Fellow blogger, Joshua Lazard aka the Uppity Negro, published an article recently where titled “Waiting on the Movement.” The article was thorough and Lazard definitely made solid points in expressing his feelings. And I cannot disagree with his conclusion that for all the protests, marches, memes and hastags a movement has not fully taken shape. However, what haunted me was the question that he basically asking: how do we make a movement?
It bothered me that I never saw, and still haven’t seen, any tangible actions emerge from this so-called movement. It bothers me because while I agree with the sentiments and the ideologies of Black Lives Matter, I can’t see how any of it has any staying power. And by staying power, I don’t see it as a change agent for the revolution of the system.
-Joshua L. Lazard, The Uppity Negro
Ironically after reading Lazard’s article I watched the Nina Simone documentary that was recently released on Netflix called What Happened Miss Nina? The documentary offered an unflinching look at Nina Simone and the personality behind the music. The documentary referred to an interview had previously seen of Nina where she had stated that she did not believe in the nonviolent movement. That if she could have she would have used guns but she didn’t know anything about guns so she just used her music.
What Movements Are Made Of
One of the things I have often heard Nina discuss in interviews is her regret that she did not become a classical pianist. Instead Nina’s passion for the civil rights movement drove her to the point that no other path for her could take priority. Nina herself was an activist in the sense that she would join the movement – probably the Black Panthers – and grab a gun and hit the streets as she would have desired but what she had she gave to the movement: her music.
It occurred to me that Nina’s sentiments and decisions are the things that movements are made of. Movements are made of everyday people deciding that the goals of the movement are important enough to make sacrifices, to support, and to dedicate their lives to on the most fundamental level. It made me think about the Montgomery bus boycott. I have often pondered on that initiative because although it was led by Dr. King and leading civil rights organizations, it was carried out by everyday people. People who could have easily thought a boycott would be ineffective. People who could have easily decided that getting up earlier to walk past the bus stop to work would be too much to ask. Those people could easily have used the excuse ‘I have to support my family. I have to get to work’ and used that to defend their decision to get on the bus. But they didn’t. They made a fundamental decision to make a minor sacrifice in their everyday life that changed the course of everything. That is what movements are made of.
The problem is we don’t give enough of a damn. We make excuses to justify our laziness and addiction to comfort. We are quick to say that more Black people should support Black businesses but when we are tired after work we excuse ourselves from the imperative because those stores are too far or they don’t have what we want. We will say anything to make it okay for us not to have to make the decision. In many ways this is more insidious than if a person were to just say that they do not agree with the principles or goals of a movement. But to agree and feel no conviction to take action is both apathetic and counterproductive. How often does one hear people capriciously neglect to vote but complain about the state of affairs in the country.
It’s actually quite maddening if you think about it. We live in a society that so emphasizes the importance of the individual over the group – which is sometimes problematic – but at the same time is cynical about the affects of the individual on the group. It is a domineering government’s dream. While we spend our time obsessing over the most irrelevant details of our lives, we personally refuse to engage the governing systems that control our country. Making us a land of sheep to be herded by the small population of politicians and media pundits that do engage the systems. And we wonder why so often legislation in this country does not reflect the will of the people. It’s because we have no will. And without our will, we have no power.
I do not pretend to have the answer to all of Lazard’s questions about movements. What I do have is an analysis that I think gives way to the path towards the answers to his questions. And I have a will to uncover those answers. Because I believe that the biggest obstacle to movement building for our generation is unlearning the selfishness and self-centered ways of living that we have been conditioned to believe in. I believe that recognizing and taking responsibility for being part of a collective of individuals is paramount to movement building because without understanding and respecting the ways that our individual choices affect the greater workings of the country, we are completely clueless about how to affect the greater concerns of our society. We reduce our involvement to hashtags and social media declarations without ever forcing ourselves into true action on a fundamental level that changes one’s lifestyle, which in turn changes the societal dynamic.
Lazard is concerned about this notion of “leaderless movements” and with good reason as it does cause disorganization and opens the door for anyone to co-opt the movement for their own goals; however, I believe the underlying concept is part of the evolution of movement building for our generation in that it suggests that everyone is important and critical to the progress of the struggle. When I have come across an apathetic and cynical mind that is affected by the struggles of the country but daunted by the responsibility of action and engagement I have often said that change begins with one person: you. The same is true for movements. It has to be a personal, individual choice to be engaged and to decide to one’s life fundamentally in support of a goal. And if we all are that one person…well then we’ll look up and see that, in truth, we are never one person. There are others that have and will make the same individual choice and as these individuals find one another and join forces in support and pursuit of that common goal a movement is formed. We are still learning about what activism and movements need to be for the time in which we live. We have finally come to realize that it is not and can not be the same as the glorious moments of old when we marched, sat-in and carried guns in the street. We are uncertain of what it does look like…but we are figuring it out. Part of that is the actions of trial and error and part of that is critical analysis of those actions.
One thing is for sure and that is that our passion is there and it is important to note because passion and apathy cannot exist in the same space. The other thing that is for sure is that our time to run this country is overdue and with the baby boomers finally resigning from power, we are going to have to figure it out and the world is going to have to deal with us – and our ways of getting it done.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man