Start Looting as if Your Life Depended On It: A Call to action

A note: This is for Black folks and the non-Black people of color who care about the struggle for racial justice— and are trying to figure out what else to do right now. Maybe you feel you don’t qualify as an activist or organizer. But you wish you were — because maybe you’d feel like you know what to do. You’ve already given what you can to bail funds and local community organizations and you’ve retweeted/shared all the quality content that comes your way. You are still working your way through all those resource-filled Google Docs you’ve received. Yet you are still looking for more ways to move the work forward, because you realize — now more than ever — that if you can’t move racial/social justice efforts forward, what is the point of everything else you are trying to do?

(But what follows also might be useful to some white folks who have moved from “ally” to “co-conspirator” and understand the tragically underutilized power of white people following Black women’s instructions…)

Start Looting as if Your Life Depended on It: A Call To Action

By Gail Drakes (gail.j.drakes@gmail.com)

It’s time for some looting, y’all.

Yes. I’m calling for WIDESPREAD LOOTING. And I want you to be the one to do it.

Surprised? Thought I was a “respectable Negro?” Yeah, I get that a lot. I’m overeducated and quite polite. But, like so many of us, I contain multitudes, friend.

I get it. You wanna believe that there is another way to get what we want. To bring about the changes we need - so desperately - to see in service of racial justice. Maybe there is. But what if the point is that the problems are so profound and so deeply rooted that in the words of both Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture on Twitter) AND Shakira (in that “Zootopia” movie), we need to TRY EVERYTHING.

Yes, I know…You’ve heard a lot about the divide between the “peaceful protesters” and the looters. And the looters are the PROBLEM, right? You watch mainstream media long enough and you’d think the guy stealing the dog food from the Petco is ten times worse than Cruella de Vil. White dudes were on Twitter explaining Martin Luther King Jr's disdain of such things. . . to MLK's sons and daughters. (Whitesplaining gets SO AWKWARD, y'all.) But as much as I appreciate Dr. King -- especially that “Beyond Vietnam,” “Poor People’s Campaign” Dr. King that lives beyond the two soundbites they play every winter -- you deserve to know what they forgot to mention (and what the Reverend Doctor knew so well): Direct Action gets the goods.

What’s the plan, you wonder? You don’t so much need a plan when you are looting. Mostly, you need a target, a destination, a goal. And our goal is simple: We need to snatch and grab every single meaningful change we can from any and all institutions we are connected to. Now. “What institutions?” you ask? Where you work. Any organization you attend, give your money or your time to. Your alma mater. Your kids’ alma mater. The companies you buy from. Your mosque/church/synagogue. When you think on it, there are SO MANY. So, go ahead, think on it.

We need to snatch and grab every single meaningful change we can from any and all institutions we are connected to. Now.

The closer your connection, the more you can try to snatch. Don’t restrict yourself to looting from one location. Who does that? Diversify that looting portfolio, and reap the dividends.

Okay, okay…let me clarify. The grab and go life ain’t for everybody. If you can’t afford to catch a case, you might have to fall back. Don’t make a move in your workplace if your position is insecure and they are planning layoffs. You have the right to keep that day job safe — there is no shame in that. (Plus, we need folks to donate to these bail funds and community organizations, remember?) YES, I know that the change we are looking for is not going to happen overnight. And I also know that some of y'all are already doing the most with the least. (Namaste, y'all. Take a rest and remember that Black joy is a form of resistance...) But for those ready to give looting a try, know that there are LOTS of institutions to choose from, and just adjust these tips accordingly based on your relationship to the target. Also, if looting teaches us nothing else, it reminds us of the power in numbers. Find a friend (or forty) and let’s get what we came for. . .


I know, I know...you have already been through so much. #BlackAtWork is a THING, you look at your paycheck and part of you is pissed that your workplace feels like a constant stream of microagressions and yet you gotta pay for your Headspace and TalkSpace subscriptions out of your own pocket. But you don’t talk about that much because you know it is all such a privilege compared to what other people are going through. But it’s hard.

A picture is worth a thousand words. And if you have a thousand words inside you for every image of injustice, you ask yourself what is a thousand times a thousand, and then you ask yourself if there is even any point to doing this math… What does it matter how many words you have, if you feel you can’t say them or you don’t believe anyone is really listening? Sometimes you try to forget that all the words are there, because it all feels like TOO DAMN MUCH.

But It’s true: Your white colleagues never seem to understand what you are going through. Remember those nights you watched cable news and reflected on what made the anchors think it was okay to play videos of Black bodies twisted in pain on repeat in the background? Remember the times you cried because you clicked on that hashtag and found out what happened to that sista or brother? You were on Twitter and it felt like a river of blood flowed through your timeline, despite the fact the videos don’t autoplay anymore…and you felt bad because for just a minute you couldn’t remember which senseless tragedy was which. (The cities and stories are all so different, but they are also all the same. You remember the names, and speak of those who were killed in conversation as if you are related, because you are. You only remember their faces as they appeared in the photos shared by the families, because sometimes in the videos made of their lynchings, you felt compelled to look away.)

