by Jon Nevett, President and CEO, Public Interest Registry
Watching George Floyd’s funeral left me with a swirl of emotions. Anger, grief and then a surprise: hope. The last few weeks have been a devastating reminder of how Americans live vastly different lives based on their skin color. Discussions about when members of the Black community had the “talk” with their children concerning how to act around police reveal a burden that I, as a white man, have never experienced.
Yet, in all of this, I feel a sense of hope. Hope that we, as Americans, will seize this opportunity to achieve real and impactful change. For the first time in my adult lifetime, the country seems poised to truly act. But in order to succeed, this moment will require something from everyone: government action, civic response, individual initiative, and systemic change from organizations.
.ORGs play a unique and important role in this struggle. The .ORG Community is on the front lines of addressing injustice and creating initiatives to rise up people of color. From the NAACP to Color of Change to the Common Ground Foundation, .ORG is used to advance civil rights, fight against racial injustice, and create programs that lift up under-serviced communities. That’s why we intend to recognize and honor .ORGs that advance equality, equity and inclusion all over the world as part of PIR’s .ORG Impact Awards celebration this fall.
As a society, we also are grappling with the cacophony of voices expressing opinions on issues such as policing, privilege, and promoting a more accepting society for all Americans.
Watching the demonstrations spurred by George Floyd’s killing brings to mind the challenges we face on the Internet balancing civil rights and civil expression. The massive peaceful protests leave me confident we will achieve necessary change, while senseless acts of violence by police, looters, and counter-protesters leave me dismayed and concerned that the change we so desperately need may not be easily achieved. In a way, this dichotomy is the same challenge PIR and everyone else who facilitates action and expression online confronts.
Our obligation is to support free and legal expression, while raising alarms and taking action when that expression becomes illegal and violent.
In a society that treasures free expression, finding that balance is a difficult and sometimes messy process, but PIR will remain transparent as we continually endeavor to find it. That means at times accepting expression that, while abhorrent, is legal and protected by the First Amendment in the U.S. But it can also mean supporting organizations that are closing gaps in society and ensuring that the voices of those who haven’t had a voice are heard.
This has to be more than lip service. PIR is building a program that includes donations to organizations advancing equality, equity, and inclusion and internal initiatives to ensure we are living up to those principles.
Many non-Black Americans have awoken to the realization of just how different the lives of their Black family members, friends, and neighbors are—and we cannot go back to sleep. The author Philip K. Dick wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.” We cannot wish our racial dissonance away, but we can work to create a more harmonious and just society for us all.
For over two decades .ORG has been the epicenter for organizations seeking to help, heal, and bring people together worldwide. But the last few weeks have been a wakeup call to everyone, including PIR, that those efforts haven’t done enough. PIR will support all those in the .ORG Community who are dedicating their time, resources, and in some cases, their lives, to this cause.
This is our moment in time, our opportunity. We must seize it.