Black Lives Matter organizers in the US and UK compare and contrast the global movement
The World's host Marco Werman speaks with Siana Bangura, an author, poet and organizer in London, and Miski Noor, an organizer and writer with Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis. They've each been organizing and pushing for changes to policing in their cities for years.
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Demonstrators participate in a Black Lives Matter protest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in London, Britain, June 13, 2020.
From Minneapolis to London and across the globe, protests continue over racism, police brutality, inequality and injustice.
To understand what activists see as a moment of global solidarity, The World’s host Marco Werman spoke with two of them.
Siana Bangura is an author, poet and organizer in London, and Miski Noor is an organizer and writer with Black Visions Collective in Minneapolis. They’ve each been pushing for changes to policing in their cities for years.
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Marco Werman: I would just like to know first, what have the past two to three weeks or so been like for both of you? Miski, what has it been like for you?
Miski Noor: It’s been, you know, an incredibly painful time in Minneapolis, seeing our folks be attacked and being attacked ourselves by police and white supremacists, being overtaken by the National Guard and having so many of our community spaces burnt. What we’re trying to do is really build this city. We want justice for George Floyd, and we know justice isn’t enough. Which is why we’ve been saying that now is the time to defund the police and invest in the community. Right now, what I was doing before getting on with you is listening to the Minneapolis City Council vote to disband the police department, right? So it’s been hard, and it’s been incredibly transformational, and it’s been such a powerful, powerful thing to witness.
Siana, London has seen what’s going on in the States in Minneapolis. What have you been feeling the last two or three weeks?
Siana Bangura: Firstly, Miski, massive solidarity to you folks. So I just want to thank you for that. And in terms of how we are trying to express solidarity over here, this is a moment of reckoning. So in terms of how I’ve been feeling, I — you know, for the past two weeks I have been in a state of all sorts of emotions, quite frankly, which I think is fair to say for a lot of black people, if not the wider global community, the diaspora. Whatever happens in the US often, if not always, has a knock-on effect on the rest of us.
And I think, you know, I have been banging on for the longest time. This is just a fact of history that — let’s never forget that the UK is the belly of the beast. It’s the racist parents of the USA. And so in my country, people have a really big culture of deflection, of saying it’s not so bad here. “At least, you know, we’re not as bad as the USA.” And it’s like, where do you think they learn everything from right? And so we are now forcing people to take a really long, hard look in the mirror in this country. This particular time, if I may say, feels a little bit different. I do strongly feel that. We’ve never had this in the midst of a global pandemic where in the UK the black communities here have been disproportionately affected by the consequences of the COVID outbreak, right? And then you see that on top of that, in the same way that our siblings in the USA are also disproportionately wildly affected by the COVID outbreak. They are also — the police still have time to also kill you on top of that. And that is clearly unbearable. One big thing we’ve been doing is we’re saying, well, actually, this is a time to reckon with the fact that actually this country also has a prison-industrial complex and this country, also kills black people. So we stand in solidarity but want to you use this moment to also say actually, look in the mirror the UK, your history is disgusting. You’re not innocent either.
Noor: Yes. I think something that gets lost very easily is the globalness of blackness, right?
Noor: And I think that, like, it’s really important to even name just the history of what the police is in this country and what they are intended to do. Right? So black communities are living in persistent fear of being killed by state authorities like the police. And so it’s happening in Minneapolis is not happening just all over the United States, but also all over the world.
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So Miski and Siana, I don’t know if this is the first time since the killing of George Floyd that each of you has had the chance to be speaking across borders with another activist in another country about what’s happened since his death. But since you are both here now, what would you ask each other about where the movement goes next? Like, how do you see your work benefiting the other?
Bangura: Oh, I love that question. These have been great. I’m just really enjoying hearing Miski talk because it just gives me — yeah, It just gives me all of hope. Like I said, we are looking towards the USA, but also we’re looking within ourselves and within our context. Because it’s really important to understand — there are so many similarities, but it’s not the same. And sometimes, in fact, often we get stuck on trying to do the exact same thing that’s happening in the USA here, and it doesn’t work because of the histories. But I guess a question I’m actually really interested in, Miski, is how are you making sure, I suppose, that you’re bringing the community along with you every step of the way and maintaining that trust and clear communication? I don’t know if that makes sense, but yeah.
