When I wrote my article, “I’m a Scholar, Not a Criminal: The Plight of Black Students at USC,” I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I expected no more than a couple hundred views from my faithful readers, at best. When Rikiesha Pierce yelled out, “Twitter” and “Instagram,” after 79 LAPD officers arrived in riot gear to shut down a peaceful party, she couldn’t have imagined that the pictures captured by her peers would become the official images of a nationwide movement. No one felt prepared to experience what has transpired over the last four weeks, but I imagine that Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer and Assata Shakur felt the same sense of bewilderment on the brink of accepting their callings.
As I sat in my first Night Watch meeting, the spontaneous, late night gatherings of the #USChangeMovement leadership team, it occurred to me that we were doing the same work that had launched the Civil Rights Movement. So this is what that looked like, I thought. My emotions ranged from awe to excitement to fear that the government would sic COINTELPRO on us when we became too much of a threat. Across the nation, students, teachers and community leaders are fighting to end racial profiling, systemic inequality, sexism and the neglect thereof. And these are not your typical “let’s make noise until the media hears us and then we’re done” type of protests. Everyone invested in what I like to call “The Movement” means serious business. We’re waiting on no one outside of ourselves to make a difference.
Today at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution in New Hampshire, students are facing charges from their own university for protesting their administration’s failure to confront sexual assault, homophobia and racism on campus. In Inglewood, CA, hundreds of students sat-in at Morningside High School yesterday to save Principal Dr. Sirls in the midst of budget cuts and state takeover and to fight for educational equity. At the University of Pennsylvania, workers and students have joined together in the Student Labor Action Project to demand higher wages and more paid sick days.
At USC, students, faculty, community members, senior administrators, and the Los Angeles Police Department have been meeting consistently over the last month to establish a relationship based on peace, intellect, and understanding. The #USChangeMovement worked closely with Dr. Michael Jackson, the Vice President of Student Affairs, to write a letter that was distributed to the entire undergraduate student body, acknowledging the racial tension on and around this campus and outlining plans to solve the problems affecting students and community members. Naturally, as The Movement expanded, additional issues were brought to the forefront. On May 13, students staged a silent sit-in and wrote letters in protest to the USC Student Judicial Affairs and Community Standards department’s dismissal of Tucker Reed’s rape case.
It is not by chance that the Chicago Board of Education recently approved 50 school closings, a move so ridiculous it’s sure to bring about overdue education reform. It is no coincidence that Kanye West, arguably the most highly publicized and criticized mainstream rapper of our era, “randomly” decided to release a song exposing the tragically real politics behind the mass incarceration of Black men. There’s no denying that the time for change truly is now! Universities everywhere are underreporting on-campus sexual assaults and shamelessly neglecting formal complaints. Police officers are murdering innocent civilians in broad daylight and seizing the evidence from vigilant neighbors. Harmless science experiments conducted by ambitious Black girls have become a felony offense. While we have every right to be enraged over what’s been going on, we couldn’t have prayed for a better set-up. It’s so perfect that it’s almost divine. I truly believe that the all-inclusive justice our ancestors dreamed about is finally ours for the taking. There’s only one stipulation: we have to work for it.
The circumstances that brought us to this moment are so extreme that the truth can no longer be denied. By simply taking advantage of the opportunities that seem to keep presenting themselves, we are appropriating activism, making it tangible again for those who have lost hope. In using our individual talents and supposedly useless mastery of social media to mobilize The Movement, we’re doing what we always knew we could, but never bothered to try. By becoming the change we have the right to see, we’re empowering others to do the same.
But please don’t be fooled by the media coverage and press conferences; this work is not flattering. It takes selflessness, diligence and organization, skills that none of us have fully mastered. Our willingness to compile our strengths and admit our weaknesses, however, is what has made this movement effective. None of us have it all figured out, but together, we’re unstoppable.
This morning, activists gathered to rally outside of the Central Arraignment Court to protest the pending charges against the 6 USC students wrongfully arrested on May 4th. Within an hour, we were notified that no charges had been filed, most likely due to the overwhelming force of the #USchangeMovement. As if we needed any more confirmation, change really is here, but the work is far from over.
In the words of Marianne Williamson,
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Ways to Act:
Sign the petition in support of RealTalk Dartmouth: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/dartmouth-college-petition?mailing_id=12631&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=7700470
Sign the petition to end racial profiling: http://www.change.org/petitions/stop-racial-profiling-3