Black Power 2.0: Are We Witnessing the Next Black Power Movement?
Years from now, we will look back at this moment in history as the birth of the next mass movement for civil and human rights in America. The resurgence of activism among young people in general, and Black young people in particular, is reminiscent of the 1960s movements for civil rights and black power. All the ingredients for social change have been set in motion, and young people are assuring that the window of opportunity to create real change remains open.
There are strong similarities between the youth movements during the 1960s, and what I see as the burgeoning movement for black lives today. One key similarity is that the issues haven’t changed much. In 1965, Black youth in Los Angeles exploded in protest against police brutality, resulting in the infamous Watts riots. In 1967, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense confronted police officers in Oakland for racial profiling. Today, young residents in Baltimore and Ferguson are unfortunately still fighting this battle.
1964 was a presidential election year and civil rights advocates leveraged their collective power to influence Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the voting rights act of 1965. Similarly, 2016 is an election year and young activist groups like Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero are demanding that presidential candidates respond to their proposals for justice system reforms.
Lastly, we cannot discount the significance of student movements on college campuses during the late 1960s and today. Student movements for free speech, African American studies, women’s rights, and against the Vietnam war fostered an irresistible climate for activism that moved our society toward a more inclusive democracy. Students reimagined what it meant to be included on campus and in society in general, and the result was the creation of new social and academic programs on college campuses in African American studies, Women’s Studies, and Chicano Studies. Today, students around the country are taking up the mantle and advancing another courageous vision of student life. At the University of Missouri, students recently successfully removed the university president, and are demanding seats on the governing body of the entire University of Missouri college system. Students at other colleges are making similar demands for racial dignity.
While there are striking similarities to movements of the past, the differences are probably even more pronounced. First, the leadership of today’s movements for Black lives do not borrow from the past Black religious tradition, where one single charismatic, male leader holds the vision, direction, and power of devoted followers. Today’s movements are decentralized and led by queer women of color and rejects the single, charismatic leader model that has been seared into black movement history. While the term Black Lives Matter can be attributed to activists Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi, who first used the term on Twitter, there are hundreds of young leaders, mostly women, in neighborhoods, community organizations, and churches that are equally as powerful and influential to the movement. Leaders of these movements also unapologetically embrace the full humanity, diversity, and dignity among trans, gay, lesbian, and poor Black folk.
Second, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat have become the New Age pulpit for justice. “All power to the hashtag,” has taken the term “power to the people” to a level unimaginable 50 years ago. Today’s movements for racial justice use technology as platforms to promote ideas and shine a light into the dark corners of college campuses, police departments, and high schools. Technology is also making movement building irresistible to young people who are searching for meaning, and purpose in their lives.
Today’s movements for justice represents something more than youth expressing anger and frustration, but rather illustrate how the fabric of justice is woven together by the brilliant strands of healing, hope, love, and dignity. While Black Power of the 1960s was about black identity, this current movement is about dignity, and the value of black life itself. Young people remind us that together we must continue to weave the fabric of justice, repair the holes, and mend its tattered edges. We can advance our quest for democracy if we listen to young people and resist the urge to discount their protests as illegitimate and opportunistic. Young people’s voices don’t always come in neatly wrapped packages. The current movement for black lives is building from past failures and reimagining what democracy looks like. We need to support their calls for dignity, only their voices can move the dial on our progress to a more inclusive democracy.
Shawn Ginwright is an Associate Professor of African American Studies and Education at San Francisco State University, and the author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education: How Urban Activists and Teachers Are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart and Black Youth Rising, Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America. Join him on Facebook Shawn Ginwright, PhD. and Twitter @shawnginwright or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.