This past week, President Barack Obama met with several activists and leaders from the Civil Rights Movement, alongside younger leaders of what appears to be a Civil Rights Movement 2.0. This bridging of generations was meant to foster dialogue between various individuals and groups who represent diverse Black interests and who employ a myriad of tactics to combat racism, white supremacy and injustice in 21st century America.
I have heard several discussions and debates about the pros and cons of the various tactics being used by “the youth” today. However, we must remember, protests can and have changed policy in the past. Protest movements have also led to electoral politics victories on the ballot. Therefore, instead of framing many of the conversations surrounding Black Lives Matter—including uprisings in cities across the country and young people taking to the streets to demand justice, respect, equality and safe streets (from the cops and the robbers)—as instances where young Black people are deviating from a message about Black advancement (and quite honestly respectability politics), we can and should think of these actions as necessary and capable of working in conjunction with electoral politics.
The strategies of protest politics and electoral politics do not have to be an “either/or,” rather they can and should work in tandem, thus leading to the most robust forms of change at all levels of society. I often think of John Lewis, a leader in SNCC in the early 1960s, who was able to take his activists roots and translate them into electoral success as a U.S. representative from Georgia. Fast-forward a half of a century later, we see Deray McKesson taking his background in organizing and activism from the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore and deciding to run for mayor of his home city of Baltimore. Hopefully McKesson’s run will inspire other young leaders from the recent movements across the country, especially some of the women who have been at the forefront of these strategies, to consider running for office as well.
As an aside, women need to be asked at least seven times to run for office before they consider it a viable endeavor. That number is even higher for women of color. Most men never need to be asked to run. They see a problem and feel they would be the best to solve it. Therefore, hopefully someone will reach out to many of the female leaders in these recent movements and encourage them to take their protest leadership and translate it into a strategic electoral success.
We have seen what these women have done in the past four years on the ground with limited resources. I am almost giddy to think of how many lives they could change with a local, state or federal budget. So for any woman in the movement reading this column, here is possibly your first request: I am asking you to run for office so we can move our protests to further policy change. Just think about it …
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration and the Pursuit of the American Dream.” You can find her on Twitter @Dr_CMGreer.