Black Lives Matter, Policy and Movement Building

In what would be Dr. Kings final book, Where do we go from here?, the civil rights legend talked about the lifeblood of the civil rights movement. Through his eyes, the way to getting freedom for all black people was nonviolent mobilized action, voting, and policy. While acknowledging that the political process was ripe with racism, he pressed upon the need to use policy as one of the levers for change making. Laws won’t solve the problems of racism, but it at least gives us a pillar to stand on and verify our rights. More than 40 years since his death, the fight for racial justice continues, and a new generation of activists are in the throes of battle in an effort to make us free.

On August 4, 2016, The Movement for Black Lives released a policy platform that states their vision for racial justice, while providing clear and tangible policy solutions to get there. The platform was covered by the usual suspects but mostly ignored by political insiders and mainstream media. As everyone tries to figure out a vision for resisting Agent Orange, it’s important to take this document seriously. This platform isn’t just a shot in the dark, it’s smart, detailed and provides real solutions. But If we are to achieve even a fraction of their platform, we will need to build a sustained grassroots movement like no other.

There are two things that move elected officials to action, money, and votes. Special interest groups use their deep pockets to lobby politicians, big businesses use their relationships to push policy, and groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA) use a combination of both as well as constituent mobilization to get their way. They understand the system and in turn, have reaped the benefits of their efforts. The LGBTQ movement saw the success of these practices and soon enough created and supported organizations that could advocate for their rights.

Their involvement in the political process through dollars and votes has pushed the needle on the banning of conversion therapy and the legalization of same-sex marriage. The same can be said of the labor movement, which has used the natural base of their dues paying members to push the agenda on plabor policies, and while victory is not always guaranteed for the labor or LGBTQ movement, they are at least a consistent part of the conversation and have the power to move their base to action.

In the fight for black lives, this machine to mobilize our dollars and votes is hard to find. Groups like the National Action Network and the National Urban League while still active and helpful, do not have the resources or the base to put real fear into the heart of politicians. Instead, in many instances, they are inserted into the conversation out of respect for past accomplishments, but without strong sway in the politics or the policy.

Along with their diminished power in politics, and despite their best efforts, many of these civil rights groups from the old guard do not have the support of younger activists who find their tactics too “old school” or their policies counterproductive to a movement that stands up for all hues and variations of blackness.

With no true driver of grassroots mobilization, the black community is left with no champion to represent our politics. It’s one of the reasons our issues are more likely to be ignored until Election Day, the reason politicians can get away with supporting private prisons with little to no consequences, the reason we received a half mention during Candidate Hillary’s DNC speech while other groups received clear timelines for their priority issues.

If we are really interested in justice, the Movement for Black Lives gives us an opportunity to change this. Not tokenism, not half-assed concessions or politicians who give lip service without results.We must build and support a new movement. The grassroots movement.

That movement can be Black Lives Matter, A Million Hoodies, the Black Youth Project, all three of them or something completely different. But it is imperative that we begin to invest in organizations that do this work. Invest in them with our time, dollars, voices, votes, and efforts. When we have picked our new champions, it is even more important for us to register to vote and dive head first into the political process. True change will not come from hashtags and raised fist profile pictures. It will come from our full-fledged dedication to the cause.

And now, here is the hardest part. The one piece I wish I could leave out, but doing so would be an injustice. When we have our champion, our votes, and our grassroots machine, be prepared to lose. Be prepared to spend days, months, even years fighting for a cause, and then being forced to settle for less than you wanted. The process is ugly, it will take a lot out of you, but this is a battle worth fighting. Dr. King saw the importance of a sustained grassroots movement, in a lot of ways, he helped create the blueprint for the way we work, and if we are to continue to win, we must take his words to heart.

“ A final victory is an accumulation of many short-term encounters. To lightly dismiss a success because it does not usher in a complete order of justice is to fail to comprehend the process of achieving full victory. It underestimates the value of confrontation and dissolves the confidence born of partial victory by which new efforts are powered.” The road will be rough, the challenges will be frequent and sometimes seem insurmountable, but with a sustained grassroots movement, we can and will win.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store