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Dear Allies: Black Lives Matter Is More Than a Social Media Trend

It's time for real allyship.

The protests being held in many American cities over the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks have drawn a lot of support and solidarity not just in the U.S, but across the world in general.

There has never been a better time to use one's voice–no matter how small–to speak up against racial injustice than now.

Online protests have also flooded social media , and they have proven more than ever to be an important part of the cause. In the last few days, we've seen several brands and companies get called out on Twitter for failing to embrace diversity in business, as well as for their unfair treatment of Black employees.

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A Beginner's Guide to Reforming, Defunding, and Abolishing the Police

The police's violence comes as no surprise. Violence and oppression is built into the police's origin story, and violence will continue to define policing unless serious changes are made.

During the protests that are occurring all across the country in response of George Floyd's murder, the police have displayed violence, aggression, and brutality towards mostly peaceful activists exercising their rights.

Police have driven through crowds, have fired rubber bullets at peaceful journalists and crowds, and have attacked people who are not even protesting. They have destroyed medical tents, arrested medics, and trapped people before curfew, making arrests inevitable. They have pepper sprayed State senators and innocent people, have fired rubber bullets at crowds, and have independently instigated violence. Videos of protestors with blood streaming down their faces are now the norm.


The police's violence during a protest against police brutality merely proves the point that protestors are trying to make and that many Black and brown communities have always known: The police are a violent, confrontational, largely untrained, and highly armed battalion of people that often encourage and instigate violence.

A History of Violence

It has, in fact, always been this way.

Modern policing is a relatively new institution that was actually developed in the 1830s and 40s, with the first police force established in Boston. These very early police forces initially focused on European immigrants, but later began to heavily police African Americans fleeing the Jim Crow South. "There was a lot of one-on-one conflict between police and citizens and a lot of it was initiated by the police," writes sociologist Malcolm Holmes.

In the South, slave patrols were primary forms of policing, and after slavery was abolished these patrols continued to work to maintain preexisting structures of power. "During Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves," writes Olivia B. Waxman for Time.

Since those early days of policing, the definition of who and what the police are supposed to defend has been determined by those in power. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, police were arms of the powerful, used to harass opposing political parties, to torment union members, and to persecute people drinking in taverns, among other uses. This only grew worse during Prohibition.

Over the past century, policing has continued to work as a tool to maintain existing structures of power while criminalizing the poor and non-white. There has been pushback: Police brutality was a main catalyst for the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, as was the fact that police enforced racist tactics such as redlining, which kept Black communities in positions of subjugation. But the police remain a beloved institution in white society. Nixon's War on Drugs only intensified this divide, resulting in the criminalization and incarceration of thousands and thousands of Black people. Today, America has 25% of the world's prison population while being only 5% of the world's population.

So what is there to be done about all this? What can be done about America's major, centuries-old problem with police and its related systems of mass incarceration?

The answer is tied up with the goals of the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement. There isn't one concise answer, but one thing is clear: Things have to change.

Police Don't Make Us Safer

Many people—often white—think of the police and prisons as institutions that keep us safe, but statistically, this is simply not the case.

In 2011, NYC saw nearly 700,000 incidents of stop-and-frisk. When "a radical scaling back of stop-and-frisk," occurred, "Critics predicted a disastrous return to, depending on one's age and experience, the 1970s or the 1990s," writes Joe Sexton for ProPublica. But "the disaster never happened. Instead, what many scholars and police officials thought nearly unthinkable — further reductions in crime after two decades of plummeting numbers—did."

Furthermore, incarceration—a natural consequence of increased aggressive policing—does very little to actually reduce crime."There is a very weak relationship between higher incarceration rates and lower crime rates," writes the Vera Project. "Since 2000, however, the increased use of incarceration accounted for nearly zero percent of the overall reduction in crime."

So if incarceration and policing don't reduce crime, what does?

