The death of George Floyd has seen people standing up against police brutality, systemic racism and many are now joining efforts to defund the police. But organising a resistance online can prove itself to be tricky—social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are quick to delete or flag posts. That’s where Google Docs has yet again appeared as the key tool for organising protests and educating people on systemic racism.
It might come as a surprise to some but this is not the first time Google Docs is being used for something else than smart editing. At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen Google Docs become the number one tool for entertainment—from comedy nights to escape rooms, everyone used the tool in creative ways in order to fight off boredom.
So how has Google Docs now become the best resistance tool for Black Lives Matter protesters? And should we really trust the software? To answer these questions, we need to look at the first time the software was used as a political tool.
During the 2016 US elections, misinformation campaigns became omnipresent. That’s exactly when the software came into its own as a political tool. Google Docs users created informative guides about misleading news sources and academics created listicles on ways to help specific political parties.
According to the MIT Technology Review, in 2018, “Google Docs were also being used to protest immigration bans and advance the #MeToo movement.”
Now, communities and protesters are using the software to organise their movement. One of the most popular Google Docs that appeared in the past week is the Resources for Accountability and Actions for Black Lives document, which features clear advice for people who desire to support victims of police brutality. Created and organised by 28-year-old Carlisa Johnson, the document is a compilation of resources people can easily use to protest police injustice.
A multitude of Google Docs created in response to Floyd’s murder have now become viral. The software has turned into a staple for sharing petitions and resources. But why Google Docs?
Of course, it helps that Google Docs are easy to access and simple to use. But anonymity is also an important advantage that Twitter and Facebook don’t offer. On Google Docs, users are assigned an animal avatar which hides their identity. The same cannot be said about Twitter and Facebook.
But, as those documents gain more and more reach, the possibility for the US government to demand access to Google’s data increases too. Such use of Google’s software in the ongoing battle over social justice could create another privacy scandal. As protesters involved in the Black Lives Matter movement are primarily relying on free and open channels of communication, Google Docs could soon become a threat in itself.
Google is no better than Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter. Surveillance and profiling are also part of the company’s activity—meaning that an open Google Doc is not a safe space. Google still has a record of everyone who participates.
As the global fight against racial injustice gains steam, meaningful change is beginning to materialise. From mayors pledging to defund police forces and racial justice organisations receiving an outpouring of support to a sharp rise in public discussions around issues of systemic racism—evidence of progress trails behind the swelling wave of protest and outrage. It is important to build on this historic momentum and keep the foot on the gas.
What can you do to support the movement for black rights and racial justice?
Taking to the streets to demonstrate remains one of the most effective ways to protest injustice and demand immediate change. Check the Black Lives Matter website, local community websites and social media for information about protests taking place in your area. If your circumstances don’t allow you to march in the streets, you may want to inquire about virtual protests happening, like the one recently arranged by Black Lives Matter London.
Protesters marching in the streets are in need of various supplies, including water, masks, food, and more. Visit the webpage of a protest happening near you to learn about its designated supply drop-off locations, or contact protest organisers for information on how to help.
As a growing number of protesters are being arrested by police forces, bail money is urgently needed for people who cannot afford to purchase their freedom. This Google Doc contains a list of bailout and legal funds categorised by city and state.
Systemic racism has robbed black communities of funds and resources and stilted progress among its residents. Contributing to initiatives designed to empower black communities is a crucial step in rectifying the ravages of centuries of racial discrimination. Black Visions Collective, National Bailout and Campaign Zero are three organisations that work in varying ways to achieve long term improvement for black communities, end their oppression and promote their rights and safety. You may want to research similar organisations operating in your city or state.
Make it a point to support black-owned businesses, restaurants and shops in your area. You should also research which companies are complicit in perpetuating systemic racism and refrain from supporting them—L’Oréal, Reformation and Zimmerman, I’m looking at you.
Immigrants of colour are disproportionately targeted, terrorised, and abused by the government—at the border, in detention facilities, and in black and brown communities repeatedly raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the invitation of the NYPD, ICE agents have been infiltrating Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, and have already detained one immigrant. Research and donate to organisations working to protect and advocate on behalf of immigrants of colour.
Queer people of colour are at an increased risk of experiencing violence, exclusion, police brutality and oppression. They are also more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and other mental health issues as a result of what is commonly referred to as ‘compounded minority stress’—being both queer and black or brown. The LGBTQ Racial Justice Fund and the Black Trans Femmes in the Arts Collective are two out of numerous organisations working to protect and uplift black queer people in the US. If you’re based in the UK, you may want to check out UK Black Pride, IMAAN and NAZ Project.
While the focus tends to revolve around national politics—it is local authorities that are often hotbeds of racial injustice. Inquire about your mayor, comptroller, chief of police, and district attorney, demand accountability for their actions, and be sure to vote in local elections and get involved in your community.
Across the US, and around the world, more and more people are demanding to defund the police and invest their budget in community projects and infrastructure and locally-run emergency-response teams. Minneapolis may be the first US city to completely disband its police force, and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti had already pledged to slash the city’s police budget and invest the money in communities of colour. Join the growing demand to defund the police by supporting #8toAbolition, the Movement for Black Lives or other NGOs operating in your city or county.
Challenge yourself with daily and rigorous reflections on how the concept of Whiteness may affect your life; in what ways does it limit or impact your actions, your perceptions, your opinions, your circle of friends? Policies are important milestones in the fight against systemic racism, but they alone cannot herald real, long-lasting change on societal and institutional scales. Slavery had been abolished, Jim Crow laws had been eradicated, and yet here we are still battling the plague of racism. Ultimately, racial justice could only be achieved when we fundamentally change the ways we see ourselves and obliterate the institution and concept of Whiteness.