What’s Next for Black Lives Matter
Occupy Wall Street (OWS) rolled across the nation like a thundering herd of buffalo. It was loud, confrontational, succinct in its message and deliberate in its purpose. Then it disappeared. The only evidence that it ever existed are the old t-shirts and YouTube videos of police using pepper spray on sitting students. It produced no new legislation; it changed no behaviors in the financial industry; not one elected official other than Elizabeth Warren owes his/her political career to the movement. And sadly, this is was part of its organization strategy.
Members didn’t want a centralized power structure or a systematic political process. They set out to have an organic movement controlled by no one; loosely connected from city to city, malleable to the whims of anyone who wanted to claim the mantra. The problem is that as easily as an organic movement can emerge and spread, it can die. I facetiously use the word “can” because the truth is that a disparate movement floundering on organic emotions will inevitable die.
Black Lives Matter is at the one year mark and it must now come to grips with the idea that it cannot continue as a battle cry for protesters or a hashtag for Black Twitter. The success thus far — mainstream conversation, illumination of race issues in America, highlighting disparities in policing — is minimal when stacked against the enormous challenges facing the black community.
More than any time in my life, the hurt, anger and frustration emanating from the black community is not falling on deaf ears. There is coverage of unarmed blacks killed by police. President Obama discussed the number of non-violent inmates in our prison system, and most Americans recognize the disparities in sentencing between black and white prisoners. But American interest in any given topic is fleeting. Eventually the crowds get smaller; a different issue becomes front and center and Black Lives Matter becomes a footnote in history. In the GOP Presidential debate, Black Lives Matter was mentioned only once. It is not far fetched to believe that by the time we get to the general election, Black Lives Matter will devolve into “that thing” that people use to talk about.
To avoid this, it is time to open a new front. Where OWS failed to go Black Lives Matter must. Now is the time to call for action and not just in the form of marches; it is a call to support very specific legislation and policies that are in the best interest of black people. We have to frame these discussions the same way politicians frame Family Values and Free Market Enterprise.
If you believe in the free market, there is a litmus test that determines the veracity of that belief. Free market advocates measure the policies they support against the voting record of politicians. The grades reflect future endorsements from advocacy groups. The more powerful the group, the more politicians covet their endorsement. The same goes for gun right advocacy, abortion, women’s issues, immigration and the environment. It must now be true for Black Lives Matter.
It is time to name policy positions that test whether or not a politician is on the side of black people. If they say Black Lives Matter, then tangible evidence should exist to support that claim. Did he support legislation to reduce sentencing for non-violent offenders? Did she author a bill that would encourage more urban economic development? Did he support a bill that would demand changes in police departments train their officers? Did she support a bill that would help black farmers maintain their independence? Did he support a bill making it more difficult for states to change their voter laws?
An important aspect of this approach is that black people should not wait for politicians to write the legislation. We should do that for ourselves. The following is a list of some of the demands on the Black Lives Matter website:
We demand full, living wage employment for our people.
We demand decent housing fit for the shelter of human beings and an end to gentrification.
We demand access to affordable healthy food for our neighborhoods.
We demand an aggressive attack against all laws, policies, and entities that disenfranchise any community from expressing themselves at the ballot.
We demand a public education system that teaches the rich history of Black people and celebrates the contributions we have made to this country and the world.
We demand the release of all U.S. political prisoners.
Demands are always a good start but it has to further. Accompanying each demand should be a link to a PDF file of a completed legislative bill. There numerous advocacy organizations that produce their own legislation. Black Lives Matter should not be any different. If a politician states their support for the black community then it is only right to measure their proclamation against their votes.
This is the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement. And this is not to say the marches should go away. The rallies and the marches are how we stoke the energy. We need two fronts: the first to galvanize and harness the energy; the second to take that energy to push for tangible and measurable results. We will always need the agitators. Nothing gained in America has ever come without a street fight — figuratively and literally.
We owe it to the black lives lost that brought us to this place in history to not speak up, but accomplish something as well. Considering the political landscape it may take a decade to see the fruits of our labor. But if black lives really matter, then the effort is well worth it.