"Research has shown that the aging population, increased wages, increased employment, increased graduation rates, increased consumer confidence, increased law enforcement personnel, and changes in policing strategies were associated with lower crime rates and, collectively, explain more of the overall reduction in crime rates than does incarceration," the Vera Project report continues. "Although it may seem counterintuitive, research has shown that incarceration may actually increase crime."

Still, the police and America's prisons receive tremendous high levels of funding—the NYPD received 6 billion dollars in funding this past year—and meanwhile police keep killing and imprisoning Black and brown communities.

"The punitive impulse [the police] embody saturates nearly every facet of American life," where officers "take the place of social workers and emergency medical personnel and welfare caseworkers, and when they kill, we let them replace judges and juries, too," writes Sarah Jones in New York Magazine.

"At all levels of government, the country spends roughly double on police, prisons, and courts what it spends on food stamps, welfare, and income supplements," writes Annie Lowrey for The Atlantic.

During the onset of COVID-19, "the decision that mayors in even liberal cities like Los Angeles and New York were making as of early May was to propose deep cuts in essentially every major category except the police," writes Matthew Yglesias for Vox.

As has always been the case, policing and incarceration are often used to make money for the powerful, upholding structures of power. That's why they've avoided the cutting room.

"A Department of Justice investigation found that in Ferguson, Missouri, the town used the police and the courts as a kind of fundraising office, plugging budget holes with ginned-up traffic tickets and housing-code violations and charges for missed court dates," Lowrey continues. "America badly needs to rethink its priorities for the whole criminal-justice system."

Alternatives to Aggressive Policing

How does one actually address aggressive policing? What strategies actually work? "The problem America faces is not figuring out what to do," argue Seth W. Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble, and Geoffrey P. Alpert for The Atlantic. "As an industry, American policing knows how to create systems that prevent, identify, and address abuses of power. It knows how to increase transparency. It knows how to provide police services in a constitutionally lawful and morally upright way. And across the country, most officers are well intentioned, receive good training, and work at agencies that have good policies on the books. But knowledge and good intentions are not nearly sufficient… What we desperately need, but have so far lacked, is political will."

Therefore it's important to spread information about the logistics of alternatives to policing. Stoughton, Noble, and Alpert argue that in order to reform policing, we need to end qualified immunity (which prevents police from being sued unless their crimes were labeled unconstitutional at the time they committed them). Congress could also encourage better and clearer data about police's work and invest more in training.

According to a document from the organization Campaign Zero, here are five additional strategies that could help reform police:

  1. End Broken Windows Policing

"Only 5% of all arrests made in America are for violent crimes. Meanwhile, the vast majority of arrests are for low level offenses that pose no threat to public safety. Police departments should decriminalize or de-prioritize enforcement of these issues," the document reads. Armed police who are trained to react violently but have no training in de-escalation strategies should not be tasked with dealing with nonviolent crime. Homelessness, mental health crises, and petty crime should initially be addressed by mental health workers, social workers, community intervention workers, or a task force specifically trained to deal with these issues, not cops as we know them today. Police funds should be redistributed towards community intervention initiatives and similar task forces.

2. End For-Profit Policing

Police should not rely on tickets or fines issued in order to make money. Arrests should not be sources of profit. The Supreme Court actually ruled to place limitations on for-profit policing in 2019, but these measures need to be enacted in every state.


3. Limit Use of Force

"The research is clear: police departments with more restrictive use of force policies - like banning chokeholds and requiring de-escalation - are substantially less likely to kill people," reads the document. An Early Intervention System that identifies officers who tend to use excessive force should be established.

4. Demilitarization

Cities and countries should not be allowed to use federal funds to purchase military equipment, and city council approval should be required before police can purchase this type of equipment.

5. Body Cameras

"Research shows that body cameras do not prevent police violence from happening, but they do increase the chances that officers will be disciplined or even prosecuted for these incidents."

