So you’ve attended your first protest, you’ve posted your first Instagram image and used the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag – now what? In our 'Now What? Life Post Protest' series, L'Officiel seeks insight from Black voices in our community on how to ensure that our outrage over racial injustice translates into radical change in our country and our everyday lives.
In the last few months, we have seen an unprecedented amount of response to racial injustice, police brutality and the killing of Black citizens in the US. Many have joined together to protest peacefully, and have signed petitions to hold police accountable for murdering members of the community as well as to defund the police, and re-fund community initiatives. For many of us, the momentum of this movement is invigorating largely due to the fact that it may be our first time physically acting and protesting for change in our country and making our voices heard in an effort to reach lawmakers and political officials. It is moving to see our efforts of unity televised, posted on our social media platforms, and on the front page of newspapers.
At the same time, it is also important to note that for non-profit organizations, protest organizers, and experienced volunteers, these battles for change are nothing new. Their work often goes uncelebrated when cameras aren't rolling, when influencers are not posting pretty graphics to Instagram, or when their work is not tied to a massive movement that has finally grabbed the attention of the nation,
These advocates are the mobilizers for change year-round. In this moment of massive relearning and global education, it has quickly become clear to me that those who live out activism as a lifestyle also need their voices amplified if we are truly commited to seeing permanent change in our country. It is also clear that the brunt of the work in social change must be shared by the many if we are truly committed to seeing justice in our communities.
For Evelynn Escobar-Thomas, (you may know her as @Evemeetswest) activism has been ingrained in her since childhood. Working as a full-time content creator, and a freelance social media marketing consultant, Evelynn has been balancing a deep commitment to social change through her decade-plus long career. Though she volunteered on the Obama presidential campaign and interned for First Lady Michelle Obama, Evelynn never planned to pursue her political passions professionally. Instead, she sees serving her community in various forms as a calling. In an effort to challenge ourselves to commit to more effective and regular advocacy, L'Officiel USA took the opportunity to speak to Evelynn about her experience on the frontlines of protest, and her advice to those who now wish to bring activism into their everyday life.
Ryan Norville: Right now many in our generation are becoming involved in politics or social reform for the first time, but you have been working in these areas for years now. Would you be able to give us some background into how you got started in activism?
Evelynn Escobar-Thomas: "Activism" has played a seamless role in my life since I was in middle school. I remember my best friend's mom started a little group to get us active in our community. We'd go help out at assisted living facilities and do other little things around town. Whether it was being on the youth advisory council board at high school while simultaneously acting as the president of the young democrats, to becoming the student life chairwoman in my college student government, to being an intern for the former First Lady, Michelle Obama –activism and public work has been a consistent part of my identity.
RN: I have to ask – what was it like working for Michelle Obama?
EET: It was a surreal experience for sure. I was an intern in the office of scheduling and advance so I helped with the brief materials when she would go on trips and things like that. It definitely was a huge learning experience and gave me the confidence to take on any challenge that came my way!
RN: Though you didn’t pursue a conventional career in politics directly, you’ve been extremely active in leading community-oriented programs, organizing political events and volunteering in campaign trails. What inspired you to have activism be such a large part of your life?
EET: It's something that I naturally gravitated to and sought out. I think it stems from understanding and believing that I have the power to make a difference at an early age so I've tried my best to do so!
RN: You mention being active at a young age and being taught to use your voice for your community very early. Could you tell us more about what that encouragement looked like? Who did you receive it from?
EET: I'm Black and Guatemalan so I grew up learning the stories of how my grandparents came to this country and the struggles they endured back in Guatemala specifically. It really impacted me and gave me this sense of responsibility early on, that I needed to put myself in a position to do something as I got older and to always use my voice. I think it's fundamental that young womxn in particular see themselves as these capable beings who can change the world, because that's how I viewed myself back then and that's how I have gotten to this point.
RN: How does it feel to see so many of your peers and people across generations coming together to advocate for societal change right now? Do you feel like this moment is truly different than past movements?
EET: Absolutely. This moment feels so special and I feel really blessed to just be a part of it. Everyone is coming together and there are so many different roles being filled. It's really beautiful to witness it being executed in real time. The world is changing and I am grateful for the direction we are moving in.
RN: What are some practical ways you would like to see your peers advocating for change year-round? Be it climate change, racial injustice, LGBTQ causes etc.
EET: Something that all the organizers reiterate at the protests or public gatherings etc is to get involved with groups and organizations that you're passionate about. To stay engaged beyond the here and now. There are also so many other things that can be done as well like using your platform to educate others or giving a platform to others to allow them to expand on their expertise. Even down to simply reading and learning. The options are endless.
RN: How would you explain defunding the police and why do you think it’s necessary?
EET: The way that it clicks in my mind is that defunding the police means refunding the community. I think it's imperative to have that tie or else people get lost in the misconception that people are calling for the budget and police to vanish into thin air. That's just not the case. It's about allowing specialized public servants and services to step in and have the funds to do the work they are trained to do, while scaling back the power that the police have on the community. It's about accountability and making sure all communities are run with equal access and opportunities to the tools that currently well-funded communities, who naturally have a limited need for policing as a result, have now.
RN: While there is still a lot of momentum in protests across the country, what are the next steps from here to assure permanent change, specifically in our justice system?
EET: Now this is an answer I'll leave for the experts, but I will say that we must revisit every system and ensure that they are eradicated of policies and laws that don't serve us. By us I mean all people of color. There's a lot of dismantling and rebuilding that needs to be done across every single industry and branch of government.
RN: What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t feel as though their individual actions can make a larger impact either politically or socially?
EET: I would tell them that that's absolutely not true. Every action big or small plays a role. You don't have to be the person on the loudspeaker at the protest to make a difference. You don't have to be an elected official to make a difference. It starts with you! Answer the call to do more and just keep doing it. Everyone has the power to change the world in their own unique way.
RN: You founded and lead @Hikeclerb - an intersectional hike club in Los Angeles. It’s garnered a lot of local participation and activations around the country. Why was this initiative so important to you?
EET: Starting Hike Clerb was important to me because my time in nature has been integral in my personal healing journey. I knew I needed to spread the message to others because of the lack of participation from other Black womxn in particular, which stems from a legacy of abuses and limitations in the Great Outdoors.