We need righteous rage now more than ever.I woke up Saturday morning with baton-shaped bruises on my leg. The night before, I joined tens of thousands of other New Yorkers as we marched in defense of black life. It was the seventh night of protests in the city, ending another day of marches, vigils and…
We need righteous rage now more than ever.
I woke up Saturday morning with baton-shaped bruises on my leg. The night before, I joined tens of thousands of other New Yorkers as we marched in defense of black life. It was the seventh night of protests in the city, ending another day of marches, vigils and sit-ins; of calls for justice for Goerge, Ahmaud, Nina, and Breonna; of healing chants from our elders; of a city stricken by rage and mourning.
It was another day of no justice, which led to another night of no peace. But just like the last five nights, it was the police, not the protestors who brought the violence. They beat us with batons, maced us, and tried to run protestors over with cars. NYPD has a morbidly creative array of “force first, ask questions later” tactics, and they aren’t hesitant to use them.
And it’s happening everywhere. In Columbus, Ohio, police maced a line of peaceful protestors five times in a row at close range. In Salt Lake City, an elder with a cane was forced to the ground. In Austin, a pregnant woman was shot in the stomach with a “nonlethal” round. In Minneapolis, a journalist and mother of two was permanently blinded by a rubber bullet. As of Monday, 17,000 members of the National Guard, armed to the teeth with army-grade weapons, have been deployed to states across the country.
All of this was in the name of “keeping the peace.” The same peace that lets Trump give an unprecedented green light to cops and militias to kill people with impunity, and to illegally activate the military to use force on civilians. The same peace that allows multinational corporations to loot trillions from America’s working families, but criminalizes the rage and mourning of black youth.
The peace that makes living black in America a special kind of hell.
To be honest, it’s hard to write an article about how to channel your rage when you don’t have the words to capture your own. As an Afro-Latina and the director of partnerships and strategy for the Working Families Party, I’ve organized dozens of mass actions for black liberation and taken part in hundreds more. The escalations we saw last week were normal until they weren’t. They were normal because we’ve been conditioned to view these conditions—the conditions that justify the murder of innocent black folk and condemn us for demanding our freedom—as normal. Countless videos of police brutality have desensitized us to the brutalization of black and brown bodies. History has taught us to conflate blackness with crime, believing we are safer when more black men are behind bars. Police unions line the pockets of Democrats and Republicans alike, eating up giant portions of city budgets in return.
But the power and potential of this moment isn’t normal. We aren’t just mourning the black and brown lives snuffed out by the prison industrial complex; we’re mourning the generations of carnage and destruction that racialized capitalism has wrought on black and brown bodies. Our rage isn’t limited to our bodies; it spans across centuries of life under a system that tells us, time and time again, that we don’t deserve to breathe.
In yesterday’s piece on the power of black grief, New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow writes that, “When people feel helpless, like there is nothing left to lose, like their lives already hang in the balance, a wild, swirling, undirected rage is a logical result.” While I don’t think I’ll ever have the “right” words to describe my rage or my grief, “wild and swirling” feel right.
But “undirected” doesn’t.
Channeling rage is a skill. It’s one I’m privileged to have. But honing it is a process, and it’s difficult for everyone, no matter how much experience you have with this work.
To channel rage and grief, you need to lean into discomfort. This is true for all of us, and right now it’s particularly true for white and nonblack folks—so this paragraph is for you. There is no right way to feel uncomfortable, but inaction is unacceptable. If you’re someone with a voice in your head that says you should sit this one out for X, Y, or Z reasons, tell it to shut the hell up. Black folks have been feeling the weight of the world, and the weight of your silence, for centuries. Guilt and shame are normal. So is the pattern of white folks hiding from their guilt and shame by staying silent.
Break that pattern. Help your people break it too. Use one of the dozens of resources available to you (check out Showing Up for Racial Justice, Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy workbook, and this resource list to start). Get creative in how you show up for black folks, and how you call other white people into this work. There may not be a moment when you feel like you’re “ready” to start channeling your rage and grief, so don’t wait for it. Practice leaning into discomfort, even when it feels like you’re working against it and not through it. Decolonizing your mind is messy, uncomfortable, beautiful, and incredibly difficult. Feel the emotions that come with it, and surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable to your growth—but don’t rely on black folks to do it for you.
In the meantime, ask yourself not just what you can do to take immediate, direct action. If you have extra income, donate to bail funds. If you are healthy and able-bodied, find a local protest (there’s no central list for protests, but organizers are doing everything they can to promote these actions—you shouldn’t have to look far). Hang a sign in a street-facing window. Find out how to send water, snacks, or other necessities to protestors. Take a Know Your Rights training and join a street medic collective. Help amplify the art, creativity, and calls to action from black folks in your community. Think about what you have to offer, what you can leverage your bosses and workplaces to offer, and put it to use.
Wherever you are, find a way to level yourself up. As organizers, we are constantly looking for ways to move folks up the ladder of engagement. We don’t just want people to come out to a protest and go home; we want you to engage in this struggle for the long-term. If you made a onetime donation, consider upping it to monthly. If you joined a protest, think about how you can be of deeper service to the black and brown organizers leading this movement (consider offering resources or services for black leaders to process, grieve, and rest). If you’ve volunteered on a political campaign, find out how to support a local abolitionist or decarceral candidate (WFP’s Tiffany Cabán will be tweeting out key races for you to plug into). Consider how you use your intelligence and creativity to engage and promote capitalism. Imagine what the world would look like if we used those same skills, at the same capacity, to the fight for our freedom—then claim your lane in building that world.
And whatever you do, keep building power for the long-term. This has been a week of radical intervention and radical unity. But this movement will fail if we stop fighting when the fires stop burning. We need to make massive, structural reforms to immediately shut down systemic police violence in all its forms—that means defunding the police, abolishing ICE, ending mass incarceration, and dismantling the prison industrial complex—and redistribute those funds to social services, programs, and infrastructure that are crucial to communities of color. We must continue to uplift the demands being created by black folks nationally, and in cities and communities across the country. In November and beyond, we need to leverage our political power to vote out lawmakers who protect police unions and block our reforms, and recruit, train, and elect people’s champions to all levels of government.
But to end the war on black bodies, we need to go far beyond police reform. Racism isn’t just a public health crisis when we’re getting beaten down by cops in riot gear; it’s a public health crisis when our babies are dying of poisoned water and our elders are dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates. From redlining to mass incarceration to systemic ecological decline, white supremacy cuts through black communities like a scythe.
Ending the war on black bodies will take a massive cultural, economic, and political shift. It can be hard to wrap your head around change of that scale, and harder still to find your power to help make it happen. But the rage and mourning you feel in this moment is your power, and black folks are leading the way with actions you can take to make meaningful gains in our struggle for justice. The Movement for Black Lives has a daily call to action. Black-led movement groups like BYP100 are out shaping economic policy to ensure black folks own our share of wealth. Groups like Black and Pink are making sure our incarcerated LGBTQ folks—many of whom are black and brown—are cared for. SURJ has an incredible set of resources for white folks looking to use their privilege to enact mass structural change. The Working Families Party is a grassroots, independent political group, led by Movement for Black Lives organizer and strategist Maurice Mitchell, working to build the political power it takes to make sure this radical intervention has radical follow-through. All these groups—and so many others—are powered by members. Join them, and build for long-term liberation.
Rage and mourning are how we make sense of this moment. Don’t wait for someone to tell you how to use them, and don’t let them go to waste.
Nelini Stamp is the national organizing director of the Working Families Party.