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The History of the Black Lives Matter Movement

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The Black Lives Matter Movement

Over the past few years, an assembly of over 50 coalitions have come together to form the Black Lives Matter Movement. The ‘BLM’ movement was created with the intention of standing up for the rights of Black people who were wrongfully targetted, harmed, and killed by the police. High profile cases such as the death of Eric Garner set off a shockwave of retaliation in the form of protests and gatherings nationwide. “The idea… is that when people on the ground make decisions, articulate problems and come up with answers, the results are more likely to meet real needs. And that’s more sustainable in the long run” (Ransby, par. 4, 2017). This snippet was taken from a New York Times article last year and it sums up perfectly why protesting seems to be the last, and only resort for Black people across America.

The following dissertation is an overview of a conversational interview had with Nikita Mitchell, an organizer for the BLM movement and an active participant on the field for the coalition since June, 2017. The East Oakland, CA native is used to seeing the struggle of her own impoverished neighborhood and striving for better. “I struggled for years to find and exercise my voice against inter- community violence… and after graduating high school, I was further politicized into the ‘School of Unity and Liberation’, and ‘People Organized to Win Employment Rights’ (POWER). From there, I went on to do various forms of community organizing until I landed in Black Lives Matter Bay Area chapter. It was the first time that I was able to explicitly organize with Black folks around our conditions. I started as a member and then later became a chapter leader. In BLM, I contributed to the membership development direct action, and to our larger organizing strategy” (Mitchell).

Helping others was always in the cards for Nikita Mitchell, and she truly found her calling with the Black Lives Matter movement. The tough origins of this woman’s beginnings have led to fulfilling her ambitions for the future. In regards to an end goal, Nikita states that she “originally was for families to get the justice that they were seeking- whether it was police officers getting fired and arrested, families receiving settlements, and/or there be culturally responsive trainings for police officers. I have since grown in my understanding of abolition, and unless the justice systems are radically shifted, than there won’t be major changes in how Black people experience the justice system. As the BLM, we seek to end State Sanctioned violence against black bodies- by eradicating police brutality in the institutional and interpersonal sphere. We are abolitionists- which means that to us we must abolish systems of capitalism and all the systems that sanction it while also building the world we want to see” (Mitchell).

Mitchell is an incredibly impassioned person, and her actions and motives are based on the roots of her upbringing. Being a person of color does not mean she lacks integrity or intelligence, in fact she has both in mass abundance. Whether one agrees with Nikita’s actions or protests, one must objectively notice her intentions and why she wants to help people with the same skin color as hers. There are others on the other side of the spectrum, even representatives who they themselves are Black. “Black Lives Matter is an ‘anarchist movement’ that masks itself using poor and disadvantaged people in order to gain broader support, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke said” (Takala, par. 1, 2016), and David Clarke is in fact a Black man himself. The BLM has found itself diverged against not only discrimination, but against those who don’t trust the cause at all.

The subject of my interview is not so much different as a young woman across the world protesting for her rights with the BLM. “On March 14th, 2018 Marielle Franco an Afro-Brazilian council member was brutally assassinated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She was a human rights advocate raised in the favelas, and thousands have gathered to mourn her. Black organizers in Brazil reached” (blacklivesmatter.com, 2017). The BLM webiste continually monitors all protests worldwide, and they track any casualites as a result of the movement. There is a lot of sacrifice that the protestors experience, Nikita herself experienced withdrawal from family and a disconnect from her own life. “Being apart of the movement has impacted my ability to be physically home and give time to my family. I went through a period of intense separation from my community due to not having time to be with people” (Mitchell). It isn’t a simple matter of holding signs and representing a cause, it is putting emotion and thought into each second of representing a cause so much bigger than one’s self.

