of opioids. Look up your local harm reduction group, learn more here, sign up for a training here, and of course, you can always donate.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, so this month is also a great time to educate yourself on prevention and to share information with others.
It's also always a good time to learn about alternatives to punishment, such as harm reduction and restorative justice. These strategies can be practiced on micro-levels (i.e. "calling in" instead of "calling out") or on the scale of the entire criminal justice system.
Work on Yourself
Change starts internally, and time spent working on your internal world is never time wasted. Just imagine how different movements and governments would be if all leaders had done internal work and had healed themselves before they tried to lead the world.
Healing your own wounds can be one of the most helpful things you can do in the long term. Justice movements and campaigns often fail in the wide scheme of things because they get destroyed by egos or corruption or savior complexes or poor communication.
But personal healing can be the foundation of genuine connection and community-building, which is where real change begins. Try therapy, find God, check in with your friends, take a day off; you and everyone you know deserves it.
It's the sad truth of capitalism: Money sometimes goes further than everything else. So if you're able, keep on donating—this list will show you how to make sure your donations reach the most marginalized. You could also set a goal for an amount you'd like to donate, such as 10% of your total income.
Here are five places to donate to this week:
Abundant Beginnings educates children about environmentalism, community, and liberation. It's a Black-led organization that invests in raising future activists and compassionate people.
The Center for Popular Democracy supports progressive causes and frontline communities.
Project South is a movement dedicated to fighting social, economic, and political problems in the American South.
The Community Foundation of Southwest Louisiana is donating to relief efforts at the site of Hurricane Laura.
The Climate Emergency Fund supports youth climate activists in their work to stop climate change on a global scale.
Change doesn't happen solely through massive, revolutionary actions. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
Sometimes the amount of change that the world needs feels totally overwhelming, and it can be impossible to know where to begin.
But the truth is that change doesn't happen through massive, revolutionary action. It's about starting with one small step and then taking those steps over and over and over again.
This roundup is by no means meant to be all-encompassing. Instead, these are six steps to take if you don't know where to start on your journey towards fighting for true justice. These are jumping-off points you're frustrated by the world's ills and you want to fight, but are searching for a place to start.
1. Fight for Breonna Taylor
This week, many Black Lives Matter organizers are concentrating their efforts on accountability for cops who killed Breonna Taylor.
Breonna Taylor’s family renewed their pleas for justice, 5 months after her killing by the police. “At this point i… https://t.co/teTm4pwadf— The New York Times (@The New York Times) 1597334407.0
Breonna Taylor was shot to death by police in her own home 5 months ago today. All of the officers have walked free… https://t.co/dNNM0aiogE— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1597341473.0
If you'd like to help, there are many ways to do so. Here's an easy way to help from home: Reach out to www.powertous.org (email [email protected]) if you're interested in writing postcards to Mayor Greg Fisher demanding justice for Breonna. Plus, this is a great excuse to buy some stamps and support the postal service.
You can also visit this website and use their script to make calls and send emails to relevant people in charge of handling this case.
You can also use this resource from KDJA Hour of Action to call, email, and tweet your support for Breonna as well as Saraya Reed, a 14-year-old Black girl incarcerated after experiencing a mental health crisis, and Matthew Rushin, an autistic 18-year-old black man who received a 50-year sentence after a car accident.
Meet Saraya. This is part of her story. We are fighting for this story to end in victory! https://t.co/MjRLjqEdEE— Amber Patrice Riley (@Amber Patrice Riley) 1597084149.0
2. Help Support Beirut
Beirut suffered a horrible explosion this week, and hundreds of people's livelihoods have been destroyed. Residents affected by the crisis say that anyone who wants to help should only donate to the local Red Cross, as many other funds won't actually make it to the people in need. Donate here.
Operation Help Lebanon: Medical supplies: https://t.co/WJ8sv9eu94 Red Cross (no login required):… https://t.co/qkYks80oUA— Anonymous (@Anonymous) 1596577734.0
3. Join (or Start) a Local Mutual Aid Network
Mutual aid is a practice rooted in community exchange and the concept of "solidarity, not charity." If you live in NYC, your neighborhood almost certainly has a mutual aid network—and Mutual Aid NYC has a weekly Wednesday call if you want a place to start.
You can join one and spend time delivering groceries to neighbors in need (most are reimbursed!), compensating neighbors for their deliveries, or organizing mutual aid relief efforts. Hey, you might even get to know your neighbors for once.
Mutual aid networks have cropped up across the US and world during COVID-19, and it's quite possible that your neighborhood has one. If not, you could even gather some of your neighbors and start your own. Here's some advice on how to start a mutual aid network via Slack, via Bed-Stuy Strong, a massive mutual aid network born in early COVID-19 days in NYC.
4. Support the #fundexcludedworkers Movement
The Fund Excluded Workers movement is a push to tax billionaires in order to provide emergency income to New Yorkers unable to receive unemployment benefits. According to their website, 9 out of 10 Black and brown immigrant families surveyed reported job loss or loss of income—but only 5% reported that they received unemployment insurance.
