As the Core Working Group for Groundswell: Oral History for Social Change, the recent events in Charlottesville are at the forefront of our minds and hearts. We mourn the deaths in Charlottesville as well as the structural and state violence that perpetuate racism and white supremacy. Though we know that racism, white supremacy, and hate groups have always existed in the United States, we recognize that this is a particular moment in which white supremacists feel emboldened to act and many of our communities are under attack. We also see in Charlottesville (and throughout our country) how the narratives of history are being constructed, manipulated and co-opted to further oppression.
In this moment in which our communities are under attack and our historical narratives are so contested, we are reminded of our belief that oral history can be a source of power, knowledge and strength in our struggles for justice. We reaffirm our commitment to support the work of individuals and communities who are critically engaging around this country’s troubled and traumatic history - especially work that creates spaces with those of us who are most impacted by white supremacy and bigotry to speak and be heard in our own voices.
We also know that listening, alone, won’t bring about the material changes in people’s lives that are so urgently needed. And it won’t bring back those countless individuals who have lost their lives in this long struggle for racial and social justice.
And so, we ask ourselves, and ask you to consider with us, today:
Whose voices are we hearing right now? Whose voices are being silenced? What voices do we need and want to be hearing? What can we do to amplify those voices?
What does the systematic silencing of voices in the past mean for our communities today?
What are the real-life impacts of the erasure and mythology surrounding this particular history that is being contested in Charlottesville - and elsewhere across the country? Is there a role for oral history in relationship to this erasure?
What more can we do, and what could we do differently, to ensure that our projects and practices are actively contributing to the creation of a more just and humane world?
For those of us who hold power or a certain legitimacy because of our professional degrees or positions as historians, what is our responsibility in this moment? How can we use our privilege to intercede?
For those of us who benefit in and from a nation founded on white supremacy, what actions will we take today, tomorrow, and everyday to confront white supremacy?
For those of us who bear the brunt of this history, this hatred, and this ongoing assault on our very existence, what are the stories that sustain us, nurture us, heal us and give us strength? How do we want to participate?
Finally, we offer a note of gratitude. Thank you for engaging with us as we continue to question this historical moment and what it means for each of us and our work. As a Core Working Group we know it’s critical to speak up in moments like this, but we do so with humility, knowing that even this brief statement is insufficient. Tell us: What questions are you asking right now? And what do you need from our Groundswell community at this moment?
Groundswell’s Core Working Group
Alisa Del Tufo, Amaka Okechukwu, Amy Starecheski, Fanny Garcia, Maggie Von Vogt, Sarah Loose, Shane Bernardo, Vanissa Chan
PS. Need action ideas? Consider these specific requests for support that have been put forth by organizers on the ground in Charlottesville.
Want to learn more? Political Research Associates is one place to start. PRA offers timely and reliable research on white supremacists, hate groups, extremism in the US and the institutional racism and oppression upon which they are founded and exist to perpetuate.