6. Independent Investigations

"Only 1% of all killings by police lead to an officer being charged with a crime," the document reads. Independent investigations of officers charged with misconduct must be required.

7. Training

"The average police recruit spends 58 hours learning how to shoot and only 8 hours learning how to de-escalate." Police should receive de-escalation training.

8. Fair Police Union Contracts

Police union contracts are major impediments that make it difficult for police to be fired. Barriers to accountability should be removed. According to checkthepolice.org, police union contracts can block accountability by "disqualifying misconduct complaints, preventing police officers from being interrogated immediately, giving officers access to information that civilians do not get, requiring cities to pay for costs related to police misconduct, preventing information on past misconduct, and limiting disciplinary consequences."

Another Choice: Defund Police

Despite the purported efficacy of these tactics, people have been attempting to institute these police reform-based practices for years. Funds have been poured into police training, body cameras have been installed, and yet… These things have not worked, and people are still losing their lives to police violence.

"There is no evidence that better police training programs or "implicit bias" training changes police behavior," writes Samuel Sinyangwe. "More restrictive state and local policies governing police use of force are associated with significantly lower rates of police shootings/killings by police. This is backed by 30+ years of research," Sinyangwe adds.

The only solution to actually reducing police violence might be a more radical tactic: Defund the police—and channel that money into education, community development, social work, and other tactics that stop crime before it starts instead of tamping it out through violence or making it up to reach a quota.

There is no precise consensus on what defunding the police will actually involve, though people have plenty of ideas. "I think we need to consider a divest/invest model," said Queens Senator Julia Salazar as she made her argument for defunding the police. "When we look at their resources, and how they're deploying them violently and recklessly, it makes the case even stronger for reducing their budget, and then using those funds for social services, and specifically for things that New Yorkers would want the police to do but the police are not currently doing: harm reduction, community-based public safety."

When discussions about defunding and curtailing the power of the police come up, the main question that arises is: Who will uphold our laws?

It's important to remember that people who advocate for defunding the police are not advocating for a lawless land. Instead, they're asking for the massive amount of funds that the police receive to be redistributed to investments in people-powered organizations that actually keep us safe.

Should Police Be Abolished?

Beyond defunding is the ultimate goal of police abolition, which many abolitionists argue is the only way to actually stop police violence.

"Our police is not working—we need to replace it with something new. It's more than a repair. We need something new," writes Jessica Disu in the Chicago Reader. "We need to come up with community solutions for transformative justice."

The concept of police abolition is connected to the prison abolition movement started by Black abolitionists in the 70s. As the existence of the prison industrial complex—a complicated arrangement that allows the U.S. government and corporations to profit off of prison labor—became solidified in the early 2000s, so did the idea of prison abolition.

"[The work of maintaining incarceration], which used to be the primary province of government, is now also performed by private corporations, whose links to government in the field of what is euphemistically called 'corrections' resonate dangerously with the military industrial complex," wrote Angela Davis in an article in the magazine Colorlines.

Prison and police abolition doesn't mean suddenly abolishing police and prisons. Instead, it means redesigning the entire punitive system, and developing correctional systems based in communities, in systemic change, and justice. "For me prison abolition is two things: It's the complete and utter dismantling of prison and policing and surveillance as they currently exist within our culture. And it's also the building up of new ways of intersecting and new ways of relating with each other," says Mariame Kaba, a major prison abolitionist advocate.

When many people hear about abolishing police, they immediately begin to worry: Who would I call if my house is robbed? But it's important to remember that police are not a safe option in the first place for many people, particularly Black people, and so many are left without any help at all in the case of criminal activity. It's also important to remember that this kind of violence is often connected to poverty or other forms of suffering that could be eliminated by investments in communities, healthcare and the like.