Noor: I appreciate that question. Right, because it’s a moment of transformation. Right? We are not the same organization that we were two and a half weeks ago. And so it’s about looking outside of ourselves because it’s very easy for this moment for us to all of a sudden feel accountable to everybody and then let everybody down. Right?
Noor: Yeah, so I think it’s about trying to not aim for perfection, but aim for integrity.
Miski, as you talk about community-based focus in activism, I want to come back to something you both brought up a few minutes ago. There’s a recent history in the 60s and 70s of black activists in the US connecting globally with Pan-African movements, for example. Do either of you see that the full power of this movement right now is international, or is the center of gravity of organized activism right now at a much more local level dealing with local problems?
Noor: Siana, you to go first?
Bangura: Yeah, I think this is really, again, a really good question. And you know what my instinct immediately is, like, of course this is international. And I think the bottom line that we have to be internationalists about vision. But I think it’s not an either-or. And I think I’m trying really hard to make sure we don’t fall into binaries. On the one hand, we need to be thinking internationally, learning from what our siblings all over the globe are doing, because remember actually, we’re talking, you know specifically about the U.S. and the UK, but we know that the impact with George Floyd’s death has had ramifications across the globe. Right? We’ve seen lots of stuff going on. But that said, also, it’s really important now more than ever to be looking locally.
Miski, your thoughts?
Noor: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m, like, you know, queer theory. Both and. Both and. You know?! Of course, we need all of it. I mean, we see ourselves responsible to a larger ecosystem of black organizing. Right. The fight’s going to look different on the ground. And our work is more powerful when we’re actually connected to each other. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that anti-blackness is global. right. And so it’s definitely both and. This is local and global.
There’s so much more to discuss, and we’re going to keep on discussing it, but I just want to finally ask you both. I mean, personally, how hard is this? Like, how do you move forward? How do you find the energy to keep it sustainable? What’s your advice?
Bangura: Oh gosh. [laughter] This is really hard because it’s been so emotional, so emotional. The first few days, weeks, I just felt the global grief and it was super duper heavy, like, on a personal level, and actually made it very difficult for me to be able to move forward. That said though, I feel like I’ve been like held by the people I’m organizing with and the wider community. And why I can see, although change is slow, but because I think this feels a little different to what we had before. It gives me hope. And I would like to say that, you know, although tearing down statues does not a revolution make. Right? But some of the things I’ve been seeing in the UK it’s just like — even, you know, some symbolic actions, it’s kind of lifted my mood. Like, I want to see more of that stuff, but also remember, that is the symbolism, but it’s the kind of thing I noticed it lifted my mood the minute I saw that. I like seeing the people be like, okay, we’re doing our thing, we’re actually going to be empowered. I also understand this is a lifelong mission, quite frankly. And I’ve signed up for the lifelong mission. So I think I understand it comes at the peaks and troughs. So it’s making sure that we all are clear that we’re in this for the long run. I think that actually is a healthy way to move forward.
Miski, where do you find the energy?
Noor: Siana’s answer is so hopeful. I’m like, do we have a choice? [laughter] You know, I mean, it’s incredibly painful to feel the individual grief and loss as a black person, knowing that this is how the system works and is intended to work. And then on top of that, trying to be organizing for the conditions in which this doesn’t happen. And so what’s really been fortifying me is, I think — you know, I’ve learned a lot of lessons over the last five years. I have some real lessons about what it means to take care of our nervous systems. What does it mean to not internalize that? What does it mean to allow myself to cry when I need to and process grief and feelings. To try to be inside a connection, to meditate. And I think, like, the community has really showed up, right, in helping me to actually be able to take care of myself. I think that joy and that the power and the winning and the engagement of my community and the excitement has given me a lot of life. And so I think all of the change — you know, Octavia Butler says, “God is change.” All of that has been also really fortifying.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.