Organizers and leaders of the Black Lives Matter group say they are ready for what could be a long fight to bring about the change they want.
This week, the battlefront of that fight was in Hennepin County Court, where organizers of last December’s Mall of America protest want charges against them dismissed. Inside the Hennepin County Government Center, lawyers argued that the group had the right to political protest at the privately owned mall and charges should be dismissed. Hennepin County Chief Judge Peter Cahill said he would rule on defendants’ motion for dismissal in the next 30 days.
Outside the building, clergy and organizers took their case to the court of public opinion, arguing this was just another case of structural racism.
Organizers brought evidence that they have the public’s support: Petitions with more than 45,000 signatures, including 3,000 faith leaders from around the country, demanding that the charges be dropped.
Black Lives Matter member Lena K. Gardner said the Mall of America gathering in December “was a beautiful expression of peaceful protest and was filled with clergy, families, activists and artists who sang, preached, spoke out and engaged in a powerful die-in. But instead of receiving the multiracial, peaceful ritual as a witness for justice, the Mall of America and the City of Bloomington responded with police in military and riot gear, and unjust charges. It was an over-reaction.”
The petition says signers “couldn’t sit idly by while our justice system was used to persecute the less powerful in deference to those who hoard power.”
Disruption Key To Creating Change
In court, a lawyer for Black Lives Matter members compared the situation to the anti-war protests at the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago. Courts eventually ruled the Chicago protests, while disruptive, were legal because they were political free speech protected by the First Amendment.
Disruption is a key element in creating change, says Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds, who has also been a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter. “What people don’t like typically is disruption. They don’t like protest. They don’t like people challenging the status quo and that’s exactly what Black Lives Matter stands for. And that same energy and spirit of protest and willingness to challenge the status quo is what carried us through the civil rights movement.”
The challenge for Black Lives Matter is keeping the movement going in an era where media attention and activist support are sometimes fleeting. In 2011, the Occupy movement made national headlines. The issues of corporate greed and money in politics it raised are still not solved, but the group is not as visible and effective as it once was.
“We’re building in ways that are very different than Occupy,” says Gardner. “We actually have a national structure and a national organization. You actually have to agree to a set of principles and guidelines about how you’re organizing, the ways you’re organizing. And we’re really serious about both social and policy change.”
Rev. DeWayne Davis of All God’s Children Metropolitan Community Church echoed that sentiment. “I don’t think it’s going to peter out. What’s going to happen is it’s going to show up in more forms. Movements begin to understand the context in which they are born and the context of the change that is happening politically. And Black Lives Matter is no different. It is going to adjust. It’s going to be nimble and respond to what’s going on. Especially something like the presidential candidate. Who becomes the candidate is going to determine some of their tactics and some of their strategy. So I don’t think it’s going to go anywhere, it’s just going to show up differently.”
That’s all going to take time. Levy-Pounds is counting on Black Lives Matter’s youthful members to invest that time and energy. “I encourage the young people to keep standing up, keep protesting, keep speaking truth to power until we see the changes in our laws, in our policies, in our practices that reflect the fact that Black lives do matter.”