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Posted under: Opinion Race & Identity

We are the ones we've been waiting for — why silence isn't an option

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"Our voices weren't heard last night, but that doesn't mean we are silent." That's how Morgan's email closed. When my friend and fellow member of the black Washington University community that coined the very term 'Blavity,' sent those words, that's all I could think about. Choosing to keep being our loud, boisterous, bold, unapologetic black selves takes on a different meaning when the first black president hands the keys to the White House to a man supported by the KKK. The threat is different. The risk is greater. Our voices now carry with them additional responsibility and additional propensity to bring harm to the speaker.     

But we know silence is not an option. Not now, not ever. Silence was never an option for those of us who know oppression. Sister Zora made sure we knew it: "When you are silent about your pain, they can kill you and say you enjoyed it." If we don't share our suffering and our joy truthfully and from our own mouths, we allow others to craft our narrative and define us. Worse yet, those same people will carve out the outcomes they deem appropriate for us.  When we don't have a clear say and exert our innate power over how our neighborhoods are policed, how our homes are zoned, or how are children are educated, we end up dead with folks saying we enjoyed it.

We have within us the creativity, the talent and the capacity to tell our stories accurately and to voice the expectations and solutions we wish to see in our community. One election doesn't silence that. One (maybe) president-elect doesn't undermine that. The power to define our future is not something I am willing to give away, no matter who occupies the Oval Office.  

What is necessary now is disciplined, organized thought and action about exactly how we make ourselves heard. Now is the time to keep making our unbridled passion meet thoughtful strategy and unencumbered imagination about what's possible. The fight of the past two years was not new, but engaged a great many of us in brand new ways. During those years, we have spent time waging real moral battles against our potential demise and gaining traction around the world. I propose that we have also, in these past two years, been prepared for this very moment. With every organizer, activist, poet, artist, candidate, leader or builder born or grown in the past two years, we have surrounding us an army fully trained and prepared to wage the battle in new ways. We are more ready than ever to continue a provocative protest movement. We are more ready than ever to run slates of progressive candidates who legislate on our issues with us in mind. We are more ready than ever to place more minds at critical decision making tables and more thought leadership into academia. 

We are the ones we've been waiting for — silence isn't an option.

So, how do we best make our voices heard? How do we speak up in ways that will both disrupt the status quo and orchestrate the change we seek?

Stay informed 

There's nothing worse than someone who's loud and wrong.  We've all been there — you don't have to be embarrassed. But when you know better, do better.  

This movement must protect the lives of *all* black people — and we are wise to stand in solidarity with other oppressed people around the world. Not just because we have strength in numbers, but because it is the moral choice. That means staying informed on what it means to build inclusive movements, reading up on the histories and steeping ourselves in the cultures of communities that intersect with and stand next to ours. (Real talk: We lose if this movement is only for cisgendered straight black men and we lose if the movement demonizes them, too. Looking at you, Twitter.)  

We should know the police violence stats in Cleveland just as well as we know the affects of the Dakota Access Pipeline on Native lands and American water drinkers. When you choose to use your voice, be sure to be informed, speak the truth, and think ahead about the potential of using your platform to build rather than destroy.  

Choose wisely

Because our voices matter, we have to target them to the places and use them in ways that allow us to maximize our impact. Taking an Anti-Trump protest to the White House when he doesn't yet live there may not be the best move. Organizing drum circles around the banks and corporations that benefit from the pipeline is provocative in truly profound ways. Organizing is a discipline: What most of us see in the street is the result of thoughtful planning, strategic effort and community engagement.

If you aren't yet trained in the skill, that's ok. The good news about the past two years — or rather, the entire history of being black in America — is that lots of people have been doing this for a bit and are always looking to add to the number. Join a protest for an organization you trust and see how you can be involved in supporting the next one. Learn by doing and make sure that the organizations or individuals you engage with truly share your values. As you learn essential skills, you'll continue to equip yourself with the ability to move whenever the moment calls for it.  

Be a voice at every level

Should Trump enter the White House (a victory many of us have not yet conceded — looking at you, popular vote and electoral college), the work of the next four years will be just as much about mitigating harm as it is about ensuring we still make progress. Much of that can happen at the state level, local level, and in working with career appointees at various federal agencies.  

Many of the issues you may have with police violence are about your municipality’s policies. Are their policies public?  Is there citizen oversight? What does the union contract look like? Do they have public meetings? Research these questions and others like them, then take action. Show up at those meetings with a clear policy agenda and bring your coalition with you. Be a thorn in the side of your public servants. After all, they derive their power from us. You're the boss. 

Be passionate and strategic

We have to dream radically and act purposefully. This is why protest and policy work hand in hand: Protest creates crisis-and policy brings solutions. Sheer passion alone won’t win the change we seek, nor will meek policy proposals with no power behind them.  Be as diverse in your approach as we are as a people. My friend Kayla Reed, a brilliant organizer from Ferguson, led a street shut down by chanting and playing street games with hundreds of our protest family and families from the neighborhood willing to join in. Imagine the consternation of those who'd like us to open the street when they saw protestors playing hopscotch and jacks and two black millennials teaching a white grandmother to double Dutch? It was a brilliant strategy that brought out joy, passion, and even a few more folks to the cause. From there, she has organized local educational brunches on ballot initiatives affecting black folks, assembled one-of-a-kind debates for critical civic positions where real people asked real questions, supported campaigns for activists who successfully ran for office, and unites everyday with other struggles in solidarity. Like Kayla, imagine what's possible and then take the deliberate, creative and international steps to get there.

We will never be silent — that’s just not who we are. So let's stand up. Let's keep choosing to be our loud, boisterous, bold, unapologetic black selves. Most importantly — let's win.

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