The views expressed here are the writer’s and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia.

By Stephanie Younger, a Black student activist and advocate for STEM diversity, Black youth empowerment, womanism, youth prison abolition, and community nonviolence

Virginia, we have a problem. We need to come to terms with our state’s history of the marginalization of the black community.

Virginia is where the first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia. We live in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. A racist act of terrorism occurred last year in Charlottesville. Virginia pushes black youth out of schools and incarcerates them at alarming rates. Most recently, the people whose job it is to serve and protect our communities exploited and abused black people. 

A black male VCU graduate and high school biology teacher who was loved among his students was shot to death by a police officer in Richmond, Virginia. He was known to be “one the most caring and selfless people you’d ever meet.” Marcus David Peters was unarmed, clearly in distress, and needed help, not death. People attempted to justify his killing by saying he was a threat because he allegedly charged at the officer who killed him. 

Victim blaming is deeply ingrained in anti-black racism. Some people attempt to justify our inhumanity by saying “they didn’t comply” and downplaying the violence and racism black people experience every day to a figment of our imagination. Instead of holding the police accountable for abusing black people, we’re often held accountable for acknowledging the presence of racism. 

Ever since black people were kidnapped, enslaved and brought to America, Black people have been branded as “ungracious,” “lazy,” “angry,” “confrontational” “disrespectful”, “uncivil” and “intimidating.” Not only are black people viewed this way when we address racial injustice, but we’re often criminalized for exercising our First Amendment right, unlike our white counterparts. A good example of the criminalization of civil rights activism is when Black Lives Matter leader Walter “Hawk” Newsome held a sign that read “Blue Klux Klan” during a protest against the killing of Stephon Clark. According to The Root, he was violently beaten, and arrested by five officers and wrongfully detained for 22 hours by the NYPD. 

But what are the steps to ending racial profiling and police brutality? Law enforcement first must come to terms with America’s racist history of state-sanctioned violence against the black community. The next steps are to better train law enforcement in de-escalation and conflict resolution. People often choose not to acknowledge an issue that is so apparent. It is our responsibility as Virginians to direct attention to and put anti-black racism through police violence to an end.

 

Date

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 - 10:30am

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Stephanie Younger, back to the viewer, held a sign that said "Black Lives Matter" while she joined many other protesters in front of Richmond Police headquarter

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The views expressed here are the writer’s and not necessarily those of the ACLU of Virginia.

By Henry Haggard, a 13-year-old activist and freelance writer

The last workshop at the American Civil Liberties Union National Membership Conference was coming to a close. After hearing Harvard public policy professor Marshall Ganz speak about leadership, organizing, and the ACLU, I had only one question. I nervously walked to the microphone stand, reviewing my note one last time. After waiting a few minutes or so for the others to ask their questions, I asked: “What is your take on the arts and philosophies versus the sciences and data of activism?” Looking back, I can see that everything I have done politically inside and outside of the conference could be brought back to that single distinction.

Almost a year ago, I was tired of sitting around, uselessly arguing on the Internet, waiting for something to happen, so I organized three ACLU of Virginia fundraisers and started a People Power campaign in my city, gaining almost three thousand dollars, and attention from the statewide ACLU staff. Just a few weeks ago, I was granted three VIP passes to the national ACLU conference in Washington, D.C.

Last month, my family and I checked in and began our three-day journey, starting with initial training workshops. I attended “Turn Up the Volume by Building a Local Activism Machine,” where Pete Hackeman, Jessica Ayoub, and Nicholas Pressley discussed why and how we recruit volunteers. For the most part, like all “whys,” this class was philosophical and artistic, but much of the “how” used activist-related science.

Most of this workshop had the general theme of more is done with more people. “What we can do as an individual is not enough, but what we can do as a group, as a team, as a movement is something else,” Hackeman said. This idea lives comfortably in the center of the Venn diagram between political arts and sciences: the numerical advantage being the science, and the teamwork philosophy being the art.

Out of the speeches and discussions that followed, many focused on the science, or the “what” of politics. Some of the “whats” included D.C. congressional representation, redefining the criminal justice system, Puerto Rican statehood, fair waitstaff minimum wages, rescinding voter disenfranchisement, enforcing a stricter rule of law, and maintaining the free press. All of these would be useless in mobilization or campaign without the “why,” and vice versa. The science cannot exist without the art to defend it, and the art without the science has no legs to stand on.
The arts that stuck with me most were primarily from author and civil rights lawyer, Bryan Stevenson. The most important of those arts was about proximity to the people you serve or disagree with. “It is in proximity,” he said, “that we begin to understand the world.” With more arts, he rightly noted, the world dramatically benefits when we fix the broken rather than destroy them. He continued to speak about changing narratives, having hopefulness, and understanding the necessity of discomfort.

Later that night, I witnessed a live Fake the Nation podcast, where the members discussed serious “what” topics, such as Puerto Rico, Israel-Palestine, and artificial wellness, and added the art of humor to create an equilibrium. This equilibrium, while noticed in many other sections, stood out the most in this. Imagine how little ground this podcast would make if it dully attempted to convince people to fight for the rights of Puerto Ricans. But with the science and the art, with this perfect activist equilibrium, their advocacy has taken off.

In between the workshops, plenaries, and meals, the leadership lounge was open for any other chosen attendees to participate. A casual leadership and criminal justice discussion by Bill Cobb led to some exciting mixes of the arts and science. “There’s a king and a fool in everyone; whoever you talk to will reply.” Cobb used this example of the arts to better explain the sciences of mass incarceration. If you invest in schools, you will get scholars, and if you invest in prisons, you will get prisoners.

More arts and sciences came from first transgender Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, in the workshop “Advocacy Secrets from Inside the Capitol.” I entered somewhat late due to the leadership lounge, but I experienced enough to know that the “how,” which consists of both science and art, was the general priority of this meeting.

The art of this workshop was the philosophy: the less powerful an official is, the more likely they are to listen to you. Power, in this case, doesn’t necessarily mean wealth or government level, but how many people speak to you about issues they care about. The sheriff, although he controls more jurisdiction, is spoken to less than a delegate or board member. And even though I did not learn it at this conference, the philosophy “think globally, act locally” came to mind. Both of these philosophies, while carrying out or just in general, must have science to work. A more idealistic thought came into play when Roem began speaking about student forums. Amidst a round of applause, she proclaimed, “You’re never too young to learn, and never too young to teach!”

Somewhere in my insufficient free time, I managed to make it to an Action Center’s People Power leaders’ discussion. I created the People Power Facebook account for Richmond a long time ago, and it hasn’t gained much traction. This discussion though was of philosophy and data. The philosophical art was focused on getting others involved in your cause through motivation, along with the science of the call team, text team, and translation team. I know first hand that the call team, just like all activism, is useless without the art of the grassroots volunteers, and equally meaningless without the miles and miles of a data-filled spreadsheet.

Back at the last workshop, waiting to hear from Marshall Ganz, I thought about going back to my seat. That’s when Ganz told me that I’d asked a fantastic question and that he would answer it first when going through his list. I could say that the other people in the room, especially my parents, were equally astounded. He spoke about the head and the heart, how they depend on each other, without one, the other collapses. Then he gave us all a philosophy that is the basis of this article, and will be the basis of all my future activism: “It takes the head and the heart to move the hands.”

 

Date

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 - 10:15am

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The ACLU of Virginia, along with 13-year-old activist Henry Haggard, against the stage at the ACLU National Membership Conference in Washington D.C. in the summer of 2018

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This speech was written by Bashir Al-Asad, a Yemeni-American who spoke at our No Muslim Ban Community Forum on June 28, 2018. The views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ACLU of Virginia.

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Bashir Al-Asad. I am a U.S. citizen, a husband, a father, a son, a teacher, a businessman, and a proud member of a great and productive Yemeni American community.

The history of the great United States of America is endowed by the contributions of immigrants and their descendants. Yemeni Americans are a good example of those immigrants who enriched the ethnic and cultural fabric of this great nation. They are indeed an integral part of America’s industrial and agricultural success and prosperity.

Records show that Yemenis immigrated to the United States as early as 1869. Yemeni Americans fought and died side by side with their brothers in arms in World War I and World War II, and many of them are currently in the US forces serving their country like their fathers did before them.

Mr. President, you have called for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States, violating the core principals of American democracy, and the promise of religious liberty guaranteed by our great Constitution. And unfortunately, the Supreme Court has sided with you. They sided with fear, racism, and xenophobia, against the American ideals of religious freedom and tolerance.

Mr. President - Do you even know who Yemeni Americans are? Have you met any of them or read about their history?

If you don’t know Mr President, ask the automobile assembly lines of Detroit. Ask the steel mills of Lackawanna. Ask the agricultural fields of central California. Ask the farms of San Joaquin Valley in Fresno, California. Ask the factories of Canton, Ohio. Or better yet, since you are from New York, ask Brooklyn and Queens. For if they were to speak they will tell you of a proud people, a spirited and generous people, a family oriented, peace-loving, hardworking and honest peoplewho like others are trying to live the American dream and make this dream a reality for themselves and their families.

Sadly, Yemenis are now the victims of a cruel Proxy War, an all-out civil war, a complete air, sea, and land blockade. A total economic collapse with poverty, famine, and starvation as a direct result. According to the United Nations, Yemen is now on the brink of humanitarian disaster, the world's worst humanitarian crisis of 2018. Over 8 million children in Yemen are on the brink of starvation and about 18 million souls will be on the brink of starvation within a year or so. 

Yemeni Americans and their families are now stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are indeed in a very bad situation, only made worst by the misguided decision to issue a travel ban, and the unfortunate decision of the Supreme Court to uphold such a ban. Many Yemeni Americans have spouses and children, fathers and mothers who are either trying to leave the war-torn country, or who escaped Yemen and are stuck in limbo abroad because of the travel ban. Many of them have spent their life savings and their valuable time applying through the legal channels of the immigration system, and are only waiting for the visas to be processed. This Ban and the Supreme Court decision has turned this very long nightmare into a very long and ugly reality.

Mr. TrumpYou are tearing these families apart at the time they need each other the most.

Mr. President, you may’ve won this round. But you will never ever win this fight.

Because you are in wrong side of history.

Because you don’t represent America or its values.

Because you are an outlier in a pattern of tolerance and inclusion.

Because hope will always prevail above fear, and love over hate.

God bless the great United States of America.

 

Date

Friday, July 20, 2018 - 11:00am

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