There is opportunity in darkness. Let the movement lead the way.
By Judith Browne Dianis
This week started on a somber note, but do not despair – we will win, in the long-term, that is. Last week was been a whirlwind of energy, resolve, wins and losses. The fact that Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed in the face of evidence of sexual assault and after lying to and yelling at senators while “interviewing” for a position on the Supreme Court, is simply absurd. This, of course, is not to mention where he will take the Court, especially in light of his extreme partisan comments, his seeming threats (“what comes around goes around”), and his record.
And, on Friday, there was a conviction of Officer Jason Van Dyke in Chicago of second degree murder – a not first degree murder – in the killing of 20-year-old Laquan McDonald. From federal politics to civil trials, these times are traumatizing for those of us in the movement for justice and reform.
What’s it all mean? How do we process it and move forward?
I just want to take a small slice of that question.
With regard to the Supreme Court, yes, it’s bad. However, we have been in darker times and lived through more treacherous terrain, and we got over; we survived. The Supreme Court has had a sordid history that we should not forget. Long ago, SCOTUS held that Blacks, considered chattel, had no rights to be recognized. The Court similarly declared that Native Americans were not citizens and later found it constitutional for the U.S. government to hold Japanese Americans in internment camps.
This is only a small part of the story of a court that has taken us back and forth, swinging a pendulum of justice and equality. But here’s the thing: our freedom does not rest in the hands of nine Supreme Court justices. It never has and it never will. The Constitution and laws that the court interprets live and breathe, grow and constrict with the strength of our movements. Justice and freedom lie in our hands.
To lawyers, we must continue to fight in the courts, we must be bold but we cannot be disconnected from movements. Movements must lead. We started Advancement Project because the courts were moving to the right. We could no longer rely on them to be a tool of so-called social engineering. Instead, the courts were our foe on everything and we were losing ground on wins from generations ago. We knew we had to return to the power of the people. When we rely upon the courts as our sole source of our freedom, we are handing over our power, usually to White men sitting in black robes.
Instead, we must turn the tide — we the movement. Movements show the way, narratives help move the people and the courts will follow. Think about Chicago: would any conviction have happened at all if the Movement for Black Lives did not exist? Had the protests in Ferguson, MO, New York, Baltimore, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Charlotte, and other places not happened? Would anyone even question the officers’ accounts? Had local groups like BYP100 – Chicago Chapter, Organized Communities Against Deportations, Assata’s Daughters, the #NoCopAcademy Campaign, and others not taken on Chicago Police Department, former prosecutor Anita Alvarez and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, would a Chicago jury have thought twice about convicting a Chicago police officer of anything at all?
To movement comrades: continue the work. We are smarter, more connected and stronger than we were even five years ago. This moment has called us together to not only resist but to look to the future. The reckoning of our changing demographics must be embraced. We must center people of color who will be a majority by 2040. We must center women and our LGBTQ family whose voices have been long-muffled. We must make room for Returning Citizens who are coming home; we have much to learn from them. Yes, we must all engage through voting but Election Day is not the end of our work.
There is an opportunity in this darkness for us to organize deeper and wider, tapping the incredible energy we have seen in the streets, at the courts and at our state houses. We must keep building a powerful movement that will change the winds so that electeds and the courts must follow. It’s happened before, it will again.
We have no time for despair. With the midterms just days away, we are doing everything we can to make sure that voters are able to claim their power at the polls, free from the looming threat of voter suppression. With your support, we can do even more to support the movement and protect voters.
Setbacks happen but the comebacks are even stronger and better! Keep pushing, keep moving, keep acting, keep fighting! We will win!