The Case for Social Justice: Black Lives Matter and the Politics of Ethnonationalism

The Case for Social Justice: Black Lives Matter and the Politics of Ethnonationalism

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5433-2.ch003
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Abstract

This chapter explains the fomentation of the Black Lives Matter movement, which began as a hashtag in 2013. The chapter explores the ideology and goals of the movement, as well as past and current tactics that the movement participants are utilizing to bring awareness to their cause. The chapter highlights numerous high-profile incidents that propelled Black Lives Matter onto the national stage, including the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Sandra Bland. The chapter juxtaposes Black Lives Matter against other contemporary American social movements such as Occupy Wall Street to better understand the development of an opposition movement in the U.S.
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Introduction

The United States, where both the Tea Party turned Alt-Right movement as well as the Black Lives Matter movement were born, is regarded as the world’s oldest sustaining democracy, and as such has achieved a Freedom House rating of 1 (most free) since 1999 when Freedom House began releasing its reports annually. It is curious to note that the Black Lives Matter movement has yet to achieve any major gains in terms of changing society and/or the politics that hold its membership down within the system, while also analyzing a more successful (in terms of immediate goals, such as regime change) movement in the same country. The fervor created initially by the Tea Party as a reaction to the globalist interventionist style of George W. Bush and the subsequent election of liberal globalist Barack Obama was arguably more than enough to begin a public outrage that resulted in the shifting of not just an electorate but a political establishment. Where the reaction on the part of both state and national government to protestors in Baltimore or Ferguson in association with Black Lives Matter was heavily militarized, and arguably something expected from a more repressive government, the Alt-Right was able to hone the unmitigated outrage over the status quo into electoral and subsequently, legislative victories.

The concept of democracy is easy to understand philosophically but much harder to apply in a regime completely, sustainably, and equally. The American constitutional, federalist democracy began as an experiment in governing and continues to be an imperfect model yet is the world’s longest functioning democracy. The system of governance is influenced by the ideological leanings of the party in power, which has the potential to empower certain citizens at the expense of others. The Black Lives Matter movement was born of democratic principles including freedom of assembly and speech, yet as it developed from an online expression of support and pressure for equality, the movement was met with the type of militarized resistance and militant rhetoric via the mainstream media expected in authoritarian regimes (Ferguson, Baltimore). The United States has been on a steady democratic decline since the protests and riots of the 1960s, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), which publishes a democracy index annually. The report examines 200 countries around the world and categorizes them as “full democracy”, “flawed democracy”, “hybrid regime”, and “authoritarian regime” (Shen, 2017).

In early 2017, the U.S. was officially downgraded from a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” by the EIU, which argued that it was not a direct result of Donald Trump’s election. Yet did attribute aspects of the downgrade to a rise in nationalist fervor and hostile rhetoric in both the U.S. presidential election and the decline in public trust in the government (Shen, 2017). As the Trump Administration begins to take power, the democracy and constitutional adherence are seemingly in question, which puts what would be classified “identity” or “special interest” politics such as Black Lives Matter at a disadvantage, as more citizens are fighting for the basic principles of democracy. The initial reaction and dispersal of numerous BLM rallies has been, as detailed throughout this work, violent and perceived by many American citizens to be violating basic civil liberties, these reactions occurred under the first African-American President (Obama) and in a full democracy. While the reaction of law enforcement and cities in the U.S. to BLM tactics has been, at times, over-reactionary, it has not dissuaded increased political participation in emerging social movements.

The response of the new administration remains to be seen. It is generalizable for the purposes of this work that movements occurring in democracies will have an easier time at mobilization due to the availability of a free press, and at least some guarantees to free expression and assembly, yet may have a harder time achieving their goals due to the necessity in most democracies to codify (legislatively) political and social achievements. Where comparatively in more authoritarian nations, mobilization and the actualization of the movement will be the most difficult stages of development, and the movement’s sustainability will be more than likely tied to the bureaucracy (whether it is co-option of the movement’s message or military realignment that destabilizes the existing regime/political order).

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