Thursday Reading List: From Activism to Policy

Civil Rights leaders, activists, and criminal justice officials met at the White House yesterday to discuss police violence, and the New York Times has some inside details:

During a session that lasted for more than four hours in a large conference room across from the West Wing and included administration officials and community activists from the Black Lives Matter movement among the 40 or so in attendance, Mr. Obama led what he later called an “excellent” and “encouraging” session about building trust between law enforcement and communities of color. “We’re not even close to being there yet,” the president said, adding that it will take time to achieve such trust ... That hostility flared at times behind closed doors at the session, particularly as those representing police organizations clashed with people who had been arrested at protests, said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the online civil rights group Color of Change, who was at the meeting.

Two quick things to note here. First, both Brittany Packnett and Deray McKesson of Campaign Zero were at the meeting. The movement is unfairly characterized as a protest movement alone, while the activists have spent the last couple of years building a  nuanced policy platform, which can get traction in environments like this one. In addition, for anything to change in pubic policy, there has to be sustained pressure on the system, both from actors working within that system, and from folks working on the outside. If the thing that needs to change - in this case criminal justice - disproportionately affects individuals without a significant voice inside the system, the outside pressure will be, by necessity and definition, more substantial. That's just how change works.

Speaking of sustained local pressure, a good friend sent me this news from his town in northern New Jersey:

Felisha George, Emanual Grant, Cory Hardy, Alfonso Spottswood and Sydney Scruggs put some images on Instagram and Facebook on July 7, asking friends to join them at the Maplewood Police Station for an impromptu protest march in the aftermath of the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Five days later, they stood before hundreds on the stage of the South Orange Middle School auditorium for an evening of honest talk and alliance building involving South Orange-Maplewood residents of all races, ages and creeds — including police from both towns.

My perspective is informed by anecdote, but it does seem like more of this kind of thing is happening right now. There's also more misinformed rhetoric, like this Heather Mac Donald's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. There are people who want to preserve the criminal justice system's ability to oppress people of color; there's no good news to be found in that, except that, as rhetoric heats up, it's easier to see individuals' true selves exposed.

Here's a video, produced by Alicia Keys, wherein a group of celebrities describe the various ways the state justifies killing Black Americans:

In the meantime, Andrew Ujifusa at Education Week looked at polls and finds that education is a top issue for young Americans:

A survey of Americans age 18-30 reports that education is the most important issue for them when considering which political candidates they will support, according to a survey released Wednesday. The "GenForward" survey, conducted by the Black Youth Project at the University of Chicago and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research with responses from nearly 2,000 individuals, asked them to select the three most important issues to them when considering candidates. Education was selected as a top-three issue by 31 percent of all those surveyed.

Sometimes I talk to education policymakers who want to know why young people aren't more concerned about the dreadful state of public schooling. This survey proves that they're not paying enough attention to what young people are saying. In that concern, there's always some subtext lurking. Sometimes that concern is a genuine wish, on the part of policymakers, to understand why there is a huge movement to combat an unjust criminal justice system, whereas, from their perspective, institutional racism affects myriad other systems, including education. Other times, however, the concern is driven by the policymaker having a predetermined policy solution-set that youth and communities are not buying. Both perspectives provide an opportunity for learning, but the latter is more problematic. In an attempt to understand what students really need, Maryann Woods-Murphy worked with teens who are talking about racism:

Teens Talk About Racism is the brainchild of Theodora Lacey, a retired science teacher and civil rights activist who cut her teeth during the Montgomery bus boycott ... As co-chair of Teens Talk About Racism, I recognize that in a nation haunted by racism and the consequences of failing to eradicate it, students can help lead the way to better days. Each year, I watch high school students from 10 or more participating schools flood into the conference as complete strangers to one another. At first, they’re shy and prefer to sit with friends from their home schools, but from the very first moment, they are grouped with students from neighboring districts.

There is practical advice here for educators, so read the whole thing. Speaking of student voice, check out this middle schooler who explains privilege with spoken word:

That kid clearly needs to be the first entry in next years "Wokies," an award I'm going to create for White people. Kidding!!! Have a great day ...