In The New Yorker article entitled “The Matter of Black Lives,” the author Jelani Cobb discusses the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Much attention has been given to Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi as the founders of the movement. Alicia Garza is responsible for coining the name of the movement. On the day when the verdict of George Zimmerman’s acquittal was reached following the shooting death of seventeen-year-old Trayvon Martin, in Sanford, Florida, she used her social media presence to get vocal over the fact that black lives still seem to matter less in the United States. Her statements gained a lot of clout and people began looking for ways to turn the powerful phrase into a serious civil-rights movement.
Still, a big aim of the movement is to get away from the “Great Man” narrative of history, and many have voiced their concerns with the fact that much focus has been placed on Black Lives Matter “founders” however, because they believe that movements that place more focus on the community of activists as a whole have more potential to succeed because responsibility is dispersed throughout the collective rather than a group waiting for the advances of the movement’s “leader.”
I chose to analyze this second article from the Washington Post because, as opposed to The New Yorker article, in “I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s- But it’s hard for me to get behind Black Lives Matter,” the author Barbara Reynolds makes a case for movements that are indeed centralized around a leader because, arguably, this allows the movement to remain centered around a peaceful ideology that the leader proliferates and maintains. The author, who was a part of the 1960s civil rights movement, claims that 60s activism was much more effective because action centered around an ideology set forth by a non-violent activist who won the heart of the public and moved productively towards change because he “convey[ed] respectability […] by delivering a message of love and unity.” This, Reynolds claims, was a tactic that had proven to be effective, and she is angered by BLM’s rejection of strategies that had already worked well.
I believe it is important, however, to take into account the emergence of new technologies and digital platforms that have given rise to whole new forms of activism. In this day and age, the ubiquity of media and mass communication platforms makes it difficult to centralize a movement around one particular figure. The nature of action has been decentralized, everyone has a voice and has the potential to garner a following.
Reynolds continues, arguing that getting angry is only going to exacerbate the hate coming from white people. The only way to move past it and make productive progress, according to Reynolds, is by seeking to protest peacefully and to inform, rather than submitting to anger. This author takes the position that collective action without a leading figure to establish a set morale for the group, can easily sway towards violent tactics when certain people in the group become violent.
The third article I read specifically focused on the technological shift that has occurred from the 1960s to today and the massive change in social activism and the organization of action that has been enabled by the mass communication platforms that are now in the pockets of almost everyone. In the 1960s, when you witnessed something newsworthy, problematic, racist, the first thing you would do is run to a telephone and go through an operator to reach a national civil rights organization. Naturally then, this form of activist involvement had to be centralized given the very nature of the communication technology that was available at the time.