Not sure of what to call this new movement, this movement that sprang off of the failure to indict the white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri in the shooting death of Michael Brown, and which is now a nation-wide daily outpouring of militant demonstrations against the murders of Black men and police brutality and violence.
Despite the unprovoked shooting deaths last Saturday of two police officers in New York City by a Black man with mental problems unconnected with the protests, the movement must go on and it must go on daily. The movement cannot allow this shooting or the backlash against the protests to stall its journey.
These daily demonstrations and protests that have been going on across the country have kept the issues in front of us and they have been so inspiring. The workers at the Mid-Western mall coming out in support of the thousands of chanting protesters, those Congressional staffers and Congresspeople who silently stood on the steps of the Capitol in protest with their hands up, the medical students in white coats staging die-ins, students and young people here in San Diego blocking free-ways.
The message is clear: the system that allows these shootings of African-American men by police must change.
And the message that this has got to stop has flowed from Ferguson to Staten Island to Cleveland and to everywhere where young Black men and boys are gunned down by cops.
Whatever its name, it is a new civil rights movement and it promises to give gifts to the nation during the tumultuous time ahead and into the New Year. It has other gifts to hand to the country as well, for this new civil rights movement is the movement that can save America.
Save America? Does America need saving?
You bet it does. From drones, government spying on its citizens, the many wars that we have been fighting, to the increasing disparity between the very rich and the rest of us, to the plunging respect for privacy and the Bill of Rights by all levels of government, this country is in deep trouble and needs something.
This new movement could be the answer. The new movement that began in a suburb of St. Louis has exposed the two sides of the ugly face of America – racism and the militarization of police in this country.
This new movement is so powerful that it’s already done this, already exposed these two disabilities of our so-called democracy, and has already made changes. It’s opened up a discussion about racism – something this country has to have.
And it’s opened up a critique of how local police departments across the country have become militarized with war equipment. We saw the images from Ferguson demonstrating how the cops were responding to protests by its own civilians with military tanks and guns and attitude.
People were repulsed by these images and immediately there was a reaction against this militarization, not just of police departments, but of school districts. The San Diego Unified School District voted to give back the military vehicle given to it by the Pentagon.
What is racism? Whatever it is, the discussion has begun. Even though a majority of American voters elected an African-American man, twice, there is still an underlying prejudice against Blacks that permeates our society. Some say it’s systemic and cannot be reformed away. Others are more hopeful.
Still others have lost hope and have lost respect for a legal system and a governance system that has continued to allow these type of shootings of Black men. One young Black woman epitomized this mindset when briefly interviewed by TV in a protest march in New York City. She said she was doing her homework when the protesters marched by her house, and she thought to herself, “Why should I do my homework? It doesn’t matter!” She jumped up, ran outside and joined them.
There are thousands like her, Black, white and other people of color. They mean to force this nation to wake up, to face these disabilities of racism and militarism.
So, I am very hopeful, for I see this movement as the engine of social change that will save this country. And we as a supposed nation of liberty and of law need it.
The last time there was a major civil rights movement among African-Americans, a movement that included Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and the Black Panther Party, the country changed for the better.
It was out of the civil rights movement that other movements of change had their roots. Young and white student activists involved in registering Black voters in the South returned to their campuses and provided the nuclei for a student movement that eventually created the largest anti-war movement in history. Young women from these movements, frustrated by their gender limitations, formed the modern feminist movement and pushed for women’s equality, altering this country for ever.
The Black movement for equal rights inspired other peoples of color to fight for their own rights, the Chicano and Mexican-American movements, the Native American movement, the Puerto Rican movement for independence.
Historically, the struggle for equality by African-Americans in America has been one of the most significant engines of social change, and from Selma to the White House, it made significant strides over the last 6 decades. But the strides are incomplete and we need it again.
There are other key engines of social change. In this region of America, for instance, the Chicano / Mexican-American struggle for equal rights is very central to changing society.
Another key social change locomotive is of course women’s fight for independence and equality.
And there are other axes of social change – the classic working class versus capitalist dichotomy, the battle for civil rights, privacy, democratic methods, the rule of law.
But right now, the new civil rights movement is what is on the table for the country. The support for this movement by whites is very telling, very encouraging – especially among young people – that despite the racist quarters of some police unions – there is a certain hope, from the grassroots, not from the pulpit or lectern but from the signs, the chants, the bullhorns of those moving in the streets, and to coin a phrase from an old Sixties song, the movement may “take this country home again.”