As occupying public spaces was to the Occupy movement, “Shutting It Down” is to the new wave of protest around police brutality and systemic racism. “If We Don’t Get It, Shut It Down” has long been a favorite chant of the labor movement, but for the rapidly growing movement saying #BlackLivesMatter, it’s also become a tactical mandate.
In the world of protests, “shutting it down” might seem self-evident. Disruption is the point: As Martin Luther King, Jr., famously wrote in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”
Over the last several weeks, demonstrators have created particular kinds of tension. Actions have not targeted particular organizations — like the Jewish peace group If Not Now did when it targeted prominent Jewish American institutions recently — or sites of production, as the environmental movement has done in the past. Instead, Shutting It Down has meant quite literally shutting down “business as usual.” The “target” is an American public that has been overwhelmingly complicit in the criminalization of black and brown life. The message is clear: Business as usual cannot continue because, for many, “business as usual” has represented a daily threat.
Last Monday, students at dozens of campuses nationwide walked out of class to hold die-ins, either at high-traffic campus locations or in the surrounding area. Activists in Washington, D.C, New York and Philadelphia held hundreds-strong die-ins in their cities’ major train stations. Organizers in Boston and Oakland even shut down the cities’ public transit systems. Expanding on an earlier call to boycott Black Friday in advance of the holiday shopping season, similar actions have targeted major shopping centers, city Christmas tree lighting ceremonies, even the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Marches in countless cities have shut down major bridges and highways. Yesterday morning, during rush hour traffic, a small group of protesters shut down the Verrazano Bridge for seven minutes “in honor of the seven minutes that the NYPD and EMTs were recorded not providing medical care to Eric Garner after Officer Pantaleo applied a chokehold to him,” according to a statement by the group.
Alicia Garza, the Special Projects Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, was one of the 14 arrested for shutting down a BART transit center in Oakland. Days later, she told Democracy Now! that the goal of that action, like others, was “to disrupt the system … We wanted to make sure that there was no more business as usual until Mike Brown’s family and families like John Crawford’s and Jordan Davis’s and Renisha McBride’s no longer have to look at an empty seat at the table.”
Just as it has narrowed in on a certain tactical unity, the movement is having strategic debates analogous to those that took place throughout Occupy about whether to adopt one demand or a set of specific demands. Stemming initially from a call by Michael Brown’s family, many groups — including the ACLU — have called for the increased use of body cameras for municipal police departments. Others have claimed that such an incremental demand would limit the movement’s scope and potential, and have a negligible impact in preventing police brutality, particularly after a grand jury failed to indict Pantaleo in the filmed killing of Eric Garner.
Like income inequality, racism is too broad and deeply entrenched a structure to be adequately addressed by any one policy— save, perhaps, for one on the scale of reparations or a universal basic income. Still, the question remains as to whether a tangible or even symbolic demand — feasible in the short term — could translate the pressure being generated now in the streets into a longer-term consolidation of power and progress. Ultimately, this question is best answered by experienced organizers on the ground, rooted in the communities who stand to benefit most. If the fall of 2011, when Occupy first emerged, could be called a “revolutionary moment,” the last few weeks constitute one at least as promising.
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Waging Nonviolence is hiring a writer to interview leading movement figures and analysts and produce one Q&A-style article per week. The writer will work with our small editorial team to identify the interview subject each week. For the most part, we’ll be looking to hear from activists, organizers and scholars who can shed light on… More
Good use of embedded links.
We can harness the energy of Black Lives Matter to build on our existing community ties. For example, here in Columbus Ohio, people who come into contact with each other at these large gathers—- (yesterday there were about 600 of us in Goodale Park)— can connect addressing racism and classism with existing projects such as:
Redbird Books to Prisoners and other prisoner advocacy orgs; community gardening orgs; interfaith orgs such as BREAD here in Columbus; Third Hand Bike Co op, Near East Side Food Co op, Stonewall Columbus ( an LGBT org)and other community projects.
It’s useful when we gather together in parks and in the streets and other public spaces. That was one of the things Occupy was good for : getting folk in the streets, instead of just settling for potlucks, movie-nights, Facebook, and niche advocacy within the not-for-profit-industrial-complex. Black Lives Matter offers something similar.
As these protest waves wax and wane, a global justice movement might gather momentum not from any particular protest wave by itself nor from any particular umbrella organization nor political third party per se, but from a set of ideas and values that gain ever wider currency, with each person, group, and locale applying those core principles according to their own lights.
That way, there is enough flexibility for local adaptations while maintaining enough coherence for us to see our local actions as part of a global justice movement. We are less likely to burn out, experience in-fighting, or be divided-and-conquered if we have a broad view of social justice, with a set of principles as a foundation for consistency amid complexity.
Those principles are, in my opinion, empathy, love, and compassion. I’m an atheist, but I suggest it’s useful to consider the concept of agape love found within Christianity. That concept might be powerful as a basis for consistency in our strategies and tactics. Thanks
If the ‘shut it down’ is the new occupy, I hope it has learned from a mistake I feel that those of us in Occupy made. That mistake was that we didn’t invite our opponents, the 1%, to the table to break bread and jointly look for solutions to the problems we identified. Rather, what we did was to call on society to punish them. Had we done the former instead of the latter and the 1% refused to talk with us, then rest of society might have had a better view of how the 1% operates.
For Shut It Down, the protests are good but there should be added onto. The add on must be for members of the minority communities to meet with members of the police across the country so they could all both listen to each other and jointly come up with solutions to the problems of racism and abuse of power so often seen displayed by some police officers. Such meetings would constitute a fuller employment of democracy than just the protests.