“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
This past year was a year of grassroots resistance, both locally and nationally. 2017 was an unprecedented year that saw the inauguration of an overt racist chauvinistic president, continual police killings such as that of Jaron Thomas, state repression of freedom fighters such as the #BlackPride4 and countless incidences of oppression. But 2017 also saw people coming together, flanking communities of color to fight for liberation. We saw everyday people take bold action, small and large, to fight for a better world.
Below we highlight the organizing efforts we’ve been part of over the past year, the second full year of SURJ Columbus. In the year ahead we plan to develop more opportunities for leadership development as well as a focus on better white accountability mechanisms. We also hope to broaden SURJ’s reach in poor and working class communities as we continue to struggle for a Columbus that is safe for everyone and not simply those with more capital.
Ban The Jump Out Boys; #FireOfficerRosen; End the Summer Safety Initiative
Our partners, People’s Justice Project led a campaign demanding an end to the Columbus Police use of “jump out boys,” a term used to describe the use of undercover plainclothes police officers who will “jump out” of unmarked police cars and target mostly Black youth. This was a large component of the city’s “Summer Safety Initiative” which resulted in the 2015 police killings of Henry Green and Kawme Patrick. After over a year of pressure, Henry Green’s killer Officer Rosen was fired. At year’s end Mayor Ginther announced an end to the flawed initiative.
Free The #BlackPride4
At this year’s Columbus Pride festival, four Black activists were arrested while attempting to hold a moment of silence for Philando Castile, whose killer had been acquitted a day prior. They were also raising awareness of the 14 trans women of color murdered in the U.S. the first half of the year. All four face multiple misdemeanor charges and Deandre Miles also faces a felony charge. A campaign to free the #BlackPride4 began immediately, with SURJ posting bond and launching a fundraiser for legal fees. Throughout the year the community, led by SURJ’s partners Black Queer & Intersectional Columbus (BQIC) used a slew of tactics to fight for justice — from assembling care packages to circulating a petition, pressuring Stonewall Columbus, holding rallies and marches, art exhibits and spoken word performances, a call-in campaign to the city and county prosecutors, court support, and a selfie campaign. In November they received a feature in Teen Vogue. The #BlackPride4 are slated to face a jury trial in February 2018. Follow BQIC on social media to stay updated.
Other Actions & Mobilizations
2017 was a year full of protest, in large part following national incidents. SURJ Columbus participated in a day of action on inauguration day, J20, demanding that Mayor Ginther #DemilitarizeCPD. A week later, after Trump’s first attempt at a Muslim Ban, SURJ joined thousands who mobilized to shut down the Columbus airport, followed by days of similar protests. Throughout the year SURJ participated in other actions against national policy such as calling for expanded sanctuary, saving the Affordable Care Act, and renewal of DACA.
Columbus Police killed three Black men in 2017: Jaron Thomas, Christopher Wade and Kareem Jones. In September, Timothy Davis was beaten nearly to death. SURJ joined rallies and marches responding to police brutality. In February we joined a march to Ginther’s state of the city address where he doubled-down on investment in policing. In May SURJ joined a statewide Ohio March for Racial Justice, marching to the governor’s mansion. Yet grand juries declined to indict the killers of Henry Green and Ty’re King.
#ByeChristopherCbus: In the wake of the death of Heather Heyer at the hands of white nationalists in Charlottesville, SURJ Columbus joined a rally that same weekend as well as a national day of action one week later to highlight how Charlottesville was not an anomaly and there are symbols and institutions of white supremacy everywhere you look. We used this opportunity to demonstrate in front of the Christopher Columbus statue and connect his genocide and colonization to the Columbus Police Department.
In March SURJ joined the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) and Ohio for Fair Food by participating in their “Return to Human Rights” tour calling on Wendy’s to join the fair food program. SURJ built a float and had a contingent.
Trainings & Outreach
Nonviolent Direct Action training: In March a member of the Action working group co-facilitated a training on nonviolent direct action at Ohio Student Association’s “1000 Millennials Against Trump” resistance strategy summit. This training was adapted and repeated twice in the spring for SURJ members.
Calling In: Difficult Conversations on Race and Racism. We continued facilitating an interactive workshop that explores strategies of “calling in” to bring as many white people as possible into the struggle for racial justice.
#SafetyIs: SURJ held a canvassing training in the fall for a door-to-door canvassing campaign led by People’s Justice Project and Columbus People’s Partnership. This was a campaign asking residents in the Linden and Hilltop communities of Columbus about what safety in their neighborhoods means to them. SURJ participated in multiple canvassing days as well as helping with data entry of the completed surveys. Those communities were then invited to attend candidates forums in local races for city council and the school board.
#FreeBresha: Bresha Meadows is a Black teenage survivor of domestic violence who was arrested for defending herself against her abusive father and ultimately killing him. SURJ joined the national campaign to #FreeBresha. We held a teach-in about the history of the criminalization of Black girls and women who survived violence and were punished. SURJ also fundraised to cover her legal fees and so-called treatment, sent postcards to the prosecutor demanding the charges be dropped, and the Art Working Group made pinback buttons which were handed out at her court appearances in the spring. Bresha’s lawyer reached a plea deal for her, and she is expected to be freed in 2018.
Strategy and Structure
In the spring and summer our leadership team (comprised of point-people from our working groups) held two “deep dive” retreats to firm up our structure and strategy. We restructured the work of SURJ Columbus into three broad areas of work: Political Education (training, research, popular education), Mass Movement (action, outreach, art), and Mutual Aid (fundraising, material support). This year also saw the creation of two new working groups: Outreach and Communications. Outreach is focused on reaching out to folks on the sidelines and deepening the commitment of those already involved. Communications is tasked with moderating SURJ’s presence on social media as well as communicating with members and the public. The end of the year also saw the consolidation of two working groups: Training and Education, the latter splitting off from Research.
Press & Social Media
2017 was a big year for SURJ Columbus in the press and on social media. Our twitter account @SURJColumbusOH grew from under 700 followers at the start of 2017 to over 2,700 by the end of the year. Our twitter moderator helped livetweet protests throughout the year amplifying the resistance in Columbus to the rest of the country. The most popular tweet was seen by 86,232 people and the total tweet impressions for 2017 was over four million.
In the final months of the year we joined Instagram: @SURJColumbusOH and Goodreads.
SURJ Columbus also received many media hits. In February we were featured in Columbus Underground’s “Grassroots” series. Our protest on inauguration day was covered by Columbus Free Press. Our #ByeChristopherCbus action garnered coverage in the Dispatch, Columbus Alive, 10TV, NBC4, ABC6, and WOSU. WOSU also featured a SURJ organizer on its “All Sides” program to discuss the reason for that protest.
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) believes in collective liberation — and that
none of us can be free until we end white supremacy. SURJ’s role as part of a multi-racial movement is to undermine white support for white supremacy and to help build a racially just society. That work cannot be done in isolation from or disconnected from the powerful leadership of communities of color. It is one part of a multi-racial, cross-class movement centering people of color leadership. Therefore, SURJ believes in resourcing organizing led by people of color, and maintaining strong accountability relationships with organizers and communities of color as a central part of our theory of change.