Sunday sermons aren’t just for Sundays. Against the combined voices of Black Lives Matter protests worldwide since late May, one voice broke through for its clarity, its poise, and its unflinching ability to say what needs to be said, now – and then to push it further. Janaya Future Khan, born in Toronto and currently based in LA, is the international ambassador for Black Lives Matter. There’s a notion of being global – transmitting a message to everyone, everywhere – within that title, but for Khan, posting 45-minute sermons on their own Instagram emerged as the most direct, powerful way to communicate in a time of global turbulence and transformation. They have dedicated themselves to telling people what they need to know – the realities of structural racism in our society – in order to open the conversation up to others; within those words, the space for a communal desire to build, grow, change and fight has irrevocably sprung up. Khan’s words hold revolutionary power, then, but the real power might lie in the fact of millions hearing those words, and, for once, actually listening. For their guest-edit, Khan’s voice is joined by many others from the movement, in an exploration of the recent history of Black Lives Matter, the challenges it faces in the current moment, and the hope it brings for a limitless future.
- A ROUNDTABLE WITH JANAYA FUTURE KHAN, MALKIA DEVICH-CYRIL AND THANDIWE ABDULLAH
- FLORIDA WATER – A POEM BY AJA MONET
- TRIBUTE TO REP. JOHN LEWIS BY JANAYA FUTURE KHAN
- TALKING PROTEST IN JANAYA’S HOME CITY WITH TORONTO ACTIVISTS AND ARTIVISTS
- BLACK FUTURES: FIVE ESSENTIAL ACTION POINTS IN A DIGITAL AGE
A ROUNDTABLE WITH JANAYA FUTURE KHAN, MALKIA DEVICH-CYRIL AND THANDIWE ABDULLAH
“Stay home, risk your life, go out protesting, risk your life. So the question is: which is more dangerous?” This is the dilemma put to me by activist Malkia Devich-Cyril, as they describe the impossible choice so many of us faced this summer, when the murder of George Floyd triggered a global reckoning that swept across borders, industries and – to an extent – racial lines. In the middle of a pandemic.
That tragic event, and the ripple effect that followed in its wake, brought renewed attention to the conversations and work that activists like Janaya Future Khan, Thandiwe Abdullah and Malkia Devich-Cyril have been doing. And, as is now par for the course when it comes to political movements, social media – the slogans, the graphics, the hashtags – played a starring role in the spread of information, and the marshalling of funds to the many causes that fall under the Black Lives Matter umbrella.
Convening in August over a four-way Zoom call for Khan’s guest-edit, we discuss the many different approaches that need to be brought to bear as we move forward, especially in the run-up to the US election in November. Abdullah, only 16 years old, is nervous about the potential for youth activists to get caught up in the Gen-Z activist ‘brand’. “We’ve been told we have to ‘sell’ the issues in order to gain publicity,” she says, but it’s clear Abdullah wants to challenge the pat media narratives and labels that have been assigned to younger activists. Khan, meanwhile, is unequivocal about what they think the anti-racism movement needs: less focus on white people, their needs and their contribution; and more focus on Black liberation, Black futures and Black allyship.
The generous conversation between the three – which is occasionally interrupted by Devich-Cyril’s cats clambering up their shoulder – encompasses the changes in how the movement’s aims have been received since Alicia Garza first coined the term ‘Black Lives Matter’ back in 2013. Abdullah notes how previously radical concepts, like defunding the police and abolitionism, have entered the mainstream and begun to be embraced by the masses.
And somehow, even through all of this and the enduring chaos of 2020, Khan has managed to find hope, borrowing from fellow activist Mariame Kaba’s philosophy that ‘hope is a discipline’ – words that can perhaps be instructive to us all at a time when many of us are searching for that very thing.
The first thing I wanted to ask everyone is, how are you all doing?
