The Difference Between Allyship and Co-Opting Movements

After Tuesday night's election results were released, there was an outpouring of love and support from people all across communities coming together for collective change on the dangers that a Trump presidency will cause. Whether individuals were directly affected by the threat of Donald Trump's proposed policies, they came together in solidarity to reject his rise to power and the very systems in power that allowed an election like this to occur. It was an incredibly moving and beautiful moment to see in the midst of a divided America, that potential to come together in unity and strength still existed.

However, when allying with a specific cause or movement, it can be easy to attempt to co-opt the movement and forget the people who have been on the ground doing the manual work to social change before it became trending or with its own hashtag. Co-opting movements is incredibly problematic because it forgets the work that has been going on far before the movement gained popularity, and becomes accredited to a false perception of a savior-like ally swooping in to save the day.

You can still be an ally while avoiding the erasure of the knowledge of the people and organizations behind the movement for social change. Check out the dos and don'ts of allyship, and be prepared to help ignite change within your respective communities!

Allies know how to make space. One of the best ways to demonstrate solidarity is by knowing when it's time to sit down and pass the microphone to the communities actually affected by the change. As a white queer non-binary individual, I cannot speak on behalf of the way undocumented people or people of color are processing the election results because I do not belong in the community affected by the change. Allies are not spokespeople for the movement, nor are they the Press Secretary controlling their narrative for public perception. Instead of writing a Facebook post about how other people are taking the election, challenge yourself to share what a person of color or undocumented student are already sharing. Pass the microphone, but be the sound speaker. Uplift their narratives in your own communities as a challenge to what's become normalized: anti-blackness, xenophobia, homophobia or any other wedge designed to divide our civilization. Your voice matters, but your ability to uplift voices is a potent act of political resistance rarely tapped into or given attention towards.

Allies give credit where credit is due. You and I both know that you did not come up with ending a protest with "we have nothing to lose but our chains." That was Assata Shakur, a badass black feminist and activist and a former member of the Black Panther Party. You did not come up with the theory of intersectionality - that was achieved by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a black civil rights leader and critical race scholar.

It is incredibly important that we recognize the voices that have been resounding far longer than our involvement with the movement, and that we honor the people and their contributions that they make. By not quoting important sayings or chants or contributions, you are contributing the erasure of the movement's history and replacing your name with it. That's not okay. Activism is not about you or your legacy, especially when the perceived legacy was not your original ideas or thoughts. Give credit where credit is due. Honor the movement and its history.

Allies do not create social change solo. This is something that still challenges me, as I tend to get so excited about becoming involved with a new project that I unintentionally forget about the people who set the table for the discussions far before I even knew about the existence of the problem. Nothing an ally does on behalf of an identity that they don't hold should be completely solo. If you are not black, you do not have the end-all, be-all solution to ending police brutality for young black males. If you do not identify as Latinx, you do not have the championship of how to expand opportunities for undocumented people. If you are straight, you do not get the ally card by just attending our pride festivals.

Nobody knows what is better for a community than the actual members of the community who experience life day-to-day in their various identities. If you have ideas on what you think should be done, members of the community affected should always be consulted. Often, the ideas that you have on what is the best solution is what the community group has already been working on for a number of years. Save the time in investing resources trying to be the champion of a movement that isn't personal to you, and instead reinvest your time and energy into supporting the folks fighting for their own individual liberation. Support one another.

Don't be so desperate to be perceived as a trailblazer that you take the rights of others to succeed in their movements. We have enough people starting movements and creating noise, and we need more individuals that are willing to support the movement's goals and do the on-the-ground volunteering, fundraising and outreach.

Allies acknowledge when they are wrong or when they are ignorant of something. As an ally, you don't have to know every single thing about the complexities of living with an identity you cannot claim as personal to you. However, as an ambassador of the movement, it is your duty to acknowledge when you do not know something. Don't make the movement look weak or inadequate because you were unable to articulate the goals or why it is a systematic issue that we are trying to dismantle. Ask questions. Be humble. Be open to accepting different worldviews and perspectives of the history we have been taught for years.

Allies do their own research. It is not the burden of the oppressed to explain why they are oppressed. For people constantly marginalized or isolated as a result of societal factors, it can be exhausting to have to constantly articulate to people the root causes and justification as to why they are fighting for the causes that they believe in. If you have a question about something, be humble enough to accept that you don't know why an issue persists or where it came from. Yet, also use your resources. Google it. Read a book. Keep up with the news. Do not expect the oppressed to inform you of their continued oppression because that poses an unfair burden to an already marginalized group. Roll up your sleeves, pull up Google and get ready to both learn and unlearn about everything you thought you knew about race, class, power and privilege.

Allies hold their own community accountable. Protests and rallies are a great way to collectively come together to voice frustrations, but if you are silent during Thanksgiving dinner when your aunt assumes that all terrorists are Muslims, you have only done the work in vain. The movement does not need people only in it for lip service or name recognition.

Don't just protest Trump - protest, challenge and dismantle the very systems of oppression that you unconsciously benefit from. All change is uncomfortable. It can be awkward to talk to your childhood best friend about systematic racism or the school-to-prison pipeline, but it needs to be done. It might not seem like a fun party icebreaker to mention police brutality or the need for gun violence prevention, but it needs to be addressed directly from the communities we come from. People are more likely to listen to someone they know talk about difficult and controversial subjects than they are to approach a complete stranger for assistance. Challenge unchecked hatred, bigotry and intolerance within your own communities. Get out of your bubble of social justice spheres, because the true battleground is in the tapestry of our everyday lives. Be an ally even when nobody sees it. Be an ally even when the TV stations don't publicize it. Be an ally even when it won't get a headline in the newspaper.

Allies recognize that their participation as an ally is a privilege. Your ability to walk and stand in protests is a privilege that many of our differently-abled folks do not get to experience. Your ability to have the time to dedicate to these causes as a volunteer or a coordinator is privilege to the people affected by these causes but chained to working several shifts to make ends meet. Organizing spaces owe you nothing. You do not get a gold sticker for being a decent human being and standing up against injustice. It is an absolute honor and privilege to participate in social movements, to stand on the right side of history and to show your support towards these causes. Do not take for granted how blessed you are to be a participant, because there are thousands of disenfranchised individuals who would love for the same opportunity.

This article is not intended to be a policing of the activist movements, but it is essential to know the difference between standing for a movement in a positive way, and participating in a movement in a problematic way. Get prepared for making the change you want to see in the world - together, unified, and unstoppable.