Pushing for change without burning out

Re: Black lives matter

In less than two weeks of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide, spurred on by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless others, our country is seeing change.

Minneapolis City Council pledged support to dismantle the police department (though we have yet to know what that looks like). New York legislature repealed state law 50-A, which means police disciplinary records will now be public. Several cities including LA and NY have vowed to slash their police budgets.

Companies are also pushing for change (beyond the obligatory Instagram post/email statement saying Black Lives Matter). They’re donating or matching employee donations, vowing to publicize DEI data, giving extra compensation for employees doing ERG work, or making Juneteenth a company holiday. Or at outlets like Bon Appetit, a photo of the editor-in-chief in brownface coupled with employees going public about POC pay disparity caused the EIC to step down in a matter of hours (for more Bon App tea, this article is the best read). The likelihood of things like this happening a year ago, at this rapid of a rate, was pretty much nil.

All the more important then, to not let up. Those who have the most to gain from the status quo are banking on this movement fizzling out. They want us to be satisfied, to not follow up on their vows for change, to not pay too much attention on where their dollars are going, to forget about justice for Breonna Taylor or Tony McDade. Therefore it is of utmost importance to keep doing this work, keep donating and protesting and contacting legislators and sharing resources and conversing with others without burning out. Engineer Tatiana Mac wrote a great post on how to create meaningful change sustainably, beyond the intensity of the current movement.

Social media feels overwhelming lately and I understand if this newsletter feels like more of the same. Some days I am avidly doomscrolling Twitter (like watching Bon Appetit drama unfold in realtime, so invested though I barely follow BA otherwise) and other days I feel drained and log out completely. I know I can do more—post more, amplify more, donate more, educate myself and others more, contact legislators more—which also means I am never doing enough. This is a tough pill to swallow. You never arrive at perfect allyship; you are always a work in progress.

I know everyone has opinions on what you should care most about right now, and it can be hard to keep up. Below are the four areas I’ve mainly been focusing on to be a better citizen and ally. You don’t have to follow mine, but pinpointing specific areas of growth for yourself can unburden some of that overwhelm and keep you accountable.

  1. Deep dive in learning about police reform and abolition. What are reformists pushing for and how solid is the data to back it up? What does an abolitionist society look like and what would need to happen for that to become reality? Learn what “defund the police” means and know that there is a range of intentions depending on the person, from divesting funds away from police budget to full police abolition (I wish outlets weren’t definitively saying it was the former in order to soften the message). Learn about police & prison abolition from key Black activists such as Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Angela Davis, and Mariame Kaba.

  2. Advocate for change at work. Listen to Black coworkers on the action items they’d most like to see and back them up. Ask the hard questions to leadership, sign open letters for change and encourage white coworkers to do the same, and keep pushing. I’ve grown jaded over the years in seeing meaningful DEI initiatives at work, but I acknowledge the great privilege I have in being able to pause on these efforts and not have it affect my career or work environment very much. I’m vowing to do more.

  3. Pay attention to local politics. This includes reading local news publications, following local activists (e.g. The Broad Memo in NYC) and voting (remember to vote in primaries!) but also looking up my congress representatives, district leaders, and city council members. Most of these politicians have newsletters (here’s an example) so I’ve subscribed to stay informed.

  4. Talk to friends, family, and acquaintances and practice the LARA method and calling in as opposed to calling out. To me this is the most difficult item on this list. I frequently put up defenses, use charged language, and give up during conversations and I am definitely not the only one who struggles with this—but it is so important to practice and do the work. Being able to have these conversations saves others with more trauma and pain from having to do so.

To finish, I’d like to plug some less talked about funds I’ve donated to that could use your support. In general, please consider making your donations recurring and redirecting your money to smaller, local funds as I’m sure larger organizations such as ACLU, EJI, and NAACP have tons of corporations giving them money right now.

  • Mutual aid funds (NYC) - mutual aid groups are organized by community at the local level, sharing resources and skills to support one another. List of funds range from supporting small businesses, incarcerated folks, and sex workers.

  • Okra Project - a grassroots initiative that has set up mental health recovery funds for Black Trans folks (in honor of Nina Pop and Tony McDade)

  • Warriors in the Garden - NYC collective of activists organizing peaceful protests

Wishing you well in this summer heat. 💛