Smile Politely

We must grieve, protest, and occupy across Champaign County

We must grieve, protest and also occupy across Champaign County.

I saw the horrific video.

I am the daughter of an African American father and social worker who fled Jim Crow Mississippi for Chicago in 1960.

I am the wife of an African American man, sister-in-law to four African American men, aunt of African American nephews and great nephews and an array of African American male cousins, extended family, friends, fraternity brothers, students and colleagues.

George Floyd’s murder sent me into my all-too-familiar cycle.




Free-floating anger.

Sending texts, calls, and arranging video chats to check on family and extended family members.

More prayer.

Fitness via YouTube videos because being on the streets is more than you can do alone right now.

Unexpected tears that come from out of nowhere.

Burying yourself in work so as not to feel anything for a while.

Trying to graciously receive texts and email of concern from white colleagues reaching out to check in, share their rage and concern.

Limiting media consumption in my home to protect my child from unsettling images, and to give myself a break constantly having to explain her America to her.

Then, sitting up at night with the volume down low to get caught up on the news and analyze what I missed while my child is sleeping.

More prayer for the strength to grocery shop, engage my child’s teacher, or just run a few errands while black.

Peeking in on memorials or funerals of those murdered, and hearing the oft-preached reminder that justice will be pursued for the murdered and their families.

And all the while you await the next one to  begin the cycle all over again.

So, in the midst of all that personal emotion:

I watched the initial conflicts, pitched battles between police and citizens and instances of fires and property destruction locally and nationally.

I was heartened by the peaceful protests and demonstrations around the nation and globally.

I was encouraged by marches across Central Illinois and Champaign-Urbana in particular.

I have tuned in to webinars to discuss this moment of social uprisings and next steps for mobilized communities across Champaign-Urbana and beyond. 

The death of George Floyd has unleashed a level of civic engagement that I have not seen before. And yet, as someone who has been a observing Champaign-Urbana since I first arrived here in 1989, I pray that the passion and intensity of protests continue to burn brightly across our community and result in more justice and transformation across Champaign County.

And yet, I’d argue another layer of engagement that must be advanced. We citizens must become a presence — not only in the streets of our communities — but at the tables of decisionmakers in our community.

I challenge every protester and organization represented in local protest to do do the following:

Adopt a local city, regional, or county organization for a solid year.

  1. Send representatives to their local meeting monthly
  2. If you really feeling ambitious, select an internal committee in which your organization will participate.
  3. Review the budget, reports, published documents of that organization carefully and examine how their resources are deployed annually. This might even be the subject of one of your organization’s business meetings.
  4. Create a rubric in your own business meeting to discuss your adopted organization every month and give updates of events happening in those meetings relevant to your organization regarding votes, expenditures, initiatives, allocations, new projects, etc.
  5. Please, please, please recruit youth to attend meetings with you or on your behalf so that they can learn about civic engagement, systems, parliamentary procedure, meeting management, public comment, and how to get their concerns added to the agenda of upcoming meetings, discussion and votes. There is a meeting relevant to the career aspirations of every youth in this county. Encourage them to get there or watch virtually and report on the proceedings and how they might engage with the issues raised in your selected organization.
  6. Convene at year’s end to report on your adopted organization’s activities, developments and consider how will engage them around your issues of concern in the upcoming year.

We cannot change, participate in, reform, or abolish systems that we do not understand, and we cannot model such change for our youth or with our youth if we are not in the rooms and at the tables where decisions are made for our community.

No, these are not the most exciting spaces to inhabit, but they are the spaces where decisions are made about schooling, health care, zoning, elections, infrastructure, policing, social service funding, housing, mental health resources and so much more.

Just to help get you jump started, I have provided a short list of upcoming 2020 meetings across Champaign Urbana that you can attend virtually at this time:

We must occupy these meetings like we occupy the streets. By occupy, I mean attend regularly, joining committees, read documents, engage with stakeholders, raise issues, make public comment, clarify, impact, address, remove, and transform the monthly operations, policy initiatives, and resource (re)allocation.

Our very lives across Champaign County depend on it.

Photo from City of Champaign Facebook page.

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