Essential Stories from the Front Lines

“Rising From the Ashes — #BLM Protests and Where We Go From Here”

Essential Stories Live Round Table; Episode One: Politics, White Supremacy, & Cult Psychology

The first-ever episode of Essential Stories is now live. Essential Stories is an independent, grassroots docu-series that gives a voice to people on the frontlines of our world’s most pressing social issues. During the first panel, six panelists from across the United States joined host Cara Cruickshank to bring their unique perspectives on the Black Lives Matter protests and state of the country to foster an open discussion on the work that has been done, and how we can continue to build upon it. The panelists came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, neighborhoods, generations, genders, domains and socio-economic backgrounds. They shared their perspectives and pushed one another to figure out what each individual can do on the ground to bring forth the kind of country that we want to see. 

A key issue the group tackled was the discrepancy between political figures representing the United States versus the actual people who make up our country. One contributing factor,  called out by storyteller Chris Landry is that people do not want to hear about the racist practices of the democratic party: “As the upcoming election approaches, we have two racist candidates running for president. In the face of this, we need to expand our capacity to deal with discomfort and to see the truth and to act. The anger has to be expressed in action and solidarity.” Frequently, members of society don’t want to admit their own shortcomings. Author and artist Beverly Naidus built on Landry’s point by agreeing that a great deal of work still needs to be done on the left. Even within minority demographics, “there are people of color that have internalized oppression that needs to be untangled so we don’t oppress each other.”  

Then, the topic of responsibility surfaced. The group agreed that racism is a white person’s problem – namely, that these are conversations that white people need to be part of for these problems to be solved. Landry mentioned the difficulty of this, as “one of the privileges of whiteness is that we never have to study whiteness. There’s no obligation. The system is built for us and to our specs.” This truth has become glaringly obvious, and thus unavoidable. As a result, these protests have been taking root in cities all across the country with demands for change.

As Taj James said, “A while ago there was a story that emerged that said human beings are separate and above from the natural world. And furthermore, that nature itself was feminine and humanity was masculine. That myth of man dominating nature is thought of as the lie of separation and supremacy. And ‘man’ here is defined as what we tend to think about as whiteness. Liberty and justice for all, all lives matter – that universal was the white universal. That’s a lie, and because it’s a lie the civilization is collapsing.” In the fallout from this, the question then becomes what we all can do to help.

So, how do we solve the problem?

How can we move toward the America that we want to see? How can we better support and show up for one another?

People are coping with these difficult discussions in a variety of different ways. As writer and philosopher Niya Fiya stated, “[African Americans] built this country and never got our reparations. Even if people aren’t able to vocalize that, it comes out in other actions. Everybody processes everything differently.”

One take, by artist and author BRAH1M, is that change isn’t possible without direct conflict. He personally doesn’t see how a world run by violence or the threat thereof can be overthrown by something different than violence. On social media and offline, many have echoed this sentiment. A well-cited quote by social activist Assata Shakur is that “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

Demetrius Parker disagrees, stating that “dialogue can be a powerful tool.” Citing what fellow panelist Taj James mentioned earlier, Parker asserted that if we can truly start to put our voice in the local government – that’s where the rubber meets the road. He voiced his frustration: “Every time there’s a local election, we don’t vote. They’re not educated and all of a sudden there’s a new law and everyone’s like, ‘Where did this come from?’ I feel that, but if we start being part of the local government we’re going to see change.”

Landry kept it straightforward: “We have to get the fascist out of the White House. That’s step one. I’m not affiliated with the Democratic Party but we need to have honest discussions about the legacy of the Democratic Party and withdraw our consent for that. The Democratic Party hasn’t shown up for working people and young people since ’92, at least. We need to step away from it and let it collapse.”

Niya advocated for defunding the police, a process that many are demanding as people strive to distance themselves from their local police departments. Defunding is “a concept I never really thought about, but it makes sense as the brutality is too much. We’ve seen it over and over again. The police reform hasn’t worked. We had neighborhood watch. We need to bring that back. We need to talk to our neighbors. We’re all so busy with our own lives that we don’t talk to our neighbors. We need to have difficult conversations with ourselves as well. We need to learn from the people who have been doing the work and listen to them.” Reinvestment in communities has been a popular theme among those calling for change.

Naidus mentioned the importance of grassroots building of community – talking to neighbors, finding out what they’re thinking, and sharing stories and food. “It’s a slower process, but it’s essential if we’re going to build grassroots organizations. It’s essential to help people reimagine the world. People only see the police state we live in. They need to see something beyond. That’s part of the work of shifting things right now.”

James also mentioned the importance of local government, saying that we need to turn toward the demands of Black Lives Matter. One of the main calls to action is getting local governments to defund the police. In Oakland, where James is based, the police department makes up 40% of the overall budget. James would like to reinvest that to the people so that they can keep themselves safe, because the police are not keeping them safe. He also demands that Trump resign.

Amid all the chaos, the panelists remain largely hopeful.

James said, “When I talk to young people I have no fear of the future. They’re not confused. They have no attachments to this broken system because this system has never served them.”

As Demetrius Parker so simply put it: “This country has the opportunity and the ability to get there.”