In just the last few years, I have gotten a lot of guidance from other leaders, and particularly from other women of color leaders, some of whom are newer leaders in the movement. That kind of community of support has been essential to me.
You don’t have to be a full-time activist to get involved in the movement
To me, civil rights work is the ultimate form of patriotism, because it takes a patriot to spend this much time working for the realization of the ideals of this nation. We recognize how imperfect the place we are is, but we are committed to actually fighting for change.
I cannot imagine sitting on the sidelines of this moment.
You can be involved, too, whether it’s giving to organizations that are at the frontlines of this work or whether it is becoming a poll worker or helping to register people to vote or participating in protest. At a time like this, where we are witnessing our core values getting challenged, the need to show up for your community and your priorities in whatever form you can is imperative.
Not everyone has the luxury or the ability to do this work full-time, but there are so many ways to be a part of the change right now. Some of it is committing to pure acts of civic engagement: filling out the census, registering to vote, exercising your vote, showing up at a protest. And some of it may be more involved: becoming a poll worker or, from the private sector, supporting organizations that are doing this work.
I have always believed that despair is the enemy of justice; and a feeling of complacency is the enemy of justice. Everyone can find a path to show up right now. There are things for everyone to do.
Whether you’re on the inside or the outside, learn how to be a better advocate
When I was head of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, I was on the inside and in government, but I was still a civil rights advocate. I still had to advocate for the civil rights position; for instance, what position the United States government would take in the Supreme Court on issues that matter so much in people’s lives. I never stopped being a civil rights activist, whether I had subpoena power, which I did at the Department of Justice, or not.
The role that I had meant advocating for change and for pushing the envelope. I served a president and two attorneys general who were leaning more forward into police reform, criminal justice reform, LGBTQ rights, and voting rights. But it was never enough, and it never felt like enough. Still, the position that I had allowed me to be true to myself and the principles that I had. Those are the same principles that I had at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU and now at the Leadership Conference.
When it all feels like too much, that’s when change happens
The recent weeks and months have been among the most intense in my adult career. We were in high gear to protect the election and voting rights, regardless, and then we had to deal with challenge of the pandemic on election and then the challenge of fighting voter suppression and then the challenge of ensuring a fair and accurate census when the census is the basis for political and economic power in communities nationwide, and we’re leading the 50 state effort to get an accurate count. And then to be hit with the pain and the rage and grief over George Floyd’s killing and Ahmaud Arbery’s killing and Tony McDade’s killing and so many others? It’s a lot.