And Social Media
Civil Rights Movement
"This new movement has demonstrated
how digital technology can become an
effective tool for social change, not to
replace face-to-face human contact but
hopefully to facilitate the people-to-people
organizing that is both necessary
revolution will not only be televised but apparently it will also be
uploaded, downloaded, streamed, posted and tweeted as well.
What America has been witnessing — from the killing of Trayvon Martin
in Florida and Mike Brown in Ferguson to Eric Garner in Staten Island,
Walter Scott in North Charleston and Freddie Gray in Baltimore — is the
birth of a new civil rights movement. But this movement is a little
different from your parents’ or your grandparents’ civil rights
Social struggles for freedom, justice and equality have their
similarities, to be sure. And to some extent, it seems we are still
fighting for some of the same things, because the more things change,
the more they remain the same. Racism and brutality are still around
and apparently have no intention of leaving quietly. But the techniques
and structures of organizing and movement building have met
twenty-first century sensibilities. This new movement is online. It is
on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram, in
your inbox and in a video on your cellphone.
Technology has helped give birth to the new civil rights movement.
#BlackLivesMatter was founded by three black women — Alicia Garza,
Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi — by way of social media. When a jury
found George Zimmerman not guilty for the murder of Trayvon Martin,
Garza, enraged and filled with of grief, took to Facebook. “I
posted on Facebook in that moment that it wasn’t OK for us to not be
surprised that someone could not be held accountable for the murder of
an unarmed, black teenager,” Garza told NPR. “And so I think the note
was something like, black people, I love you, I love us, we got us and
our lives matter.” Cullors added a hashtag, and the rest is history.
The women wanted to create a movement “that could firmly stand on the
shoulders of movements that have come before us, such as the civil
rights movement, while innovating on its strategies, practices and
approaches to finally centralize the leadership of those existing at
the margins of our economy and our society,” as Opal Tometi noted.
In some ways reminiscent of the Black Power Movement, #BlackLivesMatter
has not only been associated with the violence waged against black
bodies but has also encompassed numerous socioeconomic issues such as
advocating for full employment, quality housing and education and an
end to racial profiling and mass incarceration. Cullors recently
discussed #BlackSpring — the latest outgrowth of #BlackLivesMatter with
echoes of the Arab Spring — with the HuffPost Show:
Black Spring is about really looking at this moment, not these isolated
incidences.… Black people are not a monolithic group, but what we are
facing is something that’s extreme — and that’s poverty, that’s
homelessness, that’s higher rates of joblessness, that’s law
enforcement invading our communities day in and day out — and we are
uprising. And so this Black Spring is about really talking about a
national uprising. We should be honored to talk about this moment.
Last year, a panel of scholars from around the country selected
#BlackLivesMatter as the 2014 Digital Trend of the Year as part of the
Digital Folklore Project at Utah State University.
This new movement has demonstrated how digital technology can become an
effective tool for social change, not to replace face-to-face human
contact but hopefully to facilitate the people-to-people organizing
that is both necessary and irreplaceable. #BlackLivesMatter is able to
learn from the successes, as well as the failures, of other
Todd Wolfson, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at
the Rutgers University School of Communication and Information, is the
author of Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left. In his book,
Wolfson examines the history of a new media-oriented social movements
he calls the “Cyber Left,” from their early days of the Indymedia
movement and the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999,
up to #OccupyWallStreet.
There are three characteristics which have set the Cyber Left apart,
including the use of new technologies and strategies to build a social
movement, a decentralized network structure, and governance through the
use of participatory democracy.
As opposed to old school social movements, which were based on
organizations, unions or political parties, the newer movements are
global but with decentralized, local and autonomous power. In addition,
while media and communications once served as the mouthpiece of a
social movement back in the day, Wolfson notes that now, in the
information age, “communications acts more like the network of a
network-based social movement, transmitting signals to different parts
of the movement and thus coordinating its actions.”
However, Wolfson also notes the Cyber Left — which up to the Occupy
movement was led by young college-educated, middle-class white men —
has had its drawbacks, such as “a lack of leadership from those most
oppressed,” and an “inability to make proactive decisions and build
long-term powerful social movement organizations.” Further,
“technology, and new-media tools specifically, have become more
important than social relationships, organizing and movement building.”
A final characteristic of these movements is “lack of a shared strategy
and political-education program to build clear and committed leaders.”
These Cyber Left movements that came before #BlackLivesMatter were able
to grow up to a point but were unable to build long-term infrastructure
and ultimately were limited in their effectiveness and viability.
Although it is too early to say where #BlackLivesMatter is headed, you
can believe it is far more than a hashtag. And while the movement is
very much social media, it is also very human, on the ground,
connecting people and organizations and empowering the grassroots. They
are not going anywhere yet.
This commentary was originally published by theGrio
David A. Love, JD - Serves
BlackCommentator.com as Executive Editor.
He is journalist and human rights advocate
based in Philadelphia, and a contributor to
Progressive Media Project,
McClatchy-Tribune News Service,
In These Times
and Philadelphia Independent Media Center.
He also blogs at davidalove.com,
Salon. He is the Immediate Past Executive Director of Witness to Innocence,
a national nonprofit organization that empowers exonerated death row
prisoners and their family members to become effective leaders in the
movement to abolish the death penalty. Contact Mr. Love and BC.
| is published every Thursday
David A. Love, JD
Nancy Littlefield, MBA