The most important political development in a generation

To: Focus
From: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
September 11, 2015, 7:55AM

I think the eruption of the Black Lives Matter movement is the most important political development in Black America in a generation. In a political moment where the successes of a layer of Black people had been elevated as proof of America’s just democracy and also as the basis for the regular chastisement of other African Americans, the movement has terminally punctured the idea of the US as post-racial or colorblind. The brilliance of the movement slogan, Black Lives Matters, in my opinion is its capacious explanatory power. While some, including the recent New York Times editorial praising the movement, would like to narrowly confine the goals of the movement to addressing police brutality, activists and others that operate within the wide periphery of the movement have worked hard to link police abuse, violence and murder to a much broader net of inequality, racism and discrimination that runs rife throughout American society. It has also exposed the deep chasms in Black society that are driven much more by class than just “generation.”

We are now moving into the second phase of the movement beyond only pointing out the incidents of police terror or just shutting events down to draw attention to the persistence of injustice. The challenge will be in connecting the implied breadth of the slogan to the multiple layers of Black society for whom “Black Lives Matter” resonates. This requires actually organizing. This organizing should be rooted in concrete demands and actual measures that the movement can use as a guide or barometer of its progress.

For me it’s a moment of profound optimism but also concern. The movement is developing at a moment when the police are on a years-long killing spree. This year alone American police have killed more than 800 people since January. At the same time, movements do not grow and build just because they should. They must be built and that means there have to be political arguments and debates over the nature of the organizing, strategy and tactics necessary to go from episodic events to sustained organizing and growth and eventually social transformation. The movement is in its infancy so there has to be patience but also the constant excavation of the next steps necessary to continue to move things forward.

Photo by Jamelle Bouie
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