Mourn and Organize: A Call for White People in Response to Buffalo

I am writing to you from my hometown of Buffalo, a place I deeply love and whose history and politics have led me to my anti-racism.

I am heartbroken yet not surprised that over the weekend a white man, fueled by white nationalist ideology, shot and killed 10 people in a Black neighborhood on the East Side of Buffalo. Our hearts are with the families who lost loved ones in this violent, racist attack and with our Black and Brown neighbors who feel this event deeply.

Today, like so many days in America – a country plagued by racist violence – we are all asking ourselves what to do in response. The solutions are not simple, but I have so much faith that if we organize, we will win. 

Gun control alone isn’t sufficient. Neither is holding a single person responsible. We need solutions that address the underlying problems. The conditions we are living in are the result of decades of deep investment by the Right. They do this with the aim of hoarding power, manufacturing fear through lies, and organizing white people to align themselves with white supremacy. 

I’ve seen it play out in Buffalo throughout my entire life. 

I was born just a few years after all the steel plants closed in the region. In just a few years, nearly 30,000 jobs were lost. Then, NAFTA continued the decline of manufacturing throughout my town. 

People in power in both parties didn’t take responsibility or find solutions, but instead used racist scapegoating to blame communities of color for our suffering. In this environment, organized white nationalist groups have grown, the Republican Party has embraced white nationalist groups and platforms, and the Democrats have largely remained silent on issues of race. 

Today, racist scapegoating has been replaced by explicit white nationalist ideology like the replacement theory that was espoused by the shooter this week. Erie County has the second highest number of people charged with participating in the January 6th insurrection in the entire country. Our former Sheriff had ties to the Aryan Nation and Proud Boys. A billionaire Congressperson from the region, Chris Jacobs, voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election. 

For the last 40 years, the Right and those in power have invested billions of dollars to mainstream what used to be fringe, racist ideologies. Buffalo isn’t unique- these trends are playing out in communities across the country. While the Far Right fills school board seats and passes laws banning honest curriculum about race and racism, media companies allow white supremacist organizations to recruit young people and spread hateful propaganda like the ‘great replacement theory.’

We must work together to interrupt white nationalism and instead build multiracial solidarity. The solution lies with building a more powerful movement across the country- flanking communities of color who are leading the fight for a multiracial democracy and organizing mass numbers of majority-white communities away from white nationalism. 

Here’s what you can do today to take action in solidarity with Buffalo:

Despite the heartbreak and rage, I am hopeful. Because while the Right is strong here in my community, so is the movement fighting back against racism and for change. For years, our local SURJ chapter has been fighting the Right- working to unseat a racist Sheriff, knocking on doors in neighborhoods where white supremacists groups were recruiting, and fighting alongside Black-led abolitionist organizations to divest resources from racist institutions like the police and prisons. Over the years, we have also grown the base of white people participating in multiracial movements for justice and undermining white supremacy. And I have every faith we can out-organize them. 

I’m in this in the long haul and I know you are too. I’ll see you Tuesday to mourn– and then get back to organizing. 

-Erin Heaney, SURJ National Director

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