NAACP march 2

Protesters gather at the state capitol in Atlanta. (Photo/Spencer Donovan)

It begins with the systems — the reinforcing systems, such as education, government, law enforcement and media. It begins with these influential institutions oppressing groups of people based on their identity while favoring members of the dominant group. Our systems are broken, still tinted by a painful past that we as a people, as a nation, must address by recognizing inequitable patterns and taking action to undo the systemic racism in our country. To do that, we need to use our voices by protesting and voting.

According to the National Equity Project, “systemic oppression and its effects can be undone through recognition of inequitable patterns and intentional action to interrupt inequity and create more democratic processes and systems supported by multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual alliances and partnerships.”

The recent protests in response to the death of George Floyd and police brutality have evolved into a nationwide movement against systemic racism. From big cities to small towns across the country and now the world, thousands of people gather and march to fight the broken systems and racial injustice in the United States. An article in the New York Times says these protests have achieved “a scale and level of momentum not seen in decades.”

Amidst the thousands of protesters, a particular sign stood out to me: “The Power of the People is Stronger than the People in Power.” The message comes from a memoir written by Wael Ghonim, a key figure behind the Egyptian uprising in 2011, that narrates how the power of crowds can create political change. These encouraging words are a reminder that we have the ability to translate our voices into action. Now more than ever, we must use that power by listening, learning and voting.

Across American streets and plazas, that power is amplified by protesters. During the protest in Athens, Georgia, on Saturday, June 6, Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement co-founder and rally leader Mokah Jasmine Johnson brought her 18-year-old daughter, Daelynn White, on stage to speak.

“We are one of the most diverse nations, and our government does not look that way,” White said. “Educate yourself… If y’all aren’t voting, how is there going to be any change?”

Voices are already being heard as the protests begin to initiate policy changes. House Democrats proposed a police reform package on June 8, which includes banning chokeholds and incentivizing state and local governments to conduct racial bias training for officers. On Monday in Georgia, the General Assembly re-opened with a bipartisan call to pass hate crimes legislation. However, with a president who criticizes protesters on Twitter and exerts control with threatening rhetoric, our country lacks the political leadership we need to change the broken systems.

It changes with the people — the people who collectively act to interrupt and undo the systemic oppression in our country by peacefully protesting, listening and voting. We should not live in a system that oppresses people because of their racial identity. Keep lifting your signs and raising your voices because activism is seeping into action, and we as a people have the power to stop the injustice that bleeds from the cracks in our systems.

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