#BlackLivesMatter and the “new civil rights movement”

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It’s become increasingly clear that #BlackLivesMatter is a movement that won’t be ignored. Sadly, it seems that every day brings another reminder why it exists, and we learn the names of people like Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray only because of the tragedies that befell them. While the #BlackLivesMatter may be still developing and coming into its own, there’s no question that it’s making an impact. Elizabeth Day at The Guardian has a great piece about the origins of #BlackLivesMatter (including the prominent role played by women) and what she calls the “birth of a new civil rights movement.”

That sadly growing list of names should be all the explanation one needs to realize the importance of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and message that kicked off with the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Yet somehow there are still some people who don’t seem to grasp the fierce urgency and think that virulent racism isn’t the issue that it was in the civil rights movement. To get a sense of the deep fear and rage that make this movement indispensable, you need look no further than the depressing, heartbreaking tweets with the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody:

It’s shameful that such a hashtag even has to exist, and this kind of brutality warrants an aggressive response. But as we saw when #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupted the progressive conference Netroots Nation, that aggressiveness still makes some on the left uncomfortable. As Emily Crockett writes:

That was an especially timely sentiment at Netroots, which erupted in controversy Saturday after a group of Black women activists protested a town hall with presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. The activists demanded that the candidates say the names of Black women murdered by police, asked for specific plans to combat systemic racial injustice, and interrupted when the answers rang false.

Some attendees and event organizers were incensed by the action, fearing that no presidential candidate would ever come to Netroots again after that. But other attendees said the event was an important reckoning for white progressives, and an embarrassing failure by the candidates to connect with a marginalized community over an urgent problem.

Some of this is going to make people, especially white people, uncomfortable. But we need to recognize the profound moment we are in. Many of the people who recoiled at this protest are probably the same people who cheer when they watch Fannie Lou Hamer forcefully push the voices of black voters into the 1964 Democratic Convention. We don’t have the safe distance of history; we are in this now, with all the complications and discomfort that can bring. We need to decide what our role will be.  It’s an important time for white activists to really, truly, intently listen and learn where and how we can support #BlackLivesMatter in the most effective way possible. Whether you want to call it a “new civil rights movement,” it’s a righteous cause and we need to be on board.

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

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