Erin Heaney

Image of Reporter Tia Mitchell on the left half of the screen and Erin Heaney on the right, talking in a video with the pause icon in the middle.

Erin Heaney and Steve Phillips on Working Class Voters and the Democratic Party

Erin Heaney and Steve Phillips on Working Class Voters and the Democratic Party Read More »

Image of a white person's hand holding up a cardboard sign with "white silence = violence" written in red and black marker.

‘Like our lives depended on it’

5 questions for organizer and racial justice advocate Erin Heaney

“If you read this newsletter, you know how committed I am to exploring how White people can show up in their spheres—from the most intimate to the proximate to the Political—in order to fight racism. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to get involved in racial justice organizing—no matter what your racial identity—but if you’re moving toward something collective, you can be assured you’re probably moving in the right direction. Reading all the books, listening to all the podcasts, watching all the movies, won’t change the material circumstances of life in this country or chip away at the “hierarchy of human value.” That requires collective action.

That’s why I love what Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is up to. They build, what they call, “people power” in multi-racial communities across the country. Today, they have 200 chapters taking on a range of deeply local projects, as well as a big, ambitious national strategy to fight authoritarianism. I am so grateful they have their eye on the prize. While it is critical that we all continue our inner work, our school work, the work at our places of work, we cannot lose sight of the big fights in front of us and what they mean for the future of this country (not to mention, the whole damn planet). I was excited to get the chance to interview SURJ Executive Director, Erin Heaney, and introduce her to you all…

Courtney Martin: Tell me a bit about your own racial formation. 

Erin Heaney: I grew up in a fairly progressive home – my dad was in the union, we voted for Democrats and I identified as a feminist at a young age. I am White and really didn’t begin understanding my own racial identity until I was in my twenties.

I had returned to my hometown of Buffalo and was organizing around environmental and economic justice. I saw over and over again the racism of White people undermine and blow up the coalitions we needed to keep together in order to win. I also was lucky enough to be called in by leaders of color in the movement who helped me realize that even with my progressive politics, I still had internalized white supremacy that was undermining my capacity to build strong relationships across lines of difference.

In response to these two learnings, I went on a much deeper journey into learning about racism, white supremacy and the connections between them and our economic system. I read a lot, attended workshops and connected with other people who were committed to anti-racism and it really transformed how I understood the world, myself and my lane in the movement.”

article by Courtney Martin, on The Examined Family Substack

‘Like our lives depended on it’ Read More »

Image of a multi-racial group of people standing in a circle with their arms in together.

Winning White People to the Fight Against the MAGA Right

“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:

Winning White People to the Fight Against the MAGA Right Read More »

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