Recent Social Movements: Overview
In the last two years, there have been some distinguished social movements to advance social changes in society (Imhonopi, Onifade, and Urim 76). They involved multiple issues that activists wanted to address and bring to public attention. These issues ranged from environmental, wages, immigration, police profiling and killings, and transgender among others. Although none of these issues addressed by recent social movements is novel, activists have focused on them for many years, and the last two years have presented opportunities to engage stakeholders who have previously not participated in social movements, including the police, politicians, media houses and unengaged public among others.
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Similarly, social movement events that took place in the last two years attracted a large number of people across the US. Notably, people with diverse characteristics were represented. These movements attracted parents, students, some law enforcement officers, community leaders, politicians, and more, specifically to address issues associated with racial discrimination and police brutality. It is imperative to recognize that various events have been organized to address these social topics for decades now. However, these recent social movements aim at creating social change today and in the future to advance human relations.
For instance, following the killings of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Philando Castile, a young black man in Minnesota, a 13-year-old Tyre King, Terence Crutcher in Tusla, and many more, new national discourses about race, racial relations, police brutality against the African Americans and equality have emerged in the recent past. In this paper, Black Lives Matter is examined as a recent social movement. The research covers the goals, ideology, programs for social change, degree of commitment, stage of development, and societal reaction to the movement.
Black Lives Matter
Following the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter claimed that the 17-year old Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder while the suspect, George Zimmerman was set free. They subsequently founded the movement in the cyberspace as a sociopolitical media forum, giving it the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter (Ruffin par. 1). Three women, namely Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza founded the organization based on experiences of Black Americans in the US to resist dehumanization. The movement is a call to action and a reaction to strong anti-Black racism that rocks the US.
Black Lives Matter is a movement that goes beyond police killings of Black people to include other social issues that negatively impact people of the black race. It is now a national organization focused on promoting the validity of Black life and rebuilding the Black liberation movement.
Black Lives Matter’s main goal is to create a society in which Black lives are not subjected to methodical and intentional police brutality and killings (Black Lives Matter par. 1). The social movement affirms its efforts to reduce oppression, enhance resilience, and contribute to society and humanity. By embarking on street protests, the movement strives to ensure that all Black lives are important and, thus, should be liberated from oppression. Online forums supported by social media have ensured that stakeholders establish strong links to create bonds and allies that struggle for anti-Black racism, to elicit dialogues and embark on facilitating the right connections required to advance social action and engagement.
The founders of the Black Lives Matter based their social movement on ideological and political ideologies to advance interventions in a society where Black lives were under oppression. The movement aims to restore Black resilience, humanity, and worth.
Black Lives Matter strives to widen the discussion regarding various forms of state violence. That is, it covers different deliberate methods applied to ensure that Black people are powerless before the state. Specifically, the ideology focuses on various ways Black lives have been denied core human rights and dignity. As such, Black Lives Matter claims the following as state violence:
- Black poverty and genocide
- 2.8 million Black people locked in cages in this country
- Black women bearing the burden of a relentless assault on children and families
- Black queer and trans folks bear a unique burden from a hetero-patriarchal society that disposes of them like garbage and simultaneously fetishizes them and profits off of them
- 500,000 Black people in the US are undocumented immigrants and relegated to the shadows
- Black girls used as negotiating chips during times of conflict and war
- Black folks living with disabilities and different abilities bear the burden of state-sponsored Darwinian experiments that attempt to squeeze them into boxes of normality defined by white supremacy. (Black Lives Matter par. 4)
The guiding principles of Black Lives Matter are numerous and include the following. On diversity, the movement commits to acknowledge, respect, and celebrate differences and commonalities while restorative justice focuses on collective, devoted, and courageous interventions for Black people’s freedom and justice, which influence the entire community. The movement purposefully creates and nurtures a treasured community linked together through restorative efforts.
Black Lives Matter notes that unapologetically Black is its position. This ideology does not seek to qualify Black lives but affirms it while striving for freedom and justice to self and others. Through globalism, the movement recognizes that Black people are a part of the global community, and Black Americans understand various ways in which they are affected or privileged as folks in a different part of the world.
For Black women, the movement seeks to create an affirming space without sexism, male dominance, and misogyny while collective value concentrates on facts of Black lives irrespective of real or supposed multiple variations, such as location, beliefs, disability, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, and gender expression among others. In addition, transgender affirming shows that Black Lives Matter embraces transgender persons to take part in social programs and leadership roles. It encourages self-reflection and eliminates abuse. This ideology aims to uplift the lives of Black transgender folks, specifically women who continue to suffer disproportionate trans-antagonistic violence.
