LGBTQ&A: Mikhel Harrison
We talk with the Philly queer political organizer on activism, protests, and resisting Trump.
Mikhel Harrison is a political consultant for Organizing for America. We chat with the queer activist on his early beginnings, dealing with the mayhem that erupts from protests, and resisting the politics of Donald Trump.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am from North Philly, but have lived in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, North Carolina, and New Jersey. I recently moved back to Philly last year after accepting a position with OFA. In every place I lived, I made sure to stay involved in my community. I am the son of two former Philly cops and still have over a dozen of my family members on the Philadelphia PD and FD. I started my political career in high school. The election of Chris Christie put the majority of our after-school activities and help in jeopardy, so I took to the streets with classmates and knocked on hundreds of doors to pass our school district’s budget. That experience sparked my interest and ever since I’ve been a community organizer in both paid and volunteer capacities. I started my professional career working on college campuses to elect Sen. Booker. I also worked on the Hillary and PA coordinated campaigns.
You’re very active organizing in the political sphere, both locally and nationally. What has that been like as an openly queer Black millennial?
Most of my work is in the collar counties (Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Bucks). I’ve noticed that I bear the burden of having to prove myself to some of my partner organizations and volunteers whenever I start organizing in a new community. I am usually the only person of color in the room, the only person under 25 in the room, the only openly gay person in the room.
I’ve noticed that at each position there is usually a rough patch that I experience because of all of those things. I am often met with microaggressions and implicit bias in many of the spaces where I work. But I tend to use being a black queer millennial to my advantage. I’ve experienced this world in a different lens than my white counterparts. When I talk about gun violence, I let them know that I’ve been affected. When I talk about climate change, I let them know that black and brown communities are disproportionately affected. When I talk about healthcare, I let them know that I was once covered under the Affordable Care Act and that my mother is on Medicare. Usually those conversations are enough to let them know that I take my job seriously. For others, they start to realize my worth when either the cameras show up or if they participate in one of my events with large turnout/actions.
You currently work for Organizing for Action. What is a current grassroots project you love working on and why?
OFA Philly fellows leader Anna Perng just recently held a disability and inclusion summit in Philly at the Public Health Management Corporation. She brought together over a hundred disabled people and organizations that advocate for these people about two weeks ago. We discussed how to make Philadelphia a more inclusive city for disabled people with elected officials, organizations, and local advocates. The event was action oriented — several resolutions and policies were changed in real time. I look forward to working with her to make Philly a better place to live for people with disabilities.
What has been one rule of thumb you have used when dealing with dissenters, either anti-LGBTQ or white supremacists, who have attempt to disrupt a rally you helped put on?
I like to keep my cool by reminding myself that I am on the right side of history. I also adopted a new organizing strategy: I’m unapologetically black and gay in all areas of my profession. I take the high road when dealing with those type of people. Donald Trump is this country’s president, and I have no time for foolishness.
If you only had one piece of advice for those mobilizing to resist the Trump administration, what would it be and why?
Fighting this administration’s racist policies is not a spectator event. Get out and volunteer! Voting is not enough! We also need white people to get uninvited from their racist uncle’s dinner and we need more black and brown people to get out and volunteer to protect our children’s future. There are so many organizations that could use more man and woman power. Support OFA, Planned Parenthood, Juntos, join your local Indivisible chapter, make some phone calls for local candidates. There is too much work to be done.