Now that the shock has subsided from the election of Donald Trump as our next president, many of us are wondering what we do next and how his presidency will affect our daily lives.
From his Cabinet picks, it is clear Trump supports a racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic and transphobic agenda in which corporate business interests will rule everything around us. The present moment feels unsafe, not only for black communities but explicitly for anyone who identifies as a person of color, a cis or trans woman, undocumented immigrant and/or LGBTQ.
Professors and “liberal” white, straight, cisgender male thought leaders tell us to shut up and stop dividing folks with our “identity politics"; meanwhile, Democratic leadership and media narratives are encouraging folks to “give Trump a chance” when our very existence is being threatened.
Ain’t nobody got time for that.
But, really, what does this Trump presidency mean for our civil rights? With only two months until inauguration, social-justice advocates have been processing how the incoming regime will affect their work and are looking ahead with vigilance. In need of some inspiration, I spoke with nine black women leaders at Race Forward’s Facing Race conference last month about what they are gearing up for in 2017.
More than 2,000 racial-justice advocates from around the country gathered in Atlanta for the biannual conference, held only two days after the election. The critically timed event was a space to lament, strategize and unite across movements. And the women I spoke with emphasized the deep need for solidarity throughout all of our communities.
Even though the GOP’s violence-inciting rhetoric is frightening and dangerous, many acknowledged that it’s been their go-to strategy for years.
“The conservative and corporate right wing is extremely adept at using racism, misogyny and anti-immigrant words and actions to drive wedges between people,” explained Erin Malone, communications director at Forward Together, a national advocacy organization ensuring the rights of women, youth and families.
She also noted why black women’s voices are so essential right now.
“Black women sit at the intersection of so many social issues: police violence, environmental racism, attacks on reproductive health care access, pay inequity, immigration and more," she said. "Our realities can touch so many communities, and we be can leaders, building bridges to fight back against oppression.”
In both plenary sessions and breakout sessions, there were strong calls to white people to be in ally-ship more concretely than ever. We are seeing this increase of young white people marching in the streets chanting, “Not my president!” but what will these same folks do to help ensure the literal safety of our communities?
Shanelle Matthews, communications director of Black Lives Matter Global Network, which focuses on centering black women, especially black trans women, asked how were white women going to show up for us.
“For decades we’ve been encouraged to embrace feminisms that benefit them more than us," she said. "The time is now for white women to be brave enough to say ‘Black lives matter’—and to mean it.”
During the election season, Trump’s disdain for women was front and center, yet it made little impact on white female voters. However, women of color will be most affected by his regime’s proposed policies, especially around reproductive justice and rights.
Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network for Abortion Funds, maintained that Trump has pledged an anti-choice stance aiming to dismantle decades of progress.
“This is a powerful moment to engage people in the work who didn't understand the urgency before or didn't think it was for them," she said. "I'm hoping my face, analysis and visibility in abortion access will draw in more folks of color on the ground who want to directly facilitate and/or organize around abortion access in a time of tremendous threat.”
Black women’s civic engagement was also front and center in many conversations. The numbers don’t lie: Ninety-six percent of black women voters voted for Hillary Clinton. But as we see with the results, it’s not enough just to vote. We need black women as candidates on the ballot. Esteemed feminist author and hilarious tweeter Roxane Gay noted that the Democrats messed up by presenting Clinton as the “anointed one” and not offering a diverse pool of candidates as the GOP did in the primaries.
“We have to find ways to get more of us in political power so we are talking about ourselves,” said Gay. “We have to start filling these pipelines so we have better options.”
This is the mission of Jessica Byrd, principal of Three Point Strategies, a political consulting firm for candidates of color. “I deeply believe black women’s leadership makes us all better, stronger and more loving. This election has emboldened an extremist conservative movement and agenda that my black women candidates up and down the ballot will be running against,” Byrd asserted.
Byrd is also the campaign director of Democracy in Color, with the mission of holding the Democratic Party accountable for increasing resources for voters, candidates and staff of color in preparation for 2018.
At the same time, Chanta Parker of the Essie Justice Group, which supports women with incarcerated loved ones, mentioned that neither a Trump nor a Clinton would bring the “radical leadership” we need.
“Working within the criminal (in)justice system as a public defender, I see the oppression of black people and poor people of color every day," she said. "How do we continue the work we've always been doing with more urgency, more courage, more boldness?”
Parker also candidly shared that the election has her thinking more about personal community-building, and then asked: “What work is being done to promote, nurture and protect our black communities on a micro level?”
The Center for Media Justice is thinking about protecting our movements and communities, specifically from surveillance.
“The movements I am a part of will be surveilled,” said Executive Director Malkia Cyril. “It means progressive movements and movements for black liberation must practice deep digital defense, which means securing individuals and their devices, organizations and collective action.”
Cyril advised that black communities and all targeted communities, including undocumented people, Muslims and activists of color, must make demands that defund and dismantle government surveillance against them through local and state policy.
While so much of this work is in service to others, black female leaders are recognizing the legitimate need for self-care. Joanne Smith, executive director of Girls for Gender Equity, which builds the advocacy and leadership skills of young women of color and gender-nonconforming young people, offered this reflection: "As a black woman organizer and movement leader, I will need to love me harder than I ever have before so that this toxic masculinity and white supremacy does not snatch my light or the light of my community. It also means that I must be vulnerable and connected to the people in cross movement spaces who love me and recognize my humanity the most.”
We are all struggling to figure out how to cope in this new world that admittedly feels like impending doom. However, these leaders are providing not only insight but also entry points into this work to get more folks involved. We don’t have the luxury of complacency anymore.
Janna A. Zinzi is a storyteller and communications strategist specializing in arts, culture and social justice. She is also a travel writer and performance artist focusing on telling diverse stories of women’s lives. You can find Zinzi dancing and documenting her travels on Instagram and Twitter.