What sustains social movements – CSMonitor.com


The death of George Floyd, a black man killed last month in the custody of four Minneapolis police officers, has created rapid momentum for real change. New York and Los Angeles are reallocating portions of their police budgets to education and development for minority communities. The Boston Police Department passed reforms that would prohibit the specific use of force. Prominent black activist groups have been so inundated with financial pledges that they are redirecting contributions elsewhere.

When another black man was fatally shot in an altercation with two Atlanta officers on Friday, the police chief resigned and medical examiners ruled Rayshard Brooks’ death a homicide. Rarely has such a degree of responsibility followed such a meeting so quickly.

Time will prove whether such responses reflect lasting change in the United States. Nearly six years after protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri, following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, few of the 47 police reforms recommended by a state-appointed commission have been carried out. .

Social movements often follow long trajectories to achieve structural reforms. Before they achieve visible results, however, they first require a silent shaping and chiseling of individual thought, the kind that goes beyond initial rage or short-lived empathy.

There is no easy way to measure the extent of current changes in individual attitudes. A Washington Post-Schar School poll last week found that 69% of Americans said police violence against African Americans reflects broader societal issues, compared to 43% who shared this view after the events in Ferguson. . Civil rights leaders say the current protest marches are the largest and most diverse they have ever seen.

Yet those who have dedicated their lives to fighting racial and economic injustice say that raising awareness of social issues is only the first step. “There’s the intellectual stage,” one nonprofit official said in an interview, “and then comes a question: what are you willing to give up as a beneficiary of the current system to change the system? It is difficult to take the next step. »

When asked to describe their motivations, many activists hesitated. Their reasons are unique and deeply personal. Some are motivated because they failed to make a difference in someone’s life when they were able to. Others were affected by what they themselves knew about how the criminal justice system treated the poor and minority people, even victims of minor crimes.

All spoke of overcoming pride, fear, and personal comfort. A man has turned his opposition to the Vietnam War into a life of service to youth at risk of gang violence. “I found the most dangerous urban situation I could find,” he said. It’s still there half a century later.

“It is important that we are not shy, that we devote ourselves to wonderful undertakings,” he said. “That kind of love is like a print on bare wood. It’s unforgettable if it’s real and if it’s lived.

The social justice movement that has grown since Mr Floyd’s murder reflects a new generation grappling with racism. Public rage may compel certain reforms. But lasting change only happens when enough people embrace a gentleness, a presence, and a willingness to see and alleviate the adverse conditions of another human being’s everyday experience. By all current signs, a great movement of thought in this direction is underway in the United States and beyond.


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