At WCSAP, we committed to sharing our experiences of doing anti-racism work and our related agency processes. This month WCSAP staff watched a movie during our monthly anti-oppression focused meeting. We selected “Fruitvale Station,” a narrative film that recreates the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an unarmed young African American man who was shot and killed by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police on New Year’s Eve 2009.
Afterwards, we sat together and discussed hard truths and gave space to decompress and explore the multiple and complex feelings it generated for each of us. Personal experiences and identities of staff were reflected in how each of us viewed the movie: what stood out to us as significant, what did or did not surprise us, and what moved us. These thoughts and feelings followed us home where we had conversations with our partners, families, and friends and we asked more questions. We found ourselves shifting from introspection to action. We delved deeper to determine what that action looks like for us as individuals moving through the world, but also for our agency. While we as staff continue to explore and identify our own personal arenas of action, we as WCSAP continue to be compelled to share our voice and be an agent of change.
Now, we recognize this is not Oakland. Some people may hear or feel that there are no people of color in our communities or that police violence is not happening here. But the truth is we are not exempt from targeted violence within Washington state; it is happening in our streets and it must not be ignored: Daniel Covarrubias (Lakewood), Antonio Zambrano-Montes (Pasco), Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin (Olympia). These are only a few examples.
This film allowed us to connect with the humanity of someone victimized by systemic racist violence. We were shown the whole person, not just a brief summary or daily news story. Our eyes and minds are opened so much more from the personal stories and humanity of one person, one survivor, and the effects on their communities and families.
We are choosing to lean in because we see the echoes of how sexual violence survivors are treated in the media and received by systems in the stories of those killed or injured by police. The questions are sometimes different, but the sentiment remains the same:
Why was she wearing that skirt? Why was he wearing that hoodie?
Why was she drinking so much? Why was he illegally selling cigarettes?
This messaging is a way for us to avoid and excuse the horror and responsibility of the violence that happens in our society. Even while writing this statement, we debated mentioning Oscar Grant was someone’s father and someone’s son. This is something we have historically done in the anti-sexual violence movement to impress upon audiences that a rape victim is connected to others. But our relationships and our families are not what make us more deserving of justice.
As an anti-oppression and anti-violence movement, we believe there is nothing that makes any person less human. We must move away from casual justification of rape and murder and acknowledge that we have a culture that devalues black and brown bodies, women’s bodies, and transgender bodies. These are not societal problems that stem from personal bias and individual choice. They stem from rape culture and from systemic racism.
The movie we chose to view might not be the one for you but we challenge you to join us and lean in. Art is activism and anti-racist activism can be explored through movies, painting, crafting, music, spoken word, and writing. Anti-oppression work can be hard and intimidating; however, engaging with a variety of creative mediums increases our understanding, our empathy, and helps to make complex systemic issues more relational and personal to us.
Let us be bolder. The intersections between our work and the issue of systemic racism are linked. This is our work.