Malkia Devich-Cyril : I really don’t know how to answer that question. (In March), we were hit with a global pandemic. And in the midst of all of that, this steady stream of murders of Black people, then a multiracial Black-led uprising in response to those murders which also (meant) that people were risking their lives – both because of the police and law enforcement response to that uprising, but also because folks were gathering in large numbers during a global pandemic. Either way, (it was) stay home, risk your life; go out protesting, risk your life. So the question is: which is more dangerous? It’s impossible to say. And I’d (recently) spent four years taking care of my wife who died of cancer a year-and-a-half ago, and then I was a caregiver for a friend who died of cancer in November 2019. So just being in this new environment and walking through that alone without my wife or community, this period has been the most stressful experience of my life. But it’s all kind of rolled up into half a decade for me. A long period of escalation, of emergency. My wife was diagnosed with cancer just several weeks after Donald Trump was elected president. The political conditions reflect my personal life and my personal life is a reflection of the political conditions. So when you ask me how I’m doing, that’s how I’m doing.
Thank you for being so honest. And I’m so sorry to hear about your wife’s passing. I’m curious as to how, if at all, you have managed to take care of yourself during this time?
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Half of the answer is it’s an untenable situation – I haven’t, I haven’t been. And the other half of the answer is, as a people we’ve been through so much. As a people, we’ve been through the transatlantic slave trade. We’ve been through segregation and displacement and colonialism and wars and we survived. My uncle is in prison, he was a former Black Panther and he has hepatitis C and he’s in a Georgia prison for life – he’s writing a children’s book, you know? I have all these lessons and examples of how, even in a cell, there’s a part of you that’s still free and a part of you that still gets to choose how you want to live.
Janaya Future Khan: There’s a reason why I wanted Mac and Thandi here. I think if this movement teaches you anything, it is how to witness pain and to experience it in a different way. And I think, for me, I just keep trying to get to a place where our strength isn’t determined by how much suffering and grief we can endure. You know, I felt like a pendulum (swinging) between inspiration and joy, and despair and rage. And I never know which one I’m going to get. What keeps me going is this: someone asked me what abolition feels like. I don’t know how to answer that and I think we’ve been denied that. But there is something I have come to understand, (which is) that this movement is not a religious movement, like the movements of the past, but it is a spiritual one. And that was a difficult coming-to-terms for me, because I like the literal and I like what I can see and control. But I think that abolition, or this freedom – this belief system that we’re bringing in – brings meaning to the experiences that we have. I saw a form of abolition in the way Mac loved their wife and vice versa. I see abolition in Thandi when she’s on the stage and pouring her whole heart out. I’ve come to understand that hope is a discipline and it’s a muscle. It’s not something that exists on the periphery of existence. It’s something that we commit to, the way we commit to joy and we commit to life.
“There is something in this work that is supernatural... There’s something profound and godly when we are living in and completely connected to the human condition. And that’s what sustains me” – Janaya Future Khan
I’ve found it hard to access inspiration and joy in this moment, if I’m being really honest. I’m curious as to where you are finding that and what you’re observing that is giving you these moments of hope.
Janaya Future Khan: I force myself to. I rigorously approach it with the search for it. I think it’s something that I have to actively seek out and create around myself. I’m naturally a very cerebral and serious person who prefers to be alone. And I don’t know how to characterise why I feel compelled to do this work, in simple terms. I just have no choice, and I have to find the ways to sustain it and make it sustainable. I think that we don’t get to stop. And it’s not because of some lack of agency. I think it’s an active choice. I have to keep finding a way to keep living, because, had I accepted the story I was born into, I would have accepted my own destruction. And the moment I stepped off-script out of that story, I made a commitment to living, (so) I have to figure out what that means. And I’m asking and persuading and demanding that people choose life with us. I think I have to try to embody what that means. So I don’t know if it’s a simple thing where I can say, well, I watched this video and I felt hope. I’ve not experienced that, but I do believe there is something in this work that is supernatural. And I feel it every time I am in that space, every time I’m in the middle of protests. There is something supernatural when we come together, there’s something profound and godly when we are living in and completely connected to the human condition. And that’s what sustains me.
How have you been doing these past few months, Thandiwe?
