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 third episode of Rolling Stone’s “Youth Organizers” video series, we take a look at Portland, Oregon and the youth-led work being done by Taji Chesimet of Raising Justice.
Rolling Stone: I noticed that Raising Justice was formerly named Youth Educating Police. Could you speak to this change in your organization?
Taji Chesimet: I think the shift in our work really started with knowing that there’s a lot more to be done in regards to criminal justice and even within the specifics of policing beyond this idea of education or training. As we expanded, it became increasingly important to listen to the community when deciding how to best orient ourselves.
What inspired you to champion the movement in your community?
Chesimet: There’s a lot of history in North Portland with the Black communities there and the gentrification that took place. For that reason, we wanted to hold a protest in deep North Portland near the Saint John’s area. We came up with the name “The Last Generation Protest,” to address why young people want to be the last generation to reap the consequences of inaction.
What does the phrase “Black Lives Matter” mean to you?
Chesimet: All lives cannot matter in this larger scheme of things if we aren’t centering the lives of those who are most impacted. And those are Black lives. And it gets to Black queer lives and Black trans lives and Black disabled lives and Black indigenous lives. It’s the connecting pieces of intersectionality and at the same time this concept of equity that relate and are beautifully summed up in the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
What do you think the significance of this moment being youth-led is?
Chesimet: I think a lot of young people have realized a lot sooner than previous generations that these are our systems. We are going to inherit them. I would give that nod to social media as a tool that’s allowed us to be more acquainted and more honestly awake to the nature of our democracy. To the injustices of our country. I think it gets to the heart of why we are particularly equipped with the tools to change the world. I’m very proud to be from Portland and to be a part of that work. And engaging it on so many different levels has been very humbling.
Find more information on Raising Justice here.