There can be no discussion of the year 2020 without the mention of the name George Floyd, the 46-year-old black man who was brutally murdered at the hands of Derek Chauvin and three other police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota this past May. And while George Floyd did not ask to be martyred, his brutal and untimely death awakened the world, and was undoubtedly the inciting incident for what many are calling the civil rights movement of 2020. Although it’s tough to say definitively if the uprisings we’ve seen this year can be compared to the civil rights movement of the 1960s (as that movement tenaciously lasted for more than 10 years), it is fair to say that the Black Lives Matter movement is certainly moving in that direction. And if, in fact, we are headed down that historic route, it would absolutely be because of the bold, radical, unapologetic voices guiding us, leading us down the path to revolution.
It is no secret that black women and femmes have played a central role in the current Black Lives Matter movement—after all, it was a 17-year-old Black woman, Darnella Frazier, who bravely filmed George Floyd’s death, providing the world with the concrete video footage that made the misconduct surrounding his murder indisputable. But Black women and femmes have always had a unique perspective into structural injustice, probably because they have always been at the receiving end of most of it. Black women’s rights and interests routinely take a back seat to those of white women and cis black men. As such, you may have heard (whether directly from the source, Malcolm X, or indirectly from a pretty good source, Beyoncé) that “the most disrespected person in America is the black woman.” And perhaps it is because of this regular disrespect that Black women and femmes have sought to reclaim agency and use their voices to speak.
Over the past few months, Black women and femmes from all industries have been using their social media platforms to mobilize and educate the masses, creating a revolution for the digital age. They are leading the anti-racism conversation by saying what many people don’t have the courage to say; pushing the boundary and not accepting performative or shallow attempts at change; ensuring that the revolution will be televised (via Instagram), and that it will be inclusive and intersectional. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the Black women and femmes that I follow who regularly challenge me to learn and do better—I highly recommend you consider following them as well.
Sonya Renee Taylor, IG (@sonyareneetaylor)
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The viral video of Haley challenging her racist parents has gone viral for Folks inspired by her desire to stand up to her parents and advocate for Black people. However, Haley missed the mark and my hunch is most white folks do. STOP arguing with your white family about Black people. START talking about the sickness that is whiteness and how you and them have ingested it. White people talk about people of color so that they don’t have to deal with themselves and the culture and systems whiteness has created inside them. White people it is time to talk about WHITENESS and not about Black folks. #indefenseofblacklives #whitesupremacymustfall #whitestalkaboutwhiteness #healyourwhiteness #blacklivesmatter
If you are like me, you first encountered Sonya Renee Taylor back in June after a video of hers went viral. The video was in response to another viral video on Tik Tok, which featured a well-intentioned yet slightly misguided teen attempting to have “the anti-racism talk” with her family. While most of the internet was applauding Haley for having any semblance of a talk with her family at all, Sonya Renee Taylor’s response video challenged us all to think more critically about what exactly it was that Haley and her family were debating: “Haley was arguing with her parents about whether or not Black people were worthy of life. The fact that that is a conversation is the problem.” Taylor was able to shift the conversation from the localized issue of Black lives simply mattering (a conversation that really shouldn’t be a conversation at all) to the more comprehensive, structural issue: “the delusions of white supremacy.” And that, in a nutshell, is Sonya Renee Taylor’s enthrall—she has the wonderfully unique ability to shed light on matters that challenge and defy the obvious perspective. In addition to her keen insights concerning racism, blackness, and white supremacy, she also commits to spreading discourse surrounding gender, fatphobia, and radical self love. So if you are looking to learn, be challenged, and pick up some lessons on how to love yourself radically and without apology, you must dive into the work of Sonya Renee Taylor and follow her on Instagram.
Noname, Twitter (@noname)
if we believe black lives matter, we must also believe capitalism needs to be destroyed. as long as that system is in place and maintained by powerful elites, black people will die forever.
