I’m headed to Ferguson next week not to merely protest, but to document the solidarity at which the community is thriving. I’m traveling cross-country with Black Lives Matter, armed with nothing but a smartphone, camera, notepad, and a greater resolve for social purpose. I am riding to sharpen community organizing methods, to connect with other concerned members of society, and to add fuel to the national spark which is slowly becoming the next great wave of the Civil Rights Movement.
And though my soul is hungry, and my mind is clear, my anger is seething. Not just towards the forces of institutionalized oppression that murdered Mike Brown. But towards the apathetic Black community that enjoys haranguing on the sidelines; undermining the overall credibility of the thousands and thousands of protesters who are being teargassed and arrested, and the allies who support them.
I read this piece on Friends of Ebonie. Chief Millennial Officer Ebonie Johnson Cooper writes about her displeasure with hashtivism. Of how she will not join in on the protests or national outcry because the momentum is fleeting. Her piece is righteous in its criticisms of fleeting interest; a quick glance through a Facebook timeline can show just how controversies fade in and out of online consciousness.
I understand her perspective wholeheartedly. And in some respects, I agree. It’s clear she has a deep understanding of the Civil Rights Movement. However, there are others that don’t.
History has romanticized The Civil Rights Movement. Flip through that one chapter in your high school history book, and you’ll read a diluted story of The March on Washington, bus boycotts, and sit-ins. You won’t read about the relentless strategizing sessions in church basements. You won’t read about part time community organizers, who, in their hearts, supported the Cause, but also had children to raise and jobs to keep.
Instead, you’ll find a glorified depiction of a systematic struggle, in which it seems that Black people overcame legal, economic, political, and social hurdles every second of every day. The mainstream story is glossy, and barely scratches the surface of the complicated, intricate, and dangerous forces protesters faced.
Fast forward to today, and this romanticized version of the Movement is used as leverage against today’s wave. People will quickly undermine, disregard, and outright chastise protesters in Ferguson and beyond, as a insignificant bump in the national civil rights radar.
In a recent discussion with an acquaintance, she applauded my personal efforts, but derided the larger mobilization as a minute occurrence. At a lost for words, I promptly ended the discussion, and held on to the truth that she, and others like her, will soon come to know.
Look around. This is not just a FB like or a retweet. People are genuinely galvanized to action. We have more resources at our disposal to effectively inspire change in a plethora of societal realms. And social media is one of them.
Social media, despite the bubbles and cat memes, is a genuine tool in communicative strategizing. It can genuinely work wonders in unifying a base fractured by region, gender, education, and employment. Furthermore, it can educate others and get them interested in the effort.
Sure, a person may like a post, and never revisit it again. But the same happened during the Civil Rights Movement. Only, it wasn’t Facebook likes; instead it was brief attendance at a community meeting, or handing out flyers on a weekend. In whole, the Civil Rights Movement was (and still is) a remarkable feat in social methodizing. But it’s greatness is defined by the individual parts that kept the machine running.
So when I hear Black people in particular discredit Ferguson and its protesters, I feel a rattling frustration predicated on ignorance of what a social movement is and how it functions. Instead of wasting the energy critiquing the elements that don’t fit into a whitewashed narrative (because that gets us nowhere), perhaps we should support those we do see out on the streets. The people who dared to get from in front of their computer screens, and made their support tangible.
I find it ironic that people who criticize tirelessly, and embrace, psuedo-revolutionary language, are guilty of the same offense they profess to denounce; sitting on the sidelines wreathing in anger, but ultimately doing nothing. It’s okay to opine; hell, as Editor-in-Chief of this blog, it’s part of my job. But what upsets me most is when said critics use the Movement as some sort of justification for their current displeasure.
When it’s used as a comparison today’s methods of social organizing, it’s clear that a holistic knowledge of the Movement is lacking.