June 19, is Juneteenth — an annual holiday honoring Black freedom and Black resistance, held on the day the last enslaved Black Americans learned of emancipation in 1865.
Leaders of the religious right — including Albert Mohler, Jerry Falwell Jr., and Robert Jeffress — are continuing to undermine Black Lives Matter and prop up Donald Trump’s racism. That makes it all the more urgent that grassroots Christians support the Movement for Black Lives, reclaim the Gospel for social and racial justice, and repudiate the legacy of slaveholder religion.
As Faith in Public Life’s Blyth Barnow says, “People on the ground need our assistance in this movement. They do not need our approval.” Here are some resources that can get you started protesting, both in the streets and at home:
- “Note to self: White people taking part in #BlackLivesMatter protests” – A must read for any white protester, from the American Friends Service Committee
1. Remember that you are there as support and in solidarity—it’s not about you.
No matter how outraged or indignant you feel, a Black person will still have different feelings. Respect and be present to differences in emotion, experience, and politics. Consider that your role might be as a witness and support to others’ expressions rather than expressing your own feelings.
2. Don’t provoke or antagonize police with your words or deeds.
If police respond with violence and arrests, the people of color in your demonstration will face much harsher repercussions than you will. Putting them at risk is itself a form of privileged violence. Organizers from the Black community need to set the tone of the action.
3. It is not your job to police or tone down Black protesters who have a right to express anger.
Support the leadership of the Black organizers. If you cannot support what they are saying or doing, it’s OK to leave and find a different way of working on anti-racism, but keep in mind that their approaches arise from their direct experience of day-to-day oppression.
4. If you have a smartphone in your pocket, use it to lift up the voices of Black people involved in the struggle.
Post photos and videos of the action on social media, with permission. Keep in mind that doxing (publishing personal details with the intent to harm) and targeting of activists is common, so only post with permission. Do post publicly shared photos and words posted by Black activists that they have chosen to make public. Document police presence and interactions. You are allowed one selfie and that is it. Do not be the white person who fills their social media with self-congratulatory photos of themselves at the demonstration. Black people are not trophies.
5. Don’t lead chants.
Make room for the Black people around you to lead chants. Support them with your voice and rhythm. Pay attention to the impact of who and what you are supporting and doing. Some words are not yours to say.
6. Anticipate that reporters may seek you for a comment out of their own unconscious racial bias.
Before a demonstration begins, try to find out who are the designated media spokespeople. If a member of the press approaches you, here is your talking point: “I am here to support and offer solidarity to the Black community,” then direct them to a spokesperson. For example, a reporter comes up to you and asks what you think of the grand jury system. Your answer is: “I am here in solidarity with the Black community.” A TV station shines the camera on you and asks, “What do you think the militarization of policing will do to First Amendment abuses against peaceful protests?” You say: “I am here in solidarity with the Black community.” In order to do this you have to accept that members of the Black community will be more informed and better able to talk about these issues than you.
7. Don’t hijack the message.
Do not say, “All Lives Matter,” ever. The problem is that in our society, Black lives are valued less than white lives. Chanting “All Lives Matter” at a “Black Lives Matter” protest is like going to a funeral and telling the bereaved, “Hey, Everyone Dies.” If you are part of some other marginalized group, it’s OK to show up as your whole authentic self, just don’t make it all about you. Being queer, I felt okay putting a rainbow on my Black Lives Matter sign as a way to represent my community, but I didn’t make the message Queer Lives Matter Too. Just because something else also happens to be true does not mean it needs to be the focus of this action. You wouldn’t run through an AIDS fundraiser with a Breast Cancer sign. Don’t use the Black Lives Matter actions to push your own agenda, no matter how noble.
8. Be responsible for yourself.
Educate yourself about the organizations, leaders, and issues that are represented at the event. Don’t participate in direct action unless you have been trained by the organizers to do so. Carry your own water, food, money, and phone. Write important phone numbers on your body so you can’t lose them. Have a plan in place with people at home to support you if necessary. Don’t expect action organizers to take care of your needs—they have their hands full already.