5. Join a local organizing group
The best way to stay plugged into organizing efforts and to avoid feeling totally overwhelmed by all these different causes is to join a local organizing group. That way, you'll be able to build relationships and join teams that are already plugged into this work. Consider joining your local chapter of Sunrise Movement, DSA, the Movement for Black Lives, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), or another organization that appeals to you. Just start by signing up for their email lists and going to some of their trainings, and you'll find yourself with literally endless amounts of work to do. We are so much more powerful together than we are alone.
6. Keep Learning: Read About Black August, Black Women's Equal Pay, and More
This month is Black August, a month dedicated to commemorating the Black radical tradition. Check out Noname's reading list and get educated about what they didn't teach you during Black history month.
We are excited for our next Black Feminist Political Education event for #BlackAugust on “Radical African Feminist… https://t.co/G04m0J0dFq— Black Women Radicals (@Black Women Radicals) 1597252759.0
While you're at it, read, tweet, and speak out about the movement for Black women's equal pay.
Today is #BlackWomensEqualPay Day, when Black women’s pay catches up to what white men were paid in 2019. That's ne… https://t.co/GkbtrSPzHf— National Women's Law Center (@National Women's Law Center) 1597325416.0
And whenever you're able, attend online workshops and educate yourself however you can about the history and current work of activist movements. The inimitable AOC is offering a variety of organizing workshops in the coming months, so check those out and keep it up!
7. Redistribute the Wealth: Give Directly to Those In Need
If you have the means or come from generational wealth, it's always a great idea to give money directly to people in need. There are a variety of wealth redistribution groups on Facebook, such as Ask For Money & Help and GoFundMe -> Cash App -> PayPal Donations Platform. The page @blackwomxnexhale also shares requests directly from people, or you could literally just search "Venmo" or "cashapp" on Twitter. If you're looking to make a bigger commitment to wealth redistribution, check out Resource Generation.
*THIS IS A FINANCIAL SUPPORT THREAD FOR BLACK TRANS WOMEN ONLY* Drop ya pay links sistas! I'll be tagging cis and non-Black folx.— Nyla Sampson (she/her) (@Nyla Sampson (she/her)) 1558535007.0
How founded are the concerns about the app's security?
Say what you want about TikTok, but there's no question that the app is a massive success.
TikTok has surpassed 2 billion downloads and set a record for app installs in a single quarter, making it one of the most popular apps of all time. But as concerns about the security of the Chinese owned social media network mount, TikTok's future in the United States is looking more and more uncertain.
On Friday, President Trump told reporters that he would ban TikTok from operating in the United States through emergency economic powers or an executive order. This comes after concerns about the apps use of data, particularly the concern that the Chinese government has access to the data the app gathers from American users.
TikTok fans immediately expressed their concern, with one user, Ehi Omigie, saying, "Everyone is live right now," in a livestream on the app Friday night after news of Trumps statement spread. "Everyone is going cray cray ... If it does happen, follow me on Instagram."
Does Trump have the power to legally ban TikTok?
While it remains unclear what exactly banning the app would look like from a legal perspective, Trump could possibly add TikTok to a list of foreign entities that "present a greater risk of diversion to weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, terrorism, or other activities contrary to U.S. national security and/or foreign policy interests," thereby forcing Apple and Google to stop supporting the app.
This has been a successful strategy in the past. Last year, Trump added the Chinese telecom equipment manufacturer Huawei to the "entity list," successfully forcing Google to cut ties with the company. But according to Variety, "'Putting TikTok on that list would be unusual and legally dubious,' James Lewis, director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), recently told The Verge. There's no evidence TikTok has engaged in criminal activity threatening U.S. national security, although TikTok was fined for alleged violations of the U.S.'s child data-privacy law (which the FTC is reinvestigating)."
Additionally, given Trump's history of unsubstantiated claims, many Americans doubted whether his threat was worth taking seriously. That was until Sunday, when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed Trump's statement on Fox News, saying, "Here's what I hope that the American people will come to recognize -- these Chinese software companies doing business the United States, whether it's TikTok or WeChat, there are countless more ... are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus—could be their facial recognition pattern, it could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they're connected to."
He continued, "President Trump has said enough and we're going to fix it and so he will take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party."
Pompeo concluded, "I promise you the President, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people. That's the mission set that he laid out for all of us when we began to evaluate this now several months back. We're closing in on a solution and I think you'll see the President's announcement shortly," he said.
Trump sets deadline for TikTok sale or shutdown www.youtube.com
Can Trump make money off a TikTok deal?
Trump has said that unless an American company buys the US sector of TikTok, the app will be banned from September 15th onward. He has also stated that he believes the US treasury should get a cut of any deal that is made. He said, "The United States should get a very large percentage of that price, because we're making it possible," he said. "It would come from the sale, which nobody else would be thinking about but me, but that's the way I think, and I think it's very fair."
A governing body taking a portion of the profit from this kind of transaction would be unheard of. Charlotte Jee, a reporter at MIT Technology Review, said Trump's comments were "pretty astonishing." She said: "I hate to say this but it is kind of almost Mafia-like behaviour - threatening a ban which pushes down the price then saying, 'Oh we should get a cut of that deal afterwards to say thank you for what we've done there.'"
