When Tiera Williams planned the Fight for Equity protest in Edmonton, she only expected to see her family and friends to come. But just days after she posted her plans, it went viral.
Rarely has a protest drawn a crowd in Edmonton like June’s anti-racism rally did — 15,000 people showed up.
“The only time I see our city go crazy on something like this is when we are in playoffs with the Oilers,” Williams said.
“(It told me) that Black lives do matter, and Indigenous lives do matter. Like, I knew that already, but it told me other people believe that too.
“Everybody being on the same page and feeling that emotion together and just wanting to fight for something better, we all deserve it.”
Anti-racism rallies swept the world following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck. Another incident that spurred the movement was the death of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed by police in a botched raid.
Millions took to the streets denouncing police brutality and shining a spotlight on systemic racism.
Barrington Walker felt inspired when he saw the protests unfold.
Walker is a history professor focusing on the histories of Black people, race immigration and law. He is also the senior adviser on equity, diversity and inclusion at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario.
“I am cautiously optimistic that this has managed to garner sustained attention that I think is unprecedented, certainly not since the 1960s,” he said.
Walker thinks people need to look at who was in the crowd to really understand the power of the movement.
“What struck me as being different in this particular instance was the scope of the protest, just the sheer numbers of people who took to the street in cities across North America,” he said.
“What else struck me was unlike earlier eras that I studied in the past, was the interracial, intergenerational, intersectional nature of the people.
“If you take just a quick perusal from some of the footage in the summer, there are a lot of non-Black people that came out in support of people of African descent at this time.
“The number of young people who have been inspired, and mobilized to come out and fight against oppression, I am inspired by it and I am cautiously optimistic.”
Almost seven months later, the conversation about the issues is ongoing and there have been some changes made.
In Edmonton, the Edmonton Police Service has committed to an action plan to address its relationship with racialized communities.
“Systemic racism isn’t fixed by focusing on one entity, it needs to be focused on the system, and if we are really going to get to that, we are going to need to work with the other systems that really reflect our community and our society,” said EPS Chief Dale McFee.
While Edmonton city council voted to shrink the police budget by $11 million in favour of community programs, McFee said he doesn’t think that decision will result in improvements.
“Defund the police, or abolish the police… moving money around has never worked,” he said. “It hasn’t worked in 20 years and it’s not going to work in the next 20 years.
“What I would like to see different is, find out how much money is in the system… What outcomes do we get in that social net space, and when you start to look at this partnership and say, ‘How do we deliver better services for our citizens?’, don’t make it about one particular entity — how do you set joint outcomes and joint spaces that actually make a difference?
“How do we use that $11 million and who else is going to come to the table with money or resources to say, ‘Let’s do some different things.’
“We are not going be successful by doubling down on what we are doing right now, and we all know that — and I think COVID-19 has exposed that. But there is probably more opportunities that ever existed before, but it’s going to require more leadership and require leadership to obviously take some calculated risks.”
Edmonton is also looking to a new task force to present a plan to council in March.
“The issue of racism and discrimination is not new,” said community safety and well-being task force spokesperson Serena Mah. “We have been talking about this for years, but now I feel this is a real moment for change — take action at how we can make it better.
“Before this, we were talking about racism as if it didn’t exist, so I think we have moved past that… I think we are at the cusp of finding solutions.”
Mah said the task force is talking about defunding the police, but also looking at what that means.
“It’s not going to be a magic bullet to get racism to go away, but there are small things that can be tackled and put into action to make it a more equitable society for everybody,” Mah said.
Williams is also trying to do her part. She continues to attend anti-racism rallies and also hosts virtual conversations weekly on a Fight for Equity’s Facebook group.
“We do inclusivity check conversations every week,” she said. “We have topics and we just try to invite people to still come and listen. Even if you’re not taking part in speaking in it, you can still learn something.”
Even though momentum has slowed, Williams hopes people won’t forget why they showed up back in June.
“We need people to hear us when we say, ‘Our lives do matter and we matter. Black and Indigenous lives aren’t a trend.’”