If Black Lives Matter, #BlackLivesMatter Has to Grow Up
There has been a sway of criticism of Bernie Sanders vis #blacklivesmatter - I have tried to capture some of this on my own blog. This is by far the best criticism of the #blacklivesmatter movement I have read (and I have seen tons of whining Sander’s supporters’ work). It is by Oliver Willis, who is a Research Fellow at Media Matters for America.
So then, what is the point of #BlackLivesMatter? On a practical level I believe it is about effecting changes in policies and attitudes with regards to America’s stance towards black (and brown) people. If so, there’s only one real way to get this done.
I think there are two fundamental problems with what feels like the dominant progressive perspective on how real, concrete change happens (not coincidentally, this is also the root of a lot of progressive disappointment in President Obama, but that’s a fight for another day).
If you just protest something, it isn’t going to change policy. I think this belief comes about thanks to the fairy tale manner in which social change has been discussed in America, particularly related to the progressive movement.
When Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, SNCC, the NAACP and thousands of other organizations marched and demonstrated against racism, they didn’t simply protest against the concept of racism. Their direct actions were almost always targeted at some policy, whether within a city, state, or nationally. There were not civil rights marches to “raise awareness” of systemic racism. The protests were about: bus service, counter service, voter registration, education access, and on and on. They weren’t protests just to have a protest, but instead protests with a very clear “ask” of government, government officials, elected representatives and beyond.
For them to act, we can’t lambast – for instance – Bernie Sanders for not magically coming up with a plan to appease #BlackLivesMatter.
What instead has to be done is to present politicians with a slate of ideas/policies/laws — concrete ideas, not pie in the sky unicorn talk about “ending white supremacy,” etc. — and then hold their feet to the fire if they choose not to support the slate.
On the right, this has been extraordinarily effective. Grover Norquist’s group, Americans for Tax Reform, has a pledge that Republican candidates at all levels are pressured to sign. It is a promise never to raise taxes, under any circumstances. The carrot they are offered is that anyone who signs on will receive ATR’s backing in election and re-election. The stick is that ATR will go on the attack, pointing out their failure to sign the “no-tax” pledge. Politicians fear this, and widely sign on to the pledge.
The pledge and its implicit threat if you don’t support it, constantly hangs over the heads of conservative politicians. It informs the laws that they propose and oppose. Even if it isn’t top of mind, it is always there.