By Gloria Partida
This week was a week of immersive social justice opportunities. Or as immersive as it can get in the Zoom era. Starting with an insight session at I-House on the 11th, facilitated by Advocates for Action, followed by the Vanguard LGBT forum on the 14th, approval of a resolution against Asian hate and a shooting of Asian women in Atlanta the same night. There was a League of Women voters discussion on racial equity, a Yolo Community Foundation discussion on housing insecurity and to finish the week, a vigil for the shooting victims in Atlanta. Depending on how you see the level in your glass, this week was powerfully hopeful or depressingly hopeless. The common denominator this week was that if you were living on the margins, life was decidedly inequitable. It was wonderful to see the level of energy and organization happening throughout the community. It was also hard not to see how thinly stretched our activist community is. Many, work in multiple areas of activism. The question heard often and which I heard after the vigil was, are we making a difference?
It is a fair question. I especially felt this on Tuesday evening when I left the City council meeting after approving the resolution only to learn of the shootings. How much good do resolutions, vigils and protest make? It is sometimes difficult to remember that some of the biggest changes on the social justice front came in part from these symbolic gestures. The work can be soul sucking. Through these gatherings people support each other, exchange ideas, and strategize. They keep the issue that is being worked on visible and eventually, as we saw with the civil rights movement and the BLM movement, moved to the mainstream. It is a frustratingly slow process, which requires constant push and vigilance to prevent backsliding.
The move to the mainstream is critical. It is at this stage that it is taken up by policy makers. The prevention of backsliding is aided greatly by having policy written that gets to the root of the problem. Reversing Jim Crow, giving everyone access to vote, allowing same-sex marriage, all have improved the lives of people at the margins considerably. All were considered radical ideas when first presented. All started with organized conversations and the constant drumming into the broader community that change was needed.
In the facilitated I-House conversation with Advocates for Action the remark that stood out to me was that their organization does not spend their energy trying to change the hearts and minds of people. They focus on policy. I would argue that a certain amount of critical mass is needed in the hearts and minds area to vote policy makers into office that are sympathetic to social justice causes. None the less this philosophy makes a lot of sense. Identifying what policies move the needle the most to make a difference is tricky. Often revisiting is in order and naysayers take this as an opportunity to point out what a bad idea it was.
In conversations about the shootings in Atlanta a myriad of policies were suggested. Everything from stronger gun laws to equitable hiring practices to Ethnic study requirements were mentioned. What combinations will stop racially motivated violence? At the League of Women Voters discussion, a question posed was “how did you begin working on racism?”. It reminded that racism was not in fact where I started my activist work. I began my activism working on issues of poverty and environment. These were the biggest impacts on peoples lives in the area I grew up in. I still see economics as a thread that runs through all social justice issues. Lifting people out of poverty and preventing them from falling into it must be a top priority.
Much of the institutional racism in the world keeps people of color in poverty. It is effective at disenfranchising people of color. Poverty also perpetuates stereotypes and amplifies xenophobia. Xenophobia and implicit bias can be mitigated with education. We are wired to be wary of strangers and to be at the top of power chain. Being aware of these drivers and continuing to have dialogue around how best to place safeguards in place to prevent our bias from causing harm will go a long way. The work needed to end racism is multipronged and never ending. Everyone is needed in the work.
For examples of how policy can make differences in equity see examples at this website: Act, Strategies, Policy and Legislative Change.
Gloria Partida is the Mayor of Davis and founder of the Davis Phoenix Coalition
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