By: Darryl Knudsen, Executive Director
THEY WERE BRUTALLY MURDERED BY WHITE POLICE OFFICERS. LET US SAY THEIR NAMES:
- George Floyd, 46-year old Black man, father to five, who excelled at football and was a mentor active in his religious community. Murdered on May 25, 2020 on camera and with a knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds by white police officer Derek Chauvin and his fellow officers.
- Breonna Taylor, 26-year-old Black woman, award-winning Emergency Medical Technician and model citizen, who loved her family, her community and worked at two hospitals as an essential worker during the pandemic. White police shot her 8 times and murdered her in her own bed on February 13, 2020 after breaking into her apartment in search of someone else.
- Ahmaud Arbery, 25-year old Black man, football star, who regularly jogged in his neighborhood for exercise. White vigilantes murdered him on Feb. 23, 2020 for a crime he didn’t commit while he was out for a run; white prosecutors excused and justified the perpetrators’ extrajudicial act of murder and made no arrests for months.
- So many more.
I am International Rivers’ new Executive Director and I’ve been in my new position now for one week. As I am joining this organization with a long history of fighting injustice and oppression alongside indigenous and local communities in the Global South, I am surrounded by the injustices of police brutality and violence against Black Americans across my own country and in Oakland, California, the home of International Rivers’ US office. These injustices are not new — they are as old as America itself — and they deeply permeate our society.
I would like to share my thoughts and call to action with you, our supporters around the world.
We at International Rivers stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other organizations in demanding justice for all those Black Americans who have been and continue to be brutalized by the United States’ deeply ingrained institutional racism and systems of white supremacy.
We ask you, our supporters from across the globe, to raise your voice and take action at this critical moment for change.
THE STRUGGLE FOR RACIAL JUSTICE IS A MORAL IMPERATIVE AND CRITICALLY CONNECTED TO OUR WORK
Challenging the idea that some lives matter more than others is at the core of our mission to protect rivers and defend the rights of the communities that depend on them. It is morally imperative to eradicate race-based violence and oppression. It is also critical to achieving International Rivers’ Vision and Strategy. We find common cause and purpose to stand in solidarity with the movement for racial justice for Black Americans.
We are an organization with 26 staff coming from 12 countries, who are themselves located in 9 countries and on 6 continents around the world. The majority of these staff are from, based-in, and working directly in support of local movements in the Global South across Latin America, Africa, and Asia. In our collective work to amplify the voices of river protectors, our network is comprised of indigenous organizations and their allies; it includes and supports local movements for environmental and climate justice; and it advocates for people the world over that are negatively impacted by structural inequalities, the legacy of colonialism, and systemic racism, among many other destructive forces.
At International Rivers, we also come to the issue of racial justice in the United States with the perspective of an organization headquartered in Oakland, California, which has been an important arena for struggles for racial and social justice in the United States.
I also want to acknowledge that we stand firmly against racial injustice and police brutality in the U.S. from the position of an organization with primarily white senior management; myself included.
It is sometimes hard to find a single message that resonates and does service to all of these perspectives, cultures, movements, and political contexts, yet on this issue, there is a very clear common purpose and message. While we want to acknowledge the intersectionalities with the rest of our work, the focus of this blog strives to center firmly on the particular experience of racial violence and oppression against Black Americans in the United States.
WE MUST GO BEYOND WORDS:
As important as standing up and speaking out right now is, I am convinced that it’s not enough. To achieve a world without race-based oppression and violence, I believe that an overwhelming number of people will also have to 1) take action, 2) look inward, and 3) sustain our commitment and solidarity.
I am horrified by police murdering Black people with impunity. I believe it is important to take action, and I am grateful to be part of this International Rivers community at this time. Our board members and staff in the US and elsewhere have been participating in demonstrations, making donations, calling on politicians, and having internal conversations about racism in the U.S. and the most appropriate and supportive role we can play.
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter protests have begun to spread to other countries, such as Brazil, Australia, the UK, and France, in which protesters have been standing in solidarity with the US demonstrators and decrying police brutality and anti-Black racism in their own countries, as well.
I thank the tens of thousands around the world who marched in solidarity for Black Lives. If you live in the United States and even if you don’t, I invite and beseech you to take concrete action to support racial justice in the U.S. and/or elsewhere.
Here are a few ways to lend your voice, organizations to support, and resources to help guide your rightful anger and demands for justice:
- Support the direct action requests of Black-led, racial justice organizations such as Color of Change.
- Sign petitions demanding justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor.
- Attend demonstrations, while safely physically-distancing
- Make a plan to vote, such as registering to secure an absentee ballot today.
At International Rivers in the near term, we will be
- Supporting those in our network, to the best of our ability, no matter where you are in the world, to connect to actions we can take and useful resources from Black creators and Black-led organizations.
- Using our social media channels, website, and email list to share information, share ideas, amplify the voices of local racial, social, and environmental justice organizations, and build solidarity across our network and movement.
This next portion is addressed to white Americans. I have heard the call from Black leaders and people of color in the movement for racial justice that white Americans speak directly to other white Americans about racism. I am endeavoring to do that here with humility and vulnerability.
If you are a white American, like I am, I invite you to join me in looking inward. I want to see an end to racial violence so I have been and will continue to do the work to be anti-racist. Despite my personal commitment to understand, counter, and dismantle my own implicit racial biases, I expect that my work to do so is a journey that will never be over. Wherever one may be in this process, I believe the most important action to take is to begin the work.
I have come to believe that it is important for each of us to actively work to understand and dismantle our own unconscious biases on race. From my perspective, one doesn’t have to support racism to sustain and perpetuate racist structures. I believe that every person living in the United States has been conditioned by the social narratives of control that otherize and thereby marginalize and threaten Black people. I believe it is important to understand how these implicit biases perpetuate the foundations of racial oppression, racial violence, and the murdering of Black people. This op-ed, Letter to White Urbanists, contains the clearest and compelling articulation I have come across as to why we white Americans are complicit in this problem (regardless of our politics or personal beliefs), and why it’s on us to fix it and end white silence. Silence is complicity.
So I humbly invite you to join in some of the actions I have been taking:
- Doing the work to become actively anti-racist. Here is a list of anti-racism resources.
- Actively talking to my children about race in the United States; they are not too young.
- Participating in protests and declaring an anti-racist position publicly
- Creating space in institutions to share and discuss issues — here at International Rivers, we called a Town Hall for our staff and Board to discuss racial justice in the U.S. Any organization can do this.
SUSTAINING THE COMMITMENT
Finally, it is important that this work and all of the collective commitments being made across the nation and around the world don’t stop with the next news cycle.
We in the environmental and human rights movements need to ensure that we are not just running a cathartic sprint, but rather recommitting ourselves to sticking it out in a grueling, uphill marathon that is deeply rigged against communities of color.
For our part at International Rivers, we are committing over the long run to:
- Reviewing and improving our own diversity, equity, and inclusion practices as an organization. We have largely white leadership and a largely white Board. I know there is work to do here.
- Committing to working with partner organizations and advocates who are leaders in this space to stand as allies with Black communities and support racial justice. We understand that true allyship requires active and consistent commitment.
This is our commitment and promise. I hope you join humbly and courageously in our commitment to stand in solidarity with the movement for Black lives, to advance and build on this commitment, and to help hold us accountable to it. As global change leaders, our movement is ever a force to be reckoned with.
With gratitude for each of you and in solidarity with all of you,
Photo: New York City protestors for Black Lives Matter | Photo by: Reuters/Darren Ornitz