If Black Lives Matter is to grow from a moment to a movement it must move from protest to politics
It is easy for those, like me, who have worked in the labor movement, the most effective grassroots engine for real change, to be cynical about what appears to be young privileged Civil Rights Reenactors. Their motives are pure and their desire for change is worthy of our respect, but their impatience and naivety leave much to be desired. History has brought Rustin’s writing back to us at a time we need it most as we are struggling with the stolen lives of young Black Americans calling for justice.
As Rustin put it in 1964;
“Already Southern demonstrators had recognized that the most effective way to strike at the police brutality they suffered from was by getting rid of the local sheriff—and that meant political action, which in turn meant, and still means, political action within the Democratic party where the only meaningful primary contests in the South are fought.”
Change does not come overnight, yet moments can be transformed into movements with discipline, coalition building and patience. Not patience to endure suffering but patience to build a movement, the understanding that without coalitions groups can easily become fragmented and isolated. What is an interruption of a Sanders campaign event can become the spark that lights the fire or the flame that we turn away from. Simply put Rustin knew that real change must come from our democratic society and to ignore economic solutions and the larger needs of the community in the need to lash out in righteous anger and outrage is to effect no change at all.
Across the country we have elected leaders in law enforcement and the judicial system that can change the culture. We have elected officials at all levels who can choose to usher in change or stand in the way and ride a backlash to electoral success. Black Lives Matter must organize and demonstrate that the people are determined to find a better way. Black Lives Matter is a moment that may be lost in the wave of coverage as the 2016 election season heats up. It doesn’t have to be this way.
From Protest to Politics points the way.
The question is: will the Black Lives Matter leadership be more concerned about their ego needs than the needs of the community? The people are ready to stand with these young warriors, but first they must prove that they can engage in the hard work of organizing a movement and I can tell you as a former union organizer the most important skill is listening to the people. Leaders have followers and for now Black Lives Matters is following itself leading a parade without those seasoned community leaders it disrespected. The moment calls for wisdom and that wisdom is in today’s headlines as Bayard Rustin is honored for his place in the evolution of our nation to a more perfect union.
It is time for the leaders and activists of Black Lives Matter to read and heed Rustin’s words in From Protest to Politics then begin building. Our future as a nation for all people depends on it. As Rustin eloquently said in closing his essay;
“We cannot claim to have answers to all the complex problems of modern society. That is too much to ask of a movement still battling barbarism in Mississippi. But we can agitate the right questions by probing at the contradictions which still stand in the way of the “Great Society.” The questions having been asked, motion must begin in the larger society, for there is a limit to what Negroes can do alone.”