A year ago, Seattle streets went silent for Black lives.
Outraged by the murder of George Floyd and Charleena Lyles, and Tommy Le, and John T. Williams, and Giovonn Joseph-McDade, and too many others, an estimated 85,000 people took to the Seattle streets last June for the March of Silence. Soon after, we saw the largest single day of action for Black lives in Washington state history.
We and other cities shook the nation.
We shook the Washington Legislature.
The past year’s work was about the whole of Black life. Beyond changing policing, people demanded and passed laws to restore voting rights, support families caring for kin, tax the rich and protect our communities from environmental racism. The people demanded and ensured that a half-billion dollars of lifesaving policy, legislation and direct investment passed in 2021.
It was a session hailed as historic. Because it was.
But it wasn’t enough, and it can’t be fast enough. The rate of death by law enforcement across the country hasn’t dropped. The painful reality here in Washington is that we won’t know if new police laws work until the next person is killed or harmed by police.
These efforts to protect and liberate Black lives are not one-off actions. Staying vigilant and doing the work for Black lives must be the new normal.
That means we need to elect people — mayors and council members, state reps, attorneys general, school boards and judges — who understand that America’s social systems have failed. Who understand the protection and liberation of Black life is not debatable. Who are committed to executing the laws that were just passed in this historic session and passing more still.
In 2021, Washington’s lawmakers carried out a rare feat: They set aside party political theater and popularity contests. They stopped hiding from the issues that have been cast as insurmountable. They faced harsh realities and past failures. They accepted accountability, dug in and got it done right.
The people did the same, every day of the session. Thousands across the state testified, called their elected representatives and sent 40,000 emails demanding bills pass.
In its essence, the movement for Black lives is the understanding that if we want something we’ve never had before — protection, liberation, the ability to thrive generationally — we have to be willing to do things we’ve never done before.
Looking ahead, the people are preparing to vote, and make no mistake, they’re voting for Black lives. Because the work is far from done.
No candidate in the upcoming primaries or general should get an automatic “yes,” including the ones who seem to be obvious choices. We’ve come too far in the past year for votes to be cast based on popularity or name recognition.
The people we vote into positional power will affect life and death. They’ll decide whether police are truly held accountable. Whether our people can breathe clean air. Whether all kids have the early childhood support that will echo through the rest of their lives.
The purpose of voting is not to support the person with the most compelling image, or to support the “good enough” candidate. The purpose of voting is to select individuals offering more than untested and assumed credibility.
The candidate deserving your vote should have demonstrable skills in community-driven systems change, a proven temperament under pressure, clear ethics and humility. Candidates must be relational, not transactional. Above all else, candidates, and those who rise to office, must be accountable to the people.
To elect those candidates, the people have to do what they largely have never done before: second guess their favorites. We need to set aside peer and community pressure to go along with so-called obvious choices or winners.
The past year has been a year. But a year isn’t good enough for this kind of change. It’s not enough to secure protection and liberation. We need historic decades. We need forever.
We need to be vigilant and discerning. Our lives are on the line.