Freedom fighters around the globe commemorate July 13 as the day that three Black women helped give birth to a movement. In the five short years since #Black LivesMatter arrived on the scene — thanks to the creative genius of Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometti — the push for