We asked all of the organizers we interviewed a simple question: what do they keep saying or hearing that is not breaking through? Here’s what they said. 


Editor’s note: These responses have been edited and condensed. To watch or read these interviews, click on the names of contributor below. 


We Know What Our Demands Are 

Maurice Mitchell

The generations of demands for Black people to be free, it remains unheard. We're saying it as clear as day, and they're choosing to hear whatever they want to hear. They're choosing to hear, Oh, so we're going to set up a commission so that we could study this problem. We didn't say that. Oh, we're going to change Aunt Jemima’s name. We didn't say that. We're going to propose that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” is sung at the beginning of the NFL — trust me, no Black person marched on any street to demand that.

So, despite the fact that our movement has escalated in popularity, which has given us useful leverage, our targets are insistent on not hearing. Even when it comes down to something as clear as Defund the Police, they'll be, yeah, they say defund but they don't really mean it. No, we literally mean defund the police. People choose to focus on processes, like the fact that they're investigating the Minneapolis Police Department. Processes could go in any direction; we're focused on the outcome. And so, I think this is a continual challenge with us. The systems continue to insist on not hearing us, and we need to be resolute in continuing to yell out clearly what our demands are.

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

When we said Defund the Police, they responded by saying, "Justice in Policing." There's no such thing as justice in policing; it's rooted in white supremacy. There's no way to fix that. But even more, it centers moving more money to the police that we just said to defund. That's lipstick on a pig. No pun intended. What I want to hear is people not concede to a neoliberal agenda that actually doesn't give us what said we wanted.

Mariame Kaba

People have a lot of ideas about abolition but don't actually engage abolition as an idea in any sort of rigorous way. I don't think most people have read much about PIC abolition beyond a couple of articles here or there, if that. I'm always so interested when somebody will throw something out as though that's not something that PIC abolition addresses. Whatever you think is not happening, is actually happening somewhere, almost always. The conversations are happening, the scholarship is happening, the thought process is happening. 

Dara Baldwin

We're not being heard that we do know what we're talking about and that we do have solutions. 

Makia Green

After the uprising, a lot of folks in our movement picked up the call for defunding the police. We also saw our opposition trying to co-opt that language, trying to make claims that we can't say defund, it doesn't work, it doesn't read well. There's been such a conflict over: what do we get to call this movement for transformation? And what does it mean to be radical in how we solve the issues in our community? With someone who doesn't like the term "defund the police" and has not yet decided to be a prison abolitionist, the one thing we can agree on is care. The one thing we can agree on is mutual aid. 

Kesi Foster

I think it's important for us to focus on what's being distorted. The call to defund is a comprehensive, clear call to divest from the power, scope, authority, and budget of police departments in this country because these departments have been designed to control, oppress, extract, displace, and exploit Black people, Indigenous people, and marginalized people in this country. The distortment comes when you have former President Obama on television saying things like, "Defund, that's a bad slogan. If these people want someone to listen to them, they should come up with a different slogan." That's a distortion. He knows very well what people are calling for when they say defund the police. His administration failed to do any significant reforms that would prohibit or limit what we continue to see to this day. 

Simon Adams

The obvious answer here is Black Lives Matter. I think that this capitalist system has exploited the phrase of Black Lives Matter. In 2014, I was really trying to dive into the idea of Black Lives Matter, and I loved it; I loved everything that it embodied. In 2020, America was able to use that Black Lives Matter terminology and flip it on its head. The exploitation of the term Black Lives Matter has completely disintegrated its purpose. At the point it becomes something to market is the moment it gets an expiration date. And when any controversial topic becomes mainstream, it loses its sustainability. Just being able to re-control the narrative of Black Lives Matter is the goal that I have for these upcoming years.

Rukia Lumumba

We are offering the solutions; our people are clear about the solutions. It’s time that folks accepted, period. 


Step Into What’s Hard

Tracey Corder

This is going to be messy. We have been ingrained with every -ism. That is what surrounds us and no matter how good of a person you are, you have been impacted by these -isms. So that's going to show up in the work, and it's not going to be perfect. It's not designed to be perfect. It's designed to be something that we work through together, and I hope that we can have principled struggle and grace with each other to figure that out.

Mariame Kaba

PIC abolitionists have different politics. You can be a PIC abolitionist and be an anarchist. You can be a PIC abolitionist and a communist or socialist or even a democratic socialist. We have lots of disagreements, and I think that's okay. There are lots of people arguing around community control of police right now. Is that an abolitionist demand? That's our work. Our work is to ask those questions and talk to each other about it. And we may not come to one answer, but at least we'll be raising the question.

D’Atra Jackson

There's a real lack of baseline: how we talk to each other, how we disagree with each other, which requires deep trust and political trust. We get to political trust by being in debates with each other, by being in disagreements with each other. We have to love each other more than we hate our oppressors, more than we hate the state, more than we hate what we're going through. I think that requires more practice for us. We just need more spaces, more opportunities to practice being in disagreement with each other and in contradictions around what we're trying to do. Do we build deeper? Do we build wider? Do we stay local? Do we go national? All of those things are debates; they're all debatable. There's no right answer. But we need the spaces to actually learn how to navigate them. 

Barbara Ransby

I think the coupling of self-transformation and structural change is really at the core of our task. A lot of the struggles around transparency and accountability in our movements is also about us rejecting some of the cultural truths that we have inadvertently or unknowingly internalized in terms of power — who claims it, how you leverage it, and all of that. Really, to embrace the messiness of radical democracy and collective power sharing is the ultimate test of whether we will win. 

