An Open Letter to Woke Young Brothers

It’s time to prove how “woke” you really are.

The Mothers of the Movement standing behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (right)
The Mothers of the Movement standing behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (right) Jeffrey Wright

Shout out to all the woke young brothers who’ve stood up in response to the injustices we’ve seen too frequently these past years, like when the lives of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton and Sandra Bland and too many tragic others were lost needlessly with callous impunity.

I hear from many of you from time to time.

Shout out to you for commenting on social media and marching in the streets in protest against these wrongs … shout out for raising a Huey Newton fist.

In one day, America elects its next president, who will—or will not—address issues like police conduct and criminal justice from the most powerful position in our country. Yet too often for my comfort, I hear apathy and indifference from some of you. I hear “The system’s rigged” and “Our votes don’t count.” One brother, today, posted up to me on Instagram that “Politicians can’t save us.” (As though politicians are to be saviors.)

On my street two days ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., another assured me that he was not voting because elected officials don’t work for us. Hillary Clinton, I frequently hear from some of you, works for the other side. In support of the overreaching ’94 crime bill, she called us “superpredators,” you say. “Read the Wikileaks emails,” you say. They snatch the mask off secret, even occult, Democratic agendas. “Wake up,” you tell me, “wake up.”

I wake up every day.

I woke up one morning this past April to find myself later that day standing behind Kadiatu Diallo at a Hillary Clinton block party in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Mrs. Diallo’s son Amadou was shot dead in a Bronx, N.Y., doorway by New York City cops under then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani while reaching for the keys to his apartment; 41 bullets they sprayed to kill a man coming home from selling videotapes and socks and things down on Manhattan’s 14th Street. He was black and an undocumented immigrant, an “illegal” … and an innocent. I woke up on a few days back then to march in the streets to protest his murder. On that day this past April, I was moved and proud to stand behind his mother.

I woke up a couple of weeks ago to find this picture somewhere on the internet: standing with Hillary Clinton at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., the “Mothers of the Movement”—the mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton and Sandra Bland, who have been with Clinton for many months now. The deaths of these mothers’ children incensed you and fired the anger and activism of a generation that had seen enough and insisted on no more.

In her first campaign speech in April of 2015, Clinton said, “We have allowed our criminal-justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again.” And yet, while the Mothers of the Movement stand with Clinton, some of you woke young brothers (and sisters) say you can’t and won’t do the same. 

But you can stand with Julian Assange, a faraway fugitive on the run from rape allegations and hiding out in fragile asylum. You can stand with him—a man you seem to think is committed to serving the American people and your struggle, when there has not been one mention on the Wikileaks TL of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Dontre Hamilton or Sandra Bland—not one. The first mention of Eric Garner was just two weeks ago, but perhaps Assange’s own emails overflow with more consideration of their fates. Some of you say you may even stand with Donald Trump. He and Assange stand together, so that makes perverse sense, I suppose. What difference does it make, anyway, when “the system’s rigged,” I guess? “What the hell do you have to lose?” 

I’ve worked hard not to lose patience with the logic some of you woke brothers have thrown my way as you argue against voting for Hillary Clinton. You seem to suggest that your judgment is clearer than the mothers of the dead brothers and sisters who enflamed your passion for justice; that your concern for their children, your pain at their deaths, runs deeper, somehow, than that of these mothers.

Yet, to my mind, if you refuse to stand with them in this election, then you stand in opposition to them. These women, as James Baldwin might’ve said, have worked “to force a moral commitment” not to themselves but “to the life of the country.” And for them, there’s been only one best choice this election in doing that. They have lashed their expectations for progress toward more inclusive justice in America onto the presidency of Hillary Clinton. And I can say with certainty that on Nov. 9, they will not have forgotten their lost children or what her candidacy promised them.  

Young brothers, stand with them. 

Stand for investment in marginalized communities as Hillary Clinton’s $125 billion Economic Revitalization Initiative calls for. Stand for her plans to address the student-debt crisis, for her $25 billion to support HBCUs. Stand for a Democratic Party platform that, in the words of Bernie Sanders, is “the most progressive in the history of this country.” Stand for the Supreme Court.

Stand with all the women imperiled by Donald Trump’s primitive misogyny, your mothers, your sisters, your daughters. That’s compelling to you, yes? Stand against the bigotry and indecency brought down against Latinos, Muslims, Jews, the disabled and, yes, you. Trump’s paper-thin outreach to “African Americans,” like so many of his business ventures, is bankrupt. And we ourselves are bankrupt if we do not oppose his cynical, neofascist candidacy with the fierceness. 

On Nov. 8, I promise you, Latinos and black women will show out at the polls like awakened, determined soldiers marching straight toward the heart of Trump’s “movement.” In threatening them, Trump cast his own fate. Early Latino voting in Florida is up 129 percent over 2008! And in the last two presidential elections, black women have voted at a higher rate than any another demographic in our country. They are clear, fired up to forge what will, without question, become the right side of American history. They will stand with Hillary Clinton, the first woman to be president of the United States of America, and their voices will be heard and will be relevant. After you sit idly by on the sidelines of this election fight, will yours? Your apathy does not justify self-righteousness. It cannot serve your needs. So what will you do, young brothers, tomorrow? 

If woke, stand up and vote … for her.

Peace,

Jeffrey Wright

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