She continues, "It is extraordinary behaviour as well because last week we had lawmakers in the US trying to look at whether tech companies are too big and now we've got Trump trying to make one of them even bigger so it is a really, really bizarre situation to be in."
Trump hates TikTok teens
It's worth noting that this threat from the President comes just weeks after users of the app claimed responsibility for the poor turn out at Trump's Tulsa rally. As Eden Gordon noted in her article "K-Pop Stans and TikTok Teens Trolled a Trump Rally—What Could They Do Next?," "A coterie of K-pop stans and teenagers on the app TikTok say they came together and inspired thousands of people to reserve tickets to the rally—with no intentions of showing up. It seems to have worked. 'My 16 year old daughter and her friends in Park City Utah have hundreds of tickets. You have been rolled by America's teens,' tweeted Republican campaign strategist Steve Schmidt on Wednesday. Over the weeks before the rally, thousands of kids registered to attend the Tulsa event; it practically became an Internet meme."
Are the Chinese really stealing data through TikTok?
While it's possible that Trump's desire to ban TikTok is partly due to TikTok user's activism at his expense, there are well-founded concerns about the safety of the app.
TikTok is owned by a large Beijing based social media company called ByteDance. Since its inception, TikTok has released several app updates that included urgent security vulnerabilities, but experts agree that's not uncommon for social media apps. The majority of concerns about TikTok's security revolve around fears that the Chinese government is receiving the data of American users. As Forbes notes, "In recent weeks, we have seen reports emerge suggesting that TikTok is 'Chinese spyware,' alleging that the app steals data from users' devices and sends it to China. This is certainly not proven and almost certainly not true on any level, at least not in the way it is presented."
Like any social networking app, TikTok does collect and monetize data from its users. But that's no different than Facebook or Twitter. "It's not any worse or any better than what Facebook, Google and thousands of apps are doing already," Cyjax CISO Ian Thornton-Trump tells Forbes. "Any free service is going to want to monetize the data it's accumulating."
Of course, the big difference comes from the fact that TikTok is a Chinese company that is gathering information on American citizens, and it's the first social media app owned by a foreign power to truly compete with American owned networks. While the data gathering itself may not be inherently insidious, experts believe that the way China uses it could be.
Thornton-Trump goes on to say, "TikTok and other apps present a danger of mass manipulation and social control and disinformation. The danger may be minimal to the individual but serious for society and democracy." Still, one has to question how this is any different than Facebook, which faced major backlash over accusations of influencing the 2016 election via data gathering of this nature. There's no question that a heavy dose of nationalism is no small part of the American backlash against TikTok.
Of course, TikTok is desperate to dispel any concerns. In a statement shared with USA TODAY Saturday, TikTok said, "US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access." They added that the company's "biggest investors come from the US."
Can TikTok be saved?
According to the New York Times, "The powerful Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or Cfius, has been examining ByteDance's 2017 purchase of Musical.ly, an app that eventually morphed to become TikTok. The committee has decided to order ByteDance to divest TikTok, and the government is engaged in negotiations over the terms of the separation, according to a person familiar with the administration's plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity."
Apparently, Microsoft and other companies are in negotiations to purchase TikTok. after a call between Microsoft's chief executive Satya Nadella and Mr Trump, Microsoft confirmed on Sunday in a blog post that it would continue discussions about possibly buying TikTok. It remains unknown whether the app will really be deactivated in the US come September 15th if a deal isn't made.
Three months later with no justice in sight, Beyoncé calls out the Kentucky authorities for their lack of action.
One of 2020's defining features as an alternate reality is that celebrities are leading the fight for social justice, from Kim Kardashian lobbying for prison reform to Britney Spears being a socialist hero.
On Sunday, Beyoncé posted an open letter to Kentucky's Attorney General Daniel Cameron imploring him to press criminal charges against three police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 26-year-old EMT Breonna Taylor in Louisville.
In the three months since Taylor's death, no actions have been taken. "LMPD's investigations have created more questions than answers," the singer writes. She demands that Cameron create more transparency in the investigation of the incident and prosecute the officers' misconduct, as well as the police force's "pervasive practices that result in the repeated deaths of unarmed Black citizens."
"Don't let this case fall into the pattern of no action after a terrible tragedy," she writes. "With every death of a Black person at the hands of the police there are two real tragedies: the death itself and the inaction and delays that follow it. This is your chance to end that pattern. Take swift and decisive action in charging the officers. The next months can not look like the last three."
Breonna Taylor was sleeping in her bed on March 13 when three armed police officers used a battering ram to enter her apartment to execute a "no-knock" warrant as part of a drug investigation. Taylor was shot at least eight times. The details of the event are hotly disputed, with claims that the officers did not identify themselves and executed the raid despite already having the main suspect of their investigation in custody. Taylor's family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit but continues to await justice.
The family publicly thanked Beyoncé in a statement issued by their attorney. "It has been more than three months since Breonna was murdered. Her killers are still in uniform. Meanwhile, Atlanta's mayor yesterday called for immediate termination of the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks, and criminal charges have been filed against police in Minnesota and Georgia. Here, we cannot even see an investigative file," they wrote.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Attorney General's office has merely acknowledged the letter and refused to comment. In a Sunday night statement, they told CNN, "We are aware of the letter. As the letter makes requests related to the ongoing investigation involving the death of Ms. Breonna Taylor, we have no further comment."
