Blog

Resource List: Understanding the Border Crisis and How to Help

by Michelle Palmer

It takes a grave issue to warrant the first ever edition of “Wednesday Justice,” and this one is. To not have heard about what’s going on at the US-Mexico border over the last several weeks, you’d have to be living pretty far off the grid. But even if you have heard about it, you may not understand quite what’s happening or why. Full disclosure: we don’t have a great grasp of it either. It’s complex and confusing and heartbreaking. Channon and I have been tied up the last couple of weeks with personal projects, which means we’ve not been able to dedicate sufficient time and energy to understanding this issue as well as either of us would like. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do! We’ve gathered links that will help us understand the issue better, as well as ways to help.

What’s going on?

What can we do? 

CALL YOUR SENATORS!!! It’s super easy. Call the capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and read the script.

Script 1:

IMG_4775

Script 2:

IMG_4762

 

Join a protest on June 30. (Louisiana folks, here’s the link for the protest in New Orleans.)

Donate:

And lastly, I want to leave you with some of the best commentary I’ve read on the matter, from one of our very own guest post authors, Vershal Hogan:

Forget “be the change you want to see.” Be the change that you CAN be.

When something awful is happening a long way off, there’s only so much you can do — and you should do all of those things. Agitate the proper authorities. Give money to relief agencies. Keep talking about it on social media (and in real life!). Put the squeeze on wherever you can.

But then take to heart the message about rising tides lifting all boats. Find something in your local community you can do to improve things there. The fastest way to change hearts and minds is to meet needs.You may not be able to give out blankets at the border, but — after you call your Senator, of course — you can give out blankets at your local shelter. You may not be able to walk with the labor organizers marching on the Capitol, but — after you call the governor — you can give someone the $50 they need to get their car fixed so they can go to work. You may not be able to house every homeless veteran, but — after you call your representative — you can give someone a ride to the VA.

(And honestly, if you’re saying “what about ‘x'” in response to someone else’s concern, then you need to be sure you’re actually working to address ‘x.’)

Maybe none of those things are an option. Maybe you are tethered down with work and family and legal obligations. Maybe your good is even smaller. But do it. “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone.”

Until that season comes when you reap, do what you can when you can — be it online, in the streets or under your roof.

 


For more information…

 

5th Tuesday Guest Post // Food Insecurity: The Hunger Next Door

“I cannot feed the world. But I can do my best to make sure fewer people have to stare down the last can in their pantry.”

Huge thanks to Vershal Hogan for offering to write a second guest post for us! You can see his first Tuesday Justice post here: The Day I Became a White Man Was the Day I Became a Black Man: A Story About Race.

by Vershal Hogan

I will never forget that can of stewed tomatoes and okra.

The pantry in our dingy-walled apartment, where the rent was late but we were still within the grace period, was empty. Margaret-Holmes-Tomatoes-and-Okra-14.5-OZ

Except for that can. 

It had come, I think, from a box of government commodities my grandmother had received. I am not sure how it ended up in our pantry, but it sat there, waiting for someone to figure out what to do with it. It was not appealing.

For the past couple of days, my wife and I had been slowly scaling back how much we ate to make sure our children didn’t go hungry and that the groceries would last. That evening, the family had eaten the last of everything, and I had quietly skipped the meal. Payday was the next day.

Everyone else was in bed, and I was alone in the pantry, staring at that can, the last food in the apartment. Hunger finally said, “Enough.”

I took it off the shelf and walked over to the counter where I slowly opened it, and — crossing the room to sit at the table — ate one of the worst meals of my life directly from the can.

How I had gotten there was a mix of personal mistakes and bad timing. I’d left my former job to return to school, but the national recession that almost immediately followed that decision had made finding work difficult; I had three over-the-table jobs (my wife also had an under-the-table childcare arrangement) and still didn’t work enough combined hours to be considered full-time. Rent claimed most of that (minimum wage) money, fuel prices were high and we lived without frills. Because work was slower than anyone anticipated when we made our plans, we were forced to eat the savings we had.

We were able to buy groceries the day after I ate the tomatoes and okra. We came close to repeating that story a few times — our pastor even pulled us aside in a couple of instances and said we could avail ourselves of the church’s food pantry if we needed to — but we never got quite that desperate again.

That experience changed how I saw food security, and it has remained with me in better times.

What is food security?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food security and insecurity in four categories:

Food Security

  • High food security (old label=Food security): no reported indications of food-access problems or limitations.
  • Marginal food security (old label=Food security): one or two reported indications—typically of anxiety over food sufficiency or shortage of food in the house. Little or no indication of changes in diets or food intake.

Food Insecurity

  • Low food security (old label=Food insecurity without hunger): reports of reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
  • Very low food security (old label=Food insecurity with hunger): Reports of multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.

Reports at the USDA’s Economic Research Institute show that in 2016 12.3 percent of households in the U.S. — nearly 15.6 million people — were considered food insecure at some point that year, and 7.4 percent of households — 9.4 million people — were considered to have low food security. The ERI reported that, like in my own story, parents and caregivers worked to shield children from reductions in food intake, but 298,000 households still saw children face disruption in how often they were able to eat. 

7NHU3RUANNFDVDQZSW4QQQLPEY

So why is this a justice issue?

It seems obvious on its face, but many people don’t realize how critical food — especially healthful food — is to a functioning society. People who are hungry are very often people who are not healthy, and people who are hungry and unhealthy are not going to be able to function as well in their jobs or in their schools.

Food insecurity likewise tends to affect groups that are already in danger of disenfranchisement, which means — because they are less likely to perform well or be healthy — they will continue to be marginalized.

The rate of food insecurity for all groups is 12.3 percent, but as the USDA statistics note, some groups tend to face it at higher rates than others:

  • All households with children (16.5 percent),
  • Households with children under age 6 (16.6 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single woman (31.6 percent),
  • Households with children headed by a single man (21.7 percent),
  • Women living alone (13.9 percent),
  • Men living alone (14.3 percent),
  • Black, non-Hispanic households (22.5 percent),
  • Hispanic households (18.5 percent), and
  • Low-income households with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty threshold (31.6 percent; the Federal poverty line was $24,339 for a family of four in 2016).

Issues of food security are especially high among those with disabilities, with 33 percent of households with a person with a reported disability keeping them from the workforce reporting food insecurity.

But even for those who fall outside the groups typically identified as marginalized, food insecurity mostly likely means whole-life insecurity. Studies have associated food insecurity with diminished mental health status.

So what can I do?

First, be aware that many people are hiding their own food insecurity. I volunteer at a local food bank every week, and one of the things that strikes me is how very normal most of the people look. Many come through after finishing a shift at work, or in their work uniforms. In some cases, people who qualify for the assistance have someone else picking it up for them, often because they are unable to do so themselves. 

food-pantry-980x360

Second, recognize that it is likely not a choice. While an adult with food security issues may look typical, they may in fact have a hidden disease such as a mental illness or neurological condition that may have good and bad days that makes consistent or full-time work difficult. They may be a caregiver for someone with a disability, or they may be stuck in a cycle of unemployment or trying to exit an addiction. They could be a child or young person without the capacity to fully provide for themselves.

Third, donate. Give money or food to a local food pantry or a backpack program, which — in cooperation with local schools — distributes backpacks of food to students in need before they leave each weekend.

When you donate, don’t send expired food or food you wouldn’t eat yourself. While some food banks have some wiggle room on expiration dates, it’s not much and they will have to throw them away. Besides, what are you really saying if you’re giving a food insecure person a can that expired in 2014 and telling them, “I wouldn’t eat this, but you can.”

You should also likewise consider giving a little variety of food. Food drives tend to bring in lots and lots of cans of corn and green beans. Those are needed, but man does not live on grain and legumes alone.

While many food banks need most of their food to be shelf stable, some — including the one where I volunteer — have freezers and can put up meat and dairy. Check to see if they can accept those items. Families appreciate being able to receive items such as cheese or butter.

Desserts are also a nice donation. Some people might want to gripe about poor people eating sweets (thinking that being poor is a moral failing that deserves to be punished), but if they’re coming through our pantry, they’re receiving other foods. When life is hard, sometimes a piece of cake may serve its own purpose. food-pantry-northjerseyDOTcom

And one final thing on donations — consider cash. I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating. Food donations help stock shelves, but during some seasons (i.e. when it’s not Thanksgiving, Christmas or Easter) they tend to slow down. Having cash on hand helps the pantry not only keep the lights on but restock when needed.

Fourth, donate time. I know not everyone can do this, but food security organizations — whether they are independent or linked to a faith community — overwhelmingly rely on volunteer labor. It’s not glamorous, but someone needs to move boxes and stock shelves.

