Should Today’s Protest Look Like the 60’s Era?

Onyx Contributor:  Johnny Silvercloud (@JohnnySilverclo)

Civil Rights Protester:  Old vs. New

It seems that in these modern times, there’s a lot of people who are not really feeling our modern day civil rights protesters.  Much critique lament over the fact that our new age protesters don’t look, feel, or act like the protesters of the old — that’s right — the protesters from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s.  Well, should it?

It goes without saying, there’s a multitude of complexities that go with our modern day protesters.  While I can list all the issues I observe with our modern protesters, I really want to address, critique, and analyze this specific detail.  Why many people are not feeling our protesters?  Why are our protesters so vulnerable?  What’s the right answer?

“Suit and Tie” is the answer?

A large argument of contrast comes from the look of the protester.  Back in the day, most of the protesters wore button-down shirts, suits and ties, matching fedora hats.  Many people, to include conservatives who seek to dismantle and destroy civil rights protesters, usually point to these “good ol’days” and point out this contrast, as if there’s a level of self-respect and discipline that the old had that the modern does not.  While I’m not down with shaming people who don’t know how to dress — add the fact that I’m a suit and tie brother myself — I have to admit that there’s a bonus to dressing down for a protest.

For starters, there’s a clear definition of who is there to protest, and who is there to riot.  While anything’s possible, there’s a absurdly low probability that a rioter, looter, or agent of dysfunction will take the effort to dress clean and crisp for civil unrest.  While the rioter/looter, which is always a super minority of those who attend civil unrest — but always the most highlighted in mainstream media — shows up impulsively, the protester is now distinguishable between any agent of dysfunction.  It will prove far more difficult for mainstream media to pin dysfunction on the person there to actually protest.

The benefit goes even further:  If the police wish to be overwhelmingly violent, there’s a huge conflict in the photography of a clean and crisp, well dressed person getting beaten and abused by agents of an totalitarian state.  While I truly hate engaging in respectability politics, it’s simply harder to deem people wearing their Sunday’s dress “thugs and hoodlums”.  Sure, our heroes of the past were still deemed the most dangerous thugs of America, but back then that’s precisely what they wore every day as is.  The common man style of yesteryear was the button-down and suit and tie.  These things aren’t common anymore.  These people were deemed thugs wearing button-downs in the button-down era; it’s more difficult to deem people thugs wearing button-downs in the T-shirt era we live in.  Sure, mainstream media will still try, but it’s just simply more difficult.  Why give them that ammunition?

We simply cannot, show up with the intent on being Malcolm X, looking like Malcolm Little.

One problem I can identify is that it’s ludicrously unreasonable to expect thousands of protesters in attendance, to button down for the occasion.  Once again, these people were buttoned down in the button-down era; they wore precisely what they normally wore, every day.  Technically, the modern day protester in this regard are not that far off from their pioneers.  But still, there’s a possible way to still implement this tactic.  All the protesters need is to have their leadership or vanguard protesters button down.  Vanguard protesters, are those who I identify as the disciplined control group that the rest will end up following.  These are the guys you place up front, and in placing them up front you have a greater chance in controlling the rest of the crowd.  With discipline shown, the protesters can easily inspire those who are in the crowd.  While I know it’s difficult to do so, I’ll state there’s power in the button-down.  

Today, there are protesters who understand the power of image.  While he might not be buttoned down, DeRay McKesson does understand how residual image works.  Deray is famously known for his blue vest and his red shoes.  Unfortunately, this works for an individual, but not a mass group.  A mass of people will not be memorable and easily identifiable all wearing things that makes individuals distinguishable.

A Figure head

Another glaring thing that missing is a clear leader.  While there’s numerous leaders of numerous organizations in our modern civil rights era, there isn’t any clear leadership in our modern day fight.  I like to make the distinction between a leader and leadership.  The movement is in dire need of leadership.  The leadership of today needs to make it known that they exist, and they are powerful.  Powerful, as in, they have the skill to settle disputes, reallocate resources, and most importantly debate and attack white supremacy wherever it my lie.  I’m not an expert, but I’ll make this clear — our modern day leaders need to have the skill set to intellectually engage anyone in discussion or debate and speak their case with precision.  People need to see how sharp these leaders are.  People need to see how disciplined, well studied, and intellectually superior this leadership is.  At the same time, figureheads can be dangerous.  This person has to be a person of precision to be there, unwavering.  This highly visible leader cannot be thwarted or distracted easily.

Combat versus Confusion versus Collaboration

One thing I truly identify as a problem with our new civil rights era is the reluctance or outright refusal to engage in politics of America.  There’s a few things a movement must do to be successful in changing an American society.  One thing, which is the ultimate thing, is to engage in working with actual politicians.  Politicians engage in advocating changing  — or up keeping — policy.  I have no idea why our modern movement seeks to not engage in working with politicians and American politics.  Here’s the deal:  each time a movement works with politicians, adopts politicians; it has a lasting effect on society.  Each time a movement does not work with politicians, does not adopt politicians, it either falls a apart or get torn apart.  Case in point, the Occupy Wallstreet (Democrat Party affinity) movement fell apart due to its reluctance to create or adopt politicians, while the Tea Party (Republican Party affinity) still exist and remains a pervasive element in American politics.

A few months ago, there were a few protesters who sought to shut down Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D), which is the most likely candidate that has the greatest affinity for our modern civil rights movement.  Further, #BlackLivesMatter activists seemed bewildered when they met with Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D).  The criticism that followed on the blogosphere didn’t understand either.  Candidate Clinton specifically pointed out that heart and minds isn’t what she does; she deal with changing policy.  And she’s right.  Activists MUST engage in working with actual policy makers.  Policy is PRECISELY what we seek to change.  It’s absurd to think you can make everyone like you.  But you can make it so that it’s against the law for those who don’t like you to beat, brutalize and kill you.  You can make it against the law that those who don’t like you — or foster an implicit bias against you — to emplace a second class citizenship upon you.  While Malcolm X didn’t get a chance to, Martin Luther King engaged both John F. Kennedy and his brother who was the Department of Justice lead, Robert Kennedy.  We live in the results of their fight.  While they didn’t fix or solve everything, they did in fact effect change.  Engaging politicians — having politicians in our pockets — is infinitely important in any Civil Rights struggle.

We Still Have Work to Do

While there are many reasons I can identify that makes this modern day movement hard to follow, all of these things are not true reasons to abandon the movement in its totality.  For those who find fault in the movement lacking any of these things, they can most assuredly make an attempt to add these thing to the movement.  For those who say the movement lacks style and class, why not add to it?  To say that the movement lacks leadership, why not bring leadership to the table?  In the end, none of these faults are things that should keep people from working for the greater good.  One thing that needs to be said, is that we are NOT in the 1960’s, and the protest from the days of the old sought to combat overt racism.  Today, we are dealing implicit biases and afrophobia — the FEAR of the American black person and persons of African diaspora.  This irrational fear justifies harm upon black people.  Therefore, the same exact tactics cannot be used.  But that doesn’t mean we should abandon tools of the trade that we invented, they we perfected.

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