“This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” – Frederick Douglass, 1857
I was recently struck by a piece in the Washington Post by Barbara Reynolds, an ordained minister and former USA Today editor and columnist. Reynolds wrote that she finds it ‘hard to get behind today’s Black Lives Matter movement.’
She waxes nostalgic about the methods and intentions of leaders of the past civil rights era and draws a contrast with Black Lives Matter movement leaders and activists, finding them too confrontational, too disruptive, and too inclined toward sagging pants and boorish language.
In different circumstances, I might dismiss Reynolds as one voice, yearning for a time of decorum – even in the face of sanctioned beatings and police dog attacks – and showing her age and distance from the modern, youthful energy of today’s Black liberation movements.
But Reynolds is not alone.
I’ve heard the same critiques come from supporters of Democratic candidates that have faced protests by Black Lives Matter Activists. In one piece, Atlantic columnist Conor Friedersdorf listed all of the ways he sees the Black Lives Matter movement scaring their friends away, concluding that the Black Lives Matter activists need to organize “in a manner more likely to increase the odds that a coalition from across the ideological spectrum” will support their issues. Another columnist talking about Black Lives Matter protest tactics argued simply, “It’s stupid, don’t do it.”
What’s happening here is dangerously familiar to me. These authors list a litany of reasons to justify their hesitations to fully support Black Lives Matter activists, to justify claims of “I support Black lives, but….” Familiar because I’m reminded that whenever an oppressed group pushes beyond the boundaries imposed on it by outside forces, when we make too much noise, when we get a little too in-your-face, when we exercise our agency to determine the destiny of our communities – there is always pushback.
And – as has been demonstrated in recent months by pundits, right wingers, politicians of all ilks– this rising up, this new Black movement-building, has always been met by strong societal censure that attempts to silence activists, gain distance from them, force them back to the way things were, shame or harm them more.
This has been true movement after movement. LGBTQ folks being told they need to fit in, women being told to not be so aggressive and, now, young, Black organizers being told they need to not be so loud. This attack on tactics – especially from those we’d think would be our friends – is all too common when attacks based on issues fall flat.
New tactics for a new era.
This new version of the continued movement for Black liberation holds the same intense need for justice. They are fighting for many of the same things: the right to freedom from being murdered in cold blood by anyone who hides behind a law enforcement badge and uniform; the right to peaceful assembly without one’s activities being assumed to be gang-affiliated or criminally-informed; the right to travel on local streets and highways without the threat of being stopped, intimidated, profiled, or murdered.
But they are choosing different tactics for a different time.
So, what if, instead of quibbling over tactics or questioning strategies, we offered our full support to the leadership and energy of the young, Black organizers at the forefront of this movement?
What if we stop trying to tell those who are putting their bodies on the line, what methods are best?
What if we simply trusted the leadership of those most impacted by injustice?
Today’s young activists and movement leaders were raised in a time of digital access to all the news out there; raised with access to more information in a millisecond than my generation saw over 10 years. They are acutely – and immediately – aware of ‘in real time’ killings in broad daylight of unarmed Black men, boys, women, and trans* folks. They have access to organizing tools and platforms that the civil rights movements of decades past couldn’t dream of.
It is their generation that will have to deal with the long-term consequences of unchecked police brutality and record-level incarceration rates. And they understand that, in order to change that, they will have to struggle, have to demand a better, more just future.
So, no, as rapper Tef Poe pointed out, this is not your grandmother’s civil rights movement. It is a new movement, invigorated by the energy of a young, diverse, and committed group of Black organizers. It is being led by those who are most impacted in a way that best aligns with their community, their needs, their vision. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.