Thandiwe Abdullah: It’s been really interesting. To see the whole Gen-Z conversation and youth-organising space dealing with this world has been a wild ride. But I feel like it’s kind of a double-edged sword. A lot of youth organisers are on this dangerous path between staying grounded in real work and being caught up in the brand of Gen-Z activism. These conversations about police brutality and about Blackness and anti-Black violence, these are serious conversations that require a lot of sensitivity. And I think that what happens with (some) Gen-Z activism is we have been told that we have to sell the issues in order to gain publicity or gain ground in the work. And so what happens a lot of the time is that youth organisers desensitise themselves when they talk about the issues and really water down the core of what we are fighting for. Even little things that don’t do anything, like the black square, or ‘The Manny Will Not Be Televised’. I was scared in the beginning, because I did not want that to happen with BLM. (And) a lot of folks, particularly non-Black people of colour and white folks, have been trying to sell the movement. I don’t want anyone to capitalise on that.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Narratives are only as powerful as (the things that) back them up. We can say anything we want, but if the infrastructure and the relations of power and policies don’t support the language, then the language doesn’t have that meaning. We learn this with the white conservative right in the US, but (also) in other parts of the world where affirmative action was a thing as well, and (other people) tried to reclaim that language and turn it into something it wasn’t. Even the term Black Lives Matter – when we put that language into the universe in 2014, there’s one thing that the people who said it meant. But now, what does it mean to say Black Lives Matter? Does it mean all Black lives or only some Black lives? Does it mean queer and trans Black lives or straight Black lives? You feel me? Within movements for justice and freedom, that can happen. My parents were members of the Black Panther Party and my mother would teach me that you have to be careful because the things you think are revolutionary can become reactionary.
Janaya Future Khan: That’s right.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : The word ‘accountability’ is one of those contested spaces where, within movements for Black justice and Black lives, we are sometimes trying to hold our leadership accountable by basically shaming them in public, by using social media to beat the shit out of them and using a framework – call-out culture – that was built to support survivors of sexual assault (and) folks who have less visibility and power. That’s what social media call-outs were intended for initially, right? A type of restorative justice. Maybe you might lose your job, but you’re not going to jail, right? So that was abolitionist. My mother would say, what is restored in that relation, in that process? Number one, restorative justice, transformative justice requires something be restored or transformed. What is restored or transformed in that context? Many (of) the call-outs I’m seeing have nothing to do with sexual misconduct. They’re about political differences among, basically, allies. So, is the call-out culture being used to attack those with real power? (Or) Black leadership? There’s this feeding frenzy on Black leadership. And I say ‘Black’, but I really mean radical, revolutionary, progressive Black leadership, you know? Especially women, where women are using this instantaneous platform of social media to attack one another. ‘Accountability’ is a phrase that I think we need to give more principled meaning to. We need to be more clear about what it means, and we need to understand the framing of it within our movement and also the framing of it (with regards to) targets outside of our movements, to those who really hold the reins of oppression.
But then how would you suggest that, within the movement, we keep each other accountable or address issues? Because I think there is a value in the idea of public accountability.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : There is the possibility of dialogue with folks that are private. (laughs) It’s crazy, (the idea that it’s somehow) not transparent to have a private conversation with an ally before you make something public. (But) there are some things that maybe need to just be straight-up publicly addressed. It depends on the nature of the problem, obviously, but I would say that, nine times out of ten, it isn’t necessary, and yet it’s the first place we go. It’s the first place we go without any conversation or questions.
Janaya Future Khan: I think we have to be very careful, because one of the terms that we use a lot is accessibility. And I do believe in it. But I don’t think we have to give up expertise for the sake of accessibility. I think our responsibility is to remove the obstacles towards expertise.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : You have to be able to be in coalition – political coalition – to drive towards particular goals, even with people you don’t agree with all the time about every damn thing. If you are a big policy head (I’ll be) like, fuck policy, I’m about grassroots struggle, I don’t need to come for you because you’re trying to move in a different strategy, within a different tactic than is my arena. It takes a lot of different tactics to win. So anyone who comes out here asserting that their approach is the right way, and the only way, they’re not interested in victory, they’re interested in being right. And I’m not interested in that. (laughs) Our lives depend on us being able to actually win.
Janaya Future Khan: And I believe that expertise can come from places outside of institutions. And what Thandiwe and Malkia have alluded to in different ways is people becoming the face of a thing without having earned their stripes. Listen, expertise takes years. And it doesn’t have to come from an institution, but what you absolutely need is a circle of peers.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : And practice!
