The Cost of Justice

By Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen

For months now, individuals and civil rights groups have been rallying across the country in response to the escalation of deadly police violence against unarmed Black citizens. The protests and demands for justice have reached a fevered pitch over the past few weeks following decisions made by two separate grand juries to not indict the police officers responsible for killing Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.

If the Civil Rights movement taught us anything, it’s that coordinated, nonviolent protests can be a powerful tool for change. But another tool less frequently employed by communities of color may be the most powerful weapon at our disposal: our economic might.

Make no mistake, the Civil Rights Movement achieved its most significant successes when social protest was shored up by financial might. The Montgomery Bus Boycott, where Black citizens carpooled and walked instead of paying to ride on segregated public transportation, was all about using dollars as a force for justice. The tactic was ultimately responsible for the Supreme Court ruling that banned segregation on public transportation across the country. And while the Summer of Freedom project, which recruited young college students to descend on Mississippi in 1964 and register blacks to vote, was billed as a volunteer effort, funds provided by key organizations like National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Congress on Race Equality, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Southern Christian Leadership Conference, covered the project’s unavoidable costs and helped register 1,700 black voters. These organizations were largely funded by working class Blacks who reached deep into their pockets and gave what they could because they understood there was literally a price to be paid if they wanted to achieve justice and equality.

It’s a lesson worth reflecting on as we prepare to enter a new year and receive a new, less progressive U.S. Congress. The ongoing efforts championed by some political leaders to rollback civil rights and economic justice measures are likely to intensify over the next two years. Unfortunately, many of the small and large organizations best positioned to prevent and reverse these regressions are underfunded and struggling to work at the level needed to make impactful, large-scale change.

The good news is we, collectively, have the economic power to support the work of these organizations. Black women in particular have the ability to help put greater financial might behind our social causes. We direct 85 cents of every dollar spent by the Black community, and our annual spending power is estimated at $565 billion. If just 2 percent of those dollars were steered towards supporting organizations and political leaders that champion our causes, we could pump more than $10 billion annually into creating change. We need a shift toward this type of economic behavior if we are serious about achieving sustainable civil rights and economic justice. We should all be mindful of this fact as we fill our holiday stockings, wrap Kwanzaa gifts and contemplate the New Year.

Glynda Carr and Kimberly Peeler-Allen are the cofounders of Higher Heights, a nonprofit organization focused and harnessing the political power of Black women.