9. Stay involved after the event is over.
It is important to attend major events and marches to show solidarity, but it is even more important to stay active afterward. Remember that racism needs to be dealt with in white communities, so join with other white people to do our own work. Don’t ask black organizers what you can do to help unless you are prepared to actually show up and do that thing. Be humble if your offer is received with skepticism and try to understand why that might be.
- “Direct Action Training in Defense of Black Lives” – A recorded webinar (and extensive notes) hosted by the Deaconess Foundation and Metropolitan Congregations United
- “Tips for Protesting Peacefully and Safely” – From the Human Rights Campaign
- “Know Your Rights While Protesting Police Brutality” – From the ACLU
1. The right to protest is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.
2. If you get stopped, ask if you are being detained. Or ask if you are free to go. If you are not being detained and/or are free to go, calmly walk away.
3. You have the right to record. The right to protest includes the right to record, including recording police doing their jobs.
4. The police can order people to stop interfering with legitimate police operations, but video recording from a safe distance is not interfering.
5. If you get stopped, police cannot take or confiscate any videos or photos without a warrant.
6. If you are videotaping, keep in mind in some states, the audio is treated differently than the images. But images and video images are always fully protected by the First Amendment.
7. The police’s main job in a protest is to protect your right to protest and to de-escalate any threat of violence.
8. If you get arrested, don’t say anything. Ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not sign anything and do not agree to anything without an attorney present.
9. If you get arrested, demand your right to a local phone call. If you call a lawyer for legal advice, law enforcement is not allowed to listen.
10. Police cannot delete data from your device under any circumstances.
To keep your device secure and maintain your privacy while protesting, here’s what Daniel recommends you do:
1. Wear a mask to protect you from facial recognition used by police.
2. Ensure your devices have strong passwords, either six digits or a full password.
3. Avoid using biometrics like face or fingerprint recognition to unlock your phone that police can use to unlock your phone for you or you risk exposing your data and information about your loved ones.
4. Keep your phone in airplane mode when you don’t need to communicate. Radio signals can be used by law enforcement to track your device.
5. If you do have to communicate, use encrypted messaging apps.
6. If you get arrested, make sure your device is turned off or locked with a secure password.
7. Do not accept a water, soda, or a cigarette from the police – this is a common trick used to collect DNA samples.
- “The Protest Chaplain’s Handbook” – By the Rev. Abigail Clauhs, a Unitarian Universalist minister. A related resource is “A Guide for Movement Chaplains” from the Faith Matters Network. (These guides are specifically for those looking to provide spiritual support to protesters. If your goal is to provide a visible faith advocacy presence, the other links above will be more helpful.)
- Whether or not you can protest in person, you can find extensive tips and resources in the SURJ-Faith “Solidarity Action Toolkit for Congregations” from Showing up for Racial Justice.
As you build your team, share these docs from M4BL with them and get familiar with the framing, messaging, and other information to assure your action is aligned with the #SixNineteen vision and demands.
M4BL Protocol for Public Risk/Harm Reduction While Protesting (aka reducing Covid-19 risk)
The Action Itself
Here is one kind effective action you can take that is relatively quick to pull together, is adaptable to many community contexts, and includes measures to reduce Covid-19 exposure.
This vigil-style action goes like this (with Covid-19 adjustments!):
- Members gather outside in a visible location (see below) with signs/posters using the #SixNineteen messaging, demands (Defund Police, Invest in Black Community, Call for the Resignation of Trump), and hashtags (see above).
- Everyone should wear masks and carry hand sanitizer.
- People should bring their own signs/posters already made so they aren’t sharing pens, etc.
- Form a physically-distant-spaced line along the sidewalk, leaving room for the public to pass. Be sure signs are facing passing traffic. (One advantage of having to be 6 feet apart is it makes your group look even bigger!)
- Stay as long as you would like to plan for or are able. This will depend in part on where you choose to be.
- Chants/songs increase Covid-19 exposure, even outside. You might choose to have 1 person on a (sanitized!) megaphone speaking about why you are there, and/or reading the names of those murdered by police/state violence. M4BL also suggests drums and other noisemakers instead of chants/songs.
