(Chris Pedota/The Record via AP, Pool) AP
As protesters challenge a racist criminal justice apparatus, a Black woman in New Jersey is taking her seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Ferguson, Missouri, once the center of the Black Lives Matter movement, just elected a Black woman as its mayor. In Washington, DC, Janeese Lewis George beat a sitting city councilman, who put out mailers saying that she wanted “to cut police in Ward 4.” George beat him by 10 percentage points. Black women are making moves at the ballot box, as protestors are shifting the political grounds they are running on.
Representation matters. Politics will not solve every problem Black people face, nor is political power a substitute for economic strength and cooperative economics. Political power is, however, vital to Black people achieving self determination. As protesters challenge police brutality on the streets, judges make final rulings on cases involving police powers. Judges matter. A majority of the Minneapolis city council supports dismantling the police there but the sitting mayor stands in opposition. Mayors matter. Black communities historically get the short end of the stick in cities with respect to budget allocations and city services, thus city council members matter. It is impossible to separate protest from politics and as such, Black people must be engaged in both.
Representation matters but it certainly isn’t the end goal. Black faces in high places doesn’t always translate to the interests of Black people being served. Indeed, after rioting broke out in Chicago, the city moved to cut off access to the city center in a dramatic way: the city blocked streets and created checkpoints staffed by National Guard soldiers, only allowing residents and workers into the area. Interstate exits leading to the city center were closed, officers were placed on every corner and the bridges that carry cars across the Chicago River, into the higher income communities, were drawn up in dramatic fashion. When rioters began doing damage to the (mostly Black) South Side, however, no such protections were afforded, even though Chicago’s mayor happens to be Black. Race, class, political strength and campaign contributions all mix to form an ugly batter
Protest is appropriate but so is political education, organizing and mobilization. Without vibrant Black institutions, however, where are Black people getting their political education? How do they know what the priorities are, the levers to push or how to recognize the games politicians play? Voting alone isn’t a cure for all that ails Black people. Institutions that provide political education must be built, Black people must be organized and exercise that political power. The ascendence of Black women in this moment is a reminder that there is hope but also, a responsibility.