Young black activists are spearheading social change

St, Louis, Missouri (TFC) – Charles Rae discusses how black youth has been taking the lead in social change, and the success of their controversial tactics. 

Before the tidal wave of media regarding the ISIS attacks in Lebanon and France, black students from the University of Missouri were making headlines.

The school has a long history of racial bigotry and misconduct. Students had been organizing on campus, and even interjected themselves into the homecoming parade in October. Headlines started making way when, on November 3, Jonathan Butler launched a hunger strike, calling for the University President’s resignation. On November 8, black football players on the University’s team went on strike. This lead to the President’s resignation the following day, November 9th. November 10th there was an extreme and terrifying public response from white people. Black students, protesters and non-activists alike, experienced bigoted terrorism within the confines of the University’s campus. Someone posted online that they would “stand [their] ground and shoot every black person [they saw].”

The students at Mizzou organized. If you follow DeRay McKesson on social media (an activist who travels to work with grassroots movements, as well as Campaign Zero), you would have seen videos of Mizzou students meeting for long hours into the night organizing and chanting together.

A couple days later, the 13th of November, the attacks in Paris were the only thing being discussed in news outlets and on social media. Mizzou protesters expressed grief over the fact that the attacks took over the airwaves, and all the work protesters were doing was quickly ignored for a juicier story.

Terrorism is a big threat, it’s just not a big threat to the U.S. Most of the terrorism that happens in the U.S. is domestic terrorism, as the epidemic of mass shootings infects the nation. Gun violence trackers report that mass shooting deaths in 2015 stands at 293, which would drop to 0 (1 injury) if you looked at Islamic-inspired terrorism, while the number who have died and/or been murdered in police custody is something like 1,053.

While I, too, fell into focusing on international relations, the black students continued their work without distraction. But news about protests started breaking through the media frenzy.

After the police homicide of Jamar Clark on November 15, Black Lives Matter (Minneapolis Chapter) shut down Interstate 94 and occupied their local precinct to demand justice. Clashes with the police are being reported by BLM and citizen journalists. You can visit their Facebook page linked above to watch a video of a police officer punching a woman in the face.

Not only have activists continued in the face of brutality, but they’ve organized. McKesson, who was asked to the protests by BLM organizers, posted on Facebook about just how organized BLM Minneapolis has become. They tied up tarps to control the flow of public space around the local precinct. They even brought in porta-potties.


This really caught my eye. As a citizen journalist present at the 2014 Ferguson insurrection, I felt a lot of hope in watching public response evolve in this way. Communities are learning that it’s not enough to be upset, and it’s not enough to activate public space. Public space must be taken back and controlled by the people.

Black activists are changing the dynamics and leveraging power. With the involvement of the football team, Mizzou demands were met in a day. In Minneapolis, instead of police fully controlling protest space like in Ferguson, where all they had to do was force us to walk in circles until we were tired and essentially wait us out, protesters are setting up community infrastructure which eliminates usual tactics the police use.

If we want to force social change, we’re going to have to take our queue from black students and the Black Lives Matter movement. Their tactics are strategic and well-founded from the micro to the macro level. Students have leveraged power for their lists of demands in several recent instances, like activist Jonathan Butler and the football players, and other campuses that jumped into the #StudentBlackOut protests. Black Lives Matter uses civil disobedience such as occupations and highway shutdowns, doesn’t endorse political candidates, they make clear and concise lists of demands, and they refuse to play ‘respectability politics.’ A nationally discussed example of this was BLM leaders hijacking the mic at Bernie Sanders speaking events, which put democrats on the defensive about their racial equality track records. Sanders added the Black Lives Matter agenda to his political platform quickly, and the topic has been brought up at nationally aired democratic debates.

There are many things to be angry about in our modern society: racism, sexism, police brutality, endless war, misrepresentation, and money in politics. But where that should be leading us isn’t into a fight with each other, but a discussion about successful tactics, and solidarity with the Americans who are already using them courageously.

Charles Rae, a new writer to The Fifth Column, writes about power, law enforcement and social justice theory.