Black Lives Matter (BLM) is a movement for racial equity, the end of police brutality towards African Americans, and the institutionalized oppression and marginalization of black people in the United States and around the world.
Note: a French version of this entry is available at: https://participedia.xyz/case/5031
Problems and Purpose
Co-founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, the Black Lives Matter is a movement for racial equality and the end of police brutality against African-Americans and international oppression of black people. The movement encompasses several methods of deliberation and engagement including online-activism only to offline protesting, community organizing, and postulation of political candidates.
Activists in the movement have revived the black liberalization movement of the 1960s and are calling for action in response to virulent racism in the United States. The main purpose of the movement is to broaden the conversation around state violence to include the myriad ways African-Americans are intentionally marginalized and denied equal rights. BLM presents itself as a political and ideological intervention to ensure black communities are no longer systematically and intentionally targeted by police and state violence. The movement's supporters do not argue that black lives are more important than others, but that in a society where the fundamental rights of black people are denied, their liberation is fundamental for the freedom of all.
The movement also aims to spread awareness and information on the plight of black communities so no ignorance is no longer an excuse for non-action. Activists have found social networks and independent media - free from censorship or obfuscation - to be the best form of mobilization and knowledge sharing. In more recent years, the movement's targeting of racial violence has widened to emphasize state oppression of women, transsexuals, self-identified queer individuals, and other minorities. The ultimate goal of BLM is to affirm the value of black lives and to free themselves from the white, straight, male elite who have and continue to set social standards and norms across the country.
Background History and Context
In the United States, the issue of police violence against young black men was heightened with the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old African-American, and the acquittal of the police officer who killed him, George Zimmerman. Pictures and videos of the event quickly circulated online, fueling community tensions and leading to widespread protests and accusations of police brutality. Civil rights activists have, for years, argued that the United States is plagued by institutionalized racism targeting Black communities, especially young men. Indeed, while this community makes up just 13% of the population, it represents 26% of victims of deadly police actions. There are more black people killed by the police today than there were black people lynched in the late 19thC while segregation was still enforced. Although segregation was abolished in 1954, black people in the United States remain politically, socially, and economically disadvantaged compared to their white counterparts.
As a result, despite advances in civil rights, institutional violence persists and is targeted primarily at young black men between the ages of 15 and 35. A British study found that young black men are five times more likely to be killed by a police officer in the United States than white men of the same age. Moreover, in almost all spheres of American society, African Americans are at a disadvantage: 42% of black children live in high poverty communities, 32% of homeless people in the country are African American, and black people make up half of the national prison population. These realities have fueld these communities' sense of indignation and anger at state institutions because they are constantly under threat of violence and insecurity in their country.
Outraged at Zimmerman's acquittal of Martin's death in 2013, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on online social networks. Remaining largely unnoteced for several months, the hashtag was finally taken up by millions of Internet users as the murders of unarmed African-Americans continued after Martin's death. What began as a hashtag soon grew to a broader movement - first, in the United States and then internationally. n 2014, the Black Lives Matter movement - now distinct from the hashtag - initiated an urgent, national call to action and dialogue on the issue of police killings of unarmed African-American youth. BLM broke into the mainstream, gaining millions of supporters and followers after the 2014 killing of Micheal Brown by police officer Darren Wilson sparked internationally-reported civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
One of the unique features of Black Lives Matter, besides its innovative and extensive use of social media, is its relative decentralization and dispersed leadership. Unlike the African American liberation movements led by Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, BLM does not rely on a single person or ‘figure head’ to speak on behalf of the black community. No voice in the movement can claim to fully represent others’ according to the movement’s founders, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi. In this sense, multiple leaders are seen as modern-day revolutionaries, directing a new civil rights movement. However, it was the three women behind the hashtag who took the protest to the next level, organizing into a proper social movement with staying power.
Some researchers on the issue of movement leaders have, however, pointed out that although BLM was created by three women, the most influential people are still men for the vast majority of the movement’s actions and decision of individual chapters. As well, and partially due to social biases, men in the movement remain those with the greatest ability to connect individuals with each other.
The sources of BLM’s funding are difficult to ascertain. It would seem that the information shared on social networks does not require special funding since platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are free to use. Many of the events generated by the online organization and its supporters likewise do not require funds as they are generally either online meetups or in-person get togethers and protests.
However, conferences and more formal means of participation and community mobilization and management require funding. BLM has raise thousands of dollars through its website and online platforms like GoFundMe. The movement has also set up online funding channels allowing supporters to offer direct donations to the families of the victims, the innocent prisoners, the lawsuits, and the movement. Fundraisers and charity events are also organized by independent activists and NGOs across the country (Twitter).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
BLM ensures that localized power structures are combined with an inclusive process that consciously integrates women activists, members of the LGBTQ community, and other marginalized or disenfranchised groups. For example, the most ‘Followed’ BLM Twitter activist is a black, gay man and one of the movements founders identifies as queer and is married to a transgender person. Based primarily online, the movement is open and accessible to all, while remaining aware and sensitive to the divisions and diverse identities within the black community.
