The fight for racial justice isn’t just hyper-visible across the US – it also affects the lives of a large portion of our student body at Amherst. The ethnic and racial diversity that Amherst College claims and promotes means that demographically, we represent the future of the United States. Having a significant portion of our student body identify as people of color, first-generation college students, and non-US Citizens means that Amherst is experiencing some of the cultural and institutional challenges that this country will face as its demographics shift in coming years. We are living this transition at many interconnected scales – the personal and the institutional, the national and the global.
A college campus is an ideal place for political consciousness to grow. At Amherst, we have a lively culture of student reflection and institutional criticism. As a publication, AC Voice is proud of the role we have played in promoting activist discourse on campus. Our history is the reason that, at this time, we wish to extend this role beyond just discourse, just criticism, and just speech. In the months since Amherst Uprising events focused and directed activist energy on campus, we have lived through a campaign season in which the Republican candidate habitually spews xenophobic, racist, and misogynist speech. Continued killings of black and brown people by the police have led to a nationwide summer of protest and unrest. Women’s reproductive health in this country is growing more and more precarious. The Syrian refugee crisis is pushing European countries further into right-wing nationalism.
I believe that student activism makes a difference. I believe our voices matter, but more importantly, I believe that actions have consequence. Political action is always by definition a group activity. AC Voice would like to invite the entire Amherst community to contribute to the following list of political acts that extend solidarity beyond just speech.
The following is a loose, crowd-sourced guide that is meant to serve as a reference tool for political and social activism. It has been written broadly enough to guide action around a series of causes, though the specific places, organizations, and people listed work primarily to secure racial justice in the United States. We are requesting that you use the comments section of this community post to contribute ideas and resources, which may be later featured in the body of the post.
Show up. Showing up means being physically present. Important activist work is being done all over the country, and attending rallies, marches, discussions, block parties, and other events is the simplest way to act in solidarity. While the town of Amherst may not have protests or rallies as frequently as larger cities do, there are still numerous opportunities on campus and in the wider community to participate in the movement. Showing up to strategizing meetings held by campus advocacy groups is key, as it takes a variety of perspectives and skill sets to pull off a successful campaign. That said, standing in solidarity often means taking a step back and listening to the experiences of those who face oppression differently than you might.
Use your buying power. This summer, various organizations have called for a nationwide boycott, a protest strategy employed successfully as long as there has been both capitalism and protest.
Boycotting certain corporations is a way to send a message and can have an impact (particularly on hiring practices and work conditions), but another way to use your buying power is to support black-owned and local businesses. If you’re going to spend your money in a neighborhood that is being gentrified, visit shops and restaurants that have been a part of the community before the real-estate developers arrived. A gentrifying neighborhood is one place where the same activity (buying something) can have vastly different political effects depending on where it happens. Supporting minority-owned businesses means supporting people who have been excluded from mainstream economic activity through redlining or discriminatory hiring/lending practices. The smartphone app WhereU uses your location to match you with minority-owned businesses and services, allows users to give ratings and referrals, and even works offline.
Mobilize institutional resources. If you have access to institutional spaces, funds, and other resources (like a listserv), offer them to local organizations who might benefit from their use. Many community organizations do not have a consistent way to secure funds, without which they do not have the space, labor, or organizational tools they desperately need to do activist work. Amherst College has a wealth of resources, spaces, and people with skills that can be shared with the greater Pioneer Valley community.
Vote. First, make sure you are registered. (Here is a useful resource for those who don’t know how to begin the registration process, though the deadlines refer to this year’s election primaries.) Don’t boycott this presidential election because Bernie lost, and don’t just vote for the president. Vote for progressive candidates at the state and local level, and don’t stop there. Elected officials respond to the public, but it’s up to us to be vocal about what issues matter and what we demand from our government. President Obama famously echoed FDR when he responded to a question about how a just Israel/Palestine deal might be reached by saying, “Make me do it.” As artist and journalist Molly Crabapple wrote for The Guardian in July, “Elections are important, this one more so than ever. The president can still destroy the world – but even the best president cannot save it. For too long, Americans have heard political involvement begins and ends at the ballot box. This is the discourse of disenfranchisement. To confine politics to elections means abandoning them to the powerful, leaving them unaccountable and cloistered in Washington. Real politics belong in the streets.”
Pay attention. How equitable are the hiring practices at your summer job? Are your superiors disproportionately white? Male? What is the work environment like for women and people of color? An exit interview is a good time to make your superiors aware of the places they are succeeding/failing, and to let them know someone is paying attention to their practices. Keep paying attention when you arrive at Amherst in the fall. Who are your professors? Who is your new Chief Diversity Officer? These things matter and should be monitored.
Pay attention to the police, all across the nation, as they continue killing black and brown people on the streets. Pay attention to how the media twists a narrative of resistance into a story about racial violence. Pay attention to the private security officers attacking Native protesters standing in the way of a new pipeline. Pay attention when people’s rights are being stripped.
Stop hate speech. People will most often voice racist, homophobic, or misogynist speech when they believe they are in like-minded company. Staying silent only reinforces this idea and emboldens the speaker. Hold your friends accountable when they say unacceptable things. If you want to take the opportunity to have a conversation about the reasons you were uncomfortable or upset, great, but no one is ever obligated to educate another person about systemic oppression. That responsibility falls on each individual.
Refuse unjust privileges. Refusing to accept privileges given on the basis of unjust hierarchies is an easy position to advocate and defend. However, refusal as an everyday practice is incredibly hard to sustain. It requires a lot of self-reflection and critical examination to understand where your own privilege comes from and when it takes shape at the expense of others. The only way to not perpetuate oppression is for those who benefit from racism to refuse to reap the rewards. This is difficult activist work, and most often it means cultivating a mental state. If you practice critical self-awareness, you na begin to notice and act on opportunities to refuse using your privilege.
We will add any scheduled protests or other events, both in Amherst and throughout the country, as they come to our attention. If you know of any upcoming events, please notify us in the comments below.