Seattle city council candidate Shaun Scott put it this way: America must "[disinvest] from the police state" and "build towards a world where nobody is criminalized for being poor." He went on to criticize so-called officers" for their "deep and entrenched institutional ties to racism" that created an "apparatus of overaggressive and racist policing that has emerged to steer many black and brown bodies back into, in essence, a form of slavery."

Another police abolitionist, Kristen Harris-Taley, asks: "How do you reform an institution that from its inception was made to control, maim, condemn, and kill people? Reform it back to what?"

"Oppressed people must give up the systems that harm them," writes Derecka Purnell for the Boston Review. "Police are not public, nor good. Departments arrest for profit and sell vulnerable people to jails and prisons to fill beds. Cities incentivize and reward police officers for maximizing their ticket writing and traffic stops. On college campuses, cops make drugs disappear; on the streets, cops make alleged dealers disappear. Police officers are prison–industrial complex foot soldiers, and poor people are its targets. Disadvantaged communities should not ask for law enforcement to ensure safety any more than someone should ask for poisoned water to quench thirst."

So while police abolition may sound extreme, it's worth deep study at the very least for anyone invested in racial justice. (Check out this syllabus on police abolition to learn more).

Restorative Justice: What Would a Post-Police Future Look Like?

If police were abolished, what would take their place?

The answers are surprisingly logical. "Police abolition work is not about defunding every department instantly; it's about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention," writes MPD 150, a police abolition organization. "The people who respond to crises in our community should be the people who are best equipped to deal with those crises."

"Where's the community resource center? Where are the supports for families, so that maybe they can fix their problems? Where are the outlets for women so that they can live independently, to get away from an abuser?" asks Alex Vitale, the author of The End of Policing.

Instead of aggressive policing, prison and police abolition advocates point to community organizations, better mental healthcare, an end to solitary confinement, and a "restorative justice" approach as viable alternatives.

In a restorative justice system, the victim and perpetrator's perspectives are both examined and discussed. "Typically, a facilitator meets separately with the accused and the victim, and if both are willing to meet face to face without animosity and the offender is deemed willing and able to complete restitution, then the case shifts out of the adversarial legal system and into a parallel restorative-justice process," writes Mark Engler for Morningside Center. "All parties — the offender, victim, facilitator and law enforcement — come together in a forum sometimes called a restorative-community conference. Each person speaks, one at a time and without interruption, about the crime and its effects, and the participants come to a consensus about how to repair the harm done." This may sound like a lot of work, but remember how much paperwork and processing one arrest requires.

"Restorative practices focus on repairing the harm that has been done, rather than simply punishing someone who has committed an offense by locking them up," writes Vanessa Hernandez in an ACLU op-ed. Restorative practices in the criminal justice system, including peacemaking circles, mediation, and family conferencing, bring people who have committed crimes together with victims of crime, their families, and other community members to identify and address the damage caused by crime." This is also particularly effective in schools and juvenile detention centers. When exposed to restorative justice practices, "Incarcerated people at San Quentin reported to the delegation that the restorative process was highly transformative in that it allowed them to be forgiven by those who they had harmed and cultivated in them an ability to forgive themselves," writes Peter Kletsan.


Of course, restorative justice practices alone are not enough to heal America's broken criminal justice system. That will take a lot more—a lot of protests, a lot of political action, a lot of coming together. Perhaps it will take a revolution.

As we wait, we can all learn ways to mitigate the amount of harm that police cause. We can research alternatives to calling 911; we can invest in community infrastructure; we can study de-escalation and first-aid; we can join prison and police abolition groups; white people can learn how to put their bodies in between Black people and the police; and we can continue to learn and make our own decisions about the policing systems that our tax dollars are paying for.

Take action and learn more here: https://m4bl.org/week-of-action/tuesday/

Action Steps for Defunding the Police

Police and Prison Abolition 101: A Syllabus and FAQ

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.


Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality


Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.


Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

68+ Anti-Racism Resources

Whether you're protesting or donating, here is a list of resources that will help you deepen your understanding of the implications of and history behind the George Floyd protests.