Janaya Future Khan: And practice, right? I think this notion of accessibility as it’s commonly used now – save that for amateur burlesque night. You know, I love it there. But in terms of you suddenly calling yourself an organiser... I’m never going to say you can or cannot identify as this and that, but if you do not have a circle of peers, a practice, a set of values, and if you have not been tested, I think you need to be really mindful of how these terms are used and what kinds of responsibilities you’re coming into this with. But the other thing is this. Look, I’m going to say this because I have a bone to pick...
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Pick it.
Janaya Future Khan: This notion of ‘allies’...
Thandiwe Abdullah: Oh my God.
Janaya Future Khan: I’m bored, it’s boring, I’m tired of it. This endless study of whiteness and concepts like ‘white fragility’. I can’t think of a more boring scholarship. You are never going to solve or address or confront the reality of racial injustice. Whiteness can never confront or change the reality of racial injustice by studying itself. It’s not possible. So there’s this very navel-gazing, guilt-ridden sort of mobilisation of people that’s fuelled by this narrative of ‘allies’. I think that identity can, and at times should be, the entry point into a movement, but it can’t be your exit-point. What I want to say now is, I started to fight for Black Lives Matter because I am Black and that makes sense. I now fight for the Black Lives Matter movement for Black lives, because I understand that Black liberation is integral to the liberation of all people. We tried to come up with cute ways to reframe ‘ally’– it’s time that we retired those terms. What is it, an accomplice?
“Anyone who (says) their approach is the right way, and the only way, they’re not interested in victory, they’re interested in being right. And I’m not interested in that. Our lives depend on us being able to win” – Malkia Devich-Cyril
Thandiwe, how would you define an ally, if you think such a thing exists?
Janaya Future Khan: Look at that smile on her face, you’re about to go in. (laughs) Get ’em, get ’em!
Thandiwe Abdullah: Wow. I mean, I feel like what Future was alluding to is that we have been framing all this ‘ally’, ‘accomplice’ conversation in a way that is supposed to be rewarding for people – for non-Black and particularly white people – doing the bare minimum. And I think that ends up taking power away from the movement and the struggle altogether, because now what we’re doing is like, here’s a cookie, here’s a gold star for showing up, right? When in reality, if you really cared about Black lives, you would just show up without even needing that label, without even needing a badge of honour. I personally think that all our struggles are, of course, bound together. And if we start by making sure we are uplifting the most vulnerable, then I don’t really, truly believe that allies are a real thing. I think you’re just either in the movement or you’re not. I also don’t believe that people who identify with that truly feel as if they have anything at stake in the work. It’s kind of, ‘I’m outside of this movement, I don’t have anything at stake here, but I’m showing up to make you feel better.’ Are you there or are you not?
Janaya Future Khan: I’m curious about what Malkia and Thandiwe have to say, but I’m gonna be all the way honest with you, I don’t actually think we need to keep having this particular conversation on the role of white people. I do believe that it is a waste of time at this particular point, because it really is, for me, not about what to do with (white people), but about how to win. And they’re just one of the many spaces and places that need to be leveraged towards (that goal). I think there’s a way that capitalism funds racism and I think that a lot of white people, and poor white people, will betray their interests for proximity to a power they’ll never own, but I want to be mindful about how much time and capacity, when we do come together, is invested in what to do with white people.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Can I throw something in there?
Janaya Future Khan: Yeah, please.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Number one, we can’t win alone. So that’s just facts. I’m talking about analysis of power, I’m not talking about identity. I’m saying that Black people need to be in coalition with other people in order to win justice, freedom and human rights around the globe. Worldwide. That’s a fact. Number two, the issue isn’t about allies or co-conspirators or any of that, (it’s) to organise a base – because without a base, you have no movement. To organise a base, every single person brought into that movement has to have a reason to be there and they themselves have to understand why they are there. And so we can say all day that we don’t want to fuck with white people, but somebody has to, just like somebody has to fuck with the Latinx community and somebody has to fuck with the Native (American) community, and somebody has to fuck with the disabled community. We (can) think about it more in the Fred Hampton way of thinking about coalition building, about common interests, about shared vision, and thinking to ourselves that white supremacy hurts everybody. White supremacy hurts white people. I have chosen a particular front of struggle. My front of struggle is Black liberation.