Fifth, vote for people who are going to support food security policies. Many pantries are able to operate in part because they participate in USDA commodity programs or other local, state and federal initiatives. Discussions in recent years have hinted that funding for those services may be reduced or ended altogether.

I cannot feed the world. But I can do my best to make sure fewer people have to stare down the last can in their pantry.

 

The Socially Conscious Artistry of Childish Gambino’s “This Is America”

by Channon Oyeniran

Video-Of-The-Day-By-Childish-Gambino-This-Is-America-Featured-On-Diabolical-Rabbit.jpgNot your ordinary feel good, music pumping, fun and colourful music video, Childish Gambino released “This is America” to the world on May 6th, and it has been a hot topic on all social media platforms since. Both the video and the song itself provide powerful social commentary, highlighting a variety of issues that are as relevant today as they were centuries ago for the black diaspora, not only in America but around the world. After seeing some buzz about the video on Facebook, I decided to watch it. I was struck by all that was going on in the video, the flashy dance moves, the beat of the song, all while trying to pick up what was going on in the background while Gambino was dancing, striking poses and showing off an impressive array of facial expressions. After my first viewing, I saw a few more articles on Facebook about the deeper meaning of the video. I was blown away that I had missed so much! I went back and watched the video at least four times and picked up on so many different symbols in the video. I would like to share three of the motifs within the video that you can easily miss if you let the catchy beat and entertaining dance moves distract you.

Guns vs. the worth of a black body:

There’s a pretty staggering image at the start of the video that struck me the first time through. (If you’ve seen it, you probably know exactly the one I mean.) It’s when Gambino pulls out a gun and shoots a black man in the back of the head. In doing so, he strikes a pose that is reminiscent of the Jim Crow character. After he shoots the man, Gambino carefully places the gun on a red cloth, while the black man’s dead body is dragged away. 980x(This motif is repeated when he places another gun neatly away a second time after he shoots church parishioners, a clear reference to the 2015 Charleston shooting of nine churchgoers.) It struck me how carefully Gambino places the gun back, almost as if he was being careful and giving reverence to the gun; meanwhile, the body of the black man was given no respect at all, not even a thought or look as he is dragged away out of the scene. This is an obvious nod to what is going on in America (and frankly around the world now) concerning gun violence. Guns have more rights, are more protected and are taken more seriously than the lives of black people.

The cell phone as a powerful (yet ineffective) tool for justice: 

“This a celly…That’s a tool…”

THisIsAmerica5

In one scene, you see the camera pan up and focus on about four people with cell phones in their hands, taking video of the chaos taking place below. At this point, Gambino raps, “This a celly…That’s a tool…”. This lyrical line signals the power that a cell phone has to capture the injustice that happens daily against black people in America. The cell phone has been used to capture concrete proof of injustices against black people time and time again (e.g. Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Walter Scott, Demetrius Hollins, Rolesville High student, Jacqueline Craig, Keith Scott,  teenager at a pool party, Charlie Kinsey, etc.). However, it still proves to be ineffective in actually bringing justice and righting the wrongs of injustice committed against black people.

Some have speculated that the cell phone can also appear to be a weapon in the eyes of some, just like the case with Stephon Clark, who was murdered on March 18th, 2018 because the cell phone he was holding was “mistaken” for a gun. So although a powerful tool to capture injustice, holding a cellphone while black can also prove deadly. Whether this was intentional or not is unknown, particularly because of the short period of time between Stephon Clark’s death and the release of the video.

Black culture used as entertainment, while black lives are disposable:

Something else that struck me when watching this video, especially for the first time, was how much I got caught up in watching the dancing and enjoying the beat of the song. My eyes did not automatically go to what was happening behind Gambino and the dancers and the depth of what was occurring in each scene. 

Childish

I think for a lot of other people, including myself, who watched the video, we got sidetracked with the dancing and upbeat flow of Childish Gambino’s lyrics. I think that was part of the point. Black culture is so popular and influences every part of society; people from all cultures and backgrounds enjoy different aspects of it, music especially. However, when it comes to black lives, police brutality, racism and injustice against the black community are commonplace, and the world seems to turn a blind eye to these injustices that are literally killing us. 

