Class Discussion: Is Black Lives Matter a Social Movement?

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“Social Movements” taught by Professor Sandra McEvoy examines contexts where legislative attempts for change fail and grassroots movements emerge to influence change. Critically examines movements such as the uprisings in Egypt, LGBT movements and the US civil rights movement.

I distinctly remember the calls of “Black lives matter!” on the campus green following the failure to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the murder of Ferguson, MO teenager Michael Brown.  This protest cry started as a hash-tag following the equally needless and outrageous murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in 2012.  This hash-tag grew into a dynamic, leaderless social justice organization, and by the time protests started in Ferguson following the murder of Michael Brown, the organization was able to deploy demonstrators.  This hash-tag turned social justice organization has been incredibly active on social media, in political rallies, and on the streets.  The organization brings attention to issues such as police brutality, the prison-industrial complex, and the overall devaluing of Black lives, with an explicit recognition of the particular discrimination encountered by Black women and Black transgendered people.  With its sustained action and growth and its dedication to change through extra-institutional means, Black Lives Matter is beginning to look more and more like a bona fide social movement.

We discussed Black Lives Matter and its potential qualification as a social movement with Australian students from Deakin University during their visit to Wheelock on November 5, 2015.  This conversation took place nearly one year after the day of protests on Wheelock’s campus last fall.  It was eye opening to discuss issues of police brutality, racism, and gun violence in America with our Australian visitors. In Australia, one mass shooting in 1996 caused the Prime Minister at the time to enact strict gun control laws and a state buyback program.  In America, there have been 45 shootings this year, and no such policy action has been made.  The Deakin visitors were also incredibly surprised by the running list of victims of police brutality, and the role of race in this brutality.  Although Australia is not a nation free of racism, the students seemed surprised at just how uneven policing is in America.  Overall, the Australian students were much quicker to deem Black Lives Matter a social movement, while my classmates and myself were more hesitant.  I believe Black Lives Matter has the ability to incite real institutional change in the United States.  Its inclusive, intersectional, intergenerational foundation and ability to mobilize large populations quickly through social media prove to me that it could go the distance as a movement.  As protests continue to pop up across the nation from New Haven, Connecticut to Columbia, Missouri, Black Lives Matter stands to gain more and more support.  Hopefully this support will propel Black Lives Matter even further and awaken many more people to take action in furthering its goals.

redjacketEmily Hart is a double majoring in American Studies and Political Science and Global Studies. She is from Gainesville, FL.