"In a racist society it is not enough to be non racist. We must be anti-racist." - Angela Davis
Yesterday, Tony McDade was shot in cold blood by a white cop.
Last week we lost Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery to police violence.
These racist killings of innocent people—reminiscent of lynchings, indicative of the systems of oppression of people of color and particularly Black people that have only morphed and grown more insidious over the years—have many people feeling motivated to join the ongoing fight against police brutality and racism in America, while others are feeling the call to deepen their involvement and join in protests.
Wherever you are, the best place to start is always with education, and the Internet is full of resources carefully compiled by people trained in anti-oppression, people who are sharing free resources in the hopes that they might help mobilize movements in the fight for justice.
Here are just ten social media accounts to start with. These are only jumping-off points—places to start the journey. White people in particular need to be careful and thoughtful while beginning this work. Please don't steal these activists' work or message them asking for help—the Internet has more than enough resources that you can digest on your own without asking for more labor from people of color.
Don't let this be the end of your advocacy. Don't let injustice continue to fester while you remain silent. Donate, read, protest if you're able, and get ready to stand in solidarity for the long haul.
1. Rachel Cargle
Rachel Cargle is an incredible writer and activist whose platform offers a selection of invaluable resources. Her Patreon course, "The Great Unlearn," is dedicated to sharing information, helping people unlearn systemic racism, and sparking action. Her personal accounts are also full of valuable, carefully crafted guides and actionable steps.
Part memes and TikToks, part information and political education, @urdoinggreat has a reel full of highlights on Instagram that are worth scrolling through as well as a Patreon full of useful content. Whether you're looking to understand why riots work or wanting to learn more about the radical Black history of mutual aid, Gem's account is full of enlightening and easily digestible tools for anyone looking to join the revolution.
3. We Are Malikah
Malikah is a "global grassroots movement, a network of active and engaged women leaders."
4. The Equal Justice Initiative
The Equal Justice Initiative works to end racial inequality and mass incarceration. Their Twitter feed is full of informative articles about the history of race and racism and the way it manifests in modern acts of racist violence.
A presumption of guilt and dangerousness makes people of color vulnerable to unjustified violence, wrongful convict… https://t.co/C8M6C67FdA— Equal Justice Initiative (@Equal Justice Initiative) 1590516000.0
On this day in 1943, white workers rioted in Mobile, Alabama after twelve black workers were promoted. To overcome… https://t.co/eO5GMWI25p— Equal Justice Initiative (@Equal Justice Initiative) 1590411601.0
4. Black Visions Collective
Black Visions Collective "believes in a future where all Black people have autonomy, safety is community-led, and we are in right relationship within our ecosystems." Focusing on systemic transformation through collective power, it's a Minnesota-based campaign with a global vision for racial justice and for a world where Black lives matter.
5. The Conscious Kid
This account is meant to help parents raise anti-racist children, but let's face it: We could all use a brush up on the basic facts, because we were all raised in education systems that prioritized whiteness.
Founded by Myisha T. Hill, @ckyourprivilege offers many resources for anyone interested in dismantling white supremacy and unlearning their complicity in these systems.
7. Austin Channing
The author of "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness" has an incredibly comprehensive social media and online presence, full of resources and books and web series and based in collaborative learning and collective action.
8. Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ)
SURJ fights for collective liberation. With chapters across the country and an established theory of change, and with an emphasis on creating accountability for white folks, they are a great place to donate to or join.
9. Layla F. Saad
Layla F. Saad is a writer who frequently shares events and observations about allyship and racial justice. The author of White Supremacy and Me and the co-host of the Good Ancestor podcast, her account and work is a no-nonsense direct challenge to white supremacy.
10. Matt McGorry and We Inspire Justice
Actor Matt McGorry's account is a treasure trove of anti-racist resources (as well as ani fat-phobia, intersectional feminism and more). He's also the co-founder of We Inspire Justice alongside JLove Calderón, and all are worth following and paying close attention to.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. It's just a starting point, a place to gather bearings and to develop an understanding of basic rules before plunging into the work of fighting for justice and for human rights, which is really just doing the bare minimum to prevent cold-blooded racist violence. While posting and reading on social media is more important, it's much more valuable to protest, to donate, and to join movements with pre-established visions and commitments to deep work. It's up to each of us to fight this f*cked up racist policing system.
Visionaries Project: Rev. Chelsea MacMillan on Coronavirus, Sacred Activism, Climate, and the Apocalypse
Interspiritual minister Chelsea MacMillan talks faith and healing in a time of tremendous change.
The Visionaries Project is a subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of radical activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.
Rev. Chelsea MacMillan is the founder of the Brooklyn Center for Sacred Activism, the co-host of the podcast The Rising: Spirituality for Revolution, and a dedicated activist, community organizer, and "warrior for peace and change." She recently taught a course called "Reclaiming the Apocalypse," and her wisdom is invaluable in these times of crisis, and always. We spoke about the overlaps between religion and spirituality, collective healing, mutual aid during coronavirus, climate change, and more.
LIBERTY PROJECT: Did you grow up spiritual, or involved in activism?
