organize

[THE WAY FORWARD] It’s Time to Get Organized

The Newark, N.J. mayor explains why civil rights strategy is as crucial today as it ever was.

by Ras Baraka, February 8, 2017

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organize

From left, George E.C. Hayes, Thurgood Marshall and James Nabrit outside the Supreme Court, which ruled that segregation was unconstitutional.

We don’t have time to mourn; we have to prepare. Mourning is not something that’s part of the strategy moving forward. You have to accept what has happened and begin to organize yourself to resist.

We have to make sure we are paying close attention to everything that’s happening on the local, state and federal levels around policies, and around other things that we may have normally begun to take for granted as these things begin to be rolled back.



Whether you’re talking about Title I money for our kids in inner-city schools or health care or housing issues, all these things could possibly become exacerbated in terms of the problems they present. We really have to be attentive to and astute regarding what’s happening, and be participatory. Coming out to the events, being involved in whatever it is that you need to be involved in.

We absolutely need to be involved in schools, particularly since many districts around the country are funded through property taxes. With less money going to districts for programming, cities that have very weak tax bases are going to be affected tremendously. With Betsy DeVos, Trump’s pick for secretary of education, I would imagine less money for public schools and more money for privatization, vouchers and charters. It’s going to affect not only the kids in the schools, but it’s going to begin to affect you because as they have less money, they’re going to have to find money elsewhere.

Now more than ever, our community needs to look inward and become more unified. People thought if there were 10 items and we disagreed on two, we had the luxury to walk away and say, “I don’t want to participate anymore,” which is ridiculous. So now we have to begin to struggle with one another but remain supportive of the overall agenda.

In the age of a Trump election, we’re going to understand that we need a united front. This kind of singular focus and narrow-minded concept that you have to believe in and agree with everything I believe and agree with is hurtful in this age. It doesn’t mean that we give up debating and struggling with one another, but we cannot give up the entire organization or support for one another. We cannot damage that for our individual ideas or beliefs.

We have to continue to organize, and I think Black Lives Matter and all those folks have to continue to do what they’re doing. But you have to be more cautious as you open up the tent because you’re now potentially organizing in an environment where an intensification around COINTELPRO, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, begins again, around folks monitoring you and trying to clearly disrupt and destroy your organization.

You’re talking about Jeff Sessions [another Trump cabinet pick], a guy who says the NAACP is an un-American organization, as attorney general. Even the rhetoric that Trump uses—I’m thinking the word “patriots”—that’s the same rhetoric that existed around the Red Scare and the Cold War, that disrupted and destroyed people’s lives, particularly among activist communities. You have people in jail today, people were killed, their lives were destroyed because of an active movement to destroy their organizations. That is more than plausible now, and people have to be prepared for that.

The only thing I think is a saving part of it is that there are people still around who went through that period. Young people don’t have the luxury of just organizing without talking to or referring to elders in our community who have been through these things.

People should get involved in organizations (or start their own), whether it’s the NAACP, the Urban League or the progressive church organizations. If they’re not doing what you think they should be doing, you need to get in there and make them do that, or create an additional organization. Organizations that are already out here and have infrastructure are easier to become a part of and to push, as opposed to sitting home criticizing it. That’s a lesson that we should learn from the tea party: You have to get involved in that thing and push it. It’s important to get those organizations moving on our behalf very quickly.

This whole idea about giving Trump a chance—I understand these people’s necessity to preserve the system at all costs, but we can’t give him a chance. That’s like allowing people to punch you first. They may punch you, and you may not get up.

As told to Liz Dwyer.

Ras Baraka is Mayor of Newark, N.J.


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