The scale of the police brutality protests seen over the past week have been years in the making—not only because of the continued violence against black people at the hands of police officers, but also because of the work of activists and organizers who have laid the foundation for this movement.
“What we’re seeing now is that the incredible uprisings of 2014, of 2015 — keeping our foot on the gas these last years, but also really growing a connected ecosystem — has really meant that the uprising that we’re experiencing now is even more connected, more deeply focused on the demands, and I believe that we will win,” says Jessica Byrd, the founder of Three Point Strategies and leader of the electoral justice project at the Movement For Black Lives.
Mass protests have sprung up around the country in response to the killing of George Floyd, who died in police custody while former police officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee down on Floyd’s neck for about nine minutes. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter.
Before the recent wave of protests though, similar demonstrations calling for an end to police brutality and structural change have taken place for years.
“This is the work of a lifetime and it’s the work of generations,” says Jess Morales Rocketto, director of civic engagement for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the executive director of Care in Action. Both Byrd and Rocketto spoke to TIME national correspondent Charlotte Alter as part of TIME100 Talks about the moment we’re in, where the movement will take us and what nonblack allies can do support protesters and the black community.
“What I often say is that our 21st Century movements are built off the blueprint of the history of black uprising and protests across the country,” Byrd says. “Many people, in fact, should be looking to black leaders at all times, to follow not only our lead, but to learn from us on the frontlines.”
Rocketto, who has also been a leader in women’s and immigrant’s rights movements, adds that there’s an interconnectedness between today’s protests against police brutality—which began on May 26, the day after Floyd’s murder—and other protest movements since the election of President Donald Trump. “In some ways I think it is on a continuum, she says. “What we have seen is really sustained protest that has existed throughout the Trump Administration around a variety of issues.”
Among what sets today’s police brutality protests apart is an increase in people participating who had never before engaged in protest, Rocketto adds. With that comes questions about how to become better supporters of the movement, especially for people who aren’t black and for people who are deciding not to participate in protests because of the risks of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For one, Rocketto says, many people have donated money to Black Lives Matter groups, checked in on black friends, and maybe read books or articles about racism and privilege. To take that further, she says, individuals should examine their own lives, their own friend groups and their spending habits and consider how or whether individual actions perpetuate racism and discrimination against black people. “When a black man is on the other side of the street, what do you think about that? Do you get scared? Do you have that same fear when it’s a white man?” she says. “As you begin to examine those individual moments, you also will start to be like, ‘Wait a minute, where did I learn this? How did this happen?…Everyone’s a little bit racist and that is because that’s part of our culture, that’s part of our government, that’s part of our society.”
Protests have sprung up in cities across the country, from Los Angeles, to Seattle, to New York City and Washington, D.C. There have also been documented cases of violence and damage of property, sparking debate over protest tactics.
“Right now what I’m noticing is people want to tell, not only black people how to feel, but about how to protest,” Byrd says. “They’re not necessarily looking between the lines and lifting up the demands of local people and serving local organizations by sending resources or just cutting a check, but instead are spending a lot of time focused on rioting or stolen property or harmed property…We all have real decisions to be making right now. Which side are you on? It’s very clear right now that there is a demonstrated, sustained commitment for the discomfort so that people will say out loud, ‘I will defend black life.'”
Rocketto became emotional towards the end of the the talk when asked what keeps her hopeful. “This is about the love of our communities and the love that we have for this country and the people in it,” she says. “I get so emotional about that because I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than an expression of people who love something so much that they are willing to tear it down and recreate it again, and they believe deeply that every single person in this country has a role in that.”
Byrd also spoke to what gives her hope: black people.
“I just think that black people are so gorgeous in their righteousness and their resilience,” she says. “They are gorgeous when their fists are in the air, they’re gorgeous when they’re mad, they’re gorgeous when they’re sad, they’re gorgeous when they don’t have all the perfect talking points. I just think that black people are incredible.”
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.