California State University East Bay

Today’s movement needs a face

December 4, 2014

Illustration | Brittany England

Illustration | Brittany England

When I was 19, I met with an old civil rights leader who was the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee around the time Martin Luther King died. It was on a wet, dark January night in the upper floor of a San Francisco building just outside of downtown. He and a couple other big names of that era were booked by Occupy to have an intimate dialogue with their members to discuss how some of their tactics could be applied to today.

I’m not Occupy affiliated, but as a budding journalist I had no shame and went anyway and sat in on the meeting. At that time I was still halfway out of the world of political advocacy and had my foot halfway into the door of journalism.

Having experienced and been threatened with a good deal of racial violence when I was younger, my heart still wanted to be part of the fight but I was trying to take a step back to be a spectator, or a journalist, as my career. So I bit my tongue and didn’t engage in the discussion, I just sat and listened.

After the meeting I sat down with this leader, and we talked in-depth about the history of activism against bigotry in the Bay Area. In regards to the issues I had, we both agreed the correct solution is to fight misconceptions with positive realities, to humanize those who are dehumanized, and to give the people a leader, somebody everyone could respect and admire.

I don’t feel like the black community, or any of America’s oppressed communities, has real leadership right now. According to a poll commissioned by BET founder Robert L. Johnson, 40 percent of respondents say they feel there’s nobody who represents the black community.

No movement ever succeeded without leaders. The perfect example of this is Occupy. Looking back, can we really say that anything changed? The wage gap today is as big as it’s ever been. We let the world know that we were the 99 percent, and 1 percent control all the wealth, and that we didn’t like that. But what changed? Nothing really. And the movement has fizzled out since.

Truthfully we need a leader to help direct all of the emotions that come from an issue like this. Surprisingly it’s been Barack Obama, in my opinion, who has made the most decisive move after what happened in Ferguson, by advocating for police officers to wear body cams. There has been discussion of police wearing body cams for years, but it’s always just discussion and never action.

While this might mean that the police won’t be able to let us go for speeding anymore, it could mean lives are saved and people are sacked when they should be, instead of given extended vacations as was the case with Johannes Mehserle.

Every movement needs a leader. And the process of that happening is a long and dirty one.

Some folks are skeptical to call it this but we really are living in the midst of a second civil rights movement, if you’re of the belief that the first one ever ended.

I look forward to the day we can all clamor around a leader who can actually deliver hope and change, and not around the bodies of slain kids. Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Alan Blueford, Emmitt Till. The list goes on.

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