Every so often we need to pause, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves: what am I trying to do? Sometimes we get so obsessed with our efforts to bring about change we lose sight on the big picture. The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations never amounted to more than just that—demonstrations. While they served the purpose of bringing more attention to escalating economic inequality in the United States, OWS never reached its potential of becoming a movement that would bring about significant change. People leading the demonstrations never stopped long enough to consider what would become of it all. The protests brought the attention needed to begin to galvanize public opinion, but there was no vision to take Occupy Wall Street to a place that would lead to policy changes.
I had a similar letdown after the Million Man March back in October of 1995. I had just begun the first semester of the MSW program at the School of Social Work at Clark Atlanta University. I decided rather than go directly to Washington, DC for the march, I would return to Brooklyn, NY and go to the march with the men I had been working with at St. Paul Community Baptist Church which led to me going back to school. It was an ordeal. We could not find enough transportation to get all of us to DC. I arrived in the afternoon long after the beginning of the march. When I returned to Atlanta and decided to write about the event, I searched in vain for policy initiatives that emanated from the Million Man March. I found one article that reported there were none.
Fast forward to the recent brouhaha at the Netroots Nation convention when protesters purportedly from the #BlackLivesMatters crusade heckled Senator Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley during their speeches (too soon to call this a movement as their website proclaims). If the purpose of interrupting their speeches was to gain attention, it worked. But a movement requires more than media attention; a movement requires a critical mass of adherents. A movement has staying power and a movement has purpose. Both Sanders and O’Malley responded poorly to the hecklers. While trying to make amends O’Malley apologized for saying all lives matter. I can grasp why protesters might perceive that he was diluting the essence of their message. But truth is all lives do matter.
Black people will never pull ourselves out of the hole we are in if we are the only ones allowed to have rope. We need allies in the pursuit of social justice which cannot be a pursuit for black social justice. Social justice does not have a color. Yes racism exists and there are policies that disproportionately impact people of color and they must be addressed. But they are not the only policies that need to be addressed. Last time I looked there are many more poor white people in the U. S. than there are poor black people. It would seem that the last thing #BlackLivesMatter would want is to be seen as racially insular bullies.
The tragic death of Sandra Bland taught me another lesson. My anxiety about the plight of black men has often caused me to not pay as much attention to needs of black women. This goes back to my days at Saint Paul Community when young black males were being characterized as an “endangered species.” My dissertation focused on the negative effects of incarceration of young black males and the economic disadvantage correlated with spending time behind bars. It seems police brutality is always directed at black males. New York Mayor Bill deBlasio took heat from the NYPD because he talked about the need to school his son on how to act when stopped by the police. He said nothing about his daughter. But we have seen lately black women are not always spared because of their gender as more incidents of police attacking black women are being captured by cameras.
Opal Tometi, co-founder of #BlackLivesMatter, who as a gay person wants their concern for life to extend beyond heterosexuals to transgendered people, the disabled and any group that might be discriminated against has to appeal to the broader population who lives also matter whether or not they are under the same threats. This is not a Rodney King moment. I am not asking: can we all get along? I am saying respect the truth: all lives do matter.
Written By Charles E. Lewis Jr., Ph.D
Truth Is All Lives Do Matter was originally published @ Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy » Charles Lewis and has been syndicated with permission.
Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment