When it comes to standing up and speaking out against social injustices, activist Carmen Perez-Jordan has dedicated more than 25 years fighting for equality and equity calling for an end to mass incarceration and community policing.
The president and CEO of The Gathering for Justice, founder of Justice League CA and co-founder of Justice League NYC, Perez-Jordan is leading massive protests demanding justice for George Floyd and all of the Black citizens who have died at the hands of police. She’s among the thousands of protests who have taken to the streets across the country amid national outrage saying enough is enough.
“I work hard to make sure that everyone who attends the protest feels welcomed, inspired and has a clear understanding of actions they can take to make a difference,” says Perez-Jordan, who also serves as national co-chair of the Women’s March.
“One of the most rewarding experiences is talking to people who’ve attended something I’ve organized — the March for Stolen Lives & Looted Dreams, the Women’s March on Washington, the March 2 Justice, the Dream 4 Justice March, the Economic Shutdown, The Royal Shutdown, and so many more — and hearing their experiences of beloved community and their enthusiasm for making change after the march is over,” she adds.
As part of Billboard’s “Why I Protest” series, Perez-Jordan shares why it matters, more than ever, to stand in solidarity with the Black community and encourages the Latinx population to join the fight for justice.
Can you describe your experience at the protests you’ve taken part in?
As a leader of several mass mobilizations, my experience of protests is different than that of attendees — I’m always busy making sure that people are safe, that the call to action is clear, that our program centers the voices of those most impacted, and so much more. I usually haven’t slept much, but I work hard to make sure that everyone who attends the protest feels welcomed, inspired and has a clear understanding of actions they can take to make a difference. One of the most rewarding experiences is talking to people who’ve attended something I’ve organized — the March for Stolen Lives & Looted Dreams, the Women’s March on Washington, the March 2 Justice, the Dream 4 Justice March, the Economic Shutdown, The Royal Shutdown and so many more — and hearing their experiences of beloved community and their enthusiasm for making change after the march is over.
As a Latinx woman, what does it mean to be involved in the BLM protests and stand in solidarity with the Black community?
My experience as a Chicana in America is deeply connected to the Black experience in America. Growing up in a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and predominantly low-income community in Southern California, my teachers, coaches and friends were all Black and Brown. We lived in the same neighborhoods, ate at each other’s houses and got disciplined by each other’s parents.
I’ve also had the opportunity to travel internationally as a conflict mediator and peace ambassador, where I’ve listened to the experiences of Afro-descendants in other countries, and I have seen how manifestations of anti-Blackness, like police harassment, racialized exploitation and social exclusion are a problem without borders. I believe that when Black people are truly free, our world will be free of the many other manifestations of hate that deny people their full humanity.
As someone who is committed to liberation, my responsibility is not only to call in my own community when I see anti-Blackness, but to show up in organizing spaces as my full self, in solidarity with and centering the voices of Black people who are directly impacted by the issue at hand, whether it’s family members who’ve lost loved ones to police violence, formerly incarcerated people, or former gang members. I am constantly seeking the tools I need to effectively deconstruct race and eradicate anti-Blackness — it is a journey without an endpoint, and we are never done learning.
How can the non-black Latinx community be a better ally? How do you encourage the Latinx community to be part of the conversation?
One, I want to remind my Latino/x community that there is a lane for them and that we as Latino/x people have to confront our own internalized racism and anti-Blackness. We have to actively fight against this in our own homes, with our families, with our friends and in our communities.
We also need to ensure that we support our Black siblings and not add to the pain that they feel and are carrying. This is not the time to call your Black friends, co-workers, etc., to let them know how this has affected you. This is a time to be of service to them.
This is also an opportunity for organizations who want to show up for Black Lives to center the voices of our Black community. Again, this should not be a load that we dump on our Black siblings that work in our space but that we show up in service of.
If you show up to protests, remember to center Black voices and remember what you’re showing up for, so you do not put Black folks in harm’s way. Find out who’s organizing, and what their message is, if they have any specific demands. That way you can bring signs that are in alignment and take other actions outside of marching.
This is also an opportunity for us as Latinos/x to uplift our solidarity with the Black community, from the Brown Berets to the Young Lords to the Black Panthers, as well as the diaspora. It’s important to identify our overlapping struggles, as Latino/x people in the country, from the stealing of the land from Mexico, the lynching of Mexicans in California, to the racist signs that used to read “No Blacks, No Mexicans, No Dogs.” Recognizing that in this country, historically the systems that are weaponized against Black people have subsequently been wielded against us Latinos. Knowing our history creates an opportunity for solidarity. We must also be cognizant of how we as Latino/x people have benefited from the activism by the Black community from the civil rights community.
Based on what you’ve seen and what you’ve participated in, does this moment feel different from other moments when racial inequality has been a major cultural conversation?
In 2014, we were inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement to act in solidarity when Black people were killed by police. For years, the movement for Black lives and organization committed to racial justice have been building the infrastructure to respond to this moment. And at the same time, there’s a couple of things that feel really different.
One, I feel that being under COVID-19 has created this heightened sense of visibility that we otherwise would have been too busy to pay attention to. We have seen over and over the injustice that happens in Black and Brown communities, especially our Black communities. And because we haven’t been able to take a breath from the unjust killing after unjust killing, you’re seeing people all over the world take action on behalf of Black lives.
Already in New York, legislators have passed laws that activists have been fighting for over many years. We’re seeing the moral conscience of many white people stirred in a similar way as the civil rights movement. At the same time, while this moment has delivered a clear public mandate, we can expect the forces of oppression and injustice to once again attack our movement with false narratives in the media. And so while we may feel victorious at this moment, it is important to stay on guard and be prepared to continue fighting for justice and equity.