CHELSEA MACMILLAN: I grew up in a really evangelical, conservative Christian family, but I rejected it pretty early on. My parents divorced when I was like ten or eleven, and that was around the time where I realized that being a Christian doesn't mean you're a perfect person. I was just woken up to a lot of hypocrisy. I started rejecting the exclusionary attitude of the churches that we went to, and I called myself an agnostic for a while. I started to question my epistemology without realizing it, wondering why I thought the way I did.
Then I started traveling the world in a performing group, and I had a lot of really intense, magical experiences that I think were mystical experiences. I remember feeling really connected to all people and all creatures everywhere, and I felt this sense of oneness. I definitely felt spiritual, though I didn't want to put it into any form.
Then I worked on staff at a place called the Omega Institute, which is a big retreat center in the Hudson Valley. I tried out different forms of Buddhist meditation and Earth-based practices and things that were vaguely pagan or shamanic, as well as more New Agey things. But I was always really impatient with the way that spiritual communities were in terms of what was happening in the world. I couldn't really accept the idea that we were all one and that we could "be the change we wish to see" while sitting on our yoga mats. The world doesn't reflect that. Yes, it's a spiritual truth, and I've experienced that feeling of oneness and connection, but I think it doesn't do any good to just sit here and believe that. We have to realize and actualize this belief.
During one of my summers at Omega, I learned about this interfaith seminary called One Spirit. I went there and was ordained as an interspiritual minister, and it was there that I learned about sacred activism. I actually took a class with Andrew Harvey, who basically coined the term "sacred activism." He was one of the only people really talking about how activists and spiritual folks needed to come together, because there's a shadow side to both of those groups.
And I realized...this is why I came here. This is what I've been looking for my whole life. Sacred activism is the idea that activism in itself is a sacred path, because all the great spiritual teachings tell us to live our lives with compassion.
I had also been going to a lot of activist meetings and circles and thinking that the people there really needed spirituality. Everybody was so caught up in blaming and shaming. No matter what your ideology is, rigid and dogmatic ideologies are harmful. That's what I had grown up with—but now I was with the liberals, and it was the same sh*t. It wasn't loving and wasn't accepting.
Along your journey to finding the place where activism meets spirituality, are there any experiences that stand out to you as particularly formative or that you feel set you on this path?
I did have a moment recently that confirmed for me why I'm on this path. This past October, Extinction Rebellion had a global week of rebellion. We started with actions at Wall Street and threw fake blood on the bull, and we did this dramatic die-in in front of the stock exchange.
We were also doing RebelFest in Washington Square Park, which felt like an example of realizing that you don't have to perform a direct action to be disruptive. Building community is disruptive, and feeding each other for free is disruptive, and doing art together is disruptive.
That week, I also took part in the Times Square takeover with XR. We shut down an intersection with this big bright green boat, and there were 13 of us who were glued and chained to it. My comrades and I were put in the tombs, which is where they take everyone who's been arrested, and there was a woman detoxing from heroin on the floor and a pregnant woman who totally should not have been in jail. It was a really intense experience, and I remember thinking—could I go to jail for longer? Would I be willing to go to prison for this cause?
I was going through these ups and downs of feeling like I was losing my mind, and there was a moment where we all just were laughing at ridiculous things because...you lose all your power in there. You don't know [when] you're going to be let out; you're hungry and tired and dehydrated and dirty. And I was like… Could I do this more? Could I be here for months? Do I have it in me? I remember thinking, what am I called to do? How am I called to serve?
I thought of all the people who have inspired me like Dorothy Day and MLK and people who really followed that calling to make the world a better place. It's a spiritual calling.
I realized I do feel like I'm willing to sacrifice my life for building a more just and loving world. I was surprised to feel that in a moment of despair, but that's where I felt closest to God, spirit, or the great unknown. I felt like I was being called, and it felt very powerful.
What does your vision of a better world look like?
What excites me is thinking about the mystery, rather than coming up with the best plan for a bright new world. This requires us to be in the present and in the future and to bring the future into the present. When I think about a vision for the world, I ask questions like: How do I want it to feel? What does it look like, sound like, feel like?
I think what the future looks like is here now. I see it all the time. I see it with the current crisis, in the ways in which people have been jumping into action around creating and activating networks of mutual aid—and taking time to play with their kids, and rest and take walks in the park. I see it in places where we're really connecting with each other.
I think of a new world, or the future, as one in which we're taking care of each other, in which we're really connected. Can you imagine, if we really took care of each other? We wouldn't need housing justice. We'd already be doing it. We wouldn't let anybody not be cared for. We wouldn't have people going hungry, because we'd already be feeding each other.
It sounds a little overly simplistic to say all of that, but I think bringing things into the present and asking—what do we have that we want to grow?—actually helps us be more grateful for what we do have.
Humans have a limited capacity for understanding. We understand a lot and we're constantly innovating, and that's sort of what it means to be human—finding meaning—but we can't see the future, and we make mistakes. As soon as we have a plan for the future, it limits creativity and the emergence of something that can grow from the ways we're already connecting with each other and being with each other.
So many religions seem to boil down to this idea of compassion, and I'm definitely seeing that in responses like mutual aid. So in light of all your work, how have you been processing the current crisis? Are you seeing potential in it? I know you taught a workshop on the apocalypse—not that this is an apocalypse, but...
But we are! It's like a perfect example of the apocalypse. Apocalypse means "to lift the veil," and having this crisis is showing us how f*cked-up our medical system is and how f*cked up our whole economy is to rely on humans as capital. It's showing us how our leadership is broken, how so many people were living alone before this.
As a climate activist, we've wondered for a long time what can really change the momentum. It's so hard to make any change when there's such collective dedication towards keeping a system going, a system that is based on extraction and exploitation and corruption and domination and all of those things that are literally killing us and the planet. In XR we talk about stopping business as usual—well, here we are, and business is literally stopped.
It's my hope that it doesn't go back to normal. I don't want to go back to a world in which we're all hustling to make ends meet and we're working so hard and so long that we don't have time to connect to each other.
I do think it's showing us what's possible. All of the politicians and businesspeople have told us for a long time that it's not possible to stop the system and change it all in order to stave off the climate crisis—but we're doing it.
If the New York Times was reporting on the climate crisis as much as it's reporting on the coronavirus crisis… that could change things. If everyone was told that we have to stop using our cars and we have to stop doing this thing and taking flights and traveling for our safety and so we don't die…maybe we wouldn't have as big of a problem. The response we've been taking with coronavirus actually needs to happen with this climate crisis.
It all does seem like a wakeup call. Before this, it seemed like most of the people I know—even if they weren't plugged into the climate crisis—had the feeling that something unsustainable was going on, that something precarious was happening. And this does seem like a large planetary exhale to me.
We need to bow down and honor what's happening to us, to step back and see how enormous this shift is. It kind of takes my breath away. It's honestly the same feeling that I felt when I was sitting in jail.
It's interesting that you compare the feeling you're having in this crisis to the feeling of being in jail. Those both seem like moments of great change and shift. I keep seeing Octavia Butler's "God is change" quote everywhere and it feels like these moments could be related to that.
I love that quote. It's probably my favorite way to describe God.
I'm seeing all this in two ways: There's tragedy, but there's also growth that could be happening. It feels like if anything it's waking us up to the importance of community and the current lack of community. Even a lot of activism work doesn't seem to hone in on community or connection or rest and then there's so much burnout, and it feels like all this is kind of calling for a practice of rest and community-building.
I think it's so easy for humans to jump in and ignore all of our feelings and ignore connecting to each other, focusing on how we might fix this painful feeling, instead asking—what is this moment telling us? There's something beyond my comprehension happening right now.
It's easy for me to say that in times of crisis, people jump into action to help each other, because that's what I see in communities. But it's also true that there are people who get scared and hoard and only take care of their own.
I think every human has both responses possible in them, and this reminds me of a story that I read as part of my apocalypse research called Why the World Doesn't End by Michael Meade. He says there are three kinds of people in the world: There are the people who just only care for themselves and maybe their families, who in times of crisis will turn on their neighbor, and who are just trying to survive. Then there's a second group of people that really care about others and contribute to community and are attuned to other people's needs; but those people, under great stress, will also turn on their neighbor and contract and hoard and try to protect and defend themselves and their families.
But then there's a third kind of person that in the midst of crisis will rise up and reach out when the impulse is to actually turn back in. I think that's what being a sacred activist is: someone who can be with the unknown and who can be with the vulnerability of reaching out in times of danger.
I think in order to be able to reach out, you have to rely on something other than yourself. You have to be able to rely on something, even if that's your community or if that's God or spirit or even the earth. You have to feel supported enough to reach out to others in a time of crisis.
I think that's been sticking with me. Who's going to be that third group of people?
Alright, I'm done on my soapbox. That's my sermon for today.
What do you suggest people dive into, if you're looking for a way to get involved at this time? I know you mentioned mutual aid.
XR has been plugging into neighborhood groups and existing networks of mutual aid. That could be taking care of your neighbors and seeing what they need or delivering meals to aging populations. Also there's something called The Leveler, a wealth redistribution tool that allows people to donate a certain amount of money to people who just lost their jobs.
But also...check in with people. Be with the feelings. XR has ramped up offerings for people to connect with each other and share their feelings and meditate. It's called "Extinction Resilience," and it'll pretty much be happening twice a week right now, and that's a great place to cultivate inner resilience.
In the fourth installment of the Visionaries Project, we speak to activist and community organizer Ebony Ava Harper.
The Visionaries Project is a new subsection of The Liberty Project dedicated to highlighting the lives, passions, and work of radical activists currently working towards social justice and liberation from oppression. We aim to uplift the perspectives of diverse voices working in media and activism today—and not just the faces who make headlines, but the real people on the ground every day, working towards their visions of a better world.
Ebony Ava Harper is an activist, philanthropist, writer, creator, life and world-changer, advocate for marginalized communities, and a tremendous inspiration to many. As an openly Black and trans woman and an advocate for environmental justice, prison reform, and so much more, she has done incredible work to fight for her communities, forging a path to a better world in the process. She is currently head of California TransCends, a statewide organization that works to promote the health and wellness of transgender people in California, and she's the recipient of the 2019 Stonewall Four Freedoms Award and the among other achievements (none of which could come close to adequately recognizing all of her marvelous work). We spoke about resilience, environmental justice, community organizing, and more.
