Politics, Policy and Change, Driven by the People

Aura Rosser March(Photo:Spring 2015 March in Ann Arbor for Aura Rosser who was killed by Ann Arbor Police in November 2014)

Over the course of the past 11 months its feels as if nearly 65 years of history has repeated itself. The deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of law enforcement, the militarization of police, Black teens harassed and barred from swimming at a pool party, the murder of nine innocent churchgoers at a prayer worship and the burning of Black churches have all highlighted that despite what we may want to believe, much work is left to be done. Over the course of the past few weeks we may have reached a critical junction as lawmakers across the country, at the highest levels office in the nation have begun to take measures that Black Lives Matter even though they may not have said those words explicitly. However, in this moment within the Movement, it is important to acknowledge the work and the sacrifice of community activists and organizers around the country that have got us to this point and will serve as the trailblazers and leaders that guide us into the future of our generation.

President Obama recently commuted the sentences of nearly 50 nonviolent drug offenders and became the first sitting President to ever visit a Federal Prison. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, through an executive order, underscored the need to appoint a special prosecutor in cases involving police murders of those unarmed. Even South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was on board with the removal of the confederate flag.

Criminal justice, community policing, racism and issues that disproportionately affect communities of color have come to the forefront of American consciousness and it is because of the tireless work of the people.

Politics and policy are largely reactionary bodies. Concerns are raised and through the democratic process, in theory, and change is made to meet the challenges faced by the governed at the time. In December, thousands took the streets of New York City to express their anger and frustration at now Congressman Dan Donovan’s failure to indict the officer that murdered Eric Garner with his bare hands.

The people could not breathe and we demanded space to catch our breath from those we elected to lead.

Seven months later, we have Governor Cuomo announcing plans to mitigate future failures like the one Mr. Donovan committed.

In the twilight of his Presidency, Mr. Obama has implicitly made it clear that he has seen our hands up and has made strides towards making criminal justice reform his enduring legacy. This is a good thing, but again, like Governor Cuomo in New York, this was a move powered by the indomitable will of the people- marching, dying-in, tweeting, writing- demanding change. And although some of the measures that have been established have not gone far enough, organizers and activists have commanded the attention of the political establishment.

Later this month, these activists and organizers will come together in Cleveland, Ohio, a city itself plagued by police violence to discuss the future of the Movement for Black Lives. A show of solidarity, but more importantly the physical manifestation of sentiments that have been brewing for far too long. This convening will provide a healing space, training ground and incubator of activist intellect to develop the strategies and resources necessary to continue to move our nation’s policy makers in the direction of progress. Our Constitution bestowed upon us the right to demand change and if we are to hold true to the notion that ALL men and women are created equal, we must be willing to speak and listen the truth to power and continue to march so that we all have access to full citizenship and that justice- which is something that should be guaranteed, is not something that must be demanded.