Since May 2020, youth organizers across the country have been mobilizing against police brutality and working for systemic change in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Some of them had organized for social justice before, but many of them took to the streets for the first time and without an organized plan. Across Instagram posts, Zoom calls and iMessages, these youth organizers used social media to launch some of the largest Black Lives Matter protests in the country. In the fifth episode of Rolling Stone’s “Youth Organizers” video series, we take a look at Orange County, California and the youth-led work being done by Zoe-Raven Wianecki of OC Protests.
Rolling Stone: What was the genesis of OC Protests?
Zoe-Raven Wianecki: OC Protests is run by five BIPOC people. We all met really organically just through protesting and doing the work. There were several people in Orange County who were like, “Alright. We have the momentum, we’re protesting, what’s next?” The people who were focused on implementing more programs and work outside of just marching really stood out to me.
Why was it important to you to bring the movement to Orange County?
Wianecki: White supremacy really runs rampant in Orange County and it’s my home. There are so many Black and brown people who reside here as well. Within Orange County, Anaheim and Santa Ana have the eighth and ninth most-violent police departments in the country. The fact that we have a primarily white community in OC, but we are still seeing such rampant brutalization and disproportionate brutalization of BIPOC shows us how much of the work we have to be doing here.
How did the viral OC Protests Instagram page come about?
Wianecki: The Instagram page, which is how we got started, was actually created by two non-Black individuals in our community who were using the page as a platform to tell people where protests were happening. Early on, they decided they wanted to get it into the hands of BIPOC and Black people to make sure our voices were being amplified. It was amazing to see how the community immediately wanted Black leadership to rise. In the span of a week and a half, we went from 3,000 followers to 20,0000 followers.
When did you decide to have your first protest?
Wianecki: Our first event was actually not a protest — we decided to host a vigil in Huntington Beach. Huntington Beach was incredibly non-receptive to the movement. All of our beach cities run rampant with white supremacy. Some of the first protests that took place in Huntington Beach ended up being incredibly violent. Many Black and BIPOC people were brutalized and threatened. So many people wanted to engage, but it had become so dangerous that we wanted to have a show of force without putting BIPOC people in danger. We had been talking so much about how heartbreaking everything was. While people were angry and up and arms, we also wanted to give people an opportunity to mourn.
Wianecki: As we are heading into this election, we are talking a lot about incarcerated people who are not given the opportunity to vote for who represents them and ultimately who sets the standard for the humanity that we give them. This idea that saying Black Lives Matter is exclusionary, I think is so silly. When you look at the advocacy of Black Lives Matter as a movement, it is always in solidarity with Latinx people, Indigenous people, all BIPOC people, incarcerated folks, houseless folks… Our systems don’t just oppress Black people.
Find more information on OC Protests here.