Although it is framed in racial terms, BLM does not exclude white ‘allies’ who wish to take part. While defending black lives and rights, activists within the movement are aware that many white people are knowledgeable and actively interested in improving the living conditions and inequalities of African Americans. Members of Anonymous, black celebrities, conservatives against the abuse of power by police officers, Democrats, and a considerable number of young people have and continue to support and participate in the movement. The aim is to maximize participation so that the stories of diverse individuals can be heard and no one group within the movement can claim superiority over another.
Thanks to the low barriers to entry, BLM has been able to move their online activity the streets. Being a black, multiracial, feminist, non-denominational, and young movement, it allows a broad section of the black and allied population to join BLM in various forms, both online and offline. Unlike more ‘insular’ movement or protest groups like Anonymous and “black blocs”, BLM supporters dress in everyday clothes and show their faces in public, reinforcing the idea that anyone could and should be part of the movement.
To open access to all, activists used newly developed social media which quickly reached thousands of like-minded people across the country, rejecting the traditional movement structure centered on a charismatic man and the decision-making process from top to bottom. Black people marginalized by institutions and their own community have thus played a central and highly visible role in the formation of BLM, in the organization and in the community events that always take place. In this sense, the movement does not select the participants, who want to adhere to it as long as all struggle for social justice in general and against the discrimination experienced by the Negroes, particularly the young victims of violence. police abuse.
Methods and Tools Used
BLM is a powerful but diffuse movement, linked not by physical proximity or political consensus, but by the mobilizing force of social media. A single word or hashtag on Twitter connects the stories of victims of police violence and transcends geographic boundaries. Even a single, shared image on Facebook has been shown to mobilize a large number of people in just a few minutes. Events are no longer invisible and disparate but visible to the general public and interrelated. Deliberation and information sharing is first and foremost online. Activists communicate online and build solidarity through virtual networks that give their distinct voices national attention and mass power. Deliberation and decision-making take place on the internet - an extension of the public sphere - thanks to the massive sharing of openly accessible information by tens of thousands of Internet users.
In terms of in-person activities and interaction aside from street protests, participants have pursued advocacy work using mainstream media and through dialogue with politicians, which is a key element of policy change. Indeed, political and social realities have shown that it is not enough to participate online; it is also necessary to act and meet those with the decision-making power to advance the movement’s cause through policy and institutional change. As a result, the movement has increased its visibility and begun a truly powerful, national conversation on police misconduct and racial inequality.
BLM members’ engagement with politicians and the press varies between the conventional - letters to representatives, open dialogues - and the confrontational - petitions, litigation. Its tactics are continuously evolving and shift from large to small scale, and from periodic or time-limited events to long-term, sustained action.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The protest movement that broke out around the 2012 police killing of Trayvon Martin and calls to reform the criminal justice system spread quickly on online social networks. Being an extension of the public sphere, the internet and sites it connects provide the movement with a political forum to publicly share and preserve the memory of the victims and personal stories of abuse. In using the internet, Black Lives Matter taps into an existing space to share information and mobilize in the struggle for the liberation of black communities. Through social networks and phone calls, BLM have been able to connect and unite people across the country. The original online movement and the use of #BlackLivesMatter was really a celebration and humanization of black lives that would eventually coalesce into a more sustained, organized attempt to change political institutions.
As the movement has matured, deliberation and information sharing has remained largely online. Depending on how they are managed or moderated, online deliberations and interaction can be conflictual or constructive as participants come from diverse backgrounds. Even if the causes are not seen and experienced as being the same, individuals - often the young members of the black community and adherents to conservative ideologies - can still find common ground if dialogue is centred around the common goal of ending police or state abuse.
The movement's most resourceful activists understand that the whole organization cannot remain online and that in-person action and face-to-face engagement are imperative. There is thus a need to at least unite around a common message, under a common cause, to effectively present as a collective and to exercise the persuasive power needed to bring about institution-level changes for the betterment of racial relations.
The slogan Black Lives Matter became attractive, especially during the protests that followed the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown because it created a common cause; a ‘martyr’ or ‘figure head’ to organize under. At this point the movement was able to move from virtual life to the streets. One of the reasons online interaction and the use of a hashtag spread so quickly and easily is that they distill the complexities of police brutality, racial inequality, and social justice into a simple, easy-to-remember slogan. Offering an ‘umbrella’ for dispersed social justice campaigns and individuals to collect under creates the opportunity for a variety of issues and demands to be addressed. Alternatively, it can cause fracturing down the road and lead to the dismantling of the social movement before any life changing alterations to the existing political, social, and economic system can be affected.
Nevertheless, BLM continued to use social media to connect people who share the same struggles and values and to organize and mobilize participants for in-person marches and demonstrations. The movement has thus relied on the ability for social media to act as a deliberative arena for the exchange, collaboration, and strategizing of BLM’s actions and goals. It has yet to be seen if social media can sustain a coherent, collective political agenda and develop the capacities necessary to see it realized. At the very least, social media has allowed those unable to participate in physical events to show their support, engage in conversation, donate money to the cause, and sharing knowledge and information on a serious socio-political issue.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
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