From pushing against the forces of white supremacy to acknowledging the role of blackness and femininity in the climate change movements, The Transformation 2020: Popular Democracy Defined virtual event brought together a collective of artists, community organizers and progressive leaders to discuss what is going on in our country today. This event took place on September 24 -26, 2020, serving as a progressive opportunity to shed light on the flawed foundation of our country’s democracy. Programming included fireside chats, town halls, film screenings, keynotes, and so much more. I had the pleasure of attending this event and listening in on conversations between world-renowned activists and leaders.
On Friday, September 25, 2020, I joined a live stream titled “Human or Nah? Racism and Anti-Blackness in Arts & Real Life.” This live featured an in-depth conversation between actor Daniel J. Watts, actress Laurel Harris, and Latrina Kelly James from the Center for Popular Democracy about combating racism in creative spaces. It is blatantly clear that there is a need for diversity and inclusion in the arts, especially when it comes to the inclusivity of and women and people of color. It is pertinent that there is a change in the screenwriting of plays, shows, movies, and films and to instead embody everybody’s experiences, not just one demographic. Daniel J. Watts got asked when auditioning for Ike Turner in Tina, “Why do you want to play this character?”
“I asked myself, ‘which answer do you want me to say? Or do I say the thing that will get me the job?’” said Watts. “And if it doesn’t, I don’t want to be in this room anyway. I would rather not be in the space. I told her as a black man, I recognize that a lot of black people don’t go to the theater because we aren’t represented on stage. And we could be embarrassed with how we are portrayed amongst a white audience.”
In times like this, where the entirety of America is confined to only go beyond the limits that Covid-19 has provided, Harris and Watts note that now is the time to start thinking about how to reimagine the black experience through art. Instead of black pain being portrayed as trauma porn and entertainment, we have to start advocating for the black experience to be humanized through art. But how? “When will the top of the artistic hierarchical ladder reach out to marginalized and oppressed people for roles first rather than these people at the bottom having to push themselves into this space every single time?” inquired Watts.
On Saturday, September 26, 2020, I listened in on a discussion between Patrisse Cullors, the Co-Founder of Black Lives Matter, Khristen Hamilton, Zero Hero organizer, and Producer Kym Allen. This discussion was titled, “Let’s Talk Gender II: In Conversation: Black Feminism + Climate,” pertaining to the relationship between feminism and the climate emergency. The women gave insight into how the patriarchy is one of the root causes of climate change due to a self-serving agenda.
“How does your blackness and femininity inform your approach to this work as a whole?” asks Hamilton.
“As feminists, all of our movements need to have a deeply intersectional analysis,” explained Cullors. “Black women are doing the labor and not receiving any of the credit or their work is stolen. It is super critical to lift up black women leadership because they aren’t recognized or praised. Women are socialized to care for everybody, men are socialized to care for themselves, so women shaped movements have vast differences. Fem labor is disposable labor, it is supposed to be seen as natural as praising breath. The patriarchy is one of the root causes of climate change because its primary focus is building an empire rather than building a community.”
In addition, the question was raised of why society believes that black people care about climate change. “They don’t think we care about ourselves or our health. We have to be mindful of who is being seen as the leaders of these climate change movements, because black women are the first ones to be affected by it with asthma, cancer, etc.,” said Cullors. What many people do not realize is that environmental racism is very much so real, and if we do not address it then the entire movement of climate change will only be viewed through one lens.
Overall, The Transformation 2020: Popular Democracy Defined virtual event was a great opportunity to engage in progressive dialogue and introduce solutions in our society today, especially when it comes to the black community. I thoroughly enjoyed learning new perspectives about American issues and was extremely inspired to make a change in this world in any way that I can, starting with voting in the 2020 elections.