— 🌱 (@noname) July 26, 2020
Admittedly, it sort of feels weird telling you to follow Noname, because her whole thing is that we should divest from structural systems, celebrity culture being one of them. With that being said… you should follow Noname. Noname has been making music and uplifting POC interests and voices for years now, but she gained mainstream traction this past year. She’s been a dominant voice in the digital Black liberation conversation, regularly challenging her audience to read, learn, and think for themselves. What’s most compelling about Noname’s Twitter presence is she uses it as a means to not only talk the talk, but also walk the walk. You can find her calling out imperialism, the industrial prison complex, and the patriarchy; but, you can also find her calling herself out, owning past mistakes and gaps of knowledge she had before she learned better. As she poignantly points out, “growth is an embarrassing yet necessary part of the process.”
Perhaps Noname’s biggest digital moment occurred this past June, when rapper J. Cole thought it would be constructive to derail from the movement and drop a tremendously odd single, accusing Noname of using a “queen tone” and thinking “ better than” him and other rappers in her efforts to speak up against structural oppression on Twitter. Noname’s eloquent retort came in the form of a 1 minute and 10 second song, the thesis essentially being: “he really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?” With concision and flair, Noname defended herself while effortlessly redirecting the conversation back to the serious issues at hand. Noname uses her Twitter presence in a similar way, calling out problematic mainstream pop culture while consistently shedding light on critical societal issues. So if you want to be a part of her “new vanguard,” follow Noname on Twitter and consider joining her book club.
Ericka Hart, IG (@ihartericka)
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“In our culture privacy is often confused with secrecy. Open, honest, truth-telling individuals value privacy. We all need spaces where we can be alone with thoughts and feelings – where we can experience healthy psychological autonomy and can choose to share when we want to. Keeping secrets is usually about power, about hiding and concealing information.” -bell hooks ⠀ I have been so weary with this new wave of positing that “call outs” are harmful. In my classrooms, I have always contested with this logic – when you make a suggestion that things shouldn’t be called out- who are you protecting? I don’t know about y’all, but I come from a world that loves a secret. bell hooks in All About Love talks about our desire to keep secrets can be linked to slavery- an institution built on a lie, human traffickers lied, enslaved people had to lie to stay safe, institutions lie about what really happened, white washed history lies. ⠀ It’s revolutionary for secrets to be told. To call a thing a thing, rather than bury it in activism or Broadway. I have been apart of many organizing spaces/non profits etc that claimed radical and love, but resisted transparency. These two things can’t exist at the same time. ⠀ We don’t have a call out culture, we have an abuse protection culture. And that is the essence of white supremacy. ⠀ Thank you @jewel_thegem and @thechubbygoddess for the realest most healing IG live I’ve ever watched. Please go follow them and PAY THEM.
I wish I could say that I’ve had the pleasure of following and engaging with Ericka Hart’s content long before this year, but alas, I, too, fell victim to bandwagon culture, and only discovered this dope account this past May. A self-proclaimed “racial/social/gender justice disruptor,” “sex educator,” and “breast cancer survivor,” Ericka Hart uses their social media platform to cover tons of ground on the journey to liberation and is, by far, one of the most engaging accounts I follow. Ericka Hart’s social media presence is unique in that their dialogue concerning social justice is dynamic—not only do they foster conversations that discuss plain truths about race and Blackness, but they also add unique depth to the discussion by examining matters of colorism and ableism. However, what specifically drew me to Ericka Hart’s account was their advocacy for the protection and uplifting of Black lives that exist beyond the scope of cis Black men. They were a dominant voice in May insisting that we not only demand justice for George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, but for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman, Tony McDade, a Black trans man, and countless other Black women and trans folks that have been murdered at the hands of injustice. I, myself, am constantly challenged by Ericka Hart, as they constantly provide the reminder that the revolution cannot be complete or effective if it does not seek to liberate all Black lives. Ericka Hart’s Instagram presence is also a healthy one to follow because they also use it as a platform to celebrate Black joy and Black love—regularly posting content with their partner, Ebony. It’s a radical reminder that the Black story is not one of plight but one of joy and abundance. So do yourself a favor and follow Ericka Hart.
Ziwe, IG (@ziwef)
One of the most powerful adages that has come out of the last couple of months is “the revolution has many lanes.” And I think it’s safe to say that the lane of the revolution that’s “activism through humor” has been monopolized by writer and comedian, Ziwe Fumudoh. Hosting a weekly show on Instagram Live, Ziwe attracts crowds in the thousands as they eagerly watch as she talks with notable people—predominantly white people—about race in America and skillfully baits them into an incorrect, often cringeworthy answer. What’s most fascinating about Ziwe’s show is that her practice of “baiting” really isn’t baiting at all—she just asks questions and simply waits for answers. Without fail, and despite days of preparation and sometimes even tangible notecards, guests will always say the wrong thing—revealing that even the most well-prepared, well-intentioned white people have some kind of implicit bias that they need to reckon with. Previous guests have included infamous white women like Caroline Calloway, Alison Roman, and Alyssa Milano, but Ziwe has also interviewed people of other races, like Jeremy O. Harris, forcing him to discuss his use of Black women’s bodies on stage in his seminal work, Slave Play. At the end of every interview, Ziwe asks her guest what the audience has been wondering the whole time: why the hell did you agree to come on this show? And the guest’s answer is almost always the same: part of doing the work is being made to feel uncomfortable and humbling yourself in order to learn. And that’s the Ziwe influence—she’s created a public platform for those willing to be challenged and learn, while allowing her audience to heal through community and catharsis as they watch the process take place. If you’re not familiar with Ziwe, please join us in the year 2020 and give her a follow!
Rachel Cargle, IG (@rachel.cargle)
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A quick mid week sermon. • If your only goal is to “break the glass ceiling” consider who all those shards of glass will be falling on if you’re not bringing the most marginalized women with you. • Listen to me closely: if your feminism simply means “getting even” with white men it’s not ever going to be an intersectional, inclusive and justice based movement. • Drop a comment or emoji below and let me know you HEAR me. I need you to hear me. • #feminism #womanism #glassceiling #womensrights #womanhistory #womenshistorymonth #quarantine #dogsofinstagram #catsofinstagram #pnwonderland #howdarling #teachersofinstagram #boymom #taylorswift
If there is any account that I am 90% certain you’ve encountered over the past few months, it’s Rachel Cargle’s—and it should be Rachel Cargle’s, as she uses her platform predominantly as a means for education and activism. Upon scrolling through her IG feed, one of the first things of note is that her academic and mobilization efforts far precede this year’s events. Cargle has been guiding the conversation on race and womanhood in support of the revolution for years, even though many of us have only come around recently to receive her words. She regularly promotes the work of “unlearning” through learning, and curates monthly reading lists and lectures via her online platform The Great Unlearn (a patreon you should subscribe to!).
But what sets Rachel Cargle apart from other activists is that a central part of her work is providing tools and resources for her audience to ensure that learning doesn’t stop at required reading, but is further translated into action. For example, when much of the world was posting open letters to their schools, universities, and workplaces to expose them for unjust practices and racist ideals, Rachel Cargle took to her Instagram account to take it one step further: providing her audience with a template for how they, too, can hold the institutions in their lives accountable for structural injustice. In addition to these accountability templates, she also curated a 30-day Do the Work challenge and posted tangible ways to decolonize your bookshelf, continuing the idea that activism must be combined with action in order to really effect change and mobilize a revolution. So if you’re looking to become a student in the masterclass on effective activism, follow Rachel Cargle on Instagram.
A prevailing question on the minds and lips of many this past year has been: “How long will this movement last?” “Is this movement just a moment?” But it’s been three months since the murder of George Floyd, and the movement is still prospering. While the momentum has, naturally, oscillated, its heartbeat is still strong. Why? Because we have leaders: Black women and femmes, the new generation of activists—our new vanguard—who have committed themselves to the endurance of this movement. While it may be easy at times to be defeatist and feel overcome and overwhelmed by how far we have to go, optimism lies in the comfort that we are being led in this revolution by some of the brightest, most talented minds out there. And we can access all of them through the proximity of our smartphones. We simply have no choice but to stan these women and femmes (and send them some coin to pay them for their labor).
