I wonder what Dr. King have to say about the state of our country today? I imagine he’d note how many more white people are now aware of the hatred that is still alive and well in our country. While there is still much, much work to be done, there are seemingly many more people interested in doing that work. And that’s a good thing, right?
As anyone who’s failed to keep a new year’s resolution knows, desire doesn’t always translate into action. But that lack of action isn’t always a result of ignorance or laziness as many assume. I have seen in my work as a coach that more often people are overwhelmed and unsure, paralyzed by not knowing how to contribute. Some folks truly don’t know what to do. Others don’t feel like they fit the mold of a typical activist, or don’t have time to volunteer for an organized campaign because of work and family obligations, or they simply can’t physically participate the way others can. I’ve talked to so many sick and disabled folks who want to be marching in the streets and haven’t figured out what they can do from home. All these people are deeply saddened and worried about their seeming inability to help with one of the most important challenges of our time.
Meanwhile, others work themselves to death. The recent passing of Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner who was killed by police in Staten Island in 2004, has had me thinking about how we can better support our most vulnerable activists. The 27-year-old mother of two had been fiercely campaigning against police brutality since her father’s death when she died from a heart attack caused by an asthma attack. We don’t know exactly what contributed to Erica’s health challenges but we know that health outcomes in African-American communities are the worst of any racial group in America. Erica was a perfect example of how often the most oppressed among us disproportionately shoulder the heaviest burden of reversing that oppression.
In the organizational side of the social change community, there has been a growing shift towards partnering with and supporting these most vulnerable front-line activists. That is necessary and good but activists need more than coalition partners. Who is feeding them, babysitting their kids, coaching them to delegate more, and encouraging them to rest because we want them in the movement for the long haul?
Everyone and their mom wants to start a non-profit, right? I’d love to see one that connects the up-until-now paralyzed would-be activists with existing front-line activists in their area. If you’ve ever been a burnt out activist yourself, you know how freaking amazing it would be if one of your neighbors texted to say, “Hey, I’m making vegetarian chili and cornbread. Can I bring you some?”
Providing care is a vital role in the movement. Think of all the families who housed and cooked for civil rights marchers. While they may not have joined in the streets, they were serious heroes too. The work would not have happened without them. Now that many historic community-building institutions have crumbled and we’re all glued to our phones, we need to find new ways to connect natural caregivers to frontliners.
If we are going to create the deep and diverse relationships needed to truly dismantle white supremacy in this country, we must be willing to take care of one another. We, white activists, talk about the need to speak up, educated, and hold accountable our own neighbors, friends, and family members. Yes, we do. And, we need to start asking our neighbors and activist friends, especially the POC, if we can bring them a pie, watch their kiddos, or otherwise support them. A pie wouldn't have saved Erica Garner, but if we were all supporting each other in deeper ways, we may get to keep warriors like her around for longer in the future.
Dr. King said, “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is, What are you doing for others?” Let’s remember that care, while undervalued by capitalism, is the lifeblood of our revolutions.