“The battle is and always has been a battle for the hearts and minds of White people in this country. The fight against racism is our issue. It’s not something that we’re called on to help people of color with. We need to become involved with it as if our lives depended on it because really, in truth, they do.” – Anne Braden, civil rights organizer
What a year. 2016 has been filled with many heartbreaks, from local police killings, including Henry Green and Ty’re King, to the presidential election of a racist, sexist, xenophobic man. But this year we’ve also seen diverse communities coming together to demonstrate resistance to interlocking systems of oppression and organize to create another world. We’ve organized to continue building a Columbus that’s safe for everyone, not just those with economic and racial privilege.
Below we highlight where we started and where we’ve come, from our formation in November 2015 to our preparations to organize in the Trump Era. We are hard at work making sure that 2017 will be another big year where we struggle together for a more just and equitable world. We hope to grow the movement, provide more trainings and workshops, and continue to escalate and take bold non-violent direct action for racial justice and collective liberation.
Membership: We are an all-volunteer organization. After our initial formational meetings, we have held regular monthly meetings since April 2016. While turnout at these meetings has fluctuated from around 20–60 people, through our Working Groups and mobilizations we have grown to over 100 active members.
Structure: SURJ Columbus has been through an ongoing process of laying a foundation and organizational structure to our chapter. We now have a core leadership team of ten people, comprised of point-people from our various Working Groups and leaders from our sister chapters, SURJ Upper Arlington and SURJ Worthington. We move our work forward through our Working Groups (committees): Coordination & Strategy, Action, Trainings, Education & Research, and Art.
Social media: SURJ Columbus joined Twitter (@SURJColumbusOH) in May, and at year’s end have grown our number of followers to nearly 700 people. Social media documentation of our work is one way to have a greater impact beyond those who see our work in person. Our biggest tweet was seen by over 30,000 people. As our following has grown, we’ve been able to help signal boost non-SURJ actions and news and help connect organizers across Columbus and share resources using the hashtag #organizeCBUS. In the Facebook sphere our number of followers has grown to nearly 1,400 people. At year’s end we also launched our own website: surjcolumbus.org.
Local press: With a strong media team crafting press releases and working with local media SURJ was able to see many news segments and articles about our work and racial justice organizing in Columbus, OH. SURJ Columbus was featured in 14 different news pieces across 7 news outlets.
Trainings: SURJ trainings are coordinated through the Training WG. In 2016 SURJ created a workshop titled “Calling In: Difficult Conversations on Race and Racism”. This is an interactive workshop that explores strategies of “calling in” to bring as many white people into the struggle for racial justice. During the workshop participants have an opportunity to review past dialogues related to race and to think forward to new ways of engaging these dialogues. The workshop was offered as one hour presentations at SURJ Columbus, Upper Arlington, and Worthington chapter meetings, and as a two hour session at Otterbein College. SURJ plans to make this training available quarterly to the public, and is developing additional related trainings for 2017.
Mobilizations & Outreach
- May 19, 2016: SURJ Columbus held its first protest, “#SayHerName: National Day of Action to End State Violence Against Black Women, Girls, and Femmes.” We demonstrated at the North Market, handing out leaflets and reading names from a 20 foot long scroll.
- June & July 2016: After an undercover Columbus police officer killed 23 year old Henry Green, SURJ followed the call by People’s Justice Project to protest Henry’s death and demand (among other things) an end to the Summer Safety Initiative. We began a summer of outreach at farmers markets across the city talking to the community and gathering signatures on a petition demanding justice for Henry Green. We helped gather hundreds of signatures and raise awareness of CPD police brutality. In July SURJ also had its first feature in the local media.
- July 21, 2016: SURJ led our first major protest, following a national call for a Day of Action in the wake of police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Hundreds marched in the street and held a rally in front of the CPD police station downtown. A SURJ lead organizer, Tynan Krakoff was the sole arrest. This action was in partnership with People’s Justice Project and helped lift up the demands for justice for Henry Green.
- July 30–31, 2016: In July SURJ held the first ever regional gathering, an Ohio Convergence. Over 50 white organizers from across Ohio and the Midwest came to Columbus, OH for a training on direct action, organizational building and deep canvassing. In 2017 we hope to begin creating a stronger network of Ohio SURJ chapters and organizers across the state and region.
- September 2016: On 9/14 Columbus police killed 13 year old Ty’re King in the Near East side. Ty’re King’s family along with People’s Justice Project, SURJ, OSU4BLM and the greater Columbus community immediately sprung into action in grief and outrage. Less than two weeks later SURJ led support to PJP’s takeover and shutdown of a Columbus City Council meeting. Days later, SURJ led an action, holding a mock funeral procession to Mayor Ginther’s home and dropped a mock casket on his front lawn, demanding he “wake” up to racism in Columbus. SURJ was also able to help amplify the #KneeForTyre campaign by presenting on a national SURJ conference call panel, and also helped spread it to NYC as part of a People’s Monday protest. SURJ Art also made scores of pinback buttons saying “Justice for Ty’re” that were handed out at City Hall.
- Fall 2016: This autumn Showing Up for Racial Justice members also participated in a voter registration and outreach campaign, helping to register many Franklin County residents and engage in discussion around the potential impact of this year’s election, locally and nationally. While not endorsing any candidates, many of our members unsuccessfully pushed to have four-term Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’brien removed from office, for his inaction around police killings and racial disparities.
- November 2016: November saw the election of Donald Trump to presidency, despite his overwhelming loss locally in Franklin County. Thousands of residents hit the streets night after night protesting and having our voices heard. SURJ did not directly organize any of these marches and rallies, but many of our members have joined the newly formed coalition, Columbus United, which looks to be a strong force in 2017.
- December 2016: December our chapter took time to hold a potluck and break bread together, reflecting on all that 2016 was and where we are headed in the new year. December 20th also saw the conclusion of the court case against one of our lead organizers, Tynan Krakoff, who was arrested at the July protest. He faced three misdemeanors but prosecutors backed off on two charges for a plea to disorderly conduct with a fine and community service. SURJ Legal Defense was able to successfully fundraise over $2,500 covering all legal and court fees, along with a surplus of $500 that has been donated to a general legal defense fund for other arrested activists. Dashcam footage shows that Tynan was targeted for arrest.
- Rounding out 2016, SURJ was contacted by NCB4i news to weigh in on the newly rolled out police bodycams. This was a powerful end to 2016 as it is a clear sign that the local media is taking notice of SURJ’s organizing work and we are making an impact in Columbus.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Columbus is a local chapter, part of a national network of groups and individuals organizing White people for racial justice. Through community organizing, mobilizing, and education, SURJ moves White people to act as part of a multi-racial majority for justice with passion and accountability. SURJ provides a space to build relationships, skills and political analysis to act for change.