Interestingly enough the BLM is run almost like a co-op, or a fraternity that’s co-ed. There are chapters in different cities, and the accumulation of citizens who want to stand with the Black Lives Matter organization is quite substantial at this point in time. There is a heavy influence of BLM in the media, and even designers have created shirts and fashion in ode to the movement. “BLM uses both social media (twitter, Facebook) and in person engagement to promote our organization and the larger Black resistance movement. Social media engagement can look like activating people around specific initiatives, creating an online community for people around the world to engage each other on critical issues, and/or amplify critical movement moments so that interested community can stay connected. We also see in person engagement as a critical function of our organization. Our chapters have cultural events, house meetings, community meetings, or do door knocking etc. to engage community members on the work they are doing” (Mitchell). The growth of Black Lives Matter has created more notoriety for itself and its members, but this is in fact a good thing as bringing attention to and eventually eradicating discrimination is the true end goal.

When one delves into the true nature of any movement, they must question motive and reasoning. I asked Nikita if Black Lives Matter is open to allowing people of different political and racial backgrounds into the movement; I in essence asked if the ’cause’ is worth more than any lingering, yet unncessary pride that comes with being human, espcecially since the nature of the beast (as in discrimination) lies within all people. I must say, the answer given by Nikita was as perfect as it could be: “At Black Lives Matter Global Network, we see ourselves as an “entry-level” organization for Black people of all backgrounds and political beliefs. We see ourselves as a landing pad for community members who are seeking a political home- seeking to grow their political understanding in a collective way. We believe that in order for us to win it will take all of us, which means that we can’t exclude people from the movement without warrant” (Mitchell).

We believe that in order for us to win it will take all of us. This statement really affected me when I heard her speak it, and the use of ‘us’ was as simple as it was beautiful. The BLM is breaking down barriers simply by existing, the movement is proving that hate and racism are not a state of mind, but a condition that one can evolve from. One might ask what keeps Nikita committed to the cause even through the angst of not being able to consistently see her family, and she explained “I have a Black son. I have a black sister, mother, cousins, husband, friends. I am a Black woman in America. This work is deeply personal, and my individual commitment to this movement is about the people in my life having a great quality of life free from violence” (Mitchell). Community meetings and online engagement seem to be the most popular way of recruiting others to the movement, which in turn recruits others to be unafraid in speaking their mind, even if those thoughts are filled with contempt for authority who discriminate.

The BLM is not a single entity although a singular banner is used. As mentioned previously, the Black Lives Matter is in fact dozens of coalitions who aligned themselves with a greater cause to have their outcry be heard. “The movement is multi-faceted and isn’t composed of a monolith. There isn’t one belief system that governs the movement, but instead I try to find the factual communities within the movement that most align with my beliefs. To me, movements cant necessarily be created. They are organic in development and then harnessed by individuals and organizations to reach a specific end. I helped the development of BLM and the greater movement, because I believed that in 2013 enough was enough” (Mitchell). I concur wholeheartedly with Nikita’s take on the movement, and how the merits of today’s action will propel an organic evolution towards the end goal of peace and respect. A lot of the BLM’s standards seem almost rooted from socialistic values, Nikita described many coalitions forming on their own with self proclaimed leaders for those particular chapters. “The formation of BLM also gave space for community members around the country to self organize underneath the banner. So a lot of our leadership recruited themselves and then continue to bring their communities in closer” (Mitchell). Black Lives Matter is allowing anyone to use their banner for awareness and embrace the cause as there is no discrimination within these ranks. The BLM is setting positive standards in many ways, and it should be observed for the good its doing in the media although it most likely, and unfortunately will not be.

Through the urgencies of the BLM to take notice of real world racism still occurring in America and worldwide, there are still numerous in house issues that most any organization deals with. People are people, and interactions between different parties can result in strange reactions. The media has a habit of taking a singular issue and blacklisting an entire movement because of it. The talks of collusion, disruptive and violent protestors have sparked interest within Homeland Security and in fact “…protests have been monitored by the US government and have been seen as a potential threat, according to recently released documents from the FBI and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS)” (Vohra, par. 1, 2017). Nikita herself recognizes the issues that plague the movement, but she also realizes what she is there for, and that is more important than focusing on the mishaps of the organization. “We as individuals bring all of our hopes, dreams, aspirations, as well as, trauma into the movement. Because of this, there will always be tension and harm. It is my belief, that a role of movement/ liberation organizations is to create new ways of us being together and dealing with harm. With that being said, yes there are HELLA problems- everything ranging from pettiness to sexual assault to funding issues” (Mitchell). Nikita so eloquently stated her notice of problems because she realizes the root of them. The mindset Nikita Mitchell carries is what makes her such a valuable asset within the Black Lives Matter movement.