Janaya Future Khan: That’s right.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : I am also a firm believer in coalition-building. And I have chosen my struggle to be media, technology and culture. Everyone who’s an organiser gets to choose. When I think about being an ally, I want to think, ‘How can I be a better ally to my Black disabled community? How can heterosexual Black men be better allies to the queer and trans community? How can American Black people be better allies to our Black brethren and sistren all over the world?’ There is a place for a conversation about allyship, you know? We don’t have to focus and centre whiteness.
I’m curious as to how you’ve all seen the BLM movement change since its beginnings in 2013. What has been the evolution?
Thandiwe Abdullah: Sure. It’s crazy! ’Cos I haven’t even been on Earth that long, but... (laughs) (Those) six years, that’s almost half of my entire life. I remember when everything was happening in Ferguson (city in Missouri where Michael Brown was killed by police in 2014). And it was weird because I had studied Black history. And also keep in mind I was 11, so studying Black history is reading children’s biographies of Langston Hughes and all of that stuff. And I thought that was my radical visionary learning. So I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. But when my mom took me to Ferguson, I was like, ‘This is like a legit war zone.’ It was crazy. And I think it was a little traumatic. I still don’t know how I’m grappling with that. But, you know, there was a whole bunch of kids there and I was like, ‘Oh, look at me. I’m the young person.’ But, no, there were a lot of kids, there were tanks, there was teargas, there were kids getting shot with rubber bullets. And I went home and expected to see it on the news. But instead I got people burning gas stations and stuff. And I was like, ‘OK, but this seven-year-old boy got shot with a rubber bullet last night, where’s that?’ The media is just so bad. And the way that people are still being brutalised, regardless of age. That old man who got pushed to the ground, (had his head) busted (75-year-old protester who suffered a fractured skull after being pushed to the ground by police in Buffalo). It’s crazy. So I honestly haven’t seen a drastic change. People will try to lie and say that times are so different and we’ve made so much progress. But at the end of the day, the scars that I had when I was 11 being in this work, I’m being retraumatised now by the things I’m seeing on the media, by the things that I’m seeing in the streets. And on top of that – I don’t even know how to say it – but when people post the videos of Black people being murdered, I think that’s (now) something else. Now, it’s normal.
“I don’t really, truly believe that allies are a real thing. I think you’re either in the movement or you’re not” – Thandiwe Abdullah
I think there used to be a bit more news value to the way those videos were shared. Whereas now...
Thandiwe Abdullah: Think about Black Lives Matter, right? There was so little sensitivity towards Black lives in general that even saying Black Lives Matter was a radical statement six years ago. People were like, ‘Oh my God, what? Black lives matter? Are you kidding me?’ And now people are so desensitised to Black lives that we can post videos of Black death and brutality and murder and people don’t feel anything. Think about that. Like, even how the protests have died down after two months. People don’t seem to want to give the right amount of emotion and rawness and energy towards conversations about pure Blackness.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Capturing an image in 2014 was an act of empowerment. It was something that people were doing to reclaim a narrative, to tell a story that was not being told. But telling a story is not the same thing as changing that story and being able to reclaim it in terms of voice – it doesn’t mean that power relations have shifted. It doesn’t mean new policies are in place. It doesn’t mean new practices are at hand. It doesn’t mean institutions have been dissolved or budgets have been reworked. It doesn’t mean any of that. It’s just one piece of a much larger strategy that would need to take place.
Janaya Future Khan: That’s right.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : But for the first time in hundreds of years, we’re talking about a whole new way of thinking about security and accountability in terms of institutional policing. And we’re understanding the sophistication of the police state in a new way, that it’s not all just about officers. Because there was a period where we was like, ‘Fire this officer, jail that officer,’ and I think we’ve gone past that as a movement. You know what I’m saying? We understand that actually we need to eliminate the institution and rebuild from the ground up towards a new vision.
Thandiwe Abdullah: People are now saying ‘defund the police’, and before people were saying ‘fund diversity training for the police’. But ‘defund the police’ is an abolitionist phrase. It’s so funny because there are all these allies who are saying defund the police, but then they’re saying that they’re not abolitionists, as if defunding the police isn’t on the road to abolition! Something that people would look at you sideways for a couple of years ago, and now people are like, ‘No, I don’t believe in sending police to jail. I don’t believe in jail. I believe in building Black community and investing in Black futures; I believe that is justice. I see that as growth.’ It’s really interesting. It’s really beautiful in my opinion.
