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The Advancement Project weighs the state of the Black race
By Charlene Muhammad Contributing Writer
Published March 9, 2017

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(l-r) Thomas Mariadason (Senior Staff and Director of the Justice Project at the Advancement Project), Maria Teresa Kumar (Founding Executive Director of VotoLatino), Deepa Lyer (Senior Fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion), and Attorney Judith Browne Dianis (Executive Director of the Advancement Project D.C.). (Photo Courtesy)

The Advancement Project Washington, D.C. held a #StateOfRace Twitter town hall on people’s stance in fight for racial justice.

The Advancement Project is an innovative civil rights law, policy, and communications ‘action tank.’  It’s town hall, also streamed live on Facebook on Feb. 28, occurred about an hour before Pres. Donald Trump gave his first address to a Joint Session of Congress.

“Before we get into alternative facts, we wanted to get into a real conversation about the state of the racial justice movement,” said Thomas Mariadason, senior staff and director of the Justice Project at the Advancement Project, who facilitated the discussion.

He was joined by Maria Teresa Kumar (founding executive director VotoLatino), Deepa Lyer (Senior Fellow at the Center for Social Inclusion), and Attorney Judith Browne Dianis (executive director of the Advancement Project D.C.).

Browne Dianis said people would hear about safety and trying to end violence in America, but not the truth, which really is that the way Trump plans to get at that is actually “by making us less safe, by making communities of color the scapegoats, by criminalizing us at really high rates,” she stated.

“We may hear about a Black agenda, which will not be for us,  but will be thrust upon us. A Black agenda that may include increasing police presence, talking about law and order as if law and order is actually going to benefit our communities …,” Browne Dianis continued.

Kumar said it’s the American people’s real work to hold people accountable in a real way.  She said when Trump goes after the media and the judicial system of checks and balances, that’s a slippery slope.

Panelists discussed what they felt would and would not be addressed by Trump, including for instance, recent racially motivated hatred, immigration reform, interest in some sort of path for some to receive legal status in some way, and despite that, a lack of commentary on the climate of bigotry that’s been escalated by Trump’s rhetoric and policies, said Lyer.

Mariadason asked whether the panel felt, beyond the beltway, media and their organizations, that there is strong sense of urgency amongst the American people.

Kumar replied that part of their daily work is trying to get people to pay attention.  But the fact that people are self organizing in Congressional districts regardless of party shows people are paying attention.

Their job now is to actively engage those people and translate that into actual power, she said.

It is beyond the electoral politics, as well, Lyer joined in.  The urgency Mariadason mentioned is really a sense of resistance and solidarity among communities of colors and immigrants unseen before, she said.

She noted Trump’s Muslim ban, for instance, ignited protests across the nation, and those represent the type of shift that is necessary.

Browne Dianis remarked that people are witnessing a wave of laws going through state legislators to criminalize protests.

“It’s really taking away the First Amendment, right.  Now, if you think about it, a lot of this is just targeted at the Movement for Black lives, which actually started to bring anti-Blackness into America’ safe head on, and White folks, especially White Supremacists couldn’t deal with it,” she stated.

Some protestors have been charged with racketeering, there’s been a rise in Blue Lives Matter laws, which are going to give hate crime penalties to people who do anything against police officers, she detailed.

Browne Dianis said that means, “if you’re at a protest, and you flick a police officer off, all of a sudden you could be charged with a hate crime.”

But part of the police state is controlling people and making sure people can’t unite in solidarity, so it’s their task and challenge to keep the solidarity going, she said.

“There are common values that we are seeing.  When people showed up to the airports, that was about pure humanity and dignity and just our openness to loving people and caring about people, and that’s the space where we find some real openness to build some bridges,” she added.

Solidarity is not easy, Mariadason noted and asked, what has worked, because people – immigrant families – are worried about a knock on their door?  Black communities have been living in this kind of fear day in and day for centuries, honestly, he elaborated.

What’s worked on solidarity side and what still needs work

Solidarity work is a very messy experiment and people often times fail more than they succeed, Lyer replied.

One element is having a sense of shared values around justice, humanity, equality and equity, she offered.  Beyond that, there must be unified messaging and action, she said.

“We have to say it and we have to show up … For some it could mean coming to a protest if that’s possible.  For others that could mean actually having some really difficult conversations,” such as confronting their community’s anti-Black racism, she said.

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