Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Freedom Summer Brings Grassroots Opportunities for Community Change

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer. Freedom Summer, also known as the Mississippi Summer Project, was a campaign in the United States launched in June 1964 to fight systemic racism in the deep south and to register as many African American voters as possible in Mississippi.

The outcomes that came out of Freedom Summer were crucial for the civil rights movements. By September 1964, the Freedom Summer project set up dozens of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses and community centers in small towns throughout Mississippi. This all helped to build the capacity of community members throughout the Southern states, ultimately building the momentum that led to the major civil rights legislative decisions in 1964 and 1965.

To mark the anniversary of Freedom Summer, youth activist groups across the country have formed a collective called Freedom Side and are using this summer to further the legacy of activism and organizing to achieve racial justice and community change. They posit that “the best way to commemorate Freedom Summer is to reinvent it and complete the democratic revolution in our own time.”

Over the summer, the Freedom Side collective has put together four tactics to engage communities of color:
  1. Civic Engagement: Freedom Summer ’14 has aimed to engage youth and families of color in the political process through issue-based voter registration and education, as well as candidate forums, in order build electoral power and place the issues of youth of color at the center of the debate during the midterm elections.
  2. Mobilization and Direct Action: Participants in Freedom Summer ’14 have mobilized youth activists of color to take part in local campaigns addressing challenges youth of color face. Through field and online infrastructure, the Freedom Side collective has engaged networks and developed new youth activists to join ongoing struggles for racial justice around issues such as criminalization, jobs, education and democracy.
  3. Centralized Communications Strategy and Infrastructure: Freedom Summer ‘14 participants have built an overarching communications infrastructure connecting current youth movements (like Black Youth Project 100 and the Dream Defenders) and shaping the narrative on racial justice. They have developed shared messaging on issues impacting the lives of youth of color and used spokespeople, videos, social media and a website that connects the various movements collaborating on Freedom Summer ‘14 and enables other youth of color across the country to join in through online organizing. 
  4. Convenings: Participants in Freedom Summer ‘14 convened youth communities across the nation at gatherings in Massachusetts, North Carolina and Georgia in preparation for participation in the National Freedom Summer Conference in Mississippi, which took place in June. The convening served as an opportunity to provide training and build a shared narrative for the collective’s organizing efforts.

CSSP has come together to think critically about how our current work is furthering and addressing issues of racial inequity. CSSP staff who work on the ground have shared reflections on the importance of disaggregating data, acknowledging history and why building the capacity of community members is crucial to achieving community change, particularly in communities of color. Watch this video to hear more.

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