That in itself is all you need to do — a (mostly) silent vigil holding your messages. You could consider including the following:
- After a time being still, do a reverent walk around the block or picket in front of the building you’ve chosen.
- Include a ritual as part of the vigil:
- Create a sacred space where flowers, candles, other sacred items, and names of persons murdered by police/state violence can be placed. Depending on where you hold your action, you can leave the items when you finish the action.
- Individuals can offer prayers or readings.
Other considerations to include in your planning:
- Choose a visible location. This could be your congregation’s building, a highly visible intersection, city hall, or local police station/jail. If it’s unfamiliar you will want to visit it in advance to ensure that there will be traffic, and to get a sense of the street layout. If you prefer to do your action at your congregation’s building, consider the visibility of your location: Is there traffic? Would a nearby intersection be better?
- One thought: What a great way to gather people back at the congregation’s building (outside!) during this time when we have not been able to have services inside. And because the building is your property, this gives you more freedom and elbow-room for your action.
- Consider also the accessibility of the space: are there ramps, curb cut-outs, stairs? How will folks navigate the space? Be sure to name accessibility supports (“there are ramps with rails”) and limits (“there are stairs”) in your invites.
- Choose a visible time-frame. When is there likely to be the most traffic at your chosen location? Which day of the mobilization weekend (June 19, 20, or 21) will create the most visibility for your action?
- Make sure people know ahead of time to bring hand sanitizer and to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart as much as possible during the action.
- Stay on message and focus on defunding police, investing in Black community, & Trump resigning. These demands point us to investing in education, healthcare, and housing.
- Invite other predominantly white congregations to participate. This will help to engage white people of faith within your community to show up for actions and empower them to show up more for leadership in mobilizing other white faith/spiritual communities.
- Be sure to have roles assigned. At a minimum: photographers, social media people, media spokespersons, people assigned to answer questions from passers-by, and marshalls to watch traffic and de-escalate if needed. Depending on your chosen location you may also want to have someone to liaison with the police. Having assigned roles allows participants to focus on being present to the action.
- Be clear with your group in advance how much risk you collectively are willing to take prior to the action. For example, if you are in a public space and are asked to disperse, what will you do? Will children, elders, and/or folks with disabilities be present? What will be your plan to move folks to safety if necessary?
- Consider what symbols and rituals from your faith tradition would make sense to include as part of your action. What are the powerful symbols of your faith/spiritual tradition? How will passersby know that you are taking spiritual & religious action?
- Recruit for and Publicize your action! Send it to your email lists, post it on your webpage, create a Facebook event, use other social media. But most importantly, talk to your people! Phone calls & one-on-one conversations are by far the most effective methods that get people to commit to attending your action, and allow you to have deeper conversations about our mutual interest as white people in defunding the police.
- Not everyone can go to a street action. Find ways all members can be involved — amplifying on social media during the action, checking on folks afterwards, offering childcare, etc.
- Email a photo of your action to email@example.com and/or tweet to @SURJ_Faith. Include the #SixNineteen hashtags in your tweets.
Other Creative Covid-safe Ideas
- Covid-safe car caravan: Here are resources for Creative Organizing Tactics while Social Distancing
- Organize others to call officials: Organize people to call local city council members/mayor and tell them why you support defunding police and investing in the community.
- Organize or join a virtual rally: Bring people together to share why they support M4BL demands, stream it on your social media or host it on Zoom. Talk about this moment and then commit to staying in action together. Keep your eyes out for other virtual rallies and streaming options happening across the U.S. – watch & share them on the day of!
- Use your collection this week to support the Black/People of Color-led local action in some way, whether it’s for supplies, bail funds, and/or healing work after the action. If there is no local action, you can contribute to the Movement for Black Lives here.
BACKGROUND AND MORE RESOURCES
On June 19, 1865, Black communities in Texas finally received the news that they were free.
Juneteenth (June 19th) is a day that honors Black freedom and Black resistance, and centers Black people’s unique contribution to the struggle for justice in the U.S. This Juneteenth is a rare moment for our communities to proclaim in one voice that Black Lives Matter, and that we won’t tolerate anything less than justice for all our people.
