Earlier this month I called on my brothers and sisters in the labor movement to join me in the fight for racial justice in the wake of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, MO.
Here's a list of three things labor can do to support those who are leading the charge to confront racism and promote justice in our nation:
One of the most important things we must do is be present, mentally and physically. Now is a great time to educate ourselves and follow the conversations young activists are leading online and on the ground. Being present is not about showing up and issuing statements, it's about really listening to those spearheading this movement to see how we can play a meaningful role in supporting their efforts.
Many of us - especially those of us that hold leadership positions within our unions - have watched everything happening in Ferguson, New York, and Ohio unfold from the comfort of our homes. Let's take it a little bit further. Book a flight or rent a car and make the trip to Ferguson or one of these cities. When you arrive, connect with activists and organizers, listen, and ask what your union can do to help. Be present, be visible, and be ready to work with young leaders on the ground!
The labor movement has an abundance of resources we can offer racial justice activists. From our list serves, our social networks, our coalitions, and even financial support. Labor can be a progressive echo chamber for the voices of people of color fighting for racial justice. We can utilize our massive networks to tweet active hashtags like #Ferguson, #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe and retweet activists on the ground to help amplify their message and work. And above all else, labor organizations have the foot soldiers necessary to assist in turning out people for calls to actions and events. These tools can help further the work being done throughout the nation. We can utilize these resources to assist activists as they see fit; it's simply a matter of seeing which of our resources best suit protesters in their call for justice and finding a way to implement it that works best for our unions and the activists we are supporting.
Connect labor to racial justice
The labor movement and the civil rights movement have a longstanding history. Recently, it seems as though there has been a disconnect in the labor movement and the call for racial justice nationwide - and it's time we bridge that gap. For labor unions, it's important to remember that the Black community bears the brunt of the racial disparity where police violence is concerned. For many of our unions, African-Americans account for a large percentage of our membership. How can we fight for fair wages and improved working conditions for black workers when they are being killed with impunity by those sworn to protect our communities? We can't have labor rights without civil and human rights. It's imperative that we make these connections and remember that worker's rights are a part of a larger movement for social justice that includes all who are marginalized and face injustice.
Activists have been working diligently since the horrific death of Mike Brown to form coalitions, develop a list of demands, meet with the President, and build a nationwide movement. These brave young souls have shown that they are capable of leading. They do not need us to insert ourselves as leaders and co-opt their message, but we certainly can--and should--support them as they lead our nation in challenging and changing police practices and call for oversight, overhaul, and accountability.
What the racial justice movement needs from labor right now is genuine solidarity--and that's what we're good at, right?