Manuel Pastor on behalf of PERE and CSII

“Plot. Plan. Strategize. Organize. Mobilize” 
A message from Manuel Pastor, Director of USC PERE and CSII

Friday, May 29, was my birthday. What I was hoping would be a time of celebration was instead a day of anger, grief, and mourning as righteous protests swept the country in reaction to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery.

These are but another set of names in a long pattern of state-sponsored and state-sanctioned violence against Black people in America. While the focus today is correctly on police abuse and accountability, the stain of America’s racism is reflected in systemic economic inequalities, persistent health disparities, and even the unequal air quality experienced by communities of color.

None of this is new and birthdays make that evident. I was twelve years old in 1968 when our country was torn apart by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy Jr, as well as by the contradictions of an imperialist war in Vietnam. I remember feeling despair for the nation but also conviction that deep structural change was the only path forward – and so I committed to that as my life mission.

I was thirty-six years old in 1992 when my beloved city of Los Angeles was torn asunder by the rage prompted by the acquittal of the four police officers who viciously beat a Black man, Rodney King. I knew that beyond the anguish must lie hope, and I have worked ever since with community-based heroes and sheros, who have transformed Los Angeles into a city that seeks to lead the nation in raising the minimum wage, protecting immigrant rights, and advancing community voice.

And I was on the cusp of turning sixty-four when on Monday, May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who subsequently died at the hands of those officers.  His agonizing public murder was more evidence of how the pandemic of over-policing and over-incarceration has swept through so many communities. And it has made me even more convinced that we must prioritize challenging anti-Blackness in all our work, particularly in the field of immigrant rights and immigrant integration that has been central to my own academic and political pursuits.

So lesson fortified: all of us must infuse a racial justice lens in everything we do as individuals and organizations. But it’s also true that I spent many hours of this year’s birthday just feeling the hurt, struggling to find the strands of solidarity and the seeds of hope that have so often given me the will to keep working for justice.

And then on Friday evening, May 29, came the words of Killer Mike, a community activist and half of the hip hop duo, Run the Jewels. Appearing at an evening press conference organized by the Mayor of Atlanta, he gave voice to the pain and emotion: “I watched a white officer assassinate a Black man, and I know that tore your heart out . . .  I’m mad as hell. I woke up wanting to see the world burn down yesterday because I’m tired of seeing Black men die.”

But he also pointed to what we really need to burn down instead: the structures of systemic racism that have persisted for far too long. And he offered to activists a simple recipe: plot, plan, strategize, organize, and mobilize.

I’ve thought a lot about that admonition and what it means for our work as academic allies to movement builders and community leaders. Plot means work with others to develop a vision. Plan means dig in to conduct the research. Strategize means collaborate on how to cut the issue. Organize means build authentic and trusting relationships. And mobilize means understanding that no good idea gains ground without community power.

We at USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity and the Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration have long understood that what powers social change is not our research but our alliances. At this moment, we stand with those who are grieving, especially in the Black community, and those who seek to reduce grief. We seek to understand and be of assistance. And we hope to continue to provide the data and analysis that can help us forge a better world.

In solidarity,
Manuel Pastor

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