This past weekend, protesters under the banners #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackBrunchNYC, fanned out across New York City and interrupted random brunches to recite the names of people killed by the police. Aside from being rude, these public annoyances didn’t seem to be connected to any larger purpose. After all, just because folks are minding their own business and enjoying a Sunday brunch, doesn’t at all mean they are not in full support of #BlackLivesMatter. These awkward interruptions are in poor taste, and in no way advances any social justice principle.
This weekend’s stunts were just the latest in a series of stunts: blocking highway traffic; die-ins at malls; and preventing people from boarding subway trains — all done to, supposedly, bring attention to #BlackLivesMatter.
Here’s the central question: What’s the endgame to all this?
In the 1960s, the civil rights movement centered on a clear goal — the enshrinement of laws to bring equal protection and treatment to all people. As a result, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act stand as clear achievements of the movement.
In 2015, there is no new law that could be passed to address the root cause of the issues that seem so pervasive. Some people are racist and always will be. There is no way to guarantee these folks won’t become police officers or serve on grand juries. And I fail to see how interrupting random brunches in NYC bring justice to anyone unfairly targeted by police. If anything, it alienates people who might otherwise be allies.
Protesters will counter that a leisurely Sunday brunch is an occasion for the privileged, and that a momentary nuisance is nothing compared to facing institutionalized racism every day. Those type of arguments are misguided. Protests are a cornerstone of our republic; but, your rights end where another person’s begin. If someone is trying to get to work, they shouldn’t be late arriving because protesters decided it was okay to block the road or delay the subway train. If I choose to enjoy a Sunday brunch with friends, then why would protesters feel it’s okay to intrude because they believe their issue is paramount at that moment in time? Why not simply hold a rally on the corner — and give me the option of joining you after my mimosa?
This all speaks to the broader problem for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. It lacks a leader, a coherent message and an end goal. Simply put, what do protesters want to see happen? And is it feasible? Again, non-racist cops is not a feasible goal. Non-racist juries is not a feasible goal. Human beings are flawed, and generally apply their own world view to every situation. This explains why Blacks and Whites can see the circumstances surrounding the death of Michael Brown, and reach extremely opposite conclusions. To overcome this, people would need to sit together at brunch and actually talk to one another — not create awkward public photo ops.
Grassroots movements are, by nature, not very organized. Rather, they are ideals that rogue agents use to justify their actions. For example, if I hold a deep conviction that the police are biased against people of color in general, then #BlackLivesMatter provides me with a thematic way to express my anger. Any and all anger can be couched under the reasonably titled “BlackLivesMatter.” But again, assuming people agree that these lives matter, what’s being asked of them to forward this ideal? At the moment, it all seems a bit random and rogue. That’s not how any successful movement can be sustained. Just think: As popular as the Occupy Wall Street movement was, what changed as a result of it? Conversely, the marriage equality movement can be credited with significant (and tangible) achievements. As it turned out, the marriage equality movement had a singular focus, articulate leaders, and most of all, money.
I believe that movements create leaders, not vice-versa. This moment calls for a leader who can articulate a clear vision, and mobilize a very vocal mob to actionable steps. Without leadership, to capitalize upon this moment in history, and without an achievable end goal, #BlackLivesMatter will be as fleeting as a Sunday brunch.