On Sunday evening, police officers in Kenosha, WI, shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back as he was entering his vehicle. Inside the car, his three children watched their father as he was shot. As I write this message, Mr. Blake remains in critical condition, fighting for his life.
Jacob Blake. Jacob Blake. Jacob Blake.
We speak your name aloud in this liminal time, holding you in prayer and love.
We surround you–a great cloud of witnesses, living and dead–holding you tenderly and sending you energy and strength as your sacred body struggles to live and to heal.
We pray for your sweet babies, who will never unsee what they saw on Sunday.
We keep vigil with all who know and love you, buoying them with hope and courage.
Jacob Blake: Your life matters. Your body matters. Your spirit matters. We are with you.
Accompanying all of our particular, laser-focused prayers toward Mr. Blake, there is also a nauseating déjà vu to everything we’re watching out of Wisconsin this week. Too many times, we’ve witnessed the police’s blatant disregard for the lives and humanity of Black people. Too many times, we’ve had to take to the streets, to bail out our comrades who get arrested, to counteract media messages and police spin trying to make victims into criminals. Too many times, we’ve had to ask how we can take action, demand accountability, prevent another “next time.”
At our UU the Vote staff meeting yesterday, we grappled together with how to respond to this latest act of police violence against Black people. As we talked about what message to send out as a response, and whether to shift our planned calendar of events, we arrived back with clarity at some of the fundamental commitments we have held since the beginning of this campaign: The people we elect, and the policies they are able to enact, matter deeply. When terrible acts of violence like the shooting of Jacob Blake occur, it matters deeply who the mayor and the district attorney and the judges are, which statutes and laws are in place, and more. When we organize to #VoteLove and #DefeatHate, we can reduce harm in the present while working in a thousand other ways to build a world in which all people are safe and free – where peoples’ lives and livelihoods always come first because as Rev. Erik David Carlson of Bradford Community UU, Kenosha’s UU congregation, reminded us in the congregation’s statement “…we affirm that we would rather lose 100 buildings than one more life to police violence.”
And, it also matters deeply that our electoral organizing be inextricably linked to other movement strategies.
Protesting, direct action, cultural organizing, healing justice, art making, community organizing–all of these responses are critical to building and leveraging power, holding our elected officials accountable, pushing forward a liberatory agenda, and sustaining our spirits even in the midst of heartbreak and grief. So it matters that we also continue to show up, with our bodies and our resources and our networks, for long-term organizing led by frontline movements.
So, beloveds, please know that we at UU the Vote are with you in the tension, and we are committed to moving forward in the both/and that is required of us in this moment: For those of you who are grieving and broken right now–especially to our Black siblings and kin–we pray for you to have space for rest and healing and grief. May you find gentleness and support, and room to breathe and rage and mourn.
For those of you who are outraged, or activated, or desperate to find a way to be of use right now, we pray for you to channel that energy into organizing. Show up in the streets with your own local Black-led organizing collective, and donate to the Milwaukee Freedom Fund supporting bail, ticketing & legal support for organizers in Kenosha. Watch this conversation organized by Freedom, Inc. featuring WI-based Black and Hmong organizers, talking about violence and safety in the wake of Jacob Blake’s shooting. Demand that your city defund the police, and work to enact the BREATHE Act. Stay tuned as further demands and opportunities to support emerge from Southeastern Wisconsin.
Let’s keep showing up, together, for ourselves, each other and our collective futures.
In faith and solidarity,
Rev. Ashley Horan
UUA Organizing Strategy Director