1. Can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where are you from, and what were and are you passionate about?
I was born in Prince Georges County, Maryland, to a family of Jamaican immigrants. I believe I'm the first American born in my family. My parents migrated from Maryland to Los Angeles, CA when I was just a baby, so all I know is growing up in Los Angeles. I spent the first 27 years of my life mostly in Los Angeles, and then I moved to Sacramento. I've been in Sacramento for some time now, and I consider this my home city.
I'm passionate about dismantling systems of oppression and dismantling my own oppressive behaviors. I'm passionate about loving the unlovable. Flipping that negative into a positive and improving not only my quality of life but the quality of life of all living beings (plants and trees included).
2. How did you first get started with activism, and what movements are you most involved in now?
I'm a Black trans woman that came out early in life, so I always say I came out fighting for survival from the gate (from the start). I was born an activist. I had to fight and speak up for myself to simply be... I'm a decedent of Jamaica, and if you listen to our music, you'll hear a lot about love, peace, "getting up, standing up, fighting for your rights." I would say I hit the ground fighting with all these intersections I embody. I also hit the ground loving and having empathy for others. My inner indignation against injustice and my tender Jamaican roots inform who I am today and my activism. My activism has transitioned along with me. I feel like we're all transitioning in some way. I have transitioned away from just relegating myself to being a trans activist, I'm a human rights activist. I fight for all oppressed peoples. Social oppression is even showing up through this current climate crisis.
I'm involved in Gender Justice, Climate Justice, Disability Justice, and Race Equity!! They all interconnect in my life.
3. A lot of your writing seems to focus on internal and community-wide restorative efforts and resilience, whether in terms of health, the environment, or the spirit. What does human resilience mean to you, and for you?
I love this question! It's a big question. I came from some harsh beginnings: All I know is resilience. I'm an introspective person, so as I have aged, I think about resilience on a much larger scale than the marginalized groups that produced me or my sole experience. I think about all the times life itself was on the brink of total catastrophe, and boom.... It rebounds. Resilience means to rebound from something that could've taken you out. It means hope for the future, it means another chance, another road, another shot. I'm a descendant of slaves and a descendant of those that have walked this trans path: All I know is resilience. I wish to share my struggle with others in hopes that they may be inspired not to give up. You know, "If that big ole queen can make it, so can I." That's the seed I want to plant when I'm sharing on any platform.
4. You wrote an amazing piece for Forbes in which you discuss feminism's failure to address "inequities of human injustices caused by colonial, capitalist, and social oppression." You also addressed this in your Sacramento News and Review piece in which you wrote, "Trans people, particularly our black women and femmes, were on the front lines of the Stonewall Rebellion, yet we're on the back lines of the gay and lesbian liberation." Feminism and many, or really most, social movements suffer from such a lack of intersectional and trans recognition. Where do you see that need for change manifesting itself?
I think social justice movements don't always think in terms of intersections, or they fight for things that will serve them in that particular moment, never really seeing how all this suffering intersects. They'll have all the language right, but their actions will be about that one topic. We need to remove the berries and realize an injustice to a Black trans woman is the same as an injustice to a cis woman. An injustice to a Black trans woman is an injustice to the Black community as a whole. There's no separation; Black trans issues are multidimensional and are relatable to any social justice issue today. You have to be radical and intentional about inclusivity to Black trans women.
5. Are there any trans leaders, writers, or figures you're particularly inspired by at the moment?
Too many to name here, but I'll name just a few. Valerie Spencer inspired me as a young trans kid. We have Black trans philosophers, and I would say she's one of our great philosophers. Aria Sa'id is a young Black trans woman that has contributed so much to our movement at such a young age. She's Executive Director of the first Trans Cultural District in the nation, and she's smart as hell... Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd, from Alabam leading the charge for trans health equity throughout the South. Elle Hearns, one of the founding members of Black Lives Matter that just so happens to be a Black trans woman. Omega West, a Black trans man who, like me, came from some rough stuff and is out here fighting for our rights daily. Last but not least, my translatina sister, Bamby Salcedo, who's a national treasure in our community fighting for our freedoms every day.
6. You're vocal online about a lot of environmental issues. Do you see the environment as intertwined with queer, trans, and Black and Brown community issues? What does environmental justice mean to you?
It's absolutely intertwined! The factories in impoverished neighborhoods, access to clean food, clean water, information around health all are linked to poverty. Extreme poverty is linked to these marginalized groups that live on the fringe of the fringes of society. No resources, so capitalism exploits them. We have to look at what's affecting those at the bottom and work from there, while fighting these big corporations that are siphoning the life out of the planet.
7. What changes (spiritual or societal or both) would you like to see most in the near future? What does your vision of a better future look like?
Green renewable energy. No more wars. The end of capitalism! Love abounding on the earth like never before. Total freedom to just be without judgment.
