“I was born in Buffalo, New York a few years before the steel plants were shut down. Almost overnight, over 30,000 people lost their jobs with little to no safety net or plan to take care of workers. As in many rust belt towns, the steel plants had provided jobs as well as a deep sense of identity for generations. Growing up, I remember hearing stories about who was to blame for the final nail in the coffin of steel: people of color. As corporate executives closed the doors on the plants, they employed strategic racism to direct blame towards Black people and immigrants rather than those at the top who walked away from the folding industry even richer, as the surrounding community fell into economic despair.
Thirty years later, a white supremacist walked into the only grocery store in a historically redlined Black neighborhood and murdered ten people. White resentment is deadly, it is powerful, and it has been stoked by the Right across generations. To adequately address the challenges our movements face in this time, we need to name it as the fuel for the Right’s dramatic rise in the last two decades.
At Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), where I have been director for the past five years, we undertake the work of undermining the Right’s white radicalization pipeline and out-organizing them in white communities. This is a key part of our contribution to the pro-democracy movement.
SURJ was founded in 2009 after the Tea Party turned large swaths of working white people against the Affordable Care Act through strategic racism. Now, looking down the barrel of the next 17 months until the 2024 presidential election, we are focusing our work on mobilizing white people in key swing states to stop an authoritarian takeover of the federal government, while also expanding our base of white working people in the South to contribute to building multiracial democracy and progressive power beyond Election Day.
To accomplish these things, we don’t need all the white people –– but we need more than we have now.
Why White People? And Which Ones?
While demographics are shifting, white people still comprise a racial majority in many parts of this country. Nearly any strategy outlined to build a united front to defeat fascism at the federal level in 2024, and then to build our movement’s power beyond that, will necessitate a large group of white people coming with us. And we believe it’s important to name the elephant in the room: when we’re talking about our opponent’s base, we’re almost entirely talking about white people.
The Right is very clear on its messages to white people: the Left hates you, the system is rigged against you, and the “takers” are getting everything while you struggle. In recent years, their strategy has expanded from racially coded dog whistles to attacks on “the woke agenda,” which include demonizing queer people and other social minorities along with people of color. These fear tactics rely on ideologies like “the Great Replacement Theory,” of which the Buffalo shooter was a proponent, and the belief that everyone except white people is getting special treatment while whites get left out to dry.”
Read Erin Heaney’s full article in Convergence Magazine: