By John Hanley
The past few months have sparked a deeply-rooted, national debate about racial politics and civilian-police relations in America. While thousands have taken to social media to express their opinions, spread information, or otherwise have discussions, still thousands more have taken to the streets to make their voices and their numbers very visible and very much known to the government.
However, while these protests are taking place and the debates are still alive and roiling, some have already begun looking locally to make community improvements while the tedious fight for justice continues.
This is what some LSU students and other Baton Rouge residents have begun working on in recent weeks. The Michael Brown Vigil held in November brought these students and residents together to create the group, which now functions under the name Baton Rouge Organizing.
The first of their meetings was held Dec. 2 at Carver Library and founded the group’s hopes for what they will achieve, meeting again Dec. 13 to continue the movement forward.
Although the group was created in lieu of Mike Brown and other racially charged issues, BR Organizing will focus on other social justice issues in the Baton Rouge community as well.
“I feel that having a lot of young students coming together has always been the key to unlocking amazing progress,” said Blair Elizabeth Brown, a junior and History major at LSU and co-founder of BR Organizing. “Having these meetings will make social organizing less scary and more accessible for people who may not see themselves as activists quite yet.”
The group was naturally composed of mostly students and Baton Rougeans who are already passionate about social justice, but was made in an effort to organize those passionate people and use their combined energy to make changes.
“[I wanted to] create a unit that fills a void that’s in most of Baton Rouge social justice work,” said Shamaka Schumake, who is pursuing her Master’s degree in social work at LSU and co-founded the Baton Rouge Organizing group. “There is no collective organization or mobilization to get the word out. People are doing the groundwork, but there aren’t bodies to support it. It’s just a lack of awareness and know-how.”
Although the group is still in its baby stages, it has already garnered more than 300 members on Facebook and counting, and has started working to organize rallies, demonstrations, and community events, including a Dec. 7 Rally for Eric Garner at the State Capitol and a Dec. 14 rally in Houma for Cameron Tillman, a black 14-year-old who was unarmed and killed by a police officer in September.
Members are hoping to gain more support through social media and general spread of awareness, but they have just as much of a goal of giving support as they do receiving it.
“I know in order to make a difference, I have to start small and locally,” said Majdal Ismail, an International Studies major at LSU and member of the fledgling organization. “But I also can’t stand alone, and this organization is a great source of support.”
Austin McMichael, another of the evening’s attendees and a Mechanical Engineering major at LSU, added that the group hopes not only to support, but also to educate and raise awareness.
“Unless otherwise sought out by students themselves, information is not widely accessible via classroom settings or even library resources,” she told DIG. “A major goal for BR Organizing would be to promote education by making the information more accessible.”
McMichael also noted during the meeting that it is just as important to get STEM majors such as herself involved in these issues, along with the expected Humanities students.
“Everyone came [to the meeting] for a general reason, but they had different perspectives,” added Schumake. “[BR Organizing] is to empower people to see them as valid. It lets them know that we will affirm them.”
The group undoubtedly has big plans, and is working diligently to become a supportive force in the Baton Rouge community. Until then, BR Organizing is open to all support and encourages our younger generation to stand up and be heard.
“Be bold,” said Schumake. “Most people are powerful, and they have good beliefs, whether I disagree with them or not, but they’re just afraid. So, just be bold.”