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Tarana Burke and Dolores Huerta: To Create Lasting Change, We Need Commitment to Racial Justice Even After Protests End

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Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement, says today’s activist movement—as hundreds of thousands of people protest against police brutality after the killing of George Floyd—can be sustained as long as people stay committed after protests fade.

“This is how movement works,” she says, noting that she protested against police brutality in the 90s. “My expectation is things will die down…and we will have recruited more people who are now fully committed to continuing the work until the next moment. The goal, obviously, is to have less and less moments, but those moments [are] what bring people into the movement, the long protracted movement.”

Dolores Huerta, who has been a leading activist since the 1960s when she helped cofound the United Farm Workers of America union alongside Cesar Chavez, tells TIME that it takes really deep-seated grassroots organizing to sustain a movement. Both Burke and Huerta joined TIME nation editor Haley Sweetland Edwards for a TIME100 Talks discussion on how to sustain a movement. Both activists noted how current-day police brutality protests intersect with women’s rights, labor rights and other causes.

“This is a defining moment for the United States of America,” Huerta says. “A lot of cultural changes came out of the 60s. Unfortunately, in the last few years we’ve seen a lot of push back, many of the things we gained in the 60s have been pushed back. But this is very different…this is something that is not going to be stopped.”

Unlike in civil rights movements of the 60s, which were predominately made up of black people and people of color, today’s movement is intersectional, Huerta explains. Additionally, today’s protesters can mobilize through technology that didn’t exist when she was organizing national boycotts and strikes for safer working conditions for farmworkers in California.

Burkes adds that the movement we’re seeing is an extension of the fight for racial justice that began in in 2015 after the officer-involved killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown, and calls for justice beyond that, which led to the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. “When those protests ended, when those marches ended, the movement work didn’t end just because you didn’t see people in the street,” she says.

The work of Black Lives Matter activists has continued on, urging voter registration, uplifting progressive political candidates and pushing localities to hold police accountable. The Black Lives Matter movement is often credited for the requirement that police wear body cameras, for example.

The movement against police brutality, and the calls for racial justice, also intersect with other movements, Burke adds. She’s been a leader in women’s rights, and women’s rights intersect with Black Lives Matter. She adds that sexual misconduct is the second-highest complaint against police nationwide, behind excessive force.

“There are various ways that my work intersects with this moment,” she says. “Starting with me being black, from me being a woman, from me being American…all ways that I live my life matter.”

Huerta says that police misconduct isn’t just an issue in large cities, and extends to rural areas as well and to the Latinx community, including where she lives in Kern County, Calf. She’s calling for a defunding of police, and an expansion to education in order to end a school-to-prison pipeline and to educate young children about the history of slavery and racial injustice.

Huerta, who just celebrated her 90th birthday, spoke to TIME from her home in Kern County, and says that she’s encouraging her grandchildren to participate in protests. “I myself have been in lockdown,” she says. “I mean this is like a punishment for me not to be out there…I just wanna bless and thank all of the protesters.”

“Sí, se puede,” Huerta adds, yes, we can.

This article is part of #TIME100Talks: Finding Hope, a special series featuring leaders across different fields encouraging action toward a better world. Want more? Sign up for access to more virtual events, including live conversations with influential newsmakers.

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Write to Jasmine Aguilera at jasmine.aguilera@time.com