Opinion: Protests and activism must continue even if Biden and Harris are elected
Black lives matter. 2020 has witnessed protests, activism and demonstrations from people across the world in support of the movement to end police brutality and systemic racism, with the goal of creating changes within the institutions that have upheld the racist, discriminatory standards America was built upon. In recent months, many people have changed their thinking and educated themselves on the topic of systemic racism, such as learning what “defund the police” actually means, why Black Lives Matter (BLM) is an important movement and about what changes must be made in order to dismantle institutional oppression. Much of what is being fought for are specific policy changes at the local, state and federal levels. Examples of these policies include ending qualified immunity for police officers, reallocating funds from the police towards housing and education in poorer, overpoliced communities and decarceration. President Donald Trump has not enacted a single policy on the federal level indicative of the progressive steps forward BLM is advocating for. However, those fighting for and protesting for BLM should understand that this fight must continue regardless of who wins the 2020 presidential election.
On August 11, Joe Biden, former vice president and 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, announced that his running mate for this year's election will be Senator Kamala Harris of California. Just because both politicians are members of the Democratic Party does not mean that they will fight for the changes advocated for by BLM. While the Democratic Party possesses a slew of progressive politicians that are avid supporters of the changes BLM calls for, Biden and Harris lie on the moderate end of the party. While Biden and Harris do believe Black lives matter and police brutality needs to end, they are not as enthusiastic in their support for the policies BLM promotes, such as defunding the police. In fact, two of the more progressive Democratic senators, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, were both beaten out by Biden for the nomination. In picking a vice president, Biden opted for the more moderate Harris as opposed to the more progressive Warren. While Biden and Harris are not as likely to publicly speak against BLM as President Trump has, their political history shows that BLM is actually fighting against policies Biden and Harris have enacted and voted to uphold.
Biden wrote the 1994 crime bill that has contributed to the bolstering of a racist legal system which sees Black and brown individuals incarcerated at higher rates and given worse sentences than white people (Vox). Much of what people today are protesting for concerns the unjust mass incarceration of Black and brown people and the discrimination that lies within the justice system and by legal entities. Biden’s bill increased policing in inner city areas already dealing with poor housing options, underfunded education programs and less access to jobs,higher education and healthcare (Vox). These inner city areas that experience higher crime rates are often victim to police brutality and racial profiling. Harris has not enacted progressive reform to the justice system either—her record as an attorney shows that she incarcerated individuals of color more harshly and at higher rates. As California’s Attorney General, Harris avoided getting involved with cases dealing with killings committed by the police and as a senator supported locking up people too poor to post exorbitant bail (NY Times). These are only a few of the many instances in which Harris upheld the discriminatory mass incarceration of colored people. Due to pressure from the public and the more progressive wing of the Democratic Party, they are likely to progress incrementally in the direction BLM hopes to move in. Nonetheless, Biden and Harris have a lot to atone for before receiving acclamation from progressives. Hence, this fight and this movement must continue regardless of who is elected this November.
Willamette University has spoken out in support of the BLM movement and is committed to being an inclusive space for people of all races (Willamette OMA). While diversity is something Willamette says they are committed to, they are certainly not yet at this goal as the student population is roughly 64 percent white (CollegeData.com). While this is a fairly representative of their share of the US Population, diversity should span beyond these figures within a school. By demonstrating inclusivity through the actions and mindsets of the student body, Willamette can become more of an attractive destination for students of color. This would, in turn, lead to a student body with more even distributions of various races. As a school that is majority white, besides continuing to fight for an end to police brutality and systemic racism, students need to understand how they can be better allies to those of different backgrounds. Self-education is one of the most important ways to do this. Social media, as well as sources on the internet, can provide a plethora of information on how to be anti-racist and be a better ally. Changing things you say, how you speak, the behaviors you exhibit and holding the people you hang out with accountable in not being discriminatory against any group are all actively anti-racist actions. This is how Willamette can play its part in the national conversation of being anti-racist. In comparison to a protest or lobbying, such steps may seem small, but they have significant impact in the long term for you and for individuals of different backgrounds, as they help create a truly more inclusive space.