Images: Angelo Moleele / Unsplash; sonyareneetaylor, ihartericka, ziwef, Rachel.cargle / Instagram; Noname / Twitter
As we all know, Michelle Obama literally could do no wrong – she is strong as hell, brilliant, and basically America’s mom. On top of all of that (and in spite of it), she’s relatable as f*ck. From her giving Trump side-eye at his inauguration to starting a podcast in quarantine, America’s favorite first lady is truly one of us.
In the latest episode of The Michelle Obama Podcast, Obama opened up about something that many of us are feeling (at least I am) these days. During a conversation with journalist Michele Norris, Obama talks about how she has found herself “dealing with some form of low-grade depression” over the last few months. “Not just because of the quarantine, but because of the racial strife, and just seeing this administration, watching the hypocrisy of it, day in and day out, is dispiriting.”
Michelle specifically cited the heightened racial tensions as a factor of her depression, “I have to say, that waking up to the news, waking up to how this administration has or has not responded, waking up to, yet another, story of a Black man or a Black person somehow being dehumanized, or hurt or killed, or, falsely accused of something, it is exhausting. And it, it has led to a weight that I haven’t felt in my life, in, in a while.”
In describing her symptoms, the first lady talked about having difficulty sleeping or waking up in the middle of the night. She said, “you know, I’ve gone through those emotional highs and lows that I think everybody feels, where you just don’t feel yourself.” She said, “there’s been, uh, a week or so where I had to surrender to that, and not be so hard on myself. And say, you know what, you’re just not feeling that treadmill right now.”
All of this is not only normal but increasingly widespread. A recent CDC pulse survey reported that one out of three Americans is experiencing some level of depression or anxiety, up from one out of ten last year. Feeling dread and concern about the state of America and our government is not a new thing either. Last year Michelle Goldberg wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about democracy grief. In it, she discussed how watching the institutions that we trust to protect us fail to do so can impact psychological health.
In difficult times, I like to ask myself: WWMOD (obviously that stands for what would Michelle Obama do). Because she always comes through, Michelle gave us some insight into how she deals with her low-grade depression during the quarantine.
“For Barack and I, we’ve lived outside of the norm of regular life for quite some time,” Michelle said, “what we’ve learned early on in the White House is that in order to stay sane and to feel like the human you once were is that you have to have a schedule and a routine.”
In addition to establishing a routine, the Obama family has been working on puzzles together and having card game tournaments. They’re also spending some time outside and trying to eat dinner together as a family. Stars: they’re just like us.
While I highly recommend listening to the whole podcast episode yourself, finding a sense of positivity boils down to self-awareness and focusing on what brings you to a good place. As Michelle said, “make sure that you all are listening to your spirits and to your bodies through this period. And when you need a moment to recharge, take it and do not feel guilty about needing to take that break.”
The past few months have been big for change. Companies have been called out for systemic racism. The Supreme Court gave LGBTQ workers federal civil rights. Sexual predators are having a renewed #MeToo moment. Powers-that-be are being held to account. That’s phenomenal for social progress. It’s also horrible for workplace sexual harassment.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news (amidst an already heinous 2020), but you’ll want to beware of increased sexual harassment when you’re on the job, as harassholes hate this new world.
Here’s the skinny: Workplace sexual harassment is a power play. Basically, harassers are insecure people who want to make you feel small because they find you threatening and/or seek a power boost.
Don’t get it twisted, though: Sexual harassment doesn’t have to be sexual. What matters is that you’re being targeted because of your gender or sexual identity.
Harassholes may try to “put you in your place” by using typical sexualized come-ons, like ogling your goodies in the office, jumping in your DMs to ask you out for the umpteenth time, or promising you a promotion in exchange for a Netflix and chill. Or, harassholes may leverage hostile put-downs that humiliate you, like calling you crude names on conference calls, cutting you out of morning meetings, berating you for not dressing the way a woman “should” dress. The displays of disrespect are limitless.
Now that our new world is pushing for greater respect for marginalized persons, women included, harassholes see our world as a less hospitable place for their antics. They’re frustrated about not being able to mistreat you and others with impunity, and they’ll try to reclaim their sense of power by stepping up their harassment game. Protect your purse and your mental health by being prepared.
