Attention Transportation Advocates: Race Is A Part Of The Work

Tweet by Tamika Butler:  I really want to hear all these transportation advocates tell me again how our work has nothing to do with race. Crazy how you can fill up timelines but stay silent at the same time……

This right here! So many times in my work I have to remind all those white progressives and liberals in the room -usually leading the meetings – cause that’s how it be in social justice work in DC – that the issue we are discussing has race at the core of its problem. I and all of my Black and Brown colleagues get “the side eye”, the “himmin” and “haughin” and even the actual words: “No Dara why do you have to bring race into every conversation we have about trying to solve a problem?”  REALLY!!!  GTFOH!!

There is NOT ONE issue, problem or system that we work on in social justice/civil rights or in policymaking that does not encompass ending racism. My sister in this work Tamika Butler is a badass and constantly brings this message forth in all that she does in transportation equity work. Her Tweet was in response to the constant push back, white fragility and tears that many of us have to slug through each time we mention and dare demand that race be the center of the work for change. Many white transportation advocates have been telling us, for years “that everything does not center around race”.

The horrific events of 2020 are unfortunately proving that our constant race activism in all we do is in fact the primary issue for our problems. And women like Tamika and myself have never been nor will we ever be quiet or back down in the work of emboldening our people. (I include our brothers and our other multi-marginalized comrades in this)

In this work it is imperative that we know our history because you can’t move forward with empowering the future if you don’t know the past. When you know the true past and history of the United States then you cannot ignore the structural racism that is embedded in every system created in this country. Systems created by white men.

It is often times infuriating to sit in these rooms and constantly have to prove this fact to those who claim to be advocating and creating transportation policy. This is why it will not be those same people who will dismantle these systems. Yet in social justice/civil rights work so many have absolutely no idea of the history of the issues they work and they constantly collect funds from funders using language like racial equity and anti-racism etc. to “create change”.

There is absolutely no way any genuine advocate can work in creating change in transportation (or any other issue) and not recognize that race is at the core of the work. The Civil Rights movement started on December 20,1956 in Montgomery, Alabama. That is the day that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. boarded a bus to mark the end of the boycott that lasted 382 days and announced the start of the Civil Rights Movement.

Several things were involved in creating the beginning of this historic movement. When I do presentations about transportation equity I start with this information.

  • The Montgomery Bus Boycott started long before Rosa Parks gave up her seat
  • They were fighting segregation on buses back in 1946, 1954 and then in 1955
  • They were teenage girls doing this
  • The boycott lasted 382 days – December 5, 1955 – December 20, 1956
  • During the boycott – started with 90% of Blacks staying off buses -100% – despite all efforts to get them back on board
  • June 5, 1956 federal district court ruled Browder v. Gayle – bus segregation was unconstitutional
  • November 1956 SCOTUS upheld Browder v. Gayle & struck down laws requiring segregated seating on public buses
  • On Dec 20, 1956 – The Montgomery Bus Boycott ended with Dr. MLK Jr boarding an integrated bus
  • This was the basis foundation of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s today

The second part of Tamika’s Tweet is calling out these same transportation advocates who constantly tell us that race is not part of transportation policy. They fill up timelines and stay silent at the same time.

In the past week there have been multiple protests around the country in many cities who have engaged in transportation policies that are not only harmful but based on a lack of understanding race and communities of color.

In multiple large cities like Los Angeles, Portland, Oakland, Chicago, Philadelphia and others transportation was either suspended until notified, halted all together, reduced hours etc. This is during a global pandemic where essential workers who are mostly Black and Brown people still have to go to work and their mode of transportation are these systems. It is harmful to shut these systems down and alter schedules without offering alternatives; provide people with enough time to get where they need or even plan ahead. These decisions are detrimental to communities of color – this is why race is very much a part of transportation policy.

In Minneapolis, MN where the horrific murder of George Floyd occurred on Monday, May 25, 2020 the city bus drivers (mostly Black men) were commanded to drive their buses for the local police department to transport police and assist them by transporting the protesters they arrested.

Now who in that transportation authority office thought that this policy was ok to ask Black people to engage in assisting the police department that just killed a Black man? This leadership did not see that this is a huge problem for these workers.

It is ok, because many of us have been doing transportation equity for years and through all those trainings and conversations something has clicked and resonated. Those bus drivers said “No! We will NOT engage in this!” and “over 400 workers – postal workers, nurses, teachers, hotel workers…signed a petition not to aid the policing of protests with their labor” (See story below)

The core of that decision is based on race! Black transit workers standing up and saying “NO” we will not do this is based on their race! In their solidarity to their people and to the plight of their people! Those bus drivers and other workers want to engage in empowering their community!

