Turning Michigan blue this past election has been the highlight of my time at Detroit Action. As a social worker new to the organizing space, I was thrust into one of our country’s most defining moments — a moment that will go down in history as the time we proved the power of our voice when the stakes were incredibly high.
From electoral canvassing and political power sessions, to voter registration drives and rides to the polls, we stood together in unity to ensure that the liberties we’d previously fought for would not be taken from us. We were able to overlook the fact that many of us carried little faith in either administration, yet we were incredibly clear about who would be most likely to consider and uphold the values that serve us.
Flipping Michigan was the perfect introduction to community organizing for me. It emphasized the gains we can make when we work together, in unity, to direct our energy toward a common goal. It magnified the importance of standing in solidarity and pushing back against the power structures that have historically marginalized us. And while we were victorious in this election, we are continuously reminded that our fight is not over. With so much still stacked against us, we must keep our foot on the gas to push our efforts forward. We must remember that the battle is not won.
Every generation, we see history repeating itself. The same fights for justice. The same fights for equality. The same fights for rights. While some might argue that we are making progress, others scream from the rooftops that we are simply treadmilling — in motion, but ultimately going nowhere. Depending on the day, I might take either stance; however, what remains constant is my hope for a better tomorrow.
Living in this society will have you thinking that your problems are yours alone. For the most part, we’ve all been tricked at some point or another into believing that what we experience is personal, isolated and a result of what we’ve done (or not done). This is especially true in our city, where seemingly invisible borders divide us into neighborhoods of haves and have nots. A lot of folks view their success as personal, therefore viewing misfortune the same way. With us failing to see the commonality in our circumstances, we limit our ability to come together and effect change.
Through my personal and professional experiences, I see how the design of our systems makes it feel impossible to rise above our circumstances. Every day it becomes more clear that our challenges are not accidental, but rather the intentional manifestation of structures that are doing exactly what they were created to do. These systems aren’t broken; they’re just hoping to break us.
When we don’t realize and exercise the power that we have, we give in to the narrative that other folks know what’s best for us. We uphold the very structures that hold us back by putting our lives in the hands of those who’ve never walked in our shoes. When we understand that we, the people, have the power, we begin to see life not as it is, but as it should be.
We are compelled to fight back against the isms that violate us. We begin to see the commonalities between our lives and others. We realize that our struggle is shared and that the only way to tackle it is together.
As Detroit Action’s first Service and Mutual Aid Director, my goal is to magnify the “we” — the collectivism we need to build people power and ultimately experience the lives that we deserve. While this is no easy feat during these unprecedented times, we know that lives are literally at stake, if we fail to rise to the occasion. Despite the obvious challenges, we must see this moment as an invaluable opportunity to connect with our people, build on the progress we’ve made, and provide the services and resources that are most needed right now.
Our service engagements serve as the avenue to identify and organize around the issues that reflect our community’s values and interests. And while we treat systemic symptoms through our services, we also work to identify and interrupt the root causes of them. We understand that our community needs relief right now. We know that healing needs to be top priority given all that we’ve faced over the last year, and historically. My hope is that through these services, we are reminded of our humanity and in tune with what we need to be healthy, happy and whole.
ID/birth record access, mutual aid, job readiness and harm reduction are a few of the programs that we’re relaunching and developing to support our community in this moment. And while we know these services don’t solve every issue, we want our people to know that even in this moment when so many other resources have dried up due to COVID, we are still here, standing in solidarity, and fighting the good fight, even when it’s hard to do.