"What Does It Mean to Organize?" -- Speech by Dr. Felice Blake at Trayvon Martin Rally, Santa Barbara CA, Aug. 17, 2013

Saturday, August 17, 2013 - 11:30



I want to begin by asking you a question:

Where were you 36 hours ago?

36 hours ago, Thursday at 11pm, I was sitting on my sofa thinking about what I would say to you all today. I thought about how to impress upon all of you gathered here today, even to the people passing by, ‘the fierce urgency of now’.  I’m borrowing that phrase from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” While that speech called for a protest of the war in Vietnam, Dr. King’s message was about revolutionary love, the urgent need for change, and the fierce urgency of now. Right now.

Right now, from 36 hours ago when I was on my sofa and you all were doing what you all were doing, right now, a Black person has been murdered in the United States. Arlene Eisen and Kali Akuno of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement produced a study titled “The Report on Black People Executed without Trial by Police, Security Guards and Self-Appointed Law Enforcers January 1- June 30, 2012.” In it they find that every 36 hours another Black woman, man, or child is killed by police, security guards, and self-appointed law enforcers. The use of deadly force against Black people is not accidental, it is not random, but it is a standard practice woven into the fabric of our society.

We need to understand Trayvon Martin’s life in relation to those 36 hours, to the brutal murders of us.

Our collective devaluing of Black life means that George Zimmerman was not simply a unique vigilante over-reaching his position and authority. A society that for centuries has fostered ideologies, anxieties and fantasies about Black young men as menaces to society, of Black young women as promiscuous teen-age mothers, of Black people as generally less intelligent, lazy, untrustworthy, unworthy, and unlovable (but as good entertainers), is a society that concludes that ‘they’ are not like ‘us’.

As we assemble here right now, after another 36 hours, we also know that Black people’s undeserved suffering has created undeserved privilege for others. With Black accounting for 1 million of all people incarcerated in the U.S., when Blacks are incarcerated 6 times the rate of Whites, when 1 in 6 Black men has been incarcerated in his lifetime, it is clear that in the U.S. ‘Justice’ has come to mean ‘just us’.

But don’t be fooled; oppression does not produce safety or security. Our investment in ‘security’, in trying to protect ourselves from the ‘bad guys,’ produces cages for all of us that control our behavior, our beliefs, our suspicions, and our false notion of safety. What can keep us safe when we die every 36 hours? Amputation is not a social solution. We can’t cut off or amputate a part of ourselves and imagine that the rest of the body won’t notice.

Amputation is not the solution, organization is. We need to get organized, to be organized, and to remain organized.

Being organized is about an everyday commitment to challenging undeserved privilege and unearned oppression and suffering. It is about understanding that we are a body, a collective, and a community. Our social relations are determined by ideologies about race, racism, racial difference, security, safety, normativity, belonging, rights, deserving, beauty, and merit. What definitions are we working with, have we examined them? Being organized is about a commitment to revolutionary forms of love. MLK Jr. said that “power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love”. Our power comes from our ability to organize and our commitment to remain organized. Organization means forging relationships of mutuality, interdependence, of commitment, and purpose. Our strength and our power are in our collectivity.

What stands in the way of our organizing?

The police, the security guards, and the self-appointed law enforcers imagine they are doing their job? But what is ours?

We are going to march, but when the rally is over, what are you going to do? Will you remain organized?

When photos of royal and celebrity babies compete for your attention, what are you going to do? Will you remain organized?

What are our local police doing? Who is being stopped and harassed by the police? What does the gang injunction mean for Santa Barbara, (which means You, you are Santa Barbara)?

Are you organized?

Who are the so-called ‘gangs’ the police say we need protection from? Are we organizing with them?

What happened to your neighborhood? Which of your neighbors lost their jobs? What is the condition of the schools in your community?

Are you organized?

What about the homeless we all walk by in downtown Santa Barbara and in Isla Vista? Why are they there? Do you know? Are they organized?

What spirit of organizing will you carry with you after today?

We need to continue educating ourselves about the long history of injustice and the long, beautiful history of resistance to domination. I want to announce that there will be another series of teach-ins happening here and across the country. Please look at the Facebook page “Solidarity Teach In for Trayvon Martin” for more information about how to participate.

We also need to create a culture of truth-talk. It’s not en vogue, to speak the truth. We have to commit to it, to speak reality whether or not people reject it. We need change and that means speaking truth to power. But guess what? We have power. Look around you. Look at who is beside you. Truth is here. Speak on it!

Do you understand the fierce urgency of now?

Are you organized?

Are we organized?

Where will you be in 36 hours?


© Felice Blake 2013

Used by permission