The fact that their supervisors and leaders asked them to assist the Minneapolis Police Department is proof that if you do not engage in race in your work you will make horrible decisions like this! I am beyond confident that the team who made the decision to tell these Black bus drivers to go out and pick up protesters with police officers were all white and the same people who push back, sigh, and use white fragility when we demand that transportation is about race.


 Tamika L. Butler –

Follow her @TamikaButler

Minneapolis Bus Drivers Refuse To Transport George Floyd Protestors to Jail – by Lauren Kaori Gurley – May 29, 2020 – VICE

 Join the work of the Transportation Equity Caucus


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Nothing Stays the Same ….except in the disability rights movement

The other day I was told by someone in the disability rights movement that there is “a new focus on intersectionality” in the work! I had to laugh out loud! It was one of the funniest things I have heard in quite a while. I thought it was a joke! But this person was serious! HA HA HA HA HA!

I had to set this person as they say ALL THE WAY RIGHT! (meaning correct – in this case give them a READ)  So I decided to blog about this.

There has never been nor will there ever be a focus on Intersectionality (spelled with a capital I not a lower case i) in this all-white led disability rights movement. There are so many reasons as to why this is the case. One large and lingering reason is that part “white-led” disability rights movement. Until this particular fact has changed infusing Intersectionality into the work is damn near impossible.

It is no longer a part of my policy work to interact with many of the white-led (oh that’s all we have here in DC) disability rights groups in “the Beltway”, something I did not chose – it was done for me! (So much more on this to come – keep reading my blogs)

But I remain an active policy and change maker working with multiple social justice and civil rights coalitions in DC, around the nation and even internationally – who have been welcoming and continue to create space for the work I engage in every day. In fact I kept many of my leadership positions in those groups and push forward and infuse disability issues on a regular basis.

I continue to receive information about the other disability rights groups and the work they are doing because that’s information sharing which is a way of life in policy work. This document came my way the other day. It’s titled: Evaluation Framework for Hospital Visitor Policies – set to be used in the COVID19 pandemic times we are living.

Yet again the DC beltway disability rights organizations create a document that is an issue of concern for and intended to assist all people; and they leave out the voices of those who are most marginalized by the problem. The groups who created this document are Bazelon, DREDF, The Arc, Communication First, ASAN and CPR – the usual suspects when it comes to leaving out the voices of those oppressed.

(I don’t know Communication First so….)

*Let us not forget these are the same groups who organized and did a webinar on April 14, 2020 titled Disability Discrimination in the Rationing of Life Saving COVID Treatment: Who Gets Left Behind? – In the time of COVID19. The entire panel and moderator were all white people – and to be clear all but two of the panelists are able bodied. Go here to see:  They thought that this was ok do to in the work – that there is nothing wrong with having an all white panel discussing discrimination in healthcare during the pandemic that every data analysis has proven  Black people are being killed and infected at a higher rate than any other community in the country.

This document is a legal framework for hospital visiting policies during COVID19. It is clear that these policies were written by all white people who did not seek out the voices of people of color or multi-marginalized communities – again their usual mode of operandi.

This is a document about Healthcare in the United States and the words equity, Black, Latino/Latinx, LGBTQ are NOT in the document. Just go to FIND and put in these words in and you will get 0/0.

There is no statement on equity and no discussion of the fact that hospital visitation, just like all systems in this country are based in racism and are set forth to create discriminatory barriers for families and communities of color. A document of such caliber should include at the least an equity statement or the acknowledgement that these issues affect people of color and other multi-marginalized communities at a higher rate. It should have just one thing that acknowledges multi-marginalized communities exists and that their discriminations are of importance in this work.

There is NO Intersectionality in this Evaluation for Framework for Hospital Visitor   Policies and definitely no collective liberation.

I continuously advocate and push as a change maker and in that work, I tell people who are doing social justice/civil rights work (and those who claim to do this work) that when you are planning a program, policy, legislation, writings etc. and you do not have people with lived experience or who are directly impacted by the issues you are discussing; and when you have homogeneous groups – all white, all men, all from urban areas etc. etc. at the table then whatever you are planning is wrong!

If you have those people at the table and not just there but leading the work, then you are engaging in Intersectionality and collective liberation. To get this input and to have the people necessary as part of the conversation you must have the connections to those communities and the actual desire to create change.

I have been working for over 10yrs now in disability rights and I still do not see much difference in the whiteness or a desire to change. It is a fact that these disability rights groups who authored this document, do not have the connections to the communities needed to be a part of this planning and they also do not have the policy staff (their policy staffs are mostly if not all white) to create the change.

If this is the disability rights movement’s “new focus on Intersectionality”, as I was recently told, then I did the right thing by laughing at this B/S! Because this policy document is yet another reminder of the glaring inequities and whiteness that remain in disability rights work, advocacy and policy outreach.


Racial Equity Tools: COVID19 – Racial Equity and Social Justice resources


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