Further, Black village’s ideology is rooted in the notion of supporting extended families and villages while disrupting the Western culture of focusing only on the nuclear family. The ideology of empathy also goes together with this ideology to engage other stakeholders with the aim of promoting learning and connection with immediate contexts. Black Lives Matter strives for black families with friendly outlooks and encourages the full participation of children and parents.
Thus, the social movement strives to undo patriarchal practices that put much burden on women and mothers. In addition, the ideology of loving engagement allows the movement to promote justice, liberation, and peace in all relations with others. The queer affirming ideology aims to establish a strong network to free Black people from heteronormative philosophy or rather, the notion that everyone is ‘straight’ unless they disclose otherwise (Black Lives Matter par. 6).
Finally, the ideology of intergenerational fosters an intergenerational and communal network without ageism because the movement subscribes to the idea that all people, irrespective of age, show up with the ability to lead and learn.
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One can observe numerous principles that guide Black Lives Matter. Sociologists note that ideology is primarily vital for comprehending social movement and various political formations. These ideologies are complex and deep to reflect numerous social construction processes of thoughts, perception, education, and socialization, and they tend to organize, coordinate, and mobilize members of a social movement (Carley 23-43).
Programs for Social Change
The programs or rather the demands for social change of the Black Lives Matter so far are many, diverse, and not exactly cohesive. Traditionally, activists have focused on raising awareness and creating favorable conditions for discourses at higher levels among stakeholders on mainly a major. Some critics have however claimed that the Black Lives Matter movement lacks any agenda or is a single agenda based. In fact, majorities believe that the movement totally lacks any agenda, apart from the noise, protests, and disruption.
On the contrary, the Black Lives Matter actually has several demands made public since its inception. These programs aimed for social changes include immediate and transparent legal inquiry of all police shootings and killings involving Black persons, official tracking and recording data of all Black people killed by law enforcement officers separated by race, demilitarization of local law enforcement officers, and creating community accountability systems for law enforcement officers who are rogue. In addition, Campaign Zero calls for body cameras on all police officers, police training, eliminate the broken window theory, community representation, and end for-profit policing.
Degree of Commitment
In the last three years, the movement has gained national attention in response to the police killing of Black people in the US. Major protests have erupted after the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and other recent cases. Across the US, many concerned persons have embraced Black Lives Matter and pressed for justice and change.
Critics are not however convinced about the extent of commitment about this social movement. It has been accused of lacking clear demands, confrontational, and applies divisive tactics that make it difficult for seniors to join. Nevertheless, it is generally observed that the movement has resulted in moral calls to action and provided a wide arrange of policy suggestions to facilitate social change. How much of these suggestions become actual policies would greatly depend on the future activism of Black Lives Matter. Overall, Black Lives Matter declares its commitment to several principles previously highlighted.
Stage of Development
Some scholars have identified four stages of social movement development as “emergence, coalescence, bureaucratization, and decline” (Christiansen 1). In its emergence stage, Black Lives Matter started as a bold approach to protest against injustice and create public awareness about police killings of Black persons. Notably, the movement significantly relied on social media campaigns and organizations using #blacklivesmatter to appeal to online communities. In addition, it also introduced traditional practices of civil disobedience, such as protests, sit-ins, marches, and confrontations with police. At this stage, the movement generally lacked any leader.
The ad hoc movement quickly gained popularity, especially among the younger generation, and became accessible to the public. At this point, mainstream politicians could not ignore it further. It was largely blamed for a lack of clear purpose, well-articulated goals, a common ground, a single issue of focus, and a lack of structure.
From the current activities of Black Lives Matter, it can be concluded that the movement is now in the second stage of its development, coalescence. One must, however, observe that there are various chapters of the movement based on state formations.
The coalescence stage is associated with some improvements, specifically overcoming some setbacks related to a lack of clear agenda (Christiansen 3). The movement is now popular, and it appears to have some well-defined principles. Black Lives Matter has now identified its challenges, sources of those injustices, and the police and justice system as responsible. The movement now has some coordinated events and individuals leading them. It is focused on some core issues and collective in its approach. Individual participants now start to recognize each other. In addition, some forms of leadership have started to emerge, and currently working on strategies or the above-mentioned programs to realize social change.
Moreover, Black Lives Matter has been able to hold some national protests to demonstrate its power both online through social media and on streets to demand change. More significantly, Black Lives Matter has become more than just an accidental group of aggrieved persons. It now appears to be more organized in its strategic demands, approaches, and tactics.