Denise Perry

Change and transition is hard; it's not magic. It's hard, it's life, and it can be a little messy.

Prentis Hemphill

Care, accountability, risk over comfort. Partly what we're moving towards is not just being comfortable but to be really in our lives and the grief and the beauty and the love and the sorrow, and to not have a disproportionate amount but to be able to really live our lives. And so let's step into what's hard as much as we step into what's beautiful.


Disability Justice Is Central 

Dara Baldwin

We keep saying Black disabled people are leaders and powerful people, but it's not being heard. And I'm tired of that. I'm tired of those voices being ignored. But at the same time, I'm loving the fact that they don't care. That they just keep on doing what they need to do and just roar all over these other people. 

Syrus Marcus Ware 

There are still folks that don't get that disability justice is not the revolution if disabled people aren't involved. And for the folks who talk about organizing or talk about movement building but not about disability justice, I got to tell you, you ain't getting it right. You ain't getting it right. And that's not the future that we're headed towards. The future that we're headed towards is going to be radically different. We are going to dismantle white supremacy and therefore necessarily dismantle liberalism. We will stop at nothing less than that. Our children deserve that, our great-grandchildren deserve that, our ancestors deserve that, to finally be able to rest because their work will be complete. 


The Truth of Our Pain

Rukia Lumumba 

Folks are choosing not to hear the truth of our pain. I was just watching a video that I think Joy Reid must have shared on one of her shows, where they're talking to some white folks in the South, and these people are celebrating Confederate Day. And they [ask]: what do you think people should know about the era of slavery and how your people contributed to it?

And they're like, “Oh, what they should know is that most people were taking care of their slaves just like you would take care of a tractor. You wouldn't want that tractor to go bad or to be uncared for. And so, our folks made sure that these people were taken care of. We wouldn't want to hurt them because then they couldn't do the work.” They go on to say, “Oh, and of course there were a few bad apples that were beating their slaves to death or cruel or mean, but the majority of us were not like that.”

For me, it is a lack of acknowledgement of the pain and the trauma that they have actually caused human beings. I mean, these are descendants repeating a story that they heard over and over again from their grandparents, their great-grandparents, so forth and so on. So, there's a truth in our pain that people do not want to believe, and they need to listen and hear. 


Our Utopian Visions

Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson

I don't think people get asked about their utopian visions a lot. Even just asking people what they think I mean when I say the word utopian. Usually directly impacted communities say, "When you say utopian, I think impossible or ideal." You ain't never really going to get it. But usually when I ask people to tell me what their utopian visions are, they're not particularly impossible or ideal. People can just be. We would have everything we deserve without requests. People could do whatever the hell they wanted as long as it don't harm nobody. And I know we can do that because I see us practice that on a micro level every day. We make choices about what we need and what we need to share for the sake of everybody being good. And we fight back against our own internalized oppression that says that I've got to hoard everything to take care of me and mine at the expense of you and yours. We practice that every day. My utopian vision is that to scale.


We Must Care for Each Other Because We Will Not Win Alone 

Greisa Martinez

The work that we're doing is necessary. It is magical. It is miracles. It is transformational. And it will not be sufficient. There will be people behind us. Even as we rack up these policy wins, as we get all of these members of Congress elected that are more accountable to our people, the legacy that we [leave] will be the people — organized, ready, with this shared collective vision of how to move forward. That is our legacy. 

Mercedes Fulbright 

What I've seen over the last year is this romanticization around the martyrdom and death of our freedom fighters, with this expectation that we must do the same in order to achieve liberation. I've really been pushing back on this notion. I know that millions of people showed up in the streets because they were tired of seeing the death of Black people, but they stayed in the streets because we were offering them a life-affirming demand, a life-affirming future.

I think it's important for organizers, especially new organizers that came up through the uprising, [to understand] that movement isn't a claim to notoriety, it's not a trend, it's not for visibility, for retweets and likes on the internet, but it really is and should be a commitment to a protracted struggle, towards liberation, for the collective and not about the individual.

Darnel Joseph

The importance of building community. It’s my favorite word, community, because it potentially means so much, but in practice, I don't feel like it's really being done on an interpersonal level. When you talk about community, do I know the first names of my neighbors? When you talk to elders, there was a better sense of, so-and-so down the street is having this struggle, can we all go ahead and support them? And you see it a lot online with Go Fund Me, but within your own location, what does that really look like? Are we really building that type of relationship with the people who are actually around us? So that, if something does go down, are we able to support them? 

Adaku Utah

We are worth changing for. I want to change for you all. Each of you are worth changing for, my nibbling is worth changing for, the folks that I organize with are worth changing for, and that even in the hardness and contradiction of it, it is worth it because of us and it's how we love. It's actually an extension of love.

Kayla Reed

You know what we say a lot in this movement? It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It's a commitment that we make every single day. We keep saying it, but we haven't heard the mandate in that. [It’s] our duty to win. Which means we can't sacrifice what we have built for anything other than winning our freedom. That is the goal. I think the most important piece in that mandate is our. Our is plural. It is more than one. It is not my duty to fight for our freedom. It is ours. I cannot do it alone. We should not do it alone. And we will not win alone. 


Read the entire issue. 


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