The Offing is grateful to Aurielle Marie for helping our organization be more accountable to the values we espouse, and we hope their insight sparks robust conversation in more literary communities around belonging, activating personal responsibility, applying lessons, and change as a practice. As a nonprofit, we offer the caveat that this essay series reflects the author’s opinions and lived experience as an organizer and literary citizen.
This was the first letter in a series of 10 dedicated to engaging The Offing’s literary network in social justice and a value shift toward equity within our respective organizations. The letter was originally sent on October 30, 2020.
This summer, as we dealt with the largest global health crisis in over a hundred years, this country was thrown into tumult at the State-sanctioned killings of Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd. These deaths were senseless as all killings at the hands of police are senseless, and launched a national response from over 2,000 cities in all 50 states, and over 60 countries across the globe. We are bearing witness to the largest movement of civil unrest this country has seen since the civil war.
These murders and the actions of police and local and federal officials cut to the core of the call for Black liberation: even as our communities are left gutted by a health pandemic, we find ourselves fighting a crisis endemic to our very existence. As protests grew, more violent incidents added to public outrage: video footage of the vigilante murder of Ahmaud Arbery, police kidnappings in Portland, and, just days before Juneteenth, Atlanta Police Department killed Rayshard Brooks in the parking lot of a Wendy’s. Perhaps it was enough, all of this barely half a year in, to realize that we are alive inside an insidious illusion. Enough mourning to reveal Amerika as a failed project that allows — no, necessitates — riots during the largest global health crisis the world has seen. It is unjust, if not immoral, to be forced to choose between our own survival and the liberation of our people. If you are half as fatigued as I am, perhaps this essay project will prove useful in illuminating a way forward for us both.
In light of these endless acts of war on Black life, I won’t waste this brief essay arguing why such a thing as a peaceful protest doesn’t exist for Black people in a militarized state. We must abandon the desire to police how oppressed peoples choose to fight for liberation. This project is instead an invitation to focus your attention, to extend your capacity and your support beyond platitudes, legislative bandaids or monetary contributions. I am not asking that you simply carry Breonna and Tony and Rayshard and George, and Ahmaud’s memories “close to your hearts.” Rather, I implore you to, not unlike protestors, shift your behavior to match your beliefs. I invite you to orient yourself toward justice, to move as one who believes that your freedom is inextricably linked to mine, and act beyond your comfort or convenience.
This is a call to work daily toward a more just world. Every month, we’ll gather here at this newsletter from my desk to yours. In it, you’ll find an essay (briefer than this one, I promise) and eight actionable steps and/or resources for your engagement. At least four of these will be focused on local efforts in cities around the country. The remainder will be broader methods of support. Send it to your uncle, your pastor, or the director of your MFA program. Send it to the staff of your favorite journals, with a charge to publish and compensate Black authors. I hope as well, that the readings and resources help other journals, leaders in publishing, directors of institutions across the literary landscape access more tools to embody an anti-racist defense against all the ways white supremacy has us fucked up. It is our hope — the editors of The Offing, over two-hundred literary journals, and myself — that this ten month project helps all of us move ourselves and our communities toward a freer world.
This month, as we approach the end of the year — pinned between the grip of COVID and the threat of what may be the most tense election season this country has seen in decades — I want to trouble a misconception of the term civic engagement. I expect this may be an uncomfortable assertion.I am not going to spend time shaming the non-voters, the sit-on-fence-ers, or those critical of the electoral process. There is something more crucial, more grounded, and yes, more important than what you do between now and November 3rd.
I’ll say it plain: voting is the very least of your civic responsibility. The least, meaning, there is more yet, to do once that ballot leaves your hand. A first, small step in an endless walk toward equality.
Abolitionist and writer Da’Shaun Harrison reminds us that to engage electorally alone, fails us, regardless of good intention. “Civic engagement is about more than just going to a poll to say you did something. ‘Engage’ is a verb. It requires action. Voting can be a strategy one uses as a form of engagement, but voting does not mean one is doing their civic duty.” By all means, yes, vote! But, then what? If each of us participated in mutual aid, volunteered for local racial justice organizations, read compelling abolitionist texts with our families and friends, or otherwise made our belief of the value of Black lives, a discipline in lieu of voting, I believe we’d be living in a reality wholly different than the one we find ourselves in now. Voting on its own will not free us from inequity. Community engagement, though, can.
So, now what? Do we defund the police or rally behind reform? Is it a time for prayer, petition, or protest? And what does a world without prisons actually look like? I have my convictions, but will let you invest in your own, as I am nobody’s mule. It is my job to dream radically of a future in which all Black folks are free from State persecution and violence. It is my job to write and organize toward that dream. This month I talk specifically about Atlanta, not just because it’s my political home — and one must begin within the home, as they say — but because as you read this, local activists prepare for a “sleep out” to escalate public attention on the case for Rayshard Brooks. Police may don riot gear or initiate mass arrests to “maintain control” if no one watches. Organizers, activists and protesters have held onto a vigilance I cannot summarize in a single English phrase. I only feel it. I owe that vigilance whatever I can do with the written word, on my end. What do you owe it?
October’s Eight Anti-Racism Resources
The Local: Atlanta
1. Listen in on local grassroots efforts, and learn about the list of demands put out by a collective of Black organizers in Atlanta regarding the death of Rayshard and the fight toward abolition, then share them.
2. Check out the MAMA Fund doing the incredible work of holding communities together in the face of military occupation and COVID. Share! Donate!
3. Activists have been working for years to close the Atlanta City Detention Center, and succeeded in pushing the mayor to agree to it last year. Recently, city council tried to allocate 38 million dollars to keep it’s doors open. Public visibility is helping local organizers shut this down. Learn more, here. Call Atlanta city council and let them know how you feel about jails in lieu of community resources.
4. Support the work of Atlanta grassroots organizers by following these voices.
The Big Picture
1. Running a journal or literary institution and realize you must do better? The Racial Equity Toolkit is a great place to start. Start a brown bag lunch at your place of work where employees/coworkers can fellowship and discuss these steps to embodying equity.
2. Learn more about the #8toAbolition campaign, a platform that is changing the way we imagine the road abolishing policing and prisons in Amerika.
3. Still confused about these abolitionist frameworks and the relationship between prisons, policing, and racial justice? Read or revisit Are Prisons Obsolete, or dive in to Haymarket Books’ reading list on Racial Capitalism. Start a book with a family member, or a handful of friends who you can struggle over hard questions with. Want more support? Join hip-hop artist NoName’s abolitionist book club, and ground yourself in a learning community of diverse backgrounds from across the country.
4. The Breathe Act is an innovative, intersectional, and radical reimagination of policing in Amerika, one that is feasible and attainable. Learn more about this amazing platform, and find out how you can support efforts to pass this legislation in your city.
That’s all I’ve got for this month. I’m Aurielle Marie. Let’s get free together.