When The Protests End

The Civil Rights Movements of the ’50s and ’60s gave the country a blueprint for how civil disobedience can force the walls of systematic oppression to fall. Currently, in the face of police brutality, institutional racism, and life-threatening white supremacy, today’s citizens have chosen to adopt the methods of the revolutionary forefathers, taking to the streets in every state in America to march for social change. Everyone can agree that the marches and sit-ins were successful, but to what end? Here are five lessons we can learn from the Civil Rights Movements, and ways they can be tailored to fit the current needs of the American struggle:

Organize with Purpose

The sit-ins of the 1960s were proactive, incendiary protests targeted toward a specific issue in the South: segregation of lunch counters in public and private eateries. The students created an entire strategy that spread across the South and was copied in Tennessee, Kentucky, Florida, Virginia, and beyond. They created a model of civil disobedience that was almost machine-like in its effectiveness. As students were arrested for non-violently protesting in this manner, more students took their place. These movements caused the integration of many dining places and furthered the cause of Black Freedom.

Today‚Äôs protests in response to the killing of unarmed African-Americans have mostly included marching, usually in the cities’ most central areas. While this is a powerful and useful symbol of unity and power, organizers can begin to work together to create a system that would bring into question the effectiveness of policing as it currently is. This may include police accountability commissions or even support of community-based policing organizations, but to be effective, these next steps must be intentional.

Be Prepared to Sacrifice

The Montgomery Bus Boycott is a paramount example of intentionality and sacrifice in dismantling injustice. After the arrest of Rosa Parks, the NAACP called for the boycott of public transit for only one day. When this proved to be successful, local leaders organized the boycott that would last more than a year. While they strategically decided to remove the Black dollar from this public service, they also answered the call to support one another in providing local travel. Carpools were organized, and still, many reached their destinations on foot. Their efforts led to a Supreme Court decision that changed the course of history.

Many Black communities have suffered the loss of local grocery stores, and pharmacies, making the most vulnerable citizens even more endangered. As a result, many organizations have provided food, medicine, and other items to families in need. Organizations like The Think Tank Foundation, an organization that aims to support Chicago’s youth on the South and west sides, administered thousands of dollars worth of food, infant formula and diapers, medicine, and other goods to Chicago families at no cost. This included the financial and physical sacrifice of people who had to drive dozens of miles each day to purchase and deliver these items. Just like the Black community made a collective effort to support one another during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, citizens today should be prepared to trade their convenience for the collective objective.

Children are Powerful, too.

The marches in Birmingham were meant to integrate public and commercial places of business. They were also expected to trigger the outrage and violence of Bull Conner. Under his leadership, hundreds of protesters were arrested, but after a month, children ages 6-18 increasingly participated in the marches. When the country watched its government abuse the nation’s most vulnerable citizens, business owners were forced to switch agendas and integrate.

Today’s youth are intelligent, resourceful, and connected. They have a unique opportunity to use their voices in ending police brutality. Today’s Black children have a unique perspective, as they have encountered injustice in the school to prison pipeline in ways unheard of during the Civil Rights Movement. Organizers should be spending time with incarcerated youth, gathering their stories, and supporting them in pursuing justice. Families must be willing to include their children in the fight to end police brutality. Their voices must be heard.

  1. The Media is Our Greatest Weapon

The biggest tool for the Civil Rights Movement was the television. Newspapers and radio couldn’t draw the same outrage that was displayed in America’s living room. The marches, the beatings, and the arrests were more real and costly as a result of public television. It pushed the entire nation to act on behalf of the South, which challenged the national government to do more than they’d ever done before to protect Black citizens.

Today, social media allows the world instant access to Black experiences. It is mentally and emotionally exhausting to watch a man die on camera at the hands of the police. Still, citizens need to continue to record and share their experiences. The collective evidence against America’s controlling powers has moved the hearts of people worldwide.

The Fight is For Us

The Civil Rights Movements of the ’50s and ’60s sought to provide Black and Brown citizens with an opportunity to fully realize their place in the world as Americans, equal to whites and fully protected from powers that sought to destroy the collective well-being. The nation finds itself facing the challenge of protecting Black lives, but they have historically managed to do the opposite with little retribution.

Many organizations have called for their states and cities to defund the police. Still, it is unclear to many whether that means reallocating some portion of police funds to other government agencies or dismantling policing altogether. Whatever the case, the argument can be made that protection from an executive body created to dismember the Black community, in particular, should not be the sole means of maintaining peace in Black communities. Furthermore, Black people have the means and the agency to create their own systems in their own communities. George Floyd was accused of using counterfeit money by a teenaged store clerk who was carrying out company policy by calling the police. What would it have looked like if the store was owned by a local Black family who was familiar with the local citizens? One may have known Floyd and could have approached him about the money without involving police for a non-violent crime? And if Floyd did commit this crime, what if there was a community based policing organization that held him accountable for the crime? What if they could have worked with Floyd to make up for the amount he stole? Black America can take more control of its communities more than ever, and now is the time to take back the control given to the government during the Civil Rights Movement.

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