Our Cleveland SURJ Chapter was only three days old when we were to go into white neighborhoods to talk about the police killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. At first, we hesitated because of insecurity that we were going to mess up or do more harm than good. Ultimately, our chapter clarified that the basic work of SURJ is white people talking with other white people about racial justice.
I now see talking to people at their homes as the backbone of white racial justice work and we are ready to take the work deeper. Over the coming months, our chapter will be part of an experiment with SURJ Action to test a new model of shifting white people’s core attitudes about race.
Deep canvass draws on practices that we know from door-to-door community organizing, grounded in the lessons learned from marriage equality and transgender non-discrimination campaigns. The process is simple - support volunteers in having candid two-way conversations. Volunteers ask people to share their own relevant, emotionally significant experiences and reflect on them aloud. It is through this opening between both people’s deepest feelings and a stronger personal relationship that people are willing to change their opinion on an issue, such as racial justice.
In Cleveland, we have been canvassing once a month since October. The work is not easy. Canvassing can be scary. As a working class, poor, trans white person, who I am adds a level of vulnerability when I knock on a stranger’s door. But people of color are calling on white people to take more risk, so I continue to show up to have deep conversations with white people in Cleveland.
SURJ members across the country have been organizing white people for racial justice. But SURJ hasn’t been able to provide all of the support that chapters and affiliates need because of restrictions that come with being a 501(c)(3). SURJ Action has been formed to further our racial justice goals by responding strategically in this political moment as a 501(c)(4) organization.
Contributions to SURJ Action are not tax-deductible; they support our 501(c)4 political, advocacy and lobbying efforts.
Please join me in showing up as a founding donor of SURJ Action - the c4 arm of SURJ - and give $25.
With love for white people,
P.S. As part of SURJ Actions’ commitment and accountability to people of color-led racial justice work, we ask all donors (that’s me and you!) to give an equal or greater gift to a people of color-led racial justice organization. If you want a suggestion, check out this list.