It’s become a genuine movement. A vehicle for change. Nationally, a mouthpiece intimately connected to and driving much of America’s conversation surrounding criminal justice reform, an end to institutional racism, and real, true equality for all. The question is, after the 2016 election, will it—the change movement called Black Lives Matter—flourish and advance or will it hit a dead end? More importantly, will its bold and outspoken leaders become the latest casts of Oprah’s
“Where are They Now?”
Born after a series of unjustified and senseless shootings of young black men by law enforcement, Black Lives Matter has built a national grassroots brand and robust coast-to-coast organization. Its loose infrastructure characterized by its use of social media and its disdain for any centralized leadership has caused many to doubt whether its disruptive brand can be sustained or have any significant long-term impact on both local and national politics and policies. Some pundits compare the movement to the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protest movement whose focus on corporate greed garnered international attention and critique for its lack of vision, leadership and structure.
Despite its critics, Black Lives Matter’s aim to disrupt the status quo and to raise awareness about police brutality, civil rights, systemic inequality and social justice in the United States is in the process of being accomplished. Its core issues are integral to the national dialogue of the 2016 presidential contest. Many of the candidates running for commander-in-chief this cycle have developed policy positions, debated and discussed at length the need for reform on several of these issues. Even the U.S. Senate is contemplating bipartisan criminal justice reform laws, partially because of the issues raised by the movement’s efforts.
While Black Lives Matter is making enormous strides toward creating positive change in America, its biggest challenge yet is to channel the organization’s prowess and nationwide network into something tangible that can cement its legacy in America for the next four years and beyond and prevent it from becoming Occupy Wall Street 2.0. The vessel with which to do this is the November general election.
Because if a candidate, like the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump, who refused to disavow the head of the Klu Klux Klan and other white supremacists, becomes president, it’ll likely put all the momentum the Black Lives Matter movement has gained to a grinding halt.
There’s significant evidence that suggests this may very be the case. Often dubbed a tyrant, Trump plans to wall off America, ban Muslims from entering the country, and wants to institute Orwellian neighborhood-watch police patrols on Muslim communities.
His discriminative statements of calling communities with large African American populations such as Ferguson, Missouri and Oakland, California as more “dangerous” than war-torn Iraq illustrates his continued tone-deafness and biased against such communities. All of these examples point to the fact that a Trump Presidency would likely roll back all the advances the Black Lives Matter movement has achieved to date.
For these reasons, among others, the outcome of the 2016 general election will represent a pivotal watershed moment for the Black Lives Matter movement. It could either bring all the gains its made to a standstill, or by electing a candidate more sympathetic to its cause, such as the likely Democratic nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the movement can continue advancing its social justice and civil rights crusade.
Clinton may not be a perfect candidate in the view of many activists within the Black Lives Matter’s movement, but she’s lightyears ahead and a far better choice than the Trump alternative. Much of the animosity against Clinton in the African American community stems from her use of the controversial term “super predators,” and support of Bill Clinton’s 1994 crime bill. Clinton has accepted responsibility and apologized for the use of this vile term and the failed policy. She has also met with leaders of Black Lives Matter. Clinton took the first steps and has shown an ability to change, Black Lives Matter now has an opportunity to move past their initial motivation, to a more mature disciplined approach to systemic change.
Its army of young people, brigades of enthusiasts and social media prowess can be game changers in the general election. They can play a key role in traditional red states like Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri, that have large African American populations and which show Clinton within striking distance of Trump.
Black Lives Matter can use its grassroots organizing acumen to mobilize its members and to boost voter registration and turnout on election day. These activists can also target independent voters who share their vision of eradicating disparities in the criminal justice system and income inequality. These efforts can help Clinton pick up unconventional battleground states, fundamentally transform the standard electoral map and possibly position her for a landslide victory.
Beyond helping to propel Clinton to the White House, Black Lives Matter has an unique opportunity to build a national electoral strategy that can impact down ballot races in every state. An election apparatus that increases voter turnout gives them tremendous clout to influence all levels of government and to insure that candidates in races as diverse as county supervisor to the U.S. Congress share their commitment to racial equality.
Black Lives Matter is at a watershed moment. Like other activist movements, it must decide how to leverage its wins into systemic changes while remaining true to its brand. It must resist the temptation to view electoral politics as antithetical to its core. All change movements must evolve in order to remain relevant and effective, and if one central goal is changing how African American communities are policed and who polices them, that means influencing who is in elected office, starting with who occupies the White House.