This week's riots in America are overt protests against the murder of George Floyd, but they're also protests against centuries of oppression and state-sanctioned racist violence against Black people.

Whether you're just beginning to learn about prison abolition or are a seasoned member of the fight, it's always important to continue educating yourself—and if you're a white ally, education is not a suggestion; it's mandatory.

Many of these resources are designed with white people in mind. White people are particularly responsible for self-education and for continued action, as white status quo, complicity, and violent silence has continuously perpetuated the brutalization of Black communities and livelihoods.

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Donald Trump Is Encouraging His Supporters to Spread Death

Whether he knows it or not, that is the effect of his rhetoric

In recent days protestors have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina to call on state officials to end social distancing and shelter-at-home requirements.

It's understandable. The economy is suffering under the strain of the COVID-19 quarantine. It has decimated the stock market and resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment, and people want to get back to their lives. They want to reopen the country, and so does President Trump—whose ardent supporters have been among the most vocal and visible protestors. He's worried that if this situation continues on his watch, the economic damage may hurt his chances at re-election, as businesses small and large suffer losses that threaten their very survival. Leaving aside the fact that reopening too early will result in worse economic damage, there is another group that doesn't seem to concern him as much and whose survival actually depends on continuing the quarantine: People. Hundreds of thousands of people.

mass grave in New York A mass grave in New York

So when Donald Trump was suggesting that "large sections of the country" could re-open for Easter, it was cause for concern. But with the impact of the pandemic still far from its terrifying peak in hotspots like New York city, it seemed likely that Donald Trump would back off his overly-optimistic stance—and he did.

That's often how things work with Donald Trump. He will make a show of how tough and no-nonsense he is with some dramatic posturing that seems to fly in the face of the experts and will then be cowed by behind-the-scenes efforts to make him see reason. Unfortunately for the country, most of his followers are not similarly attended to by an entourage of people trying desperately to steer them away from catastrophic idiocy. So now that Easter has come and gone and Donald Trump is continuing to hint that he may soon reopen the country—maybe even against the wishes of governors in individual states—chaos was bound to ensue.

While some of the protesters have remained in their cars—honking their horns and blocking the passage of at least one ambulance—others crowded together to scream their rejection of science in one proud voice and one shared cloud of breath.

For Donald Trump, the political effect of his latest hints and ambiguous comments about wanting to reopen the country and authorizing governors "to implement ... a very powerful reopening plan" while telling them, "You're going to call your own shots," is that he can have his cake and eat it too. While taking no direct measures to reopen the country amid continued medical advice to extend restrictions, he can still communicate to stir-crazy and cash-strapped supporters that he's doing everything he can for them and that maybe they should talk to their governors.

And that's just what they've been doing. In Michigan—where Operation Gridlock was so effective that even emergency vehicles couldn't get through—protestors directed their frustration at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with chants of "Recall Whitmer" and "Lock her up." In North Carolina, at the ReopenNC protest, more than 100 angry citizens assembled to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order and to spread conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 death toll is being inflated—though the opposite is true.

In Ohio the scene was particularly disturbing, with dozens of protestors gathering at the statehouse in Columbus with Guy Fawkes masks, Trump hats, and signs reading "This is tyranny," and "Quarantine the sick not the Contitution [sic]." Eventually a group pressed close together against the locked glass doors to shout their feelings with no concern for social distancing.

What these people need is financial assistance that isn't delayed by politics or targeted at millionaires and massive corporations, as well as reassurance that the current approach is necessary and effective—that our leaders are unified in following the guidance of health experts. What they get instead, from Trump and top Conservative voices, is constant waffling and hedging about the cost to the economy and tacit endorsement of these dangerous protests.

