Activist Mandy Carter stresses importance of collaboration in creating social change

Thursday, February 16, 2017
By Hannah Palczuk | The Chronicle
Activist Mandy Carter

Durham activist Mandy Carter encouraged collaborative activism in the era of President Donald Trump during a talk Wednesday.

Carter, co-founder of the National Black Justice Coalition, spoke to a group of students, faculty and community organizers about social change and activism as part of the Gender Wednesday series sponsored by Duke's Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies program.

As many Duke students ponder the future of Trump's presidency, Carter talked about the importance of taking current setbacks in stride and constantly looking toward the long-term goal. She cited President Barack Obama's 2013 speech at the Lincoln Memorial on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech as support for her vision. 

"Do you think people sitting there 50 years earlier would have said, I guess we're going to see that?" she said. "Think about that. That's what you call 'losing forward.'"

A black lesbian activist, Carter said she takes an intersectional approach toward social change. She noted the historical oppression of women, black Americans and members of the LGBTQ+ community as a call for collaboration among people of different backgrounds. 

"So who do you think should be in conversation with each other?" she said. "We don't always have to agree on everything, but the fundamental principle remains."

In Carter's opinion, politics play a strong role at the local level. Civic engagement and change occur at the Durham City Council and begin with conversation, she said. 

She emphasized the importance of bridging the Duke and Durham communities, citing the power of social media platforms like Facebook to connect students with organizations and events off campus.

Noting that college campuses are critical centers of social change, Carter commended Duke for deciding to join 16 other universities in a brief opposing President Trump's executive order on immigration. 

"I would like to say thank you to Duke and the other campuses for standing up and speaking out and making a difference in terms of how this change can happen," she said.

Carter also said she implores Duke students who might be skeptical of activism's efficacy to "consider the power of one." 

She recommended that Duke students begin by engaging each other in conversation on campus, using cultural resources like the Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture and the Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. 

First-year Gino Nuzzolillo said he attended Carter's talk to get ideas about how he can become more politically active on campus and in Durham as a whole. Nuzzolillo noted that he is particularly concerned with Trump's disrespect for the norms of political processes and his "dangerous rhetoric," which he believes "mirrors [that] of authoritarian leaders we've seen before."

When asked to respond to critics who argue that recent protests undermine our nation's ability to move forward, Carter responded that she is not just organizing against Trump or his administration but against policy decisions.

"I had issues with some of President Obama's policies too," she said. "A bad policy is a bad policy. You want to make sure you speak up, and a campus is so important for that discourse, that ability to speak up and organize."

Carter, who proclaimed her "current level of optimism to be a 10," asked students and community members if they can passively accept the current political climate and challenged them to ask, "are we about justice or are we about just us?"


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