Black Lives Matter (BLM) began in 2014 as a hashtag after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the Trayvon Martin case and evolved into a social movement. Since its inception, it has grown to 28 chapters in over 17 states and one international chapter in Toronto. There’s no denying that the movement wants to disrupt the status quo, and that will make some people angry. They have shut airports and stopped Black Friday sales with their protests against police brutality. They have interrupted several events on the current campaign trail. They interrupted Hillary Clinton in February at a campaign event, and even shut down a Bernie Sanders event last year with their protests. And everyone has seen the violence that has erupted at Donald Trump events where Black Lives Matters protestors clashed with Trump supporters. They are described by some political candidates as a “mob,” “trouble,” and “disgraceful.”
Even President Obama has spoken out about the group’s tactics. During a speech during his recent visit to London, the New York Times reported that President Obama said, speaking in reference to BLM “Once you’ve highlighted an issue and brought it to people’s attention and shined a spotlight, and elected officials or people who are in a position to start bringing about change are ready to sit down with you, then you can’t just keep on yelling at them.” We find this statement alarmingly uninformed as far as social change dynamics are concerned and, we have to ask, is the discord around this current social movement any different from what protestors in the South experienced during the Civil Rights era?
What’s interesting is that much of the language used today to describe the Black Lives Matter movement is the same used to describe people participating in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It seems, too, that overall public sentiment about the social movement is eerily similar. When polled, many Americans in the 1960s felt the protests did not reflect positively upon the Civil Rights movements. Surveys compiled by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University give us a glimpse of the nation’s mood throughout the decade. When polled, 61 percent of Americans disapproved of what the Freedom Riders were doing. Fifty-seven percent of respondents thought that sit-ins at lunch counters, “freedom buses,” and other demonstrations would hurt African Americans’ chances for true integration. One of the most famous marches in history, the March on Washington, found disfavor with 60 percent of people polled.
When broken down by race, there was an even wider divide. According to the Washington Post, in 1965, two years after the March on Washington, 94 percent of African Americans rated the job Martin Luther King Jr. “has done in the fight for Negro rights” as positive, according to a Harris survey. But when the polling company asked white adults the next year whether King was helping or hurting the cause, just 36 percent said he was helping; half of whites said he was hurting, while 14 percent said they weren’t sure. The divide was bigger still when asking whites about demonstrations overall: 85 percent of whites in a 1966 Harris survey said such protest actions by blacks would hurt the advancement of civil rights. However, for blacks, 70 percent said activities such as sit-ins, store picketing, and demonstrations helped the effort