In the recent past, the movement has attained a national status due to its implausible organization and community involvement in major cities across the US. That is, from an online forum to street protests while portraying social media as a tool for 21st-century protests (Utpal 107-109). For example, it organized one of the biggest protests in the Mall of America despite several threats and intimidation strategies from opposing bodies. It has also been credited with the 4th Precinct occupation to protest against the killing of Jamar Clark on 15 November 2015 in Minneapolis.
Notably, the movement has majorly attracted young, queer, black people from inner cities and Metro areas. These protests are known to persist for several days and could lead to confrontation with police. In fact, the success of the protest surprised many people who did not understand the movement, its ideologies, and considered as a constituent of ‘Black Power’.
Today, the movement has indeed shown that Black lives do matter irrespective of brutal and injustice practices, such as white supremacy, police killings, and widespread racism. Black Lives Matter aims to show that all lives are equal in the US regardless of race.
At this stage of development, critics seem not to understand that such social movements cannot have central, effective leadership. Yet, this new generation of activists focuses on grass-roots engagements to be more effective using social media platforms. Social media are disproportionately used by youth, and they have exceptionally used such tools to advance social change (Harper 1-4).
While social media have been effective tools to advance social issues, some critics have observed that they could divert attention from real issues (Gerbaudo and Treré 865-871). For instance, a lack of a collective approach or leadership could affect outcomes. Moreover, when other opposing groups introduce new hashtags such as All Lives Matter, then confusion may emerge. Over the years, Black Lives Matter is expected to develop through other stages involved in social movement developmental stages.
Societal Reaction to the Movement
It is generally observed that Black Lives Matter has gained widespread popularity across all states in the US among White and Black citizens (Ruffin par. 16). Nevertheless, attitude toward the movement is not consistent.
Previously, that is, prior to the rise of Black Lives Matter, various groups had presented their well-detailed policy recommendations to realize social change involving police brutality, racial relations, and militarization responses among others. However, concerned stakeholders did not consider their recommendations for implementation.
Based on inspirations from Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, 1980s feminist protests, South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, the hip hop influences, the 2000s LBGT movement, and the Occupy Wall Street of 2011, Black Lives Matter has leveraged the power of social media to distinguish itself from these previous movements (Ruffin par. 17).
On the contrary, some critics argue that Black Lives Matter will not create real change because of its broad approach to critical issues in society. In addition, the movement is seen as destroying itself. For instance, some have accused it of using divisive tactics and confrontational tactics that limit the participation of seniors who took part in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. For months, it appeared as if Black Lives Matter had not clearly thought beyond raw rage and not projected its development at all. As such, many seniors had expressed their fear about the future of the movement. Specifically, the lack of leadership has been a point of concern for many observers who do not wish to see the movement disappears.
Although many observers have argued that Black Lives Matter is in self-destruction mode, it is closely linked to the Democratic Party and, thus, helping them to the campaign by raising fundamental issues that affect Americans. Consequently, Democratic politicians have formulated their policies to capture most issues raised by the movement aimed at reforming the system.
Notably, Republicans, including Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson, have previously criticized the movement as a tool for promoting violence and racial division to appeal to their conservative supporters. At the same time, Chris Christie and other lawmakers have been appealed to initiate reforms through changes in the current laws to address issues raised by the movement, and these reforms aim to address racial discrimination during police recruitment and sentencing among others. Overall, the effective integration of feminism and social media activism has ensured the success of Black Lives Matter.
Social movements are responsible for initiating social changes in society. In the recent past, the most notable social movement is Black Lives Matter. It is observed that Black Lives Matter has been effective in initiating new methods without using violence to address racial profiling and police killings in the US in the modern period. The movement has largely borrowed from past practices of earlier movements to advance its agenda. However, it introduced social media activism to reach the public across the US and indeed globally with limited resources.
Without a clear focus on a single issue, the movement has been able to address issues related to race, gender, age, economic status, disability, restorative justice, sexual orientation, and state violence among others. This approach on multiple issues is applied to avoid failure in efforts to promote social changes for humanity.
Black Lives Matter. #BlackLivesMatter Organization, n.d. Web.
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Christiansen, Jonathan. “Four Stages of Social Movements.” Research Starters, 2009, pp. 1-7.
Gerbaudo, Paolo and Emiliano Treré. “In Search of the‘We’of Social Media Activism: Introduction to the Special Issue on Social Media and Protest Identities.” Information, Communication & Society, vol. 18, no. 8, 2015, pp. 865-871.
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