But somehow you found a way to pull yourself together and go to work despite it all. And peppy people asked you how your weekend was, and you felt like your commute to work landed you in a different world. Now, thanks to the damn ‘Rona, the commute is shorter, but the distance feels even greater. A sista on Twitter told me that during her Monday morning staff meeting, she felt like she was the one “bringing down the Zoom room.” I sympathize. When Sandra Bland was killed, I went to work and the mask I usually wear to hide the pain no longer fit. White colleagues saw the look on my face. They asked me what was wrong, I answered, “white supremacy.” Since they often went to great lengths to tell me how progressive and aware they were (SO progressive! SO aware!) I don’t know why they looked like I had kicked their mother, but…

But that’s on a regular day. This is NOT a regular day. This is DIFFERENT.


You think I’m just stressed. That I’m not handling the whole “tumbling into next-level dystopia” thing very well. I’m not here to lie to you, that might be true. (Can you blame me?!) But you don’t have to take my word for it. The Bible — that book that managed not to burst into flames when held by Donald Trump the other day — says there is no new thing under the sun. Look it up. (I’m queer — trust me, LOOK IT UP…because people tell you that stuff is in the Bible that they just saw on a bumper sticker. Real talk.)

Nothing new under the sun. For everything there is a season. And this is the snatching season. You know that you would not be the first to take everything you can get in the midst of a crisis. (Yes, that dude really was running down the street with a cheesecake in Seattle.) But the looting has never been restricted to the strip malls. Listen: I’ve noticed that sometimes -- just sometimes -- a statement made by a Black person somehow carries more weight when folks hear that same statement coming from a white person, so you should go read Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. You’ll see. Nah, strike that. You ain’t got no time for reading right now…we gotta get what we came for. Read up on the theory later.

Just trust me when I say that even though you are new to the game, other folks have been down this road before. It’s a THING. But too often the people doing the looting are not on our side. But trust and believe that their goody bags are FULL. The flood waters breached the levees in New Orleans and those looters came in and snatched away a whole entire public school system! Like the ENTIRE THING, yo! Public housing? Looters rolled in, replaced thousands of affordable apartments with a handful of pastel colored duplexes and lottery tickets — I mean, Section 8 vouchers — and called it a day! Quick as a flash!

And as that corrupt Chicago politician with no love for Black folks once said…Oh, wait…I need to be more specific… As the corrupt Chicago politician with no love for Black people that worked for OBAMA —Rahm Emmanuel — once said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.” Rahm has spoken! (And If you are going to listen to something he says, this is your best bet!)

But if you don’t want to follow Rahm’s lead, you can call upon the ancestors (or just ask some of your woke Black senior citizen friends) to learn how those on the side of justice looted on our collective behalf. Voting Rights Act? Fair Housing Act? We wouldn’t have had either without Black people making the case for big changes when other sisters and brothers were hitting the streets and disturbing the peace. It’s the “Circle of Life: Looting Edition.” It’s the hoop that never ends, y’all. Step up into your destiny.

It’s the “Circle of Life: Looting Edition.” It’s the hoop that never ends, y’all. Step up into your destiny.

You won’t be alone. In the weeks since George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery were taken from us, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Public Schools cut ties with police department (thanks to the U of M’s first Black Student Body president, yet another sister getting the job done!), choke holds are being banned, cops are getting fired and charged with crimes...folks even having convos about DEFUNDING THE POLICE on basic cable news. Taylor Swift (God help me!) is even getting in on the act. The list goes on and on and on. It’s no accident -- folks are seeing the opportunities and making power moves.


You think you don’t have this in you? Trust me. YOU DO. You just gotta find your style. Maybe you are bringing a dominatrix energy — that can work, especially with orgs that considered themselves liberal and are trying to repent. Maybe you are pissed and feel you don’t even want to deal with these folks. Cool. Keep it to the point. It’ll make it all seem mysterious and encourage them not to get lost in the sauce and instead send you a bullet point list of all the useful stuff they are agreeing to do. You think you are too shy? This can be a secret weapon, because folks get ADDICTED to notions of civility at times like this, lemme tell you. Knock on the door before you step in to take ALL THE THINGS. And if you are white? Here’s the thing: other white folks are generally unable to see you as a problem during times of racial discord. Even you white rabble-rousers are on the team. You might consider just physically taking the computers and other gear out of the office and donating it to a local Black-led, Black-serving community organization. It’ll be fine. I saw a video of white woman looting a department store yesterday, and the newscaster said she just HAD TO ASSUME that the white woman was an employee stashing the stuff to keep it safe. If you get busted, you’ll get like 15 warnings first, and you’ll all laugh about it later.

