By Onnesha Roychoudhuri
The good news is that everyone and their great aunt Sally has been flooding the streets, occupying Congressional offices, getting out the vote, and generally throwing their hats into the ring since an unnaturally hued reality TV show host took office.
The ranks of the resistance have swelled with many who are new to taking political action. Welcome aboard! And while we’re all glad you’re here, we need to touch base about something vital: In order to build a sustainable and unstoppable movement for true justice and equity, WE MUST LISTEN TO AND FOLLOW THOSE MOST AFFECTED BY INJUSTICE.
What does that mean? Well, if seeing immigrants being rounded up and caged — children torn from their families — makes your blood boil, you’re not alone. Immigrants were facing unjust detentions and deportations well before Trump took office, and people have been fighting to defend their rights. A number of badass immigration rights groups have been on those front lines for years — from DREAMers and RAICES to the ACLU — and you’ll want to draw on their expertise and follow their leadership when joining the fight.
Or maybe the increasing visibility of police violence against black Americans has you wanting to take action? Black Lives Matter, the NAACP, Black Youth Project 100, and more have been raising awareness, protesting, and changing the conversation for many years. They have well-developed strategies for moving forward.
All this is to say: There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Before you charge ahead with good intentions, just take a minute (or 10) to do your research. Most of the core issues we’ve seen echoing throughout headlines these past few years — disenfranchisement, misogyny, racism, corruption — are institutional. You’re not the first person to get righteously pissed off about them. That’s good news, because smart, energetic people are already doing their best to fight these battles. And they need more of us on board.
This isn’t to say that those already fighting the good fight t have all the answers or that there isn’t room for new initiatives, leadership, and vision. But what it does mean is that if you’re going to act in solidarity, you first need to learn from them and get up to speed. This organizing rule of thumb holds no matter who you are: Even if you’re directly affected by some forms of injustice, there are areas where you don’t have the firsthand knowledge and experience that comes with, say, being queer in a heterosexist society, or disabled in a world filled with barriers to access. We all have a different array of privileges that affect what it’s like to move through the world and what opportunities are (or aren’t) available to us. Many of us aren’t even aware of our privileges. We need to be ready to learn.
Our job as allies is to act, but first, and most importantly of all, it’s to listen.
We need to ensure we’re putting those most affected at the center–those who have been in the trenches, those who understand the stakes. They know what needs to be done and how to do it. When you step up, bring your righteous fury and your open ears.