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This IS America

Flags at Capitol Riot Jan 6

The ProTrump white supremacist insurrection at our nation’s Capital on January 6, and at cities around the country, including Sacramento and Los Angeles, was not a surprise to me. Not just because of what’s happened the last two months since the general election or the last four years, but because white violence is exactly what our nation was founded on. Our government was established to protect the individual rights of white male landowners, and no one else. This IS America. 

But so are we Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who have believed in America and endeavored to make this country reach our full democratic potential. A potential that we know from our communities’ traditions of governance and organizing based on reciprocity, empathy, and stewardship of our land. A potential we still have faith in despite centuries of genocide, slavery, cultural erasure, exclusion, deportation, incarceration, voter suppression, police brutality, and countless other violations of humanity. A potential we strive for, dedicating ourselves to the hard, ongoing, and often invisible and under-resourced organizing work to realize it — in the face of intimidation and death threats from white supremacists. 

So while I join calls for impeachment of the president, expulsion of Republican members of Congress who still objected to the election results, and an investigation into the failure of law enforcement, I don’t place much hope in those outcomes being what will save us. The tools of government will only take us so far when the government itself has long sanctioned this level of violence against our BIPOC communities and still reflects and protects predominantly white, wealthy men (not to mention that our government has supported these kinds of insurrections and coups across the globe). And law enforcement can only be reformed so much when they are still deeply rooted in the purpose and culture of slave patrols. To that end, they have been doing exactly the job they were established to do, protect white interests at all costs. 

I place my hope with us, our BIPOC communities and our traditions of governance and organizing. The more we register, mobilize, and turn out our voters, and the more we run our own candidates, the more our government is representative and better serves us all. 

We’ve seen how this work translates into critical wins, most recently, in Georgia. Black leaders and voters in Georgia delivered Senate control back to Democrats with the election of Senators-elect Reverend Warnock and Ossoff — confirmed the morning of the insurrection — as well as the victory for President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris in November. Stacey Abrams of Fair Fight and Nse Ufot of New Georgia Action Project were two of the many Black women leaders, in particular, who drew from our traditions to engage a diverse electorate over several years that culminated in these wins. This was the story of flipping Arizona, Nevada, and Michigan, too. 

It will take years, if not decades, of more BIPOC-led organizing to get our government to the point where it really works for all of us and not just the wealthy, white, male few. And this work needs to happen not just in what we consider to be swing or battleground states. 

We have regions here in California, like the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and San Diego, that are similar to those states in population size, demographics, and political diversity and lack of representative leadership. And there are BIPOC leaders and organizations here in California that are doing the same work that we are applauding in Georgia, like Communities for a New California in the Central Valley, Inland Empire United, and Alliance San Diego Mobilization Fund

I encourage all Californians to find BIPOC-led political leaders and groups in your area. Learn about them. Invest in them. Volunteer for them. And stick with them year-round and for the long-term — because this is what will create a true representative democracy and change in our tightly-held institutions. 

The violent attempted-coup that occurred last week will only define us if we let the story stop there and count only on the government to hold the white supremacists and their Republican enablers to account. While that is necessary, I place my faith and hope about the future of this country with my partner BIPOC organizers and voters. 

WE are the backbone of a healthy and representative democracy. WE are America. 

By: Irene Kao, Executive Director at Courage California