If you are shy, no worries. Just knock on the door before you step in to take ALL THE THINGS.

Looters know that time is precious. So you know what you don’t wanna do right now? Don’t accept ANY listening sessions, roundtables, presentations, conferences or committee formation as a substitute for real change in the organization. Why not? Come on, in the words of the African-American philosopher Big Freedia, “YOU ALREADY KNOOOOOW!” That’s just a hustle…don’t fall for the okey-doke, people! They know the clock is ticking. We are LOOTERS, damnit, We ain’t waiting around for cops (or committees).

But beyond what you already know, and maybe more to the point, is that THEY already know…know what to do, that is. That shit is already probably WRITTEN DOWN somewhere. More than once. The first version might be in some elderly secretary’s files, the most recent version is in some file on the boss’ Google drive. They used the money from the raise they didn’t give you to pay the consultant they hired to lay out all their “diversity/ equity/ inclusion/ social justice/ inclusive excellence” goals for them. Remember the #BlackLivesMatter protest led by the students at Mizzou (The University of Missouri)? They didn’t have to take the time to come up with a full list of demands, the boycotts and hunger strike were in part to push the administration to fulfill the demands of the Black students who protested there back in 1969! But if you have suggestions, that’s cool, we can use those later.

With any luck, they’ll come back with an offer. A REAL offer. If you are really lucky, you might even be a little impressed. Great. But guess what? You are not gonna accept that. NOPE. IT IS NOT ENOUGH. (Considering the debt that Black folks are owed, it likely never will be enough, but don’t dwell on that now…) We ain’t shopping on a budget. We are opportunists on a mission. Plus, you know — from all that salary negotiation stuff you read, but never actually used — that they NEVER open with their best offer.

Even if the PR folks got your target talking about “structural racism” and “oppression” in that statement they put on Twitter, that doesn’t mean they are gonna offer up the keys to the kingdom. They talk a good game but still expect folks asking for change to roll up like Oliver Twist asking for porridge. Save that incrementalism for some moment where Native Americans ain’t fancy dancing in the street around a fallen Christopher Columbus statue. Go big or go home! You gotta grab A LOT as you run to the door, because you know you are gonna drop a bunch along the way, and you gotta make it all worth your while.

What passes for structural changes in the org? Insist on that. Cuomo said a pandemic was the perfect time to reconsider the ENTIRE CONCEPT of public education! Consider the power and infinite positive potential of that comment if you had ANY reason to believe that he had the best interest of kids from marginalized communities at heart! That can be you, right now. Make some big moves on the side of justice and freedom.

Yeah, they’ll probably do some sappy profile of their efforts on their website, and maybe something they do doesn’t actually work out the way you hoped, but you gotta accept some losses. When you are boosting at this rate of speed, not everything in the haul is gonna be a perfect fit.


Get in. Get out. Get it over with. This burden shouldn’t fall to you, yet here we are. You have spent so much time doing this work, and they have spent so much time ignoring the pain — even if they recoil in shock at the suggestion. You need to get back to healing, back to figuring out how to raise free Black children in a nation that doesn’t deserve them, back to finding ways to connect with others who can support you right now, finding ways to hold on to hope despite the concerted efforts to deny it to you. But now is the time. Rise and Shine. Time for ONE MORE PUSH, fam… until the next push.

If you missed the moment, that’s a bummer. The Germans have a word -- treppenwitz -- for when you figure out the clever thing to say after the moment has passed. That’s rough. But here’s the thing. You will get another chance to shoot your shot. It’s like that line in the J Lo movie, “Enough:” “As sure as he is a coward, he will try to kick you…” There WILL be another disaster informed by the racial injustices of this nation. Of this there can be no doubt. And even if you doubt that — or can’t bear to think about it right now — you know there will be some racial mess WITHIN your organization soon enough, YOU KNOW THIS.

Depending on where or when or how it goes down, they might even come to you looking to cover their behinds. They already plan to tell people about the “listening session” they had and how they “consulted with their staff of color” on how to proceed. This could happen at any time, so don’t get ready, STAY READY. And when the time comes, feel no shame, be opportunistic, stand in your finally — if temporarily — acknowledged power. . .and start looting. Snatch as much as you can, demand better for Black people in your organization. Demand the kind of "better for Black people" that fuels #BlackLivesMatter, the kind of better that makes life better for ALL OF US, all marginalized communities (and, SURPRISE! - better for all the people for whom these systems were built). Bend the arc. Do it for the culture.

Let me know what you are planning to grab.... gail.j.drakes@gmail.com or @gaildrakes (Twitter)
Created By
Gail Drakes