Here are three quick tips to help you beat workplace sexual harassment:
Identify The Harassholes
You may be a butterfly, but harassholes aren’t very unique. They tend to have shared traits, among them being gender. Men make up some 90% of harassholes. In addition to that, they’re more likely to embrace these characteristics:
⭐︎ Support traditional gender roles
⭐︎ Maintain a strong male identity
⭐︎ Think men are superior to women
⭐︎ Believe men and women should be segregated
⭐︎ Sexualize women, girls, and LGBTQ people
⭐︎ Trivialize victimization or engage in victim-blaming
⭐︎ Lack egalitarian attitudes toward gender and/or race
You can spot these traits by listening to what a harasshole says about gender and sexual identity. For instance, harassholes often think men are better suited for traditionally male jobs and leadership positions whereas women should be in “pink careers,” stay-at-home moms, or in supporting roles. Harassholes use activities and terms typically associated with women to demean other men, such as calling a man a “pussy” or promising to wear a dress in public as part of a bet. These are the dudes who use stereotypes about women as punch lines.
The thing is, there’s nothing funny about harassholes. Keep an eye out for them and remember—just because someone isn’t a harasshole to you, doesn’t mean they’re not harassing another colleague. Harassholes are shady shapeshifters.
Document, Document, Document
Your records of what happened are essential to beating workplace sexual harassment. Why? Memories fade. Plus, there’s a 99% chance that the harasshole (and your employer) will lie. Avoid the he said, she said situation by documenting what went down. On your personal computer or encrypted email, maintain a log of the who, what, when, where, and how of the experience like you’re writing a bland yet detailed screenplay. Also, attach supporting documents such as text messages, emails, DMs, and notes.
You’ll want to have it all, especially if you ever need to speak out or if you suffer retaliation. Documentation can make the difference between getting the heave-ho with nothing and getting out of a company on your own terms with solid references and a strong severance.
Always Trust Your Instincts
Pay attention to that still small voice that echoes within when you’re uncomfortable. Never try to override your instincts with rationalization. You know what you’re sensing, what you experienced, and what you need not tolerate. Don’t ignore it.
Do ignore gaslighting and shade-throwing coworkers. As much as I hate to say it, research shows that some coworkers will try to discourage you from speaking out about sexual harassment and many will distance themselves from you for fear of being mistreated by your employer too. That’s a bummer. But it doesn’t mean you should “take one for the team” by keeping quiet. Real friends won’t insist you be disrespected and won’t try to deny your reality.
Stick close to your instincts, demand to be treated with respect, and do you. You may not be The Boss, but you are a boss and you deserve to work in a harassment-free workplace.
Adrienne Lawrence is an on-air legal analyst and the author of Staying in the Game: The Playbook for Beating Workplace Sexual Harassment (TarcherPerigee, 2020). Lawrence has contributed her insight on workplace sexual harassment for outlets such as the Harvard Business Review and NPR. Follow her on Twitter @AdrienneLaw and IG @AdrienneLawrence
Images: Song_about_summer/ Shutterstock.com
It seems like four years ago that Amy Cooper was gaining national attention for her decision to call the police on Christian Cooper, a Black bird watcher in Central Park. But, time doesn’t exist in quarantine and it was actually just a little over a month ago and on Monday, Amy Cooper was arrested and charged with falsely reporting an incident in the third degree.
In the trial against Amy, prosecutors will have to demonstrate that she truly did not feel threatened and that she had intent to falsely file a report. Based on Christian’s video of the incident, that certainly seems to be the case.
However, Christian told The New York Times that he doesn’t intend on participating in the case against Amy. He cited the non-criminal consequences she has faced and told the NYT that he feels that “she’s already paid a steep price” before asking “that’s not enough of a deterrent to others?”
Christian’s personal decision to not pursue a criminal investigation against Amy has been met with mixed reactions. While some are saying that charges against Amy would be a message to those who try using law enforcement in the same unjust way she did, others believe that charging Amy simply legitimized the idea that jail time is the necessary consequence for all wrongdoings.
amy cooper did something horrible, I believe she is a racist, and I believe she should face consequences for what she did. I do not believe those consequences should be criminal charges, because I do not think this system has the legitimacy or value to address her wrongdoing.
