On May 24, over 50 attendees participated in “Policy and the Path to Justice,” a discussion held by the Stanford NAACP and Stanford in Government (SIG), focusing on policies within the United States affecting black lives.
The event was put on by the Stanford NAACP in collaboration with Stanford in Government’s Diversity and Outreach Committee and featured a panel discussion moderated by Jasmine Hill, a sociology doctoral student. The panel of speakers that consisted of Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP; Charlene Carruthers, the national director of the Black Youth Project 100; and DeRay McKesson, who launched Campaign Zero, a policy platform to end police violence.
Throughout the discussion, Jealous recounted leading the NAACP to achieve policy goals by partnering with allies across the political spectrum, mentioning a campaign against the death penalty, a march against stop-and-frisk policies and a partnership with gay rights activists as notable examples.
On the topic of building partnerships, Jealous emphasized openness to different viewpoints.
“Leadership is figuring out what you do agree with people [on] and focusing on that,” Jealous said. Partnering with Tea Party Republicans, for example, the NAACP worked to push bills against mass incarceration in Texas despite disagreements on other issues. As a result, the NAACP helped pave the path for the first prison closure in Texas state history.
Carruthers drew upon her experience as a black queer feminist community organizer to add to the panel discussion. She explained how black liberation requires addressing how black people can be oppressed for their intersecting identities, such as gender, sexual orientation, class and able-bodiness.
“What black queer feminism means…is that none of us are free until all of us are free,” Carruthers said. “We have to tell a much bigger story [than that of cis-gender black men].”
In discussing policy and violence, the panelists agreed that violence resulting in death pivots media attention toward black men and boys. Expanding to the topic of marginalization, Carruthers noted the commonality among all marginalized people. Latinos, immigrants, women, indigenous people and black people, she explained, are all in the middle of a sizzling pan and need to break out together. For Carruthers, breaking the cast-iron skillet of the state requires big policy changes.
“Reparations can look like free college education and loan forgiveness for folks,” Carruthers said. “Reparations can also look like land…for indigenous folk, too…What’s important is to have values and principles, and to be committed to collective struggle with people.”
McKesson, in addition to echoing the sentiments of Carruthers and Jealous, highlighted smaller-scale policies affecting individual communities, focusing on literacy rates in his hometown of Baltimore. Low literacy rates among the poor, he said, can be partially attributed to a lack of libraries. McKesson proposed increasing access to libraries for all children, regardless of age. He also highlighted social media as an important tool for activists to get the attention of the media for an ultimately greater impact. McKesson concluded the event by directing students to never compromise their integrity and to prioritize building skills when engaged in relatively small-scale campus activism.
“Policy and the Path to Justice” will likely be the first of many collaborations between the SIG Diversity and Outreach Committee and other student groups.
“SIG is very happy and looking forward to working with other student groups,” said Sam Feineh ʼ19, a member of SIG’s Diversity and Outreach Committee and co-organizer of the event.
“[If it weren’t for SIG] events like this wouldn’t happen,” added Trevor Caldwell ʼ17, a member of the Stanford NAACP and event co-organizer. “People headed into public policy and other powerful realms wouldn’t have heard that conversation, and I think that was an extremely rich conversation. Our organization is looking at ways policy is impacting all communities.”
Biola Macaulay ʼ16 recounted what she took away from the event.
“As a senior who is going off to law school next year, I asked the panelists how not to become complicit in the systems of power they are trying to change from within and I found their answers really helpful. They all more or less talked about being very intentional about what you’re willing to compromise on and what you’re not.”
Contact Miguel Samano at msamano ‘at’ stanford.edu.