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The next steps after the protests, marches

By Lauren Victoria Burke/NNPA Columnist
On January 5, 2015

Ever notice that the most effective political groups don’t march, they raise money.
Credit: Robert Eubanks/District Chronicles

(NNPA) – We’ve seen it before: the injustice, the reactions, the non-stop talking and tweeting after yet another headline grabbing tragedy. We’ve seen the hours of commentary, the “think pieces,” the marches, the online petitions and the panels.

But what exactly should people be doing? Where should the energy go and what should be pushed for? We’ve heard generalities, but let’s talk specifics on what would get results for the issue of the moment: Police brutality.

Focus on a single issue. What do the best advocacy organizations do? Does the NRA focus on 20 issues at the same time? No. The winning actors on the political stage win because they focus on one or two issues and push until they win.

In the case of police brutality, a push for independent counsels has come up as a solution to deal with police that get away with murder. It didn’t get that way by accident. The strength and focus of the police unions brought us to this point.

Several officials have pointed out that activists need to put pressure on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to appoint an independent prosecutor in the case of NYPD Office Daniel Pantaleo killing Eric Garner. In many states the governor can appoint one. In other states the legislature must change state law.

Understand the power of votes and money: The two languages people in power understand are money and votes. What’s needed is a political action committee (PAC) on police brutality. One that has a grassroots fundraising strategy, like MAYDAY PAC.

Organize, Organize, Organize: The best most effective political advocacy organizations strategize and organize. Ever notice that the National Rifle Association doesn’t have marches?

“The success of the civil rights movement has taught us when tragedy occurs: don’t agonize, organize,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) to The Root. “What we have seen spontaneously is that young people across the country have begun to organize in protest to the epidemic of police brutality. We need to take that organization and translate it into legislative action.”

But what legislative action?

Jeffries pointed out that funding for community policing programs have been cut. On December 1, President Obama called for Congress to appropriate $253 million for police training and body cameras. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) has a bill that would put the reigns on Pentagon program 1033, which allows the Department of Defense to give civilian police surplus war gear for free, including armored vehicles, drones and grenade launchers.

Legislation is altered by specific and targeted political pressure and advocacy. In the case of an often-gridlocked Congress, it requires leverage to attach legislative language onto larger spending bills that are required to pass.

Write letters: It may not be sexy, but even in the age of Twitter and Facebook, simple letter writing is still effective in political advocacy. Though Twitter is immediate, politicians still pay attention to letters addressed to them on specific issues. Why? Because a letter from a constituent is likely a letter from a voter.

“We have to stop trying to organize and strategize after a crisis,” said IMPACT co-founder Angela Rye. “At some point we have to really stop and strategize to discuss what we have to do to prevent the next Trayvon…to prevent the next Michael Brown.” She also pointed out that pushing template legislation and targeted letter writing campaigns work.

March: Marching for the sake of marching – with no demands – has come under much criticism as being ineffective. But there is no denying that recent marches and demonstrations, after the non-indictments of former police officer Darren Wilson and officer Daniel Pantaleo, have put international attention on the issue of police brutality.

“It wouldn’t be an issue without the marches and the protests. The idea of marching and protest is not to solve problems, it’s to raise the attention and raise the notice of a problem,” said Rev. Al Sharpton on his radio show, “Keepin’ It Real.”

But notice: The most effective groups at getting their way in politics never march. They would appear to be too busy raising money, strategizing and applying pressure to people in power. It’s time for us to try a different strategy.

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