For over a year now, the #BlackLivesMatter movement has been in the forefront of minority activism in America. It has become synonymous with the African American struggle for equality in the justice and the fight against institutional racism. No matter if it is through mass protests, an ongoing presence on social and mass media, or even the use of a simple hashtag, without the prominence of the movement itself on various platforms the collective voice of the minority community would largely have been unheard.
The movement has largely been an overwhelming success, likely more successful than its founders could have ever imagined. They have become a powerful voice in the fight against injustice, created a medium through which information is disseminated and events are organized, and even brought about policy change to address pressing issues in policing and the justice system. As a direct result of #BlackLivesMatter, body cameras have become the new norm in police departments around the country, action against police officers accused of wrong doing have moved from a slow crawl or non existent to swift and almost immediate in response, and a shift in the national conversation on incarceration and policing has occurred.
This is not to say that the BLM movement is not without its glaring flaws. Even with all of the progress that has been achieved in such a relatively short span, #BlackLivesMatter still has areas where drastic amounts of improvement need to be made in order to maximize the organizations potential.
This week, racial tensions peaked on the on the campus of The University of Missouri, an overwhelmingly Caucasian campus. Minority students believed that the University's reaction to growing incidents of racist actions against minorities had gone unheard and unaddressed for far too long, and in the ilk of the BLM Movement, protests began to sprout up around campus at major events. The actions taken at Mizzou culminated on Monday, November 9th, as the president of the university was forced to step down among high profile and highly publicized demands for his resignation. Today, the minority population of the University of Missouri won their first battle of many to come, and there are lesson from this small group of protesters that could resonate to the BLM Movement that would ultimately transform the organization from a ragtag group of angry marchers into a formidable and powerful force in the discussion of race in America.
3. BROADEN THE REACH, BUT UNIFY THE VOICE
One of the greatest achievements of BLM has been the ability to become a voice of a broad base of people from various parts of the country, different socioeconomic backgrounds, and multiple demographics. One of their most glaring flaws has been the double edged sword that the powerful and diverse group ultimately lacks a central, unifying voice. Many of the nation's most powerful and influential groups throughout history have had one thing in common: a strong central core that is charged with national organization, establishing a unified message, and becoming the point of contact. BLM, on the other hand, is largely fragmented, generally lacks predefined direction, and relies primarily on social media to disseminate information. Because of this much of the movements appears to lack structure, which to decision makers comes off as weakness.
At Mizzou, protesters took on many faces. Campus organizations, minority Greek-Lettered organizations, and even minority faculty and staff gathered behind a single, unified voice: Concerned Student 1950. The name pays homage to the first black students admitted to The University of Missouri in 1950. Rather than attempting to emulate BLM's splintered model, through Concerned Student 1950, the Legion of Black Collegians and the multitude of voices on campus successfully centralized their message and brought about change.
2. CRAFT A CONCRETE LIST OF DEMANDS, AND HOLD PEOPLE TO THE FIRE
While nobody doubts the ability to mobilize, quite possibly the biggest neglect in the entire BLM movement has been in the lack of a clear and concise list of demands from the organization. In nearly every national story in which the BLM movement has taken the seat a the head of the table, the overwhelming consensus remains; despite their strength in numbers, at no point have they provided concrete solutions to remedy to the struggle faced by the minority community. In the past year, members of BLM have sat with both the President, and current 2016 presidential candidates, as well as countless politicians and media outlets. and While the conversations have been fruitful, very little change has been brought about from those meetings primarily due to the lack of demands.
Protesters at Mizzou created a list of concrete, actionable, and attainable demands that would improve the status quo on their campus which included hiring minority faculty, increasing support for the mentally unstable, enforcing racial awareness and inclusion curriculum and establishing a plan to increase minority retention rates. Most importantly they demanded the removal of President Wolfe from his post. Not only did they create the list of demands, they held people accountable for the current situation and created an environment where change was not just suggested, it was required if normal business was to resume.
Projecting that type of power to a national spectrum may be difficult. However, the BLM movement has established such a strong presence that any substantial agenda aimed at advancing the quality of life for minorities would have to be taken seriously. Once a concrete list of demands is established, people can stop asking "what do they want" and start asking "how do we get it done". Then, and only then, can you begin to hold people to the fire and demanding accountability.
1. HIT THEM IN THEIR POCKETS
The Montgomery bus boycotts weren't successful because of marches. Yes, Rosa Parks is rightfully credited as a driving force in the desegregation of the buses, but she was not the primary force of change. Desegregation of the transportation system came about because the city bus routs went empty for nearly a year as blacks resulted to carpooling and walking as primary modes of transportation. More than half a century later, the late night racist rants of a billionaire real estate mogul turned NBA owner, Donald Sterling, dominated the headlines. However, it wasn't the vitriol of bigoted hatred that caused his removal. It wasn't inside-out shirts or even support from the leagues biggest stars that spurred reaction from the powers that be. No. The NBA did not take action until slews of corporate sponsors pulled their support from the organization, forcing the Clippers to play in an arena once plastered with endorsements from Fortune 500 companies, now left void of endorsements in the peak of a playoff run. Then, and only then, did the league take action. The reality of revolution is the is often very little change until economic impact is felt.
The Mizzou case is no different. Amid protest, walkouts by students and faculty, and even a student hunger strike, the plight of the African American student on that campus went largely ignored. In fact, the (former) President of the university actually issued an apology for that very reason. Change did not come until the Black members of the Tiger football program, one that raked in more than 70 Million dollars for the university in 2014 and plays in the most prominent football conference in the nation, refused to take place in any football related activities (including playing in games) until the Wolfe was removed from his post. Soon after, the rest of the team stood behind them in solidarity. Each game canceled carried a potential million-dollar hit to the school and would undoubtedly bring a forth an onslaught of media attention not experienced in college athletics since the Penn State scandal. Within hours, emergency meetings were convened and the Wolfe stepped down.
African Americans make up the second largest spending bloc in the country, and the purchasing power of the minority community is enormous. Imagine BLM transforming their sea of followers into a group that could threaten the financial viability of banks, major corporations, television outlets, and any other institution that opposed their agenda. Possibilities would be limitless and the likelihood of success would be exponentially increased.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been largely effective in organizing, mobilization, and grassroots messaging. Even with all of the group's success, there are still glaring weakness that need to be addressed. Most of the cracks in the foundation of BLM could be filled by simply taking cues from the University of Missouri.