by Dr. Michael Wright
The Zimmerman Verdict is not about RACE. It cannot be, and You cannot allow it to be. My point? Let’s begin by determining the focus, scope, and timing of this or any movement. This movement has been going on for a long time. We must resist the knee-jerk reaction to center this movement on race. It’s not because this case does not have elements of race, but it’s because race may become a useless construct to inspire a movement toward justice.
Reflecting on history, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at a rally culminating the March on Washington. The march was motivated because Blacks were being denied employment based on race, BUT it focused on eliminating barriers to employment and enabling workers to unionize. MLK, Jr. was not the keynote speaker who made the call to action on the crowd, it was A. Phillip Randolph a union organizer. By removing racing from the equation, they appealed to all who was affected which increase their ability to collaborate and conjoin the efforts by multiple organizations. Its scope was industrial centers especially state and federally-funded companies including state and local operations. It was co-sponsored by the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations). On August 28, 1963, the timing was specific in order to sustain the momentum needed for the passage of the Civil Rights Act that became law in July 1964.
Racism is not a fight that has a clear opponent. Racism is a construction that indicates differential treatment in laws, economics, education, and other areas of social life. Any movement will, of operational necessity, need to focus in an area or create multiple organizational structures around legislation, class mobility, school quality, and access overall. In terms of scope, realize that organizations, like NAACP for example, function more effectively as a convener of organizations nationally to provide voice, financial empowerment, and information centralization. The redress of differential treatment MUST be local. Not understanding this scope results in MARCHES, events, or petitions that have no legal standing in the locale of the problem. Once the event planners leave, little organizational momentum is left if no new laws have been proposed, no businesses started, or no school charters created.
So it is that I take a break from writing on Deceptions, Distractions, and Disillusionment: Barriers to Your Success and Ours, to use the current national discussion as a case study to present the Anatomy of a Movement, a construct from the last chapter of the book. In the text, I write,
To apply your social role within society, you must conceptualize how to sustain your clarity while others conform steeped in deception, distraction, and disillusionment. They will be your detractors seeking to convince you to conform. Agency involves living a life that demonstrates the value and wisdom of intentionality, forethought, self-reflectiveness, and self-reactiveness. Anatomy of a Movement is a conception of this life. The action plan has six considerations: investigate, educate, liberate, lead, act, and create. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
This Anatomy of a Movement has operational utility in the current discussion. You must have focus, identified scope, and precise timing to influence the righting of institutional wrongs. Without focus, scope, and timing, you will be disappointed again and again. Worse, you will be worn out fighting the shadow of your enemy rather than engaging the enemy head on.
Investigation recognizes that the injustice can only be sold as a benefit to you. It instructs you to trace the mechanism of the benefit—how it works. Consider that laws are created for your protection. The Stand Your Ground law is useful to decriminalize the act of defending yourself against attack. The question of investigation is not, “How does this law work?” Instead, consider “How do laws created by the legislature impact the justice system?” Viewed from this perspective, it is a matter of the facts adjudicated in court, not the intentions of the act.
I offer an unpopular view: The Zimmerman case is primarily about THE CASE not THE RACE. Many, in my Facebook news feed at least, posted the comparison of Marissa Alexander ) with George Zimmerman. Yes, the pictures indicate that they are different. Marissa is a woman of the African diaspora. George is a male of some other descent. But, to use these as the basis of comparison of the cases is improper. [More on activity surrounding Marissa’s case is available at http://justiceformarissa.blogspot.com/].
When you investigate how the law works in Florida, the setting of both cases, you become aware that the prosecution of the cases each began with a very different question. In Marissa’s case, based on the law, the question was, “Did she fire a gun inside a home with children?” If she did, the CASE becomes the purview of a mandatory minimum law. The only way to get around it is to plea bargain. She reportedly refused the plea bargain.
George’s question, based on the law, was, “Did he effectively apply the Stand Your Ground provision?” If he did, he is not guilty of a crime. The only way to get around that is to convince a jury that he set out that day to gun down innocents. Intent is harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
Note: You will have to wait for the civil trial where the questions are fundamentally different for the prosecution and the defense. Consider that the comparison should not be Zimmerman to Alexander. The comparison should be Zimmerman to Simpson (1995).
Use Google to research “20 years mandatory minimum Florida firing a gun home with children”. You will gain a wealth of information. Through investigation, you will find connections with other thought leaders and organizations that have already begun a movement toward justice for Marissa and many others. For example, link to Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) . Notice that these groups are challenging the law in the legislature where they are created rather than the justice system where they are only implemented.
In the Deceptions text, I write:
Education describes the intervention into the mechanism you observed during investigation. Your task is to reclaim the ownership of your ideas. With the ownership of ideas, you may begin to comprehend the role of producer. You may also begin to see the opportunity to integrate this social role into your interactions with others. Education results in a new valuing of your ideas, definition of the producer role, and integration of the producer role in your social interactions. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
Again, on my Facebook news feed, I read some cries for justice and movement, but I also read some resolve to go back to school to study law. I read one entrepreneur and thought leader pledge to redouble her efforts to be a part of the solution through continued efforts to become “stronger, more aware, and more together.”
Build strength through competence. You must learn in the arena you wish to influence. For some, the focus will be law. For others, it will be education. For others, it will be journalism. Above all, learn to value your ideas and to challenge them with the search for information.