8. Are there any organizations or initiatives you'd like to promote?
I'm the leader of the new statewide initiative, California TransCends, in partnership with the California Endowment and California Public Health Advocates. California TransCends promotes the health and wellness of transgender people throughout the state of California. I'll be doing a statewide assessment of the needs of trans people living in rural communities, trans people of color, and our trans elders. We'll be working with local policymakers to see what we can do to make trans lives a bit more bearable. We're engaging other trans organizations that are leading statewide work to form a statewide and national coalition that will work in one accord on issues that need our rapid response. Lastly, we'll have micro-grants available for coalition-building conferences for trans people of color. I'm also one of the directors for the newly formed Employment Equality.
9. You're doing so much amazing work—how do you balance it all? What do you do for self-care and for fun?
I take a couple of days a week off and recharge. I have a small circle but good friends I can call when I'm going through a tough time. I have a spiritual community, The Center for Spiritual Awareness, that loves and supports me. This is my combination for staying afloat.
10. Do you have any advice for activists, or any lessons or mantras that you follow?
Don't become the same evil you're fighting! It's easy to fall into the trap of anger and vengeance. When fighting injustice, you have to make sure your approaches are balanced, or you'll perpetuate the same injustices you're fighting.
The revolution will not be Tweeted, but its agenda can be.
Can a tweet save the world? No. Is it a public record of your intolerance of unjust systems in the world? Sure, if anybody reads it among the white noise of Twitter rage. Protest movements in the digital age are tricky; hacktivism, or hashtag activism, has been critiqued as an ineffective and tokenizing way to virtue signal in the name of social justice while actually being armchair activists. Meanwhile, nonviolent protests like marches, boycotts, and strikes are critiqued for being too passive to ever enact real change. On the other end of the spectrum are volatile reactionaries who want to tear down the system and begin from scratch–even if they have no actionable plans to create a viable replacement.
So what are we supposed to do? More to the point, what are we supposed to believe? A patient and open-minded look at both sides of any issue is guaranteed to point out one commonality: Everybody has the wrong idea about the opposing side. When it comes to social movements that create a better future, there are some basic, prevailing myths that only distract people from the real problems at hand. Ask activists, historians, and political science analysts, and they agree that you shouldn't fall for the following misconceptions when fighting for a better world:
1. Myth: Nonviolence Is Ineffective
Historically speaking, this simply isn't true. When two researchers from the United States Institute of Peace conducted a study of nearly 330 major violent and nonviolent campaigns "targeting incumbent regimes and foreign military occupations," they concluded that "nonviolent efforts were twice as likely to achieve their goals." They wrote, "The majority succeeded against authoritarian governments, when even peaceful protests could have fatal consequences. The ousters of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Yahya Jammeh in Gambia, Bashir in Sudan and Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria are only a handful of cases in which mass nonviolent force stripped power from despots." Furthermore, another study in 2011 looked at 323 civil resistance campaigns around the world between 1900 and 2006, concluding that nonviolent campaigns were successful in 53% of cases, compared to violent ones' success rate of 26%. Additionally, only 4% of violent revolutions ended up in a "functioning democracy," compared to 42% of non-violent regime changes.
So radical violent action, whether that be in the form of paramilitary groups or self-appointed vigilantes who want to burn down the Establishment, is statistically not as likely to produce change as collective nonviolent protest.
2. Social Media Makes Protests More Effective
With that being said, there is a degree of truth to the allegation that social media creates lazy activists. More specifically, however, social media encourages engagement in social issues (i.e. sharing an article, liking a tweet, and maybe hurling insults at the opposing side), which is different from collective action. While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow people to express their displeasure at existing policies, the most social media can do is mobilize people to agree on a unified agenda and a set of actions.
The problem, of course, is that many online participants don't end up following through with in-person plans, thus there's no unity where it counts: on the ground, at the march, or holding up signs. Furthermore, analysts Maria J. Stephan and Adam Gallagher emphasize the importance of "durable organizations" and "long-term planning," and in the fast-paced, immediate gratification of social media platforms like Twitter, responses can often be reactionary and short-term, which doesn't even begin the work of effective protest.
3. Myth: You Need to Have a Massive Amount of People
This is half-true, but it's mostly misunderstood. Effective nonviolent protests gain traction and grow into massive movements when their tactics get them noticed–even if that doesn't involve a large amount of people. As evidenced by the progression of the Egyptian occupation of Tahrir Square and the Serbian student protest group, Otpor (translated as "Resistance!"), a large following of people don't mark the beginning of a movement but rather it's a sign that a movement's worked. Srdja Popovic, leader of Otpor, reflected on the overthrow of war criminal Slobodan Milošević, "All successful movements come with a very low entry bar. You need to offer people the chance to do something meaningful, and – crucially – to get away with it. In Chile, against Pinochet, they drove at half speed: not illegal, very low risk, pretty funny, nothing the cops can do. It's about doing something neat, and living to tell everyone." He added, "We had to go out and listen. Get the real people, rural people, not so clever-clever people, behind us. Build a movement. We did, but it took us five years." Resistance from within a system is more effective to create change than external opposition.
4. Myth: It's a Business
Popovic coins one of their best tactics "laughtivism." Making people laugh not only gets attention, but it alleviates tension from living within fraught social realities. From graffitiing pictures of the corrupt men in charge to spreading the movement's message through public pranks, nonviolent movements have gained global traction through being human and showing a sense of humor.