To talk about Black Lives Matter is to acknowledge a movement. It’s a movement that implicitly recognizes the organization that heaved its mission onto the national stage, yet it’s one that’s also come to represent the efforts of countless groups and individuals who are unaffiliated, albeit allied, with the Black Lives Matter Foundation.
Black Lives Matter was founded in 2013 in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder and his shooter George Zimmerman’s acquittal. Reports on the recent protests decrying George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police have remarked that the movement has gone global, recognizing the worldwide demonstrations being staged in solidarity with today’s activists. Yet since 2013, Black Lives Matter has grown a global network with upward of 40 chapters across the US, UK, and Canada, to say nothing of its individual supporters around the world.
It’s easy to conflate the Black Lives Matter movement with the organization that inspired its name. As the flow of protests across the country begin to ebb, however, it’s important to remember that the organization will still need our support. Take to the streets now if you’re able. Then, when you’re no longer marching, take your next cues from the Black Lives Matters pioneers who rallied us all in the first place.
Even now, there’s work to be done outside of the protests that are sweeping the nation. These are the issues Black Lives Matter is calling on us to prop up. And this is how to answer that call.
Combatting COVID-19 in Black communities
Statistics show that Black Americans are suffering the direst consequences of COVID-19 in the US. A recent CDC report examining hospitalization rates across 14 states suggests that the Black community has been disproportionately affected, representing just 18 percent of the COVID-NET catchment population in question but 33 percent of hospitalized patients.
Data released by New York City’s health department shows that infection rates for both hospitalized and non-hospitalized patients are highest among Black New Yorkers. COVID-19-related fatalities are also highest within the Black community, which represents 92.3 deaths out of every 100,000 confirmed cases compared to 74.3 fatalities among Hispanic and Latino residents and 45.2 deaths among white residents.
Since the pandemic struck, BLM has been devoted to educating supporters on the racial disparity of COVID-19’s impact and providing resources for the minority groups that have been most affected, chief among them Black Americans. Beyond promoting general health and safety tips, the BLM website has compiled a list of resources to aid in filing for unemployment and other benefits, applying for federal loans as a small-business owner, and obtaining relief grants. The New York State Office of Mental Health’s support hotline is also spotlighted while a map of COVID-19 resources provides links to both statewide and county-specific updates on the COVID-19 response across the US.
BLM is currently circulating two petitions to advocate for Black Americans during the pandemic. The first calls for race-related data on COVID-19. “We will be hit the hardest,” the petition reads, demanding that both the government and CDC collect and release racial demographic data and provide resources to benefit the Black community. It also compels the CARES Act, which Congress passed to provide financial assistance to working Americans and small businesses, to improve its commitment to benefiting those in need.
The second petition calls for a superior government response in general. Demands include passing an emergency relief package aimed at mass testing and security for homeless and poor populations, providing testing and protection for incarcerated citizens, increasing unemployment and SNAP food benefits, legislating paid sick leave for workers, and suspending evictions and utility shut-offs during the pandemic.
Support Black Americans during COVID-19 by adding your name to both petitions, and opt in to email updates to stay apprised of the ways in which you can help going forward. For more information on BLM’s fight to support Black communities during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as more context on why they’re suffering at the hands of both the virus and American healthcare, read and share these vital words from BLM’s Managing Director Kailee Scales.
Taking back the polls with the #WhatMattersMost2020 campaign
Exercising our right to vote is among the most important ways we can lend our support to Black Americans. In an effort to encourage voter turnout during this year’s presidential election, as well as elevate candidates that are supportive of the BLM cause, the organization has spearheaded the #WhatMatters2020 campaign.
The campaign’s mission is to represent the issues that impact most Black Americans, among them criminal justice reform, access to healthcare and education, voter suppression, and police brutality. It also aims to spotlight injustices that affect underrepresented populations more generally, as well as the wider community, such as LGBTQ and environmental issues.
Three main campaign goals are outlined on the BLM website: enable the Black community to become more active in the presidential election, educate voters on the issues that impact them and the ways in which candidates pledge to combat those issues, and up voter registration to ensure underserved communities are represented at the polls. This not only means galvanizing youth and minority voters but also encouraging allies to vote responsibly.
As with any online campaign, the most important thing BLM advocates can do to support the #WhatMatters2020 cause is to spread the word on social media. Be politically active on Facebook and Twitter, and use the #WhatMatters2020 hashtag liberally.
Educating yourself on BLM activism
BLM education is twofold: It requires a commitment to learning from the organization’s leaders and heeding the BLM’s advice on becoming a productive advocate.
The recently launched What Matters docuseries spotlights prominent voices within the organization, as well as interviews with politicians, professors, doctors, attorneys, and other figures close to the cause. Recent episodes have focused on COVID-19, from the media’s responsibility toward accurate reporting to health disparities in Black communities, as well as Breonna Taylor’s shooting on March 13 and other topical issues. Keep up with What Matters conversations on Vimeo, YouTube, Spotify, or the Apple or Google Podcasts.
BLM also elevates community members through its Activist Shorts video series. Talks with leaders from BLM’s Chicago, Lansing, Los Angeles, and Toronto chapters are currently featured on the BLM website, along with a video address on the future of the movement from Co-Founder and Strategic Advisor Patrisse Khan-Cullors.
Understanding the complexities that underpin the BLM movement is not easy. Neither is translating insight into action as simple as waving a protest sign. As much as creating a fleet of activists is central to BLM’s mission, encouraging responsible, productive representatives to protect both the cause and themselves is a primary goal. If and when you decide to start a dialogue, organize an event, or take to the streets, familiarize yourself with BLM’s toolkits first.
These toolkits are designed to be resources for activists of various backgrounds. Some provide guidance on institutionalizing healing justice and preserving well-being in the face of confrontation, providing tips on preparing for, engaging in, and finding resolution after direct action. Others are dedicated to resolving conflict between BLM chapters. Some were designed to teach white people how to join discussions about racial issues. Others were created to unite Black and non-Black activists in dialogue, ideas, and action.
For those interested in becoming involved with BLM more permanently, studying up on the organization’s resources for appropriate campaigning should be a priority.
Other ways to get involved
Support for BLM takes many shapes. Spreading the word helps. Donations toward the organization’s “fight to end state-sanctioned violence, liberate Black people, and end white supremacy forever” are appreciated. Buying, and sporting, BLM merchandise is another way to make both a financial contribution and a statement in support of the cause.
Specific calls to action are also levied as necessary. BLM often rallies support through petitions, such as the ongoing #DefundThePolice and #InvestInCommunities, which calls for radical national police reform and solutions that value the sanctity of Black lives. Currently, the organization is also asking supporters to help stop the spread of disinformation about BLM.
There are a number of ways to get involved with BLM even after the current protests end. Any and all involvement helps, but if you’re serious about becoming part of the global BLM network, you may want to consider joining a chapter. Or, better yet, think about starting one yourself.