- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) - Kate and Ben MacShane weren’t the only ones upset by the hateful and divisive nature of the 2016 election cycle.

Their desire to stand up for social justice and equality was also shared by many fellow Frederick residents.

But among the countless rallies, community group gatherings and statements of support, they saw something missing.

“There was a need … for organization,” Kate MacShane said in an interview Feb. 22. “It was a base of support that felt really loose and unorganized.”

In this gap, the Frederick couple found opportunity to combine their skills in community organizing and their belief in social justice causes. The MacShanes founded the Frederick chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) within the last few months.

SURJ is an advocacy group with chapters nationwide aimed at organizing white people to stand up for racial equality and related social justice causes, according to the organization website. There are also Maryland chapters in Baltimore city, Montgomery County, Annapolis and the Delmarva Peninsula along Maryland’s Eastern Shore, according to the national website.

Although in its infancy, SURJ Frederick has gained momentum quickly. The Facebook page boasted 274 “likes” as of March 1. Both recent rallies the group helped organize - one in solidarity with the Muslim community, the other for immigrants’ rights - drew large crowds.

There’s no formal membership, apart from the six-person steering committee, which includes Ben and Kate.

“Our base is just anyone who shows up to the events,” Ben MacShane explained.

Asked about SURJ’s mission to engage white people specifically, Kate MacShane explained the distinction as one of responsibility.

“The problem of racism affects people of color most deeply,” she said. “But it is the responsibility of white people to dismantle.”

She also said, “People of color don’t need to be put in the position in yet another space of explaining how white people have oppressed them.”

Kate MacShane noted that many of the opportunities and advantages of her life were born from her “white skin privilege.” Early experiences as a child in a biracial family, schooling and professional life heightened her awareness of racial disparities.

Kate MacShane is a clinical social worker with offices in downtown Frederick. She named her prior job as a teacher in D.C. public schools, as well as the master’s in social work she received from Smith College in Massachusetts, as experiences that deepened her personal commitment to racial equality.

But she was hesitant to describe herself as a community activist.

“This is my first foray into activism beyond therapy work,” she said.

Ben MacShane, however, worked on several election campaigns earlier in his career. He also led the Get Out the Vote Campaign in St. Louis during former President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign.

More recently, his community activism work took a backseat to other pursuits: starting his own business, education and his family. But he said that hate speech and racist remarks introduced in the latest election cycle reawakened his call to activism.

“I wanted to send the message … 2017 is not your opportunity to promote racism and discriminatory beliefs,” he said.

Kate MacShane recalled the moment when she asked him to help her plan a local event in solidarity with the Muslim community.

“It was like a light turned back on,” she said to him. “You sort of sprung awake.”

After two large-scale events, SURJ Frederick organizers now look to take a step back to define their group’s role in helping promote racial equality and education. Although its leaders are white, SURJ Frederick seeks to partner with groups that represent people of color and other marginalized communities, called “accountability partners,” according to the national model.

“Right now, we’re really in a listening phase,” Kate MacShane said. “There is a lot for us to learn before we can be as effective as we intend to be.”

“We’re not trying to hold demonstrations for communities of color,” Ben MacShane agreed. “We’re trying to hold them with those communities.”

The Islamic Society of Frederick, which worked with SURJ Frederick to organize a rally of solidarity outside the Frederick mosque this month, is the only group that has officially signed on as an accountability partner.

Dr. Syed Haque, president of the Frederick County Muslim Council who also speaks on behalf of the Islamic Society, said he hoped the partnership would raise awareness about and give voice to the Muslim community, which might otherwise have less influence.

“We think they are a great humanitarian group,” he said.

SURJ Frederick was also discussing partnerships with several other groups.

The group wants to organize more than just rallies. Kate MacShane named community potlucks and a group discussion of a book about race relations as other examples of the types of events she hoped to promote.

“We want this to be durable, sustainable activism at the local level,” she said.

___

Information from: The Frederick (Md.) News-Post, https://www.fredericknewspost.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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