“Local work is what moves us forward,” organizer Jae Shepherd of Action St. Louis shared with ESSENCE.
Jae and other organizers affiliated with the Movement For Black Lives spoke on an ESSENCE panel about Black Futures Month and their local organizing, crucial work that supports Black communities in light of the slow pace of federal change.
“The legislative process is slow. We can go way back to 1862, the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, set into effect in 1863. But we know there’s people who didn’t see freedom for a long time after that,” Fund the People Coalition/Project Hustle organizer Toya Lewis shared. “We see policies take place the same way today. That could be a little bit hopeless. But when we are joined together as a community, celebrating together, taking care of our mental health together, and just remembering the dream together that’s the most important part about local spaces and local power.”
Rich Wallace, the Founder and Executive Director of Equity and Transformation (EAT) talked about his group’s work in Chicago to support Black people working in the informal economy and the role of democracy in changing lives of Chicagoans. “If a decision is made that impacts your life, you have a right to play a role in how that decision is made,” he said.
As Rich added, “The role of the organizer or the revolutionary is to expand the imagination of what’s possible for the people.”
Action St. Louis is a grassroots racial justice organization that seeks to build political power for Black communities in the St. Louis region. Jae said the work they are doing does indeed seem to be changing the minds of those with whom she interacts. “The people want something different. The people see that what we have is not working. It’s even more so not working, it’s failing us, it’s actively killing us,” Jae said.
Cara McClure founded Faith and Works in Birmingham, Alabama to bridge the activist and faith communities. Faith and Works is rooted in six pillars: people, prayer, protest, policy, polls, and power. Their political organizing wing ran a slate of candidates for city council and the school board last year. This year, they’re supporting judicial candidates. “We’re supporting two candidates who are public defenders to run for judge. We’ve never had public defenders on the bench.”
Cara talked about proactive organizing, in contrast to just having protests. “After the protest, then if we’re all just reactionary, what do you do to really make a difference. So that’s where the policy comes from. Putting it on paper. Trying to influence our elected officials where they will join our cause.”
Watch the full panel conversation above!