White People’s Work in Preventing Another January 6th

You’re going to hear a lot of hot takes about January 6th today. About the Capitol police officers, about the select House committee investigating the attacks and saving our democracy, and about the “wild Trumpers” who went to Washington and stormed the Capitol that day. I’ve been watching the news cycle obsess over the motivations of participants, highlighting the conspiracy theories and radical beliefs that led them to show up. And I’ve been watching- and at times joining in myself- white progressive circles rolling our eyes at their beliefs, distancing ourselves from their racism, and yet uneasily wringing our hands under the table because we know deep down that our hot takes, cynicism, and distancing aren’t going to change much.

The truth is January 6th was one expression of the organizing white nationalist and other far-Right groups are doing every single day to build real political power. Despite all the hot takes today that will continue to pontificate about “how this could’ve happened,” the reality is that this event was not an anomaly, and those who participated are people who have been organized — very intentionally by a well-funded infrastructure — into the positions they hold and the actions they take. As white progressives, we need to commit to out-organizing the Right in our communities.

There are millions of white people who could go either way- who are conflicted or vulnerable to the messages of the Right, who are being bombarded day in and day out with messages on TV, radio and social media, whose doors are being knocked on and who are hearing racist messages when they go to church. We have to fight for them as hard as the Right is.

And there are millions of white people who are already with us — we just haven’t engaged them yet. There are 65 million poor white people in this country who have everything to gain by fighting for justice alongside communities of color. Many of them know who their real enemies are — the bosses, the crooked politicians and billionaires. But we have to organize these folks to join us in the fight.

We don’t need to be organizing all white people, but we do need more than we’ve got now. And we must make sure more white people are not radicalized by the groups and personalities that executed January 6th.

As we witness all levels of government across this country backsliding towards authoritarianism, we know there are dire consequences if we don’t act- especially for communities of color who bear the brunt of the Right’s racist policies and violence. But there’s a cost to white folks, too. Racism is strategically used to keep us divided against our neighbors of color- to make white people blame people of color for their suffering rather than those at the top. When we fight alongside communities of color, we can win things all our communities need- better healthcare and education, just wages, real investment in our communities.

I’ve been organizing white people for the past six years. I was on the ground in Charlottesville on August 12th, have mobilized white communities through multiple uprisings, and have knocked thousands of doors in white neighborhoods across the country. I have seen first hand that when we go talk to people, many come along with us. I know that our solution can’t be to distance ourselves from other white people or to absolve ourselves from engaging with our own. We have to get to work to bring along our people. White people were organized into these beliefs, and at least some of them can be organized away from them towards a racially just future.

Imagine if millions of white people rejected white supremacy and instead joined in multiracial coalitions across the country. We would out-organize the January 6th-ers and build towards a more vibrant future for everyone.

White people: this is our work- finding our people and giving them a better offer than white supremacy.

Join me to go deeper next Thursday, Jan. 13 at 5 PT / 8 ET for a webinar, ​​”Organizing White People to Stop Another Jan 6th,” where we’ll share more about how you can join the work of out-organizing the Right.

Erin Heaney is the National Director of Showing Up for Racial Justice, an organization that mobilizes white communities to join movements for racial and economic justice.

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SURJ is a national network that organizes white communities to join fights for racial and economic justice.

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