When Black Life Matters: One Month, One Year

Black Lives Matter on Statue

Photo Credit: Jason Tighe

For The Long Struggle Ahead...

One month since Charleston massacre; One year since Eric Garner’s murder

"An old world is dying, and a new one, kicking in the belly of its mother, time, announces that it is ready to be born. This birth will not be easy, and many of us are doomed to discover that we are exceedingly clumsy midwives. No matter, so long as we accept that our responsibility is to the newborn: the acceptance of responsibility contains the key to the necessarily evolving skill" - James Baldwin, No Name in the Street

  In the summer of 2014, we witnessed the spread of a beautiful movement against increased militarism and white supremacy. Inspired by the determination of people in Ferguson, MO to defend their community, their dignity, and their lives, countless thousands across the US seized that moment to take action. Swelling in the streets of their cities and towns, spontaneously blocking freeways and intersections in open rebellion, people collectively transformed their grief and rage into the kind of power that momentarily disrupts a status quo that steals the life of a Black person every 28 hours in the US. Now we are faced with the question of how to sustain and grow that power.

Memory is at the center of this struggle. Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Aiyana Jones, Tamir Rice, and Freddie Gray will not be forgotten. Will these names be treated as exceptions, as victims of "excessive" violence, or will they mark this moment as demoralizing reminders of powerlessness and vulnerability? Or, will we celebrate their memory as people whose life and loss moved many to work boldly toward upending white supremacy and realizing the possibility of collective liberation?

Racial terror is traumatic, with disorienting force. Whether it be the image of Mike Brown's body left on the street for four hours and his subsequent prosecution in mainstream media, or the tragic murder of nine people in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and subsequent church arsons: these traumas can produce despair, isolation, and loss of memory. Sensationalized forms of violence intend to discipline the dreams of a Black-led movement for Black liberation. They narrow our focus toward particular individuals or locations, while displacing our attention and energies from the routine violence of racism that is general, historical, and systemic. As many of us and our loved ones struggle with these traumas, as we face our fears with knowledge of a world that is becoming ever more deadly for Black people in the US and internationally, we must take special care not to lose the memory of the transformative power we share in the movement.
In addition to honoring the lives stolen by state violence and racial terror, let's celebrate our capacity to create and resist, to build another world together. To do so would be to remember and emulate the courage of countless people who:

  • Faced police occupation in the streets of Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD.

  • Resisted police intimidation and tore down barriers to reclaim the space of their neighborhoods and cities.

  • Cared for loved ones, neighbors, and strangers suffering the effects of tear gas, police brutality and racist violence.

  • Worked tirelessly to gather money and resources to defend and support grieving family and people arrested in recent actions.

  • Took creative action to confront racist dehumanization, from the Blackout Collective in the Bay Area, CA, to Bree Newsome in Charleston, SC.

  • Insisted, against ahistorical colorblindness, that #BlackLivesMatter, like Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometti.

Beyond reforms that aim to restore order and legitimacy, while leaving the underlying logic and structures of white supremacy intact, our desire for justice and peace drives our work for collective liberation. Our work to resist war in the US and internationally, demands that we confront militarism in the form of policing and prisons, border regimes and deportation, anti-Muslim racism and repression, and the permanent war waged against Black and indigenous life. The success of this work relies on our ability to recognize and learn from the leadership of people whose very lives are targeted by these systems. In doing so, we recognize that this resistance precedes and exceeds War Resisters League's 92 year history.

The long struggle ahead must be nourished by imagination, far-reaching vision, and memory. As we mourn the lives that have been lost, we must preserve and share the memory of our movements. In times of despair and disorientation, this memory offers guidance about the transformative power of ordinary people uniting in shared purpose and extraordinary action.




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