Freedom and Justice Week – “tell me how we change”

by , | Jun 15, 2020

This article is part of our Freedom and Justice Week series – as Global Dashboard provides a platform for a diversity of voices to explore how we respond to the wave of protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. Read all the articles in the series here.

Welcome to Freedom and Justice Week on Global Dashboard – when we will be running a series of articles responding to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The series, which has been developed with Impact:Peace and the University of San Diego and is edited by its director, Rachel Locke, launches later today with a compelling article from the BBC’s Nihal Arthanayake written for Global Dashboard after he broke down on his radio show when struggling to speak of the murder of George Floyd.

It’s sad. It makes me sad. I don’t want to be sad anymore.

I want you to tell me how we change. How we stop this. I am sick of it. You must be sick of it too. And if you’re not sick of it, then I suggest that perhaps you are part of the problem.

We can all make a difference. We can say to our friends, “that’s not acceptable.” We can say to our relatives, “you can’t say that, it’s not acceptable to have that attitude, to tweet All Lives Matter. Of course, all lives matter but black people are disproportionately suffering at the hands of a justice system here in this country and in America. If you can’t recognize that, there is a problem.”

I am sure some people will complain I am editorializing. But this affects us. It affects all of us. If you’re white, it affects you too because this hate, this division, this oppression, undermines the very fabric of our society. And if we allow it to continue, if we allow it to keep going it will lead to ultimately to the kind of societies that we have seen in history…

I really thought I’d be able to hold it together today. I really hoped I could. But it feels just so damn personal. And I feel just as much about anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia.  And I am not Jewish. I am not gay. I am not Muslim.

No good will come from it. Following the hate mongers on twitter. Subscribing to their views. No good comes from it. Holocausts come from it. Genocides come from it.

Throughout the week, we will publish reflections from around the world – all of which explore Nihal’s challenge – “I want you to tell me how we change.”

This is our third thematic week – after Local Week on how communities are responding to the pandemic and Scenarios Week which explored COVID-19 futures through the lens of the #LongCrisisScenarios.

In Shooting the Rapids, we describe an emergency with three inter-locking layers – public health, economic, and polarisation and insecurity – and in which each layer unfolds according to its own logic and its own speed.

The public health and economic emergencies dominated attention during the early phases of the pandemic, but beyond the devasting impact of the disease and the spiralling economic costs, a disaster of this magnitude has political, social, and cultural impacts that will unfold over a generation or more.

Many countries entered the crisis with little capacity to respond to these impacts. Their governments and institutions are widely distrusted by their citizens. They are often extremely badly led and are divided by “high levels of inequality, grievance, and populism.”

Fragility used to be seen as a problem for a few badly run countries, but the 2020s are set to be an era of fragility everywhere, as many, and probably most, countries see rising levels of protest that will challenge their capacity to respond.

The Black Lives Matter protests started in Minneapolis with the murder of George Floyd, spread throughout the United States, and triggered a wave of anger at entrenched and structural racism that has resonated across the world.

They were rooted in centuries of oppression, but this racism has been exacerbated by the pandemic – with people of colour disproportionately likely to die – by the pandemic’s economic fallout, and by an inequitable response, as lockdown restrictions are used to harass already marginalised groups.

But there is hope. Campaign Zero has long promoted a vision of a very different form of policing. We have a compelling body of evidence for how to prevent violence in cities that is rooted in the idea of leadership by, and partnership with, the communities that are worst affected.

The growing movement for justice for all has challenged and discredited counter-productive coercive ‘tough on crime’ approaches. It promotes “a justice system that is open and inclusive, and that works in collaboration with other sectors such as health, education, housing, and employment.” It empowers people to know, use, and shape the law.

Above all, the protest movement itself has the potential to transform societies. In the United States, public support for Black Lives Matter has grown dramatically. Many countries have started long overdue debates on historical and contemporary patterns of discrimination that would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. The window for change is now open.

We must do everything we can to ensure this opportunity is captured. We have an entered a decade with potential for breakdown, but also an opportunity for breakthrough. A period in which the world is on a knife edge where it could be overwhelmed by crisis or could pull together to tackle both the immediate emergency and the root causes of our vulnerability.

As we have argued before, this knife edge is sharp. “Millions of lives, billions of people’s futures, and trillions of dollars depend on whether we opt for a Larger Us approach to the crisis or instead polarise into Them and Us,” we have written.

Global Dashboard’s Freedom and Justice Week provides a platform for authors to explore how a wave of anger can be translated into tangible improvements in the lives of people and communities, and can rebuild the basis for collective action on which all our futures depends.

It builds on the great articles we have been fortunate to publish since relaunching Global Dashboard for the COVID-19 era. As an appetiser for the content to come, here are seven perspectives from our archives:

1. Head of UK Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group, Leila Zadeh’s exploration of how to put the most marginalised at the centre, which draws lessons for the COVID-19 response from the HIV epidemic.

2. Leo Horn Phathanothai’s contrast of the fragility and inequity of cities with their role as a petri dish for breakthrough, solutions, innovations, and audacious ideas, with grassroots mobilisation and civic engagement playing a growing role in revitalising urban governance.

3. The call to action from an international group of ex-ministers of justice, attorneys general, and senior judges which calls for a switch from a coercive to a people-centred justice paradigm that “can be used to address grievances, reassure communities that disputes can be resolved peacefully, and make the powerful accountable.”

4. Alex Collis and Anna Smith’s article on what they, as Cambridge councillors, are doing to tackle child poverty as they try to make public services more agile, harness the power of the hyper local, and engage with residents’ expertise.

5. Rahul Chandran’s exploration, with Michelle Finneran Dennedy and Faine Greenwood, of the role that technology can play in supporting local communities and organisations if it subsumes its ego, stops disrupting, and pays “attention to the deep power dynamics in play, and how these enable exclusion and violence.”

6. Rachel Briggs’s collection of leadership examples from the protests, which contrasts the failure of Big Men leaders with those who “respond immediately and decisively, gather the facts so they don’t have to correct themselves later, acknowledge what they don’t know, are open, and make amends for their mistakes.”

7. Kirsty McNeill and Richard Darlington’s rules for communicating during COVID-19, which appeal to the Larger Us, put communities in the centre, make inequality tangible, and practice the co-operation we preach. “Forget what you’ve heard,” they write. “It isn’t a war, it isn’t a fight. It isn’t a race, it isn’t a competition. This is a love story.”

Many thanks to Rachel and Impact:Peace for putting this week together. And to the authors for giving their time, experience, and wisdom.

I Can’t Breathe: Photo: Socialist Appeal, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at the UN Foundation and at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.

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