History is cyclical. We have already been here before. Governments give and take, give and take, to maintain order and the established hierarchy. They control instruments of brute force, economic resources, and the luxury of playing longball in opposition to struggles for justice and fairness. The activism of the Movement for Black Lives has raised awareness, rallied fellow citizens, and exerted formidable pressure on our elected officials.
But where will we go from here?
First Black Lives Matter Organizing Meeting of New York Educators, CUNY Grad Center September 2017
On the one hand, Trump has crystallized the 50 year backlash to the hardwon gains of progressive social movements and reawakened fellow citizens to the structural flaws of our social and political fabric. On the other, some are feeling a sense of hopelessness and that the American project is irredeemably racist and patriarchal as our nation’s most despicable demons, including the Klan and American Nazis, have returned to public life.
Will activism endure or apathy set in? Will we gain enhanced political and economic power or will our movements be co-opted? Where do we put collective action? Electoral politics? Community organizing? Economic development and entrepreneurship?
All of the above.
An all of the above approach to black liberation should embrace the diversity of expertise in our community and advance our well being in whatever capacity is required in the respective spaces we occupy. It is not so much about which area of institutional development that one commits to, as it is about the lens and priority that we bring to the work we do. In most institutions in our society, black life is an afterthought. Our movement remedies that by situating black lives centrally to the thinking and decision making that will impact people in America and beyond our borders. We do this, not as an exercise in retributive supremacy, but as a mechanism to actualize ideals that were hollowed in their inception by our nation’s original sins.
Our consciousness of genuine love for black people is collective action to black liberation.
While the political context remains hostile, this is no cause for despair. As our fore-mother, Angela Davis, has poignantly exclaimed: freedom is a constant struggle. Our embrace of this mantra and the lifelong commitment that comes with it will fortify our spirit for the collective project of building institutions that fulfill the needs of our community and the fights that lie ahead.
Frederick Douglass proclaimed that:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress…Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing on the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning.”
We no longer quietly submit, our demands are on the table, and we will succeed in making real the affirmation that #BlackLivesMatterAtSchool.
Marcus B. McArthur is a Special Education and Humanities teacher at City-As School, an alternative high school serving students ages 17-21 in New York City. He is also a representative on the Executive Board of the United Federation of Teachers. He is a union and public education activist that is a member of the social justice oriented MORE Caucus of the UFT.