Just as he has had every opportunity to decry violence done in his name, Donald Trump could end these protests. If he were open and honest about the fragility of our hospital system and our country's best hope of getting through this crisis intact, then he could quell much of this unrest and dispel false narratives equating this virus to the flu or car accidents. Instead he feigns careful consideration while effectively encouraging defiance that will inevitably result in more infections and more death.

Stay home and stay safe.

The Myths Behind Protest Movements

The revolution will not be Tweeted, but its agenda can be.

Can a tweet save the world? No. Is it a public record of your intolerance of unjust systems in the world? Sure, if anybody reads it among the white noise of Twitter rage. Protest movements in the digital age are tricky; hacktivism, or hashtag activism, has been critiqued as an ineffective and tokenizing way to virtue signal in the name of social justice while actually being armchair activists. Meanwhile, nonviolent protests like marches, boycotts, and strikes are critiqued for being too passive to ever enact real change. On the other end of the spectrum are volatile reactionaries who want to tear down the system and begin from scratch–even if they have no actionable plans to create a viable replacement.

So what are we supposed to do? More to the point, what are we supposed to believe? A patient and open-minded look at both sides of any issue is guaranteed to point out one commonality: Everybody has the wrong idea about the opposing side. When it comes to social movements that create a better future, there are some basic, prevailing myths that only distract people from the real problems at hand. Ask activists, historians, and political science analysts, and they agree that you shouldn't fall for the following misconceptions when fighting for a better world:

1. Myth: Nonviolence Is Ineffective

Historically speaking, this simply isn't true. When two researchers from the United States Institute of Peace conducted a study of nearly 330 major violent and nonviolent campaigns "targeting incumbent regimes and foreign military occupations," they concluded that "nonviolent efforts were twice as likely to achieve their goals." They wrote, "The majority succeeded against authoritarian governments, when even peaceful protests could have fatal consequences. The ousters of Augusto Pinochet in Chile, Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, Yahya Jammeh in Gambia, Bashir in Sudan and Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria are only a handful of cases in which mass nonviolent force stripped power from despots." Furthermore, another study in 2011 looked at 323 civil resistance campaigns around the world between 1900 and 2006, concluding that nonviolent campaigns were successful in 53% of cases, compared to violent ones' success rate of 26%. Additionally, only 4% of violent revolutions ended up in a "functioning democracy," compared to 42% of non-violent regime changes.

So radical violent action, whether that be in the form of paramilitary groups or self-appointed vigilantes who want to burn down the Establishment, is statistically not as likely to produce change as collective nonviolent protest.

2. Social Media Makes Protests More Effective

With that being said, there is a degree of truth to the allegation that social media creates lazy activists. More specifically, however, social media encourages engagement in social issues (i.e. sharing an article, liking a tweet, and maybe hurling insults at the opposing side), which is different from collective action. While Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram allow people to express their displeasure at existing policies, the most social media can do is mobilize people to agree on a unified agenda and a set of actions.

The problem, of course, is that many online participants don't end up following through with in-person plans, thus there's no unity where it counts: on the ground, at the march, or holding up signs. Furthermore, analysts Maria J. Stephan and Adam Gallagher emphasize the importance of "durable organizations" and "long-term planning," and in the fast-paced, immediate gratification of social media platforms like Twitter, responses can often be reactionary and short-term, which doesn't even begin the work of effective protest.

3. Myth: You Need to Have a Massive Amount of People

This is half-true, but it's mostly misunderstood. Effective nonviolent protests gain traction and grow into massive movements when their tactics get them noticed–even if that doesn't involve a large amount of people. As evidenced by the progression of the Egyptian occupation of Tahrir Square and the Serbian student protest group, Otpor (translated as "Resistance!"), a large following of people don't mark the beginning of a movement but rather it's a sign that a movement's worked. Srdja Popovic, leader of Otpor, reflected on the overthrow of war criminal Slobodan Milošević, "All successful movements come with a very low entry bar. You need to offer people the chance to do something meaningful, and – crucially – to get away with it. In Chile, against Pinochet, they drove at half speed: not illegal, very low risk, pretty funny, nothing the cops can do. It's about doing something neat, and living to tell everyone." He added, "We had to go out and listen. Get the real people, rural people, not so clever-clever people, behind us. Build a movement. We did, but it took us five years." Resistance from within a system is more effective to create change than external opposition.

