Activists for Black Lives Matter (BLM) and from the Black Student Union of UW rallied Tuesday evening on the originally Duwamish land that is now Red Square.
“We’re already standing on privilege,” event organizer Palca Shibale said.
The rally came at a time when the UW and its president, Ana Mari Cauce, are holding discussions on improving the university for marginalized students as part of the Race & Equity Initiative.
But those at the rally felt these discussions are more of a front than a solution due to the lack of action.
“How long do we have to stay in a suspended state of oppression until this university does something instead of just talking about it?” Shibale asked.
Attendance went from approximately 20 people to more than 100 during the course of the rally, which marched to the Race & Equity Student Discussion held in the Intellectual House at 5:30 p.m.
Shibale said rallies are more organic than protests. Rallies, she expressed, bring people together by walking and gathering passionate people with similar interests in one place. The passion continues to grow exponentially as speakers talk from the heart and expand on their own experiences.
Event speaker and UW graduate student Cynthia Simekha did just that. She addressed the unexpecting attendees of the Race & Equity Discussion as people who say they “check themselves.”
“It’s a f—ing continuous process,” Simekha said. “Every single day. Some of us come with this invisible bank account and backpack full of privilege. … You need to check that backpack. If you don’t care, it’s because it doesn’t bother you every day you wake up.”
Privilege and systemic racism can be embedded so far behind the scenes that it’s hard to unveil, embedded in things like the Revised Codes of Washington, for example.
One such RCW requires state agencies, including schools, to invest in goods made from inmate work programs. Schools can also choose to waive this requirement, but BLM activist and UW student Michael Moynihan said the UW does not.
This means the university has hedge funds in prison corporations where it can gain a profit. The UW also allegedly uses furniture made by people in prison, according to Moynihan.
“The school to prison pipeline is very, very real,” Moynihan said.
The Civil Rights Movement, segregation, and slavery may have happened in a different generation, but the remnants are alive in both subtle and obvious forms today, Moynihan said.
“There’s something very sad to me about the Race & Equity Initiative,” Shibale said. “Recognizing racism exists — that’s how far we’ve gotten in 500 years.”
Patricia Allen, a UW alumna and speaker, discussed the topic of privilege and said for equity to happen, people with privilege need to be willing to give up parts of that privilege so others can come up to equal positions of power.
“Any safe place at this university was fought for by students like us doing things like this,” Allen said.
Simekha asked the crowd if, when they see a person of color go down, they’ll choose to be an ally or an accomplice.