SURJ Action Planning Calls
Tuesday 3 pt/ 6 et Register here: New to organizing an action & art and banner making
Tuesday 4 pt/ 7 et: Register here: Higher risk & tactical direct action
Wednesday 1 pm pt/ 4 et Register here: Jail & legal support & rural action support
Wednesday 4 pm pt/ 7 et Register here: De-escalation, tactical direct action, & overview for first time action organizing
Thursday 10 am pt/ 1: Register here Protest security & safety
Resources for Jews:
- #Jews4BlackLives Ritual Toolkit, from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
- Juneteenth Haggadah, from Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
- Kaddish for Black Lives, from the Jewish Multiracial Network
Resources on Policing and Alternatives
- SURJ Defund the Police Toolkit
- SURJ Political Education Resource List
- This robust list covers everything from the history of policing in the US to calls for a world without policing to multiple alternatives communities are engaging in.
- SURJ-Faith’s Community Safety for All project asks congregations to actively engage in alternatives to policing. We are currently updating the materials for broader use beyond a cohort model, but there are useful resources here.
- Policing and White Christians:
- SURJ-Faith’s Community Safety for All Campaign Holy Week Declaration
- “The Word Is Resistance” podcast, “Mary Magdalen’s Grief” by Rev. Anne Dunlap
- “When White Christians Support Good Cops” (blog post)
- “How Would Jesus Police” by Nichola Torbett
- “The Pastoral Is Political: The First Pride Was A Riot,” by Rev. Anne Dunlap
- “The Pastoral Is Political: Called to Serve and Protect,” by Rev. Marilyn Pagán-Banks
- Twitter thread on Christian theology and policing by queer theologian Linn Tonstad
- Jewish Experience and State Violence/Policing
- “Yom Kippur #TorahForTheResistance: Jews and Solidarity,” by Dove Kent
- “It’s Time for Jewish Communities To Stop Investing In the Police,” by Lara Haft
- “Commit to the Community Safety Pledge,” from JFREJ and other Jewish organizers in the aftermath of the Tree of Life Synagogue Shooting
- “Why I walked Out of Yom Kippur Services. Again.” by Jeyn Levinson
THANK YOU FOR TAKING ACTION! If you have questions or need support, please contact Rev. Anne Dunlap, SURJ-Faith Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our organizing to defend Black lives and defund police does not end when your action is over! Join the SURJ national membership list to make sure you receive all of our upcoming action opportunities. And join our SURJ-Faith specific list for faith-related racial justice resources and action opportunities.
More SURJ-Faith Action Resources
More resources for faith-rooted racial justice work can be found here.
Subscribe to our podcast for white Christians, “The Word Is Resistance.”
For more details, here is a message from the Movement for Black Lives:
“In response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless other Black people who have been killed at the hands of vigilantes or law enforcement, millions have taken to the streets with a clear and distinct call to end police violence and to defund police. Combined with COVID-19 and four years of Trumpism, Black communities are demanding: justice; accountability; a divestment from policing; and an investment in healthy, sustainable communities.
“To honor our ancestors and to lay a path to freedom for future generations, we are calling for the sixnineteen mobilization on Juneteenth weekend, June 19–21, 2020. We invite you to join us by taking action from home, in your community, or in Washington, D.C.
“The millions of us are here to remind lawmakers that we are bigger than monied interests, including police unions and right-wing think tanks. We know the path away from this disaster. After years of anti-Black violence and animosity for Black life, we demand the defunding of police and an investment in Black communities. We also call for the resignation of Donald Trump, who met our calls for justice with a brutal wave of repression that has added fuel to the fire of racism and systemic inequity.”
God is on the side of oppressed – which means Black lives matter. Thank you for everything you do to love your neighbor and honor Black resistance.
Rev. Nathan and the Faithful America team
PS – If you haven’t yet, be sure to sign “Black Lives Matter to God,” Faithful America’s petition to America’s governors, using a moral voice to lift up the emergency demands from Color of Change.