4. Myth: It's a Business

Popovic coins one of their best tactics "laughtivism." Making people laugh not only gets attention, but it alleviates tension from living within fraught social realities. From graffitiing pictures of the corrupt men in charge to spreading the movement's message through public pranks, nonviolent movements have gained global traction through being human and showing a sense of humor.

Protests in Chile Should Serve as a Model for American Activists

We must look at the mass actions that are making life difficult for the powerful in Chile and Lebanon and Hong Kong, and prepare ourselves to make the same kind of trouble at home.

With all the global significance connected to the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, many people don't realize that September 11th has a very different set of meanings in Chile.

allende's glasses sculpture A memorial depicting Allende's broken glasses in the aftermath of the coup

On that day in 1973, the United States backed a coup that killed Chile's democratic socialist president, Salvador Allende, ushering in the brutal era of Pinochet. Chile has never fully recovered from the violence of that period, nor the sudden shift in economic policy that followed. For many Chileans, it has been hard to imagine a world in which the leadership could work for them, rather than the global elite. But now the streets of Santiago and Valparaiso are being taken over by thousands of protesters who've been unwilling to accept piecemeal concessions from President Sebastian Pinera.

So far many of these protests have been peaceful, but there have been instances of arson and of violent clashes between protesters and security forces. At least 20 have already died, but the activists there are not giving up. They are relentless, and they are only interested in substantive change—a fundamental restructuring of the Chilean Government to serve the working people. They want Pinera to resign, and they are calling for changes to the Chilean constitution.

Al Jazeera

For Americans, this kind of protest remains out of the question. Protest in America does not exist to be disruptive or to force action. It only serves as a salve for our powerlessness.

American protest is sanctioned by the system and restricted to its proper time and place. It makes the protesters feel better for a time—makes them feel seen, like they're a part of something—and maybe it raises some awareness for a cause or inspires some phone calls to congress. And if it attempts to do more, it is met with swift and violent crackdowns. It does not—cannot—break down the country's normal functions.

Christian Science Monitor

But what if the normal functions no longer work for the people? What if the interests that led the United States to back coups against Socialist leaders are also fueling mass propaganda campaigns against grass roots movements at home? What if they're defending those in power from the normal avenues of accountability?

The American media has a tight focus right now on the rapidly developing impeachment proceedings, and that makes sense. There is new information coming out of those efforts on a near daily basis, and there is a significant precedent for this kind of procedure to effect change. But it remains to be seen whether all this new evidence will survive the spin and propaganda from the likes of Fox News and One America News. We should not place our faith purely in the institutions of power to regulate power. To achieve anything for the people, the institutions of power must be afraid of the alternative.

AFP/Getty Images

We must look at the mass actions that are making life difficult for the powerful in Chile and Lebanon and Hong Kong, and prepare ourselves to make the same kind of trouble at home. Even if Trump is forced out of office and the Democrats choose a progressive nominee and the 2020 election fully flips control to the Democrats, the fight will only be getting started. The interests and forces that killed Salvador Allende in Chile will still be doing everything in their power to protect the status quo. We must be willing to upend the normal order if we want to produce real change.

Youth in Revolt: A Look at the Youth Movements that Changed History

Movements that seek progressive social reform tend to be led by young people.

From the Magna Carta to the Civil Rights movement, social change has most often come at the edge of a sword or a gun barrel.Every right, privilege, and freedom that we hold dear, however fledgling, was earned through collective action. The 8-hour work week, public schools, and so many of the things we take for granted had to be fought for. I can think of no examples in which social change happened via inertia.

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