By Felicia Gustin
As thousands of white people join protests nationwide, it’s important to look at not just why people are showing up but also how. Given this nation’s history of racism, we, as white people, want to make sure we are part of the solution, not the problem.
Learning from the 2014 Mobilizations
In 2014, a call came out of the Ferguson uprising for white people to take action in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. In Oakland CA, activists came together and formed the Bay Area Solidarity Action Team (BASAT) and on December 15th, took part in a multi-racial action that shut down the Oakland Police Department with 11 simultaneous blockades for 4 hours and 28 minutes, the amount of time Mike Brown’s body lay in the streets of Ferguson after he was murdered by a white policeman. That direct action made national news.
Out of that and subsequent actions, and drawing on protocols developed by groups like The Ruckus Society, BASAT developed Protocol and Principles for White People Working to Support the Black Liberation Movement, a document that continues to ground the work of other white organizations and individuals. Here are a few highlights that can inform our activism today:
Mobilizing for Black Lives in 2020
Now we find ourselves in another moment of mass mobilizations, with tens of thousands of white people coming to protests for the first time in their lives. On a recent Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) national webinar calling on white people to get involved, 20,000 registered and later 30,000 people signed a pledge to take action for Black lives.
We say, Welcome! We are glad you’re here; we appreciate that you are taking action. But we also need you to show up respectfully to Black-led actions.
A few years back, SURJ Bay Area produced this list of concrete ways to show up at protests (edited here for the current moment):
— Chant from our own experience. Instead of chanting, “I Can’t Breathe,” chant “They can’t breathe.” When Black people hold up their arms and chant, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot,” since this is not white peoples’ experience, see this as a call and response moment and just chant, “Don’t Shoot” in response to “Hands Up!”
— Don’t use slogans like Defend Black People or Protect Black people. As one Black person put it, “We are NOT fu**cking children. But support us, yes!”
— When Black people do a die-in, stand around the edges of the action and chant in solidarity, rather than placing yourself in the center of the action.
Dear fellow white people, we need all of you if we are going to truly dismantle the oppressive structures that have been centuries in the making. Let us begin:
Dear fellow white people, please understand that this is a life-long struggle and we need you to continue to be engaged even after the street demonstrations wind down and the cameras are turned off. That we have shown up at this moment in solidarity with Black people does not absolve us of the white supremacy/privilege/immunity that informs our daily lives and actions, and the institutions that make up our society. There is much work to be done — let’s get to it!