Why are Social Justice Movements Important to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Work?


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Did you know there are powerful grassroots movements that work to protect citizens from government-sanctioned violence and exploitation? In the last decade, we have witnessed a significant rise in collective action against the brutal reality of police violence, that disproportionately targets marginalized communities. To maintain the momentum and efforts of this liberation movement, we think it’s important to focus on how collective action in the Global North directly connects to similar issues worldwide that people may not hear as much about. 

For example in Kazakhstan, systemic corruption has led to wealth hoarding among a small political and economic elite, as we see in countries like the U.S. where the top 1% of Americans have taken $50 Trillion from the bottom 90%. As a result, citizens in Kazakhstan took to the streets last month to protest an authoritarian government. While non-violent protesters asked for lower fuel prices and a democratic election system for regional leaders, the government painted them as terrorists to vilify their cause. This tactic allows the government to dehumanize working-class people to such an extent that they can justify ordering their military to “shoot to kill” protesters. 

In India too, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) allows the military to “search, arrest and even shoot suspects with little fear of prosecution.” This reminds us of the legal powers of U.S. law enforcement to use lethal force against civilians, which Amnesty International found to be violating the human rights of Black people. In response to this deadly military abuse in India, citizens marched across Nagaland state in January, demanding the repeal of the AFSPA. Despite the horror of the military killing fifteen laborers whom they “mistook” for armed fighters in December, the Nagaland marchers insisted on protesting peacefully to distinguish their fight for justice from the violence of the government. 

Finally, in Lebanon, worker unions called for a “day of rage” to protest against deteriorating living conditions and salaries so abysmal they can hardly feed their families. Emphasizing how working people cannot wait for the bureaucracy of politicians who will not respond, workers blocked traffic with dozens of work trucks. Similar tactics were used by an international coalition of unions during Black Friday of 2021 to protest Amazon’s employee surveillance and frugal pay. Some protesters in the UK  took the call to “Make Amazon Pay” quite literally and blocked Amazon distribution centers, ensuring their message would be heard. 

Some questions for you and your colleagues to discuss off the back of this news:

  • Why is it important we make the connection between local collective action and those movements fighting for similar causes worldwide?
  • How might this translate to the inclusion efforts you develop in your workplace?
  • How is your organization highlighting these movements in equity and inclusion workshops?
  • Where do you see people positioned as ‘dangerous’ to maintain the status quo?
  • Who is protected and who is left less safe when your workplace utilises security?
  • When do people turn to disruption and protest? What does this articulate to others that is powerful?
  • How can you support people to organize and ask for fair working conditions, when their needs are being ignored? 
  • How can your company support grassroots liberation movements financially or through advocacy?
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