Sunday, July 30, 2017

And Speaking of Black Lives Matter

Speaking of Black Lives Matter, I am apparently not the only one to notice their recent silence in the face of police shootings and acquittals and to wonder if it hand anything to do with the Trump presidency.  This article says that the answer is yes -- that recognizing that they no longer have an ally in the federal government, the movement has moved away from demonstrating and more into local community activism.  This activism is carried out mostly at the municipal level and addresses specific issues and appropriate -- on raising money to pay bail for indigent defendants, on treating marijuana possession as a ticket rather than an arrest, on the use of body cameras, or demanding action over local incidents without taking to the streets and so forth.  And it is moving more into the realm of mainstream lobbying, mostly at the local level, with one member running (unsuccessfully) for Mayor of Baltimore and later joining the Democratic National Committee.  Another is taken to the paid speaker's circuit and proven a successful fundraiser from the usual sources.  All this flies under the local, to say nothing of the national, radar system.

It is too early to say whether this means the movement is dying or morphing into a more mainstream lobbying and activist organization is hard to say.  But to the extent that Black Lives Matter is morphing into a mainstream group, this is an entirely healthy development for a number of reasons.

One, that the article actually quotes from a scholar of social movements, is that that is how effective social movements work.  They start out on the street level, but go on to organize and to lobby within the corridors of power.  Any movement that limits itself to street level protests will fizzle out because, no matter how numerous and passionate the participants, ultimately they have lives and cannot sustain such a volume and level of protest for long.  Quite correctly, he gives Occupy Wall Street as a counter-example -- the regarded organizing and developing an actual program, to say nothing of accessing the corridors of power, as selling out and pure protest for protest's sake as ideological purity.  Well, such purity is the luxury of people who can afford to live in the realm of abstraction. For people who have actual, real-world problems and want concrete, tangible improvement, such concerns are foolish.

Another reason is that Black Lives Matter does not have good control over its street protests.  Some have led to outright ambush and killing of cops.  Others have degenerated into riots.  And even though these have been a distinct minority, a definite ugliness has been more common.  Movements of the streets tend to have their rough and rowdy side -- the Tea Party certainly did, as did Occupy Wall Street -- but this one was particularly out of control.  The sooner the movement gets off the streets, the less of a problem this will be.

Closely related is that coming in off the streets turns down the temperature on the whole movement. Yes, you can criticize police for regarding any sort of criticism as an attack, but it is simply a fact of life that the worst excesses of a movement will come to characterize it in the eyes of most outsiders. Police are more likely to be willing to listen to criticism and accept reforms in the absence of riots on the streets and protesters who seem on the verge of riot.

And finally, this is the way to build a movement -- from the bottom up.  Democrats are learning a hard lesson about the dangers of putting all their eggs in the Presidential basket -- or even in the federal basket.  Black Lives Matter's complaints are (for the most part) at the local level.  It makes sense for the movement to establish itself at the local level first.  From there it can move on the the state level, which is where most of the laws are made that the police enforce.  And by the time the federal level is within reach once again -- well, with luck the will have a broad-based, well rooted, formidable movement that is well established as part of the political system.

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