Two Sides of the Same Coin
The LA Times ran an article last week looking at a growing rift amongst African-American civil rights advocates. On one end were the veterans from the Civil Rights Movement, those who had been influenced by Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the other were the recent activists from the Black Lives Matters Movement. Their approaches are markedly different. According to the article, the older group is more willing to engage the powers that be by joining government or sitting with government officials while the younger group prefers to have their voice heard through civil disobedience, employing many of the tactics the older generation used to use.
The article puts a spotlight on the growing tactic employed by the millennials as a result of being frustrated by the lack of progress they see in social justice issues. They, like many, are impatient with our leaders not listening to their issues and instead pandering to the base that already agrees with them. They are well aware that our democracy is at stake, with power in America resting with a few . Coupled with Supreme Court rulings that have increased the power of corporate lobbying, these millennial activists have understandably lost confidence in engaging their leaders.
The perception that leaders will not listen informs their tactics. Acts of civil disobedience, disruptions, and protests mark the primary tools of the generation. Reminiscent, and even inspired by the non-violent demonstrations of the Civil Rights Era, the millennials seek to force government and the public to take notice.
Is this tactic effective? Is it needed?
It is rare that one tactic is successful on its own. Even Martin Luther King, Jr. who called for the boycott of buses in Montgomery met with the President of the United States to encourage him to pass a federal law. Protests and disruptions can highlight an injustice and bring it attention. However, after that attention, government leaders need to be able to sit down and engage with people. The protesters provide the inconvenience of having civil society be disharmonious until a problem is addressed. However, that is only half the equation, since solutions require cooperation and engagement.
As civil rights groups mature, and as times change, whether engagement or protests takes the lead will change. However, both are needed to effectively reform policies and opinions. Instead of being diametrically opposed to each other, both should instead work in unison to achieve their similar goals.