Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Black Lives Matter Movement Experiences Growing Pains

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Black Lives Matter Movement Experiences Growing Pains

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON - Hundreds of Black Lives Matter activists, black and white, marched outside the Minnesota State Fair this weekend, hoping to bring attention to the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. Inside the fair, a booth also represented the group, with T-shirts bearing the slogans "Black Lives Matter and "All Lives Matter for sale. Todd Gramenz, who reserved the booth, chatted with fairgoers while the other protesters were kept outside.

The competing activities in Minnesota underscore the challenge that Black Lives Matter faces as it evolves from social media hashtag to full-blown movement. Its fluid, organic nature and loosely organized structure generates confusion about exactly who is in charge, who can legitimately speak for the group and its long- term goals, and even whether it can be blamed for violence some say may have been inspired by its rhetoric.

Tracing its roots to the fatal 2012 shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, the Black Lives Matter movement gained national ground after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, last year.

Since then, deaths of other unarmed black males at the hands of law enforcement officers have inspired protests under the Black Lives Matter moniker.

Some are affiliated with the original Black Lives Matter network founded by Opal Tometi, Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza and their allies. But some are not, although they use the slogan.

Garza said in an email interview that her organization - which has 26 chapters, stretching to Ghana and Canada - doesn't try to control who uses the name.

"Anytime someone identifies with a movement to make black lives matter in this country and around the world, that's a good thing, she said.

Said Tamika Mallory, part of the allied-Justice League NYC: "There is no way to lead the entire Black Lives Matter movement because it is multifaceted.

Some similarly loosely organized social movements, like Occupy Wall Street and the tea party, evolved beyond their grassroots beginnings, while some died on the vine.

Others followed the lead of the 1960s civil rights movement, which birthed groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Having small nebulous groups linked through social media and a shared cause may be enough for now, but odds are against such groups surviving for the long haul, said Deana A. Rohlinger, a Florida State University sociology professor who studies social movements and collective behavior.

"What remains to be seen is if Black Lives Matter can make that transition, she said. "Activists do really good work locally. But if you want to affect politics and politicians, then you really do have to move up your organization to a more structured format that can engage politicians and lobbyists on their turf. …

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