In one of the more humorous moments of our time spent together, Nikita admitted that she does at times get frustrated just as any normal human would. When I asked her if there were ever moments she felt like giving up, she retorted “Oh yes. Hell yes. Some times when I feel like giving up, I step back for a minute and give myself the time to reenter and remember my commitment. I have been learning some resilience practices- dancing, breathing exercises, meditation- which gives me the tools necessary when things get to hard. Finally, the greatest tool I have seen is community. I rely heavily on my community to remind me of my value, my values, and my commitment to the movement” (Mitchell). In these moments of admitting fault, I saw an unrelenting spirit in Nikita that made her the perfect candidate for the BLM movement. Regardless of obstacles, Nikita Mitchell will not stray from the end goal of equality, ‘the greatest tool I have seen is community’, and that is a statement to think upon.

In a summation of details for the BLM, I discovered from Ms. Mitchell that in fact the movement is in its 5th year of Black resistance, and operations are ongoing at local, national, and transnational levels. “We are shaped by our guiding principles which each chapter and member is committed to upholding. Other political lines are developed, proposed to the political core team, and are decided on there with a consensus model” (Mitchell). In an interview with Patrisse Khan-Cullors earlier this year, she addressed her own thoughts as a black woman in the Black Lives Matter movement, and her thoughts greatly resemble, and coincide with those of my subject in Nikita. “I think it’s been a lot of things for a lot of different people. It’s been a call to action, a sense of urgency. It’s been a loving affirmation that black lives matter. It’s been a viral hashtag, but also the name of a movement and organization. We’ve been able to use Black Lives Matter to have a broader discussion not just in white communities but also communities of color. Black Lives Matter has become central to the argument in this moment of 45 [President Donald Trump]. The first thing 45 said when he came into office was that it would be a law-and-order government. And we’ve seen that, we’ve seen the impact” (Khan-Cullors). The half decade upswing of Black Lives Matter is still turning heads, and gaining the traction it needs to be considered a righteous success.

At its most basic, the Black Lives Matter movement is in actuality a slogan with meaning far beyond its written words. People are now seeing casualties for a war brewing everyday on the streets, and Black people feel they are forced to fear authority as opposed to respecting it. “More than 1000 people were killed in police operations in the US in 2015, nearly a third of them black – despite the fact that black people are 13% of the population” (Devichand, par. 1, 2016). There are real statistics that bind police to the murder of Black citizens, and the BLM is one way of not letting that go unnoticed. I chose Nikita Mitchell as a spokesman for a modern day society fighting against the norm, and not accepting the barriers put up due to fear of the unknown, and fear of the stereotype. It is an unfair world, and some are standing together to eradicate inequality. “This movement has taught me a lot about power and responsibility. It has lead me to see introspectively how I show up in community- in the bad and good times. I have leaned into critic more, as well as, accountability when the moment calls for it” (Mitchell). With those words, I concluded the interview, and thanked Ms. Mitchell for her time.

Discrimination is the bad seed amongst thousands of good ones. The media does a horrible job of inflating lies and sealing away the truth, because headlines are created from chaos. Nikita and many other Black women have found themselves victimized of both a gender and race scale in which both have been downsized solely due to aesthetic features. Discrimination is rooted from insecurities and the most pathetic of thoughts. No one deserves disrespect due to a stereotype of the race or class one belongs to, is simply isn’t fair nor right. In interviewing Nikita Mitchell, I have learned the importance of fighting for causes that stand to protect those less lucky in life. I am inspired, grateful, and willing to learn and donate my time more frequently as the trials and tribulations of the world will not seem to stop any time soon. This was a project of discovery, and I am a bigger person after conducting this highly informative interview.

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