— josie duffy rice (@jduffyrice) July 6, 2020
At first, my personal thought was that Amy should face the legal consequences of her actions. Not only did she commit a crime, but she knew exactly what she was doing when she continually reinforced Christian’s race during her 911 call. Despite this impulse though, we have to ask ourselves why this is our first thought. The movement to defund and abolish the criminal justice system has brought greater attention to the dangers of and the alternatives to incarceration. If we genuinely believe in the positives that alternatives to incarceration have on society and individuals, we have to fight for them across the board.
In many states, it is already a crime to file false police reports, however, there is often little accountability when it comes to calls made with racist intent. The recently proposed CAREN Act (Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies) in San Francisco focuses specifically on actions like those taken by Amy Cooper.
Our recent reckoning with the criminal justice system is inherently uncomfortable. It is met with the internal struggle of how we approach individuals who are objectively doing wrong things. Unfortunately, there’s no clear cut solutions in cases like Amy and Christian Coopers (no relation). However, we do have to respect Christian’s decision not to participate in the case.
Image: Melody Cooper
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There are many ways to continue to support anti-racist work, one suggestion being to sign petitions. These petitions have a variety of functions: some aim to raise awareness of and bring justice for victims of police brutality, such as demanding that all of Breonna Taylor’s killers get fired and charged; some urge city leaders to remove Christopher Columbus statues. But if you’re finding these petitions via social media, then they all probably have something in common: they are hosted on Change.Org.
With Change.Org petitions demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau, Rashard Brooks, and the countless other lives lost to police violence flooding everyone’s social media feeds, it’s easy to assume that Change.Org is one of the companies supporting BLM. But it isn’t as clear cut as it seems, and as the recent confusion between the Black Lives Matter Foundation and Black Lives Matter Global Network proved, before you give your time or money to an organization, it’s necessary to do a little digging to ensure it really backs the causes you intend to support.
Here’s some background: Change was founded in 2007 to connect individuals to causes and advocacy actions that they care about. In the early operating stages, Change promoted mostly progressive causes but didn’t have any petitions. It wasn’t until 2010 that the company started to host petitions and became a for-profit organization.
Ok, sit tight because here is where this gets really technical. Change.Org is a certified B corporation, which means that they are responsible for both making a profit and for their social and political impact. Everyone’s favorite ice cream company, Ben and Jerry’s, is another B Corporation. Ben and Jerry’s has a long history of making their political and social commitments public and participating in advocacy, such as with their now-famous Black Lives Matter statement.
That said, the assumption that Change.Org is a nonprofit organization makes a lot of sense. The website hosts petitions, many of which call for positive change, which gives it the appearance of an advocacy group. They also use a “.org” web address, which can lead visitors to infer that they are a nonprofit organization. In reality, as a for-profit organization, “.com” would be more honest to their users.
Change reported that the petition titled “Justice for George Floyd” is the most signed petition on the platform, with over 18 million signatures to date. Like with any petition on the platform, when you clicked the link, you were taken through a series of steps. First, you signed it, which is the obvious step. After that, you were prompted to donate to further the cause and “get the petition on the agenda” with a pop up message asking: “Can you chip in $3 to help get the petition further?” As of June 24, this message no longer appeared.
While the prompt never directly stated that the collected funds would go to grassroots organizers or the subject of the petitions, the message that giving money will put the petition “on the agenda” gave the impression that giving $3 would help the petition go somewhere that would inspire direct action. I, personally, have made the mistake of donating to Change petitions after signing them under the assumption that my donation would go to the cause I support.
In reality, donations made on Change.Org’s petitions are used to pay operation costs and cover marketing campaigns that promote petitions internally and promote the platform as a whole. Over the years, articles and Twitter threads have raised concerns about Change.Org’s unclear donation prompts. However, with petitions calling for justice for the victims of police brutality, criminal justice reforms, and demanding change in race relations going viral, past and present employees are now taking Change.org to task.