Janaya Future Khan: Yeah. And in this iteration, it’s been fascinating to witness things move. It might be that, under this particular administration, under these specific conditions of the pandemic, more of our realities are aligned than previously. And our job is to create as many cracks, as many wedges as we can, and get as many people through as we possibly can. Because, as Mac said around victory, success looks different under this kind of sophisticated, highly adaptable system. And we are highly adaptable too. To that end, I feel a shift. We understand now more than ever that revolution isn’t just the end of something, it’s the beginning of something. I see Black Lives Matter as an invitation into this new way of being, a new world; the movement for Black lives, abolition as those things. And that’s going to be true no matter what system we’re under.
Malkia Devich-Cyril : Can I just throw in on that point? Because I think that vulnerability is so important. Just saying ‘Black lives matter’ is so simple. And yet it’s like this simple truth that we need, because this is a period of transition, you know? What we’re in is a period of instability – political instability, social instability, and there’s going to be more of it. There’s going to be a backlash we can’t even predict yet. (We need) to hold on to that basic truth, that simple, basic truth, you know? Black Lives Matter.
FLORIDA WATER – A POEM BY AJA MONET
“I wrote this poem in the middle of the pandemic while I was reflecting on the year and all that I had experienced as I was processing our new reality post-Covid. I’m working on a new collection of poems called Florida Water inspired by the cleansing power of rituals and the many experiences that informed my healing journey through organising and being in community in Florida. Love is the only way forward.”
i started 2020 jumping seven waves
for Yemaya on an Ipanema beach
four flowers hand-dipped in prayer
they did not survive the undertow
i was the whole firework show
while my love closed his eyes
impatient with my joy,
a hunger for more than fighting
please, can we be meaningless now
and leave America where it’s at?
the whole village in my chest is tired of weeping,
lets organize the heart, community.
im toothing the picket signs out of my poems as we speak.
maybe im not a good revolutionary,
i am not guided by love, i want to be it.
i want to be drenched.
i want to sweat and stink of love.
i want to lay and not know where
the day begins or ends.
to be held in my own arms, longer
than a two week vacation.
i want to be a poem that never works,
that does not resonate with anyone.
to be a poem you cannot share
so alive it is so.
i sashayed into the new year iboga heckling my veins
set on being unafraid and triggerless
all revelation and rested shoulders.
i caught a fever in Bahia or an ancestor told me, take a seat.
write, it is time to write. catch these poems before you whine about how
we did not answer.
This year was a dedication to florida water. the cleansing.
little did i know the whole world would be rinsing too. everyone is a running faucet,
blood on their hands.
cant face ourselves in one another.
The vision came to me in Egypt and there was nowhere for a lie to hide.
i saw God escape religion like a breeze
every sunset a new download
what felt like 50 hour days
or a conversation with a metallic scarab that did not make sense until it did.
i could see the very beginning and the end.
it wasnt so much that it was a big bang more like a sneeze
the earth shaking us off like a bad cold.
so very entitled, convinced our lives are worth something more than now.
None of us are too good to suffer.
Miami taught me the art of killing
The other day i planted a bed of healing herbs.
my love brought me two butterflies he found on his walk broken
wings hanging from his fingertips,
they sat btwn the rosemary and thyme, incapable of flying
all flutter and might
fear is a spirit i will not let in.
cradling a metaphor
the year is not yet over
TRIBUTE TO REP. JOHN LEWIS BY JANAYA FUTURE KHAN
“Congressman John Lewis had a heart that never faltered and a moral authority that never failed. He was the last surviving speaker at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and never stopped using his voice to call for change and hope, rising to the highest offices in the land with the full belief of the people. He was not just a representative for his constituents, he was a representative of the best parts of humanity. Mr. Lewis is a beacon for us all.
“When we were in the streets for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, John Lewis said, “It was very moving, very moving to see hundreds of thousands of people from all over America and around the world take to the streets — to speak up, to speak out, to get into what I call ‘good trouble.”
“And that is what we must continue to bring forth. Good trouble. Some inherit wealth in this country, others inherit struggle. And with that struggle comes a tradition of resistance and power and love from the titans of our times. Mr. Lewis is that titan. This work is hard work, but it is always worth it. Thank you Congressman. We carry the torch for you now, the way you have done for us for so long. Peace in passing to a great man. We will carry the torch.
