On May 25, George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, igniting an international wave of protests against police brutality towards Black people. There is no doubt that these are incredibly turbulent times politically, and we believe all would agree there is too much on the line this November to stay home. Voting, however, is only a single part of our civic duty. In our country’s history, protests have been a necessary prerequisite for change.
Our nation’s Declaration of Independence describes “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” as rights that are fundamental to the human experience. Well over 200 years later we are still working to make this statement true for all of the nation’s citizens.
Our very first act as a nation was a revolt. The Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War that followed, set the stage for the United States to use civil disobedience to protest injustice. The Civil Rights act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were not accomplished merely through voting in of the “right” people. At times, we forget that many of the rights we have now were considered controversial at the time they were introduced.
Stacy Abrams, Fair Fight founder and the first Black woman to receive a major-party gubernatorial nomination, said “[…] it’s not enough to say what you want — you’ve got to demand that it be made true. So, we have to stop simplifying this by pretending that we can elect a savior who will change the world or change the country.”
We must not forget that the legislative and social changes that were the result of action taken by previous generations are the living legacy of their demand for progress and for a better human experience. Leaders from Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others stood on the front lines of this work. But they weren’t alone, they stood on the shoulders of so many people whose names we will never know.
These leaders understood the importance of engaging at all levels, from voting to activating different forms of protest. The power of protesting is not only that it forces us to face the moment and to have uncomfortable but necessary conversations to enact change, but it also gives a voice to the voiceless, like incarcerated folks and people that are not full citizens but are still affected by policies created in America. But whose voice, just like yours and ours, matter.
Efforts to silence protests, even in the face of undeniable injustice, have been the oppositional gravity to progress since organized demonstrations began. Recent efforts to oppose Black Lives Matter protests and attempts to keep people home to wait for election results is an extension of that silencing.
In addition, protests are a critical avenue for movements because sitting back and waiting for legislative progress is not enough. SB 731 is an example of well-intended state action but the lag time between legislation is too slow. This bill was designed to create a process that would prevent police officers who commit misconduct from being hired in other communities. California is one of five states in the country that doesn’t have this type of process in place and this year our legislators refused to vote on the bill.
We recognize that voting is important. Additionally, we must also exercise our civic duties beyond the ballot box. It is not enough to vote for a president every four years or to only protest and not vote. We must do both if we are able to. One begets the other, voting and protests work together as components of a constant conversation toward progress. So, make sure you research the issues in your area, protest, call your elected officials, vote, do anything and everything in your power to make sure your voice is heard.
We encourage all people regardless of age, race, sex or any other social category to get activated. Our work with the 2020 California Economic Summit is one way that we are choosing to make sure our voice is heard and to launch our work into next year. It’s not about showing up once, it’s about showing up consistently. We are the change we want to see and the future we want exists if we do the work to make it true.
Anderson and McKaba are members of the Young Leaders Advisory Council for the 2020 California Economic Summit to be held on December 3-4.
|Ashley Anderson is a first-year student at the University of California Los Angeles. Her primary policy focus areas are social equity K-12 education.|
|Malena McKaba is a graduate of the University of California Santa Cruz. Her primary policy focus areas include social equity and higher education.|