An open letter signed by 130 current and former employees on Medium is calling attention to the way that Change.Org handles donations, specifically citing donations made through the Justice for George Floyd petition. The letter states:
The petition calls for signers to “become a hero” by “chipping in,” but these donations do not go to George Floyd’s family, or to organizations fighting for Black lives. Rather, these contributions serve to market the petition and Change.org itself via billboards and digital ads. Change.org is siphoning resources away from organizations that are accountable to Black people and equipped to do deeper, long-term, community-based organizing for Black lives and liberation. At the same time, Change.org continues to host numerous petitions advocating against racial justice, and leaders of color — including multiple petitions calling for Black Lives Matter to be labeled a terrorist group — and generates revenue from those as well.
We verified such petitions exist but decline to link them for you here.
The letter also explains that part of Change.Org’s business model involves the company making money by collecting more emails. With petitions involving racial justice hitting record levels of engagement, those who signed the letter have expressed their frustration and anger with the company in no uncertain terms, “these actions constitute Change.org profiting from the death of Black people.”
Betches asked Change.Org to address concerns about how donations through their website are solicited and distributed. When asked how the company uses donations made to specific petitions, a Change.Org spokesperson said via email: “People who sign petitions on Change.org are offered the opportunity to pay for Change.org to promote the specific petition they care about to the 100 million people who visit Change.org every month,” adding that contributions are “invested into tools and support” they offer petition starters.
Even though the Justice for George Floyd petition does not redirect users to an invitation to chip in after signing anymore, that prompt does still appear when you sign other petitions—for example, this one calling for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. Now, at least, it clarifies what the money will be used for.
It remains unclear why Change.Org has to pay itself to promote its own petitions on its own website. Asked what efforts Change.Org has made to ensure transparency when it prompts signers to make a donation, a spokesperson told Betches:
On the payment form, we explicitly state that by promoting a petition, users are advertising the petition to other users on Change.org, and we’re proud to show promoters the number of people who will see the petition because of their promotion. The more promotions that a petition receives, the more people are exposed to that petition, and the more signatures it is likely to receive. And the more signatures a petition receives, the more likely it is to have impact in the world because of that support.
If Change.Org uses donations to fund promotion of its petitions for racial justice, rather than racial justice itself, it’s worth considering how successful petitions can be. While they are certainly helpful in increasing public pressure and raising awareness—when millions of people signal support for a cause, it’s a pretty good hint to politicians they will lose their jobs if they don’t accommodate demands—most petitions are not binding. Yet many suggest that hitting a certain goal will automatically result in the requested action.
The “goals” that go with each Change.Org petition are actually fairly arbitrarily. According to Change’s website, “Change.org supplies a default petition goal when you start your petition, and once you near the signature goal, it will increase automatically… Once you have achieved the goal behind your petition, you can declare Victory regardless of what the signature count is or how far you may be from the goal listed on the petition page.”
This basically means that with increasing popularity and engagement, the site’s algorithm automatically pushes back the petition’s goal. That means the petition continues to stick around to generate more signatures (and more money for Change.Org) after the initial goal is reached, and it’s up to the individual who started the petition to cap or change it.
None of this is to discount the importance of petitions or the tech infrastructure often required to manage tens of millions of users who want to sign them. Still, it is crucial to consider where petitions come from and who they go to. At the bare minimum, they can raise awareness for different causes. When they are most successful, they provide the necessary amount of public pressure needed to push officials to make a change.
A Change.Org spokesperson said the company is honoring requested refunds as quickly as possible and added that they have solicited feedback from users about their understanding of, and satisfaction with, how their donations are used. When asked how much money the “Justice for George Floyd” petition has earned the company, the spokesperson said Change.Org planned to announce how those contributions “will be used to drive impact on this petition and support issues of racial justice, very soon.” We will look forward to that.
In the meantime, if you’re looking for alternatives to Change.Org, ColorofChange.Org is a Black-owned and -run nonprofit that fights for racial justice. They host petitions and amplify the voices that matter the most in these conversations. If you do sign a Change.Org petition and would like to donate money specifically address racial justice, check out some of the groups in our Good Influence Fund.
Additional reporting by Amanda Duberman
Images: Change.org (2); Postmodern Studio / Shutterstock.com