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Globe Magazine

Monica Cannon-Grant: Activists are essential workers fighting for a more just America

To be an essential worker is to show up for those who cannot show up for themselves. That is what activists are doing.

Activists participate in a “die-in,” co-organized by Violence in Boston, on June 2 on Blue Hill Avenue.
Activists participate in a “die-in,” co-organized by Violence in Boston, on June 2 on Blue Hill Avenue.Blake Nissen for the Boston Globe

Being Black in this country is exhausting right now. There are so many issues we’re facing; just pick one and jump in. My gratitude is in regards to people like myself who have six kids and all the reasons in the world to stay in the house, but are healthy enough to go outside so they can fight all the injustices we see in this country. On top of the pandemic, activists are going out to mobilize against discrimination, not just police brutality, but also housing, economic disadvantage, lack of employment, lack of health care.

When we see these images of activists screaming and tears running down their faces, we need to realize they are dealing with the trauma of racism on top of being thrust into a position to organize and lead people.

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Monica Cannon-Grant is the founder of Violence in Boston.
Monica Cannon-Grant is the founder of Violence in Boston.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

I don’t think people totally understand. All lives have always mattered, but Black lives haven’t. We are literally asking for people to stop killing us. When we say we are advocating for Black lives, people usually follow up with a “but.” “But they had a criminal history.” “But if people just cooperated with police.” It’s so frustrating! We are being killed in our houses, eating ice cream, playing in the park, jogging. At what point do we realize that cooperating is a non-factor [in their deaths]? When you see activists galvanizing people, it is because we are exhausted. We have to show our appreciation to protesters in the midst of this hurt and despair.

I am in New York now because I met up with the daughter of Eric Garner. New York just passed a bill to stop choke-holding. This shows that protesting has to be a part of politics. Survivors organized alongside protesters to make sure we got the message out, and we told them to call their elected officials, and we got traction. The result is this bill being passed. It took six years, but it didn’t happen until survivors led a direct conversation with legislators. Until then, they had people who spoke for them, or on their behalf.

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To be an essential worker is to show up for your community and for those who cannot show up for themselves. This is everything that activists are doing right now.

—As told to Linda Matchan

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Monica Cannon-Grant is a community activist and founder of the nonprofit group Violence in Boston.