Develop your expertise. Create a specific outlet for your ideas. Maintain the discipline and motivation fueled by the fact that injustice exists AND the positive progress that is being made constructively. Get together with other experts and thought leaders and organizations that you can inspire, challenge, and support. Require them to also support you and your development.
Liberation describes effort to address the automatic behaviors that support conformity. The comfortable relationship between your conformity and benefit must be broken by revealing the comparative detriment you experience through conformity. Liberation results in a revelation that others are not your obstacle. You are the obstacle to your success. Your labor is not your greatest contribution. Your ideas are your greatest contribution. The goal and motivation is not money. The goal is social capital. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
In situations such as the Zimmerman verdict and others, you will hear people talk about racism as a lack of access to the REAL workings of the institutions to which we are beholden. The education system is considered unfair. The employment system is considered biased. People will say, “It is not what you know but who you know.” Others say, “It is not who you know, but who knows you.” I offer that the IT is a question of social capital. You MUST build relationships in the community you wish to influence. Being independent and successful is not an exercise in isolation. Every contribution you make of time, energy, money, and communication must be strategic to gain favor and collaboration, to seek common ground and mutual benefit. Relationships are not a matter of whether you are liked. Productive relationships are a matter of whether your ideas are perceived as critical to the discussion. “It is WHAT you know, WHO knows you know it, and HOW willing they are to risk their reputation to bring YOU to the table.” Make it easy for them by freeing yourself to engage in relationship building in your community.
Leadership describes both quality and activity. The quality is above reproach, self-vetted, and transparent. The activity is to set the agenda in written form, clear with action steps and indicators for independent evaluation. Leadership results in strategic plan including explicit opportunities for newcomers to engage in the movement based on their desire AND expertise. Willing workers who do not arrive with identified or compatible expertise are educated into areas of the movement that approximate or into which their skills are transferrable. Another alternative for non-compatible expertise is to expand the movement to accommodate a new area or support that expert in creating a parallel movement. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
Movements in response to the Zimmerman Verdict 1.0 and other Florida-based or national concerns must have a clear vision. Identify the end goal exactly. From there, identify the criteria for collaboration and coalition building. Efficacious leadership suggests a plan extending over the long-term, not just a rally for a moment.
For me, this case brings more attention to the work of organizations in Florida who are working on justice issues. Florida, once the land of hanging chads, has been exposed for a system of public laws that may support the incarceration of the non-violent. Whatever leaders of the movement decide the focus, scope, and timing to be, it must be clear about the impact that is desired.
Action describes an obvious step of implementation. It also describes a systematic approach to the operations of the movement. What many do not account for is the marketing and messaging, the education, and the convening that is required in any collaboration. As the initiatives add new areas of focus, expand their scope, and extend across time, these considerations become even more critical to success. Action results in a set of principles, a schedule of training, and a schedule of conferencing. – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
In my estimation, this is the area with the most grow potential especially of the existing national organizations that portend to promote and act for justice and advancement of civil society. Too often, you find that money and time you have donated to a cause was spent to promote the organization rather than to put boots on the ground in the way you envisioned.
Rather than provide examples of scandals or companies whose financials simply do not add up to action, I invite you to review the financial statements of the organizations you count on and contribute to. Attempt to find the connection and momentum of connection between the capital (both financial and other) invested and the actions taken. Ask a basic question, “How much is spent to empower me with information, engage me with skills to address the wrongs, and to place me safely, sustainably at the forefront of training and equipping others?” Compare that to how much is spent simply administering the organization, fundraising, salaries, and fringe benefits.
Creativity describes the reality that effective leadership and action will result in former volunteers, line workers, and interested learners who become regional directors, non-profit founders, and social entrepreneurs. The movement must be responsible for the development of these new institutions as well as the leaders themselves. Leadership and action provided the model and the education. Creativity must provide the operational knowledge and evaluative structure for the newly created institution. Consider creativity as a three part initiation of the institution. First, reflect on the history and the model of other institutions seeking justice, progress, and altruism. Second, capture in writing that history as instruction on best practices and opportunities from improvement as the new initiative is launched. Third, ensure that the new initiative spawns other initiatives and does not consider itself the end all.” – Deceptions, Distractions and Disillusionment (2013)
Creativity gives a new mandate that may have been missing from justice seeking and injustice redressing organizations. It is not just the continued expansion through regional and chapter development that strengthens the coalitions and expands the vision. The inspiration and nurturing of new organizations engaging multiple areas, other systems levels, across time is the hallmark of a sustainable justice-promoting organization.
It is my hope that the competent reflection I am seeing in some areas of national discourse and in my own Facebook news feed continues to grow and win the imagination of many. Systematic redress of injustice through direct, policy change in systems that regulate and control should be the focus of your efforts. This means engaging the lessons of investigation, education, liberation, leadership, action, and creativity. The “Racism” challenge is easily dismissed through deception born in ignorance. Race as a stand-alone creates a distracting argument that will take time away from what matters—institutionalization of differential access perpetuated through lack of economic mobility. It will leave you disillusioned about the people around you and devaluing your power to change the system. Focus on the case-law. In the scope of the system, determine where you will educate yourself and where you want to intervene. Plan the timing of your productive action.
Photo Credit: Mother holding Child (MSNBC)