Socially conscious art, like this music video, helps engage all who watch it, thus stimulating large-scale discussion on the subject matter covered in the video and raising awareness about things like racism, police brutality, suicide, gun violence, etc.  There are so many other meanings and symbols in this video that make it a masterpiece. The depth and thought that was put into this video is genius, and I really hope invokes thought and change for all who watch it. This video is important not only because it uses music to garner people’s attention, but also because it speaks on a very significant issue which continues to plague the black community but is often a tricky and sensitive topic – racially biased police brutality. I believe this video achieved what it set out to do, and that is to talk about a real problem facing America and how easy it is and has been for people to look the other way to the plight of the black person.

childish-gambino-this-is-america-video


For more information…

The Basics: Racism

It’s worth asking, “Is what I just said racist?” So we can learn how to not say racist things. It’s worth asking, “Why did I assume the worst from that person? Was it the color of her skin?” So we can learn how to not make judgments based on race. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.

 

by Michelle Palmer

A couple weeks ago, I was in a conversation, and someone mentioned a stereotype about black Americans and followed up the comment with, “Wait, is that racist? I never know.” (It wasn’t.) He’s an intelligent person, and it bugged me that he “never knew” if things were racist or not. But it kind of makes sense.

There’s so much talk about racism in the news and on our social media feeds right now. And the truth is that not everyone thinks deeply, if at all, about racism. Even though Channon or I have probably said everything in this post here on TJ before, it’s important for us to break it down to the basics so the word doesn’t lose meaning altogether.

What is it?!

The dictionary definition of racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.” What Dave* (name changed to protect the innocent) said what he did (which I now don’t remember), it was racial, in that it had to do with race, but it wasn’t racist because it wasn’t an indication that he felt himself to be superior on the basis of race.

Part of the confusion about when something is “racist” is that there has been a pervasive push towards “colorblindness.” It’s led to a world where it can feel awkward to acknowledge a person’s race. Attempting to see people without acknowledging their race is neither possible nor helpful. Acknowledging race isn’t racist, but making judgments, particularly negative ones, based on race is.

BUT WAIT. There’s more.

“Racism is a concept that operates on both an individual and institutional level. […] At its core, racism is a system in which a dominant race benefits off the oppression of others — whether they want to or not.” (Zeba Blay) That’s why there can’t be reverse racism. Yes, people of color can be prejudiced against white people; it’s happened to me. It wasn’t fun. But as a white person, the system operates in my favor and always has. (More on that is coming at the end of the month.) This explainer by Michael Harriot is helpful, Reverse Racism, Explained. (DISCLAIMER: Harriot’s writing can be quite colorful.)

What do we do about it?

I cannot stress this enough, fellow white people: WE ALL HAVE INTERNALIZED PREJUDICES. (You can take a test here: Project Implicit.) Yes, all. Step #1 is to admit that sometimes you have racist thoughts. Yes, you. Yes, me. Yes, all. Step #2 is to catch yourself when you think those thoughts, and then analyze and correct them. Then, here are steps 3-8 (in no particular order):

  • Read THESE Tuesday Justice posts.
  • Get educated. (Don’t know where to start? Click here.)
  • Do a cleanse! (Bias Cleanse)  
  • Widen your circle by making friends from other racial backgrounds.
  • Broaden your understanding by following people of other races on social media. 
  • Keep working on your mind: Pray about it. Meditate on it. Listen to podcasts about it. 

Like so much of what we talk about on this blog, the work of challenging our own racist perceptions and ideas is hard, but it’s worth it. It’s worth asking, “Is what I just said racist?” So we can learn how to not say racist things. It’s worth asking, “Why did I assume the worst from that person? Was it the color of her skin?” So we can learn how to not make judgments based on race. It’s not fun, but it’s worth it.

As always, if you have questions or need help to get started, reach out to us in the comments, on Facebook, or by email


For more information….

 

Answering YOUR Questions: Part 2

We answered several of the questions we got during the survey in Answering Your Questions, Part 1 back in February. That set of questions dealt with us personally and the blog itself. This week, we’re tackling the content questions!

What are some of the answers to these justice problems in your opinion?

1523835028049

Michelle:  I’m not sure how answerable this question is, but I love it! This is what we answer in each post. From the beginning of Tuesday Justice, our model for most posts is “here’s the problem, here’s what’s being done about it, here’s how you can get involved.” Whether or not what’s being done is going to solve the problem is another story, but hopefully, it’s at least helpful on some level, and we do our best to vet those solutions before we publish our posts.

For a lot of what we talk about, the ultimate solutions would require equal treatment before the law, poverty alleviation, equality in education & opportunity, and other such development goals. But there’s an element of symptom treatment in some of this. While we want to fix the root causes of injustice, we also want to alleviate some of the immediate suffering people are facing. We have to use a both/and approach.