TALKING PROTEST IN JANAYA’S HOME CITY WITH TORONTO ACTIVISTS AND ARTIVISTS
RAVYN WNGZ, movement artist and activist
“In June, BLM Toronto painted ‘Defund the Police’ in bright pink letters in front of Toronto Police Headquarters. It was a beautiful action that involved chanting, dancing and working together with allies and families to make sure our message was heard and remembered. My belief is that abolition is possible in our lifetimes and my hope is to be the very last abolitionist, and to close the gates on the way of life we will leave behind.”
RODNEY DIVERLUS, author, artivist and BLM Toronto co-founder
“Toronto is a city unlike any other, with a wide spectrum of representations of Blackness. Organising in this city challenges us to consider trans leadership, disability justice and indigenous sovereignty as ingredients to Black liberation. This city asks you to consider Blackness as plural. Also, Canada’s climate is gruelling, which means mobilising in hostile weather for two-thirds of the year!”
SARAH JAMA, co-founder, Disability Justice Network of Ontario
“There’s so much heart that goes into this work. My favourite protest so far has got to be the sit-in, in Hamilton. We blocked the road for six hours and got the police liaison programme terminated. We danced in the rain and it was beautiful to be a part of. What gives me hope for Black futures is that the next generation is going to be even more prepared to fight back.”
SYRUS MARCUS WARE, artist, activist and scholar
“I’ve been organising in Toronto for 25 years. It’s an amazing place to be an artist and activist. We are going to be so much freer in the future – living self-determined lives, living in accessible communities. We will be committed to resolving conflicts together and to building communities rooted in collective care and mutual aid. I’m inspired by all of these possibilities. I’m inspired by Black and indigenous solidarity, by trans kids bravely being themselves, by people speaking their truths, by all of the ways that all of us on the margins are rising up and taking back space in this world.” – Janaya Future Khan
BLACK FUTURES: FIVE ESSENTIAL ACTION POINTS IN A DIGITAL AGE
1. HIT THEM WHERE THE MONEY IS
“(Just a few) massive companies are informing what it is we know and how we know it. Tech and corporate accountability work is so interesting to me, because we are dealing with huge entities that are not regulated in very necessary ways. That’s how we bring them to heel.” (Janaya Future Khan)
2. FIGHT DISINFORMATION PROPAGANDA
“In this period of chaos, the truth is hard to find – social media and big tech makes it even harder. Tracking authentic news and sources is very difficult. Conspiracy theories end up harming our people and democracy. I don’t think fighting this information is a number-one (priority for Black organisations) right now – it’s a gap that needs to be addressed by our communities.” (Malkia Devich-Cyril)
3. BUILD A BASE
“The only way to combat confusion is organisation; that’s why base-building is so important. The only way to fight disinformation is by having your own relationship networks, where you can pass information that has been vetted as true.” (Malkia Devich-Cyril)
4. KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN BY ‘DEFUND THE POLICE’
When we say ‘defund the police’, we (need to be) very clear about what we mean by that, because there is an interpretation that could mean remove the brick-and-mortar and expand the digital. That’s dangerous, because the digital is actually far less accountable – far less visible. When you go to prison, maybe you can be let out. When you’re on an electronic monitor, they can keep doing that shit forever. And they do. (Abolition) is not (removing) all the brick- and-mortar, it’s the work I’m proud of (like stopping social media platforms from) providing third-party data to police officers, (banning) facial recognition and pushing back on predictive policing and electronic monitoring.” (Malkia Devich-Cyril)
5. USE THE DIGITAL, BUT DON’T RELY ON IT
“Young people have been able to do so much in terms of sharing information quickly with technology, so (we’ve seen) the speedy radicalisation of young people on a mass scale. Looking at TikTok being banned as an example: we know that Trump isn’t banning TikTok because it’s ‘Chinese spyware’, he’s banning it because (it has given) Gen Z access to dialogue, ideas and information that has educated young people in a way that harms his agenda. I do fear that young people rely on the internet too much for organising and education, though. I want people to come out to rallies and know which books to read without relying on digital resources.” (Thandiwe Abdullah)