Cyrus Aaron is all too familiar with the injustice that abounds in America.
The pain from watching national news events unfold ― like the police slayings of black lives, the devastating water crisis in Flint and the fight to protect sacred tribal sites in North Dakota ― has overwhelmed Aaron, a writer and poet from Chicago, in ways that have also motivated him to speak out about the agony.
While Aaron, who identifies as a creative artist, is deeply committed to creating social change, he says engagement and momentum can sometimes be hard to sustain in many movements. “We see the names so much we forget the people, and their lives become fossils, dried up moments of humanity buried under time,” Aaron told The Huffington Post. “The information we acquire has to be stretched, pulled apart and wrung into action.”
This is why he decided to create his own modernized method to fuse storytelling and social justice, and help mobilize people across the country to get involved ― and stay involved. Behold The People’s Campaign.
On Wednesday, Aaron launched a GoFundMe page to crowdfund the project, which he hopes will be able to take a small team of creatives to 15 cities across America that have been affected by injustice, including in Ohio, where Tamir Rice was killed; Maryland, where Freddie Gray died; and South Carolina, where Walter Scott was fatally shot.
They will then team up with local activists to co-organize an event that will tackle a local social justice issue and identify solutions that will leave community residents feeling more empowered. Aaron plans to lead the team, which will use digital platforms like YouTube, Instagram and SnapChat to profile local community members, as well as produce livestreamed and edited content for the general public.
“The People’s Campaign is a journey of streamed content that marries action in the digital space with action in the real world,” Aaron told HuffPost. “We will democratize social change, simply by tapping into the power already in our hands. So that people like myself, everyday people, have the information, the ideas and the access to action.”
Aaron, who aims to raise enough money to donate $10,000 to an immediate area of need in each city, said he hopes The People’s Campaign will help residents realize the power of their voices. He believes people are very interested in getting involved, tired of feeling powerless and are ready to move simply because, he says, we can’t afford to wait any longer.
“I want the nation to show up at the front door of communities in need." Cyrus Aaron
“I want people to take this journey and be empowered every step of the way,” he said. “I want people to know they can contribute, and even though social issues are large they are not impossible. We just need enough eyes and ears locked in at the same time.”
For Aaron, tackling injustice has evolved into a lifelong commitment. Following Sandra Bland’s death in July 2015, Aaron was so overcome with grief that he quit his job in hospitality, essentially locked himself in his room for a month and fully focused on writing. In that time, he wrote a powerful book of poetry called “Someday” that is primarily centered on the complexities of race, and wrote and directed a 12-part play of the same title that followed many of the book’s themes. He will be using the hashtag #SomedayMustCome to merge his past project with his current one and help drive momentum to The People’s Campaign by asking people to post a picture with the hashtag.
“I want the nation to show up at the front door of communities in need,” he added. “I want people to use their smartphones, or their laptop like a key and have a seat in a home that doesn’t stand like their own. I want people to understand difference and not criminalize it. I want us to challenge ourselves, and if nothing else, then out of curiosity, see how much good we can achieve together.”
The People’s Campaign aims to fundraise $150,000 and, as of Friday, has raised more than $1,600. Aaron says he is confident it will reach its goal, but if that doesn’t happen, he still plans on using the available funds to create events in whatever cities possible. The campaign plans to kick off its first social event in New York ― but first, it’s asking members of communities everywhere to support its mission and embrace their own power.
“We have to awaken collective power now, build a bridge of access between interest groups now, or the cycle of injustice will continue at the expense of the people sharing the margin,” Aaron said.
“We’ve been waiting patiently and politely long enough,” he added. “It’s all hands on deck!”
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