What situation have you been made aware of which had a “perfect storm” of factors such as poverty, slavery & immigration as the root cause?

Michelle:  I came across this report from Verite, Forced Labor in the Production of Electronic Goods in Malaysia, which included a case study that illustrates these three factors coming together. (You can find more info in the Research Findings section of the report, beginning on page 83.)

Screen Shot 2018-04-15 at 4.51.42 PM

The problems started when the factory asked their broker to raise the workers’ wages to meet the new legal minimum wage standard. The broker initially agreed to the wage increase, but was disingenuous with them about how many deductions would be taken from their base salary, having them sign a contract written in English and Malay, languages that none of the three understood. When the workers got their first payslips, they realized that their wages were much lower than they had agreed, and complained about it to the factory management. The factory apparently confronted their broker about the issue, because only days later, they were informed by the broker that they were being pulled from their jobs, that the factory was ‘throwing them away.’ Days later, they were made to pack their bags and move to a new housing area in Balakong, about 50 km away from their previous residence. […] After some time, the workers were informed that they must start working at a new, much less desirable factory. The workers knew this factory to have a poor reputation and objected to the new assignment, repeatedly asking the broker to return their passports to them, but the agent refused to give their passports back. At the time of the interview, the workers had not received pay for their final two weeks of work at the original factory, nor had they been paid at all since moving to Balakong. Instead of paying them their back pay, their broker offered to loan them money to cover their living costs. Since nothing had been resolved regarding the new factory job yet, while winding down the interview, the researcher asked them what they wanted to happen. They said that they were not asking for more than they deserved, and that they wished to remain in Malaysia to continue working since they had not been able to save money yet, due to spending their first two years in the country paying off their debts. They said that they do not want to run away because they wanted to get their passports back. They just wanted to be respected and protected by the agent, and if that was not possible, they wanted to be able to transfer to another agent.”

How do you build friendships with people of another race?

Channon:  I think the most important thing to remember is that people are just people! We are all human beings and are all on this journey called life. We all experience love, joy, sadness, pain, heartache, healing, etc., and if we can always remember that in the back of our minds, then it will be easier to relate to people, even if they aren’t the same race as you! Take for example me and Michelle:  cc7We met in the UK, doing the same Masters degree, learning more about a subject that we both are passionate about. And we instantly clicked and became good friends (and are still to this day)! We also connected through our shared faith and ultimately because Michelle is just a great person and someone who I wanted to have a lasting friendship with. Even though we are black and white, we don’t dwell on that, instead we choose to focus on our shared interests, passions and genuine like of each other! So focus on the shared and similar interests with someone from another race and not your differences or the fact that you’re from different races.

Michelle: Yes, yes, yes to what Channon said! There are times when I, as a white person, need to understand how Channon’s experiences, as a black woman, are different than mine. And while it’s important to recognize that, when it comes to beginning a friendship, we often connect with others based on our shared experiences.

What do you think the most important way to prevent social justice problems is?

Channon: I don’t think there is one single, important way to prevent social justice problems. I think a couple of things need to be implemented in order to find success in preventing these issues globally. First, we must acknowledge deep-rooted hurts from the past. Brokenness within certain communities needs to be dealt with and forgiveness and healing needs to happen. Safe spaces have to be created for underrepresented groups’ voices to be heard and their opinions and ideas acknowledged. Also, I believe policies and laws have to be more strict when it comes to dealing with issues such as trafficking, modern day slavery in all of its forms. Also, plans have to be put in place so that poverty can be eliminated, so that people can live their lives comfortably without having to worry about where their next meal is coming from or whether they can afford to send their children to school. Looking at all of these things that have to be done is a HUGE task and slightly overwhelming, but Michelle and I have hope that one day we will get there!

Do you feel people should do more due diligence on what is being reported on the news before forming opinions on the issue? Also, we sometimes have dirty grids from past hurts that skew our opinions. How can we separate opinions from facts to not make an immediate emotional judgment?

Michelle: To answer the first two questions, YES. Yes, we should all do our due diligence before forming opinions. And yes, we all have dirty grids. (I’ve never heard the term “dirty grid” before; I’m just guessing it’s meaning from context.) Depending on where you grew up, who you’re around, which news gets to your feed, it’s tough to separate fact from opinion and take varying viewpoints into consideration. No one is completely neutral, and we all need to start from the understanding that our viewpoints on social justice issues HAVE BEEN affected by a number of variables. That’s key in beginning to understand why things are the way they are and how others could be viewing the same situation differently than we are.

The media we consume plays a huge role in this (see here: Political Polarization & Media Habits from Pew Research Center). So, the next step, and answer to the third question, is to make sure that you’re getting input from “the other side” (if you have a particular bent left or right) or both sides (if you feel like you don’t belong on the spectrum at all or if you feel stuck in the middle). It’s important that wherever you’re spending time getting news and information, you don’t create an echo chamber. As a liberal person in a deeply conservative region, I don’t need to curate my timelines too strictly; it happens naturally for me, both online and IRL. If the people around you mostly agree with you, it’s easy to only see the facts that confirm your opinions. (That being said, I’m not above blocking someone who regularly posts vitriol or fake news.) If you’re getting your news from TV, switch channels once in a while. If you get your news online, go to multiple sites. If you get your news via social media, follow multiple (reputable) sources. (Also, check out these tips:  Five Ways to Break Out of Your Online Echo Chamber.) It does take some effort, but it’s incredibly important to see from multiple perspectives in order to have a well-rounded, compassionate view of the issues. 

I looked up some charts to find the best news sources on either side. Obviously, this is somewhat subjective, but I didn’t see huge discrepancies. (Google “media bias chart” to see what I mean.) News sources like The Economist, The Atlantic, and Wall Street Journal both scored very well in terms of fact-reporting and minimal bias across most of the charts I saw (see photos).

Graph_-_Final.jpgSource

second-edition-news-chart-v2-vsdx_Source

nolan_chart_normalSource

I am always interested in what we can do to help and ways we can use the information you have given us to get involved. Now that my social justice flame has been lit by a post, tell me what to do with that flame. You do this already, but I am definitely for it! // How can I get involved in social justice in my local area?

Channon:  What a great question!! There are many ways in which you can get involved in social justice in your local area.

  1. You can volunteer your time at a local organization that is working towards a specific cause.
  2. You can donate your financial resources to organizations who are doing great work locally, nationally or globally.
  3. You can choose a book that discusses social justice issues and create a book club and invite friends, family, your community, and those who may be interested in learning more about social justice and how they can help. (Our resource list has some great options for this!.)

Michelle also wrote a great blog post titled, “2017: But What Can We Do?” which lists some more ways in which you can get involved in fighting for social justice in your community. If you’re looking for something specific, but can’t seem to find it, get in touch with us and we will do our best to point you in the right direction.

Michelle:  What Channon said, plus protest and most importantly, vote!


If you didn’t get to ask us that burning question back in August during the survey, don’t hesitate to ask us now! Comment below or shoot us a message on Facebook.

The Purpose of Protest

Protesting isn’t super convenient, and it’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but it’s important and awesome and worth it.

by Michelle Palmer

capital protest

On Saturday, March 24th, I joined hundreds of others in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and hundreds of thousands across the country (and the world) in protesting gun violence. It was my first “real” protest march (and Lord willing, not my last). As I drove down, feeling a little anxious, I thought a lot about whether or not it’d be worth all the effort. “Why am I doing this? Will it matter that I’m there? I hope the letters don’t fall off my signs. Where am I going to park?”

Now, I would loooooove to have the time and energy to dig really deeply into the gun control debate and lay out a clear summary of the arguments. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. In the time that I actually have, I wouldn’t be able to do justice to the complexities of the issue. Instead, I’m just going to tell you why protesting is a good idea based on the experience I had at March for Our Lives and give you some resources if you want to learn more about the gun control debate. Channon has already discussed The Power of Peaceful Protest, but here, I want to share my first-hand experience and give you some ideas about why protesting is a pretty darn good idea.

  1. It pushes the conversation forward. In the wake of many school shootings, the script is the same. It’s a tragedy, we lament, people call for stronger gun control, others tell them it’s not the right time to politicize the tragedy, and nothing changes. In the wake of Parkland, there has been a momentum shift – more people talking about the issues, more people joining organizations like Everytown and Students Demand Action. Protests make a splash, they make headlines, and they get people talking.IMG_1455
  2. It’s a visible statement to politicians. Calling your politicians is great, showing up at the voting booth is ESSENTIAL, but I think showing up, in public, makes an impactful statement that the constituents have a passionate and vested interest in change. (Also, at our event, there were at least a dozen volunteers getting people registered to vote.)
  3. It gives people a platform to speak. In Baton Rouge, we had speakers (students, parents, politicians) who were able to share their hearts for change and their plans for action. The speeches given at the DC march were heard by thousands on the day and millions more after the fact. Here are a couple of the most moving: Emma Gonzalez, Naomi Wadler, D’Angelo McDade.
  4. It’s a visible statement to the public. When I told people I was going to march in Baton Rouge, a lot of folks gave me the “are you sure you wanna do that?” look. Like, “It’s Louisiana….how many people do you think will be there? Is it gonna be just you or what?” But there were nearly 1000! I think it was even bigger than the organizers anticipated. It shows the skeptics that there are people who care. And for every protester, there are others who want change but aren’t able to march. IMG_1479
  5. It’s good for the protesters. How? 

So no, protesting isn’t super convenient, and it’s not my favorite way to spend a Saturday, but it’s important and awesome and worth it.

IMG_1506

And if you go to a protest, here are my (super practical, mostly obvious) tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes and sunscreen.
  • Bring water, sunglasses, and a poncho. (In other words, be prepared to handle whatever Mother Nature throws at you.)
  • If you have trouble standing for long periods of time, bring one of those nifty portable stools. (I seriously could’ve used one.) 
  • If you can’t make a sign, go anyway. There will be extras. And even if there aren’t, your presence without a sign is a billion times better than nothing! 
  • Speaking of signs, white poster boards aren’t the same color on both sides. You think they are, but they’re not. IMG_1457Finally, I wrote very briefly about gun control last year. You can read the full post here, but the gun control bit is re-posted below:

The issue of gun control has come up (again) in light of the Las Vegas tragedy, as it so often does.

[SIDENOTE: If this seems like a particularly controversial issue for us to be tackling without much context, consider this: The majority of Americans are in favor of sensible gun control measures (reports here and here). And according to the CDC, there are an average of 33,880 gun deaths per year from 2011-2015, and those numbers are on the rise for 2016 and 2017.]

When I looked for organizations working for gun control, I found several lists, but there were four organizations that appeared on every list I saw. (This article from Bustle is particularly helpful.) These organizations are linked below, and each website has an action section.

I also came across an article that I found particularly interesting, “What If We Made Gun Culture Uncool Like We Did Cigarettes?” Here’s an excerpt:

“On the legislative front it seems America has made its choice and there is little chance for legal reform in the near future except at the margins deemed acceptable by the gun industry and a current generation of gun owners who believe that ‘things happen’ is an appropriate reaction to gun deaths. When lawmakers can’t lead, a social solution is certainly worth a shot.”

 


For more information…

The Harmful Effects of “Colourblindness” in Politics

by Channon Oyeniran

“Failing to see race is a failure to see history and how it shapes the present.” – Vicky Mochama

With the Liberal Party in power in Canada and more people of colour (POC) holding Member of Parliament (MP) positions in Canada, the government, with Justin Trudeau as the Prime Minister, started to make positive steps towards healthy representation in government in 2015. In doing so, the government is attempting to showcase to both the country and the world the diversity within Canada and to create a government that reflects the various cultures of this country. Just like in 2015, I believe the current political climate in Canada right now is one of wanting change. However, one thing that has changed and is slowly improving, in the political world at least, is an increased reflection of people of colour and diversity. diversitypic-1Not only are these MPs doing great things for their ridings, they are also are leaving their marks across the country. One MP in particular who has made a big splash since she was elected to represent the Town of Whitby is Celina Caesar-Chavannes. Cesar-Chevannes is a Black woman who has garnered support and attention in recent weeks, following a Twitter spat with white male Conservative MP Maxime Bernier over “colourblindness.” This term is often used when talking about race and racism and is at the crux of a very public debate between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier. (Michelle has previously written about the danger of colourblindness in a personal context.)Desktop12

It all started on March 2nd when the Somalian-born Honourable Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship for the Government of Canada, Ahmed Hussen, tweeted that the government had set aside $19 million for Black youth mental health programs, something that the Black community across Canada has long been advocating for. While this was seen as a success by many, the announcement by Hussen was also put under scrutiny by many others, who questioned why money had to go towards a certain group of people. One of these critics was the aforementioned Bernier, who tweeted: “I thought the ultimate goal of fighting discrimination was to create a colour-blind society where everyone is treated the same. Not to set some Canadians apart as being “racialized.” What’s the purpose of this awful jargon? To create more division for the Liberals to exploit?”

Retweeted 1.2k times and liked by 2.2k users, Bernier’s tweet obviously struck a chord with many, who most likely agreed with what he said, and who ostensibly don’t understand the need for putting money into groups who have been marginalized for centuries. Caesar-Chavannes then replied to Bernier’s tweet: “@MaximeBernier do some research, or a Google search, as to why stating colour blindness as a defence actually contributes to racism. Please check your privilege and be quiet. Since our gvt’t like research, here is some evidence…” And after that, Canadians were in a frenzy, on both sides. Those who sided with Bernier said of the Liberal MP (Caesar-Chavannes), “How could she, a Member of Parliament, be talking about ‘white privilege’ when she herself is in a position of privilege?” Others were glad she called out yet another example of white privilege.

After many comments and commentaries written about this situation, Celina publicly apologized to Bernier: “@MaximeBernier I am not too big to admit when I am wrong. Limiting discussion on this important issue by telling you to be quiet was not cool. If you are willing, let’s chat when back in Ottawa. We are miles apart on this important issue and it is possible to come a little closer…”.

14345660However, the Conservative MP was less than forgiving in his response: “Thank you for recognizing my right to air an opinion. I don’t think we can find much common ground beyond that however. You and Min Hussen implied I’m a racist because I want to live in a society where everyone is treated equally and not defined by their race. We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish. And we should recognize that Canada is big enough to contain many identities. As a francophone Quebecer, I can understand this. But that doesn’t mean the gov’t officially defining us on the basis of “intersectional race, gender and sexual identities” and granting different rights and privileges accordingly. This only creates more division and injustice and will balkanise our society.”

“To overcome racism, one must first take race into account.” – Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun

The backlash that Caesar-Chavannes received for her comment was, in my opinion, unfair and uninformed and really took away from the issue at hand: addressing “white privilege” and the racism that is so prevalent in Canadian society. What was so evident to me in this “dialogue” between two opposing party members, by a Liberal and a Conservative, by a Black woman and a white man, was that the Black “voice” continues to be silenced, when the truth needs to be heard. Colourblind ideologies in politics are ultimately unhelpful and lend themselves toward racism rather than away from it. Dr. Monnica T. Williams put it this way:

“Racism? Strong words, yes, but let’s look the issue straight in its partially unseeing eye. In a colorblind society, White people, who are unlikely to experience disadvantages due to race, can effectively ignore racism in American [or Canadian] life, justify the current social order, and feel more comfortable with their relatively privileged standing in society (Fryberg, 2010). Most minorities, however, who regularly encounter difficulties due to race, experience colorblind ideologies quite differently. Colorblindness creates a society that denies their negative racial experiences, rejects their cultural heritage, and invalidates their unique perspectives. [Emphasis added.]

Blog-Image-YoungWomenHugThe $19 million that the government has allocated to Black youth and mental health will be spent over five years to research “culturally-appropriate mental health programs for black youth at risk.” Though the government has not decided yet, exactly how the money will be spent , according to MP and chair of the Canadian Caucus of Black Parliamentarians, Greg Fergus, “the $19 million will […] be tailored to meet diverse needs.” Mental health experts across Canada have commented that the funding will help to improve access to treatment for a large section of the population who has been and continues to be marginalized. Bernier said himself that “We should certainly do everything possible to redress injustices and give everyone equal opportunities to flourish.” We cannot do this while ignoring the realities faced by marginalized communities, which are so often different from those faced by white Canadians. In addition to the $19 million, the government has also set aside $23 million over two years, which will help support cross-country consultations concerning the new National Anti-Racism Strategy.


It is vitally important to allocate money to groups of people that have been oppressed for centuries. In Canada, systemic racism and oppression have plagued the Black and Indigenous communities and that legacy continues to this day. That’s why it is so important that employment equity is at the forefront in workplaces across the country. 3500Employment equity encourages workplaces to be free of barriers and conditions of disadvantage and recognizes that marginalized groups have for a long time experienced systemic racism in relation to employment. It’s also important to have people of colour in positions of power and influence, so that people in marginalized groups can see that they are being represented and feel that they have a person(s) in a position of influence to hopefully make things better for their community.

The colourblindness ideology is not an effective solution for addressing and solving the systemic racism that marginalized groups have faced in Canada for centuries. The spat between Caesar-Chavannes and Bernier highlighted the lack of understanding on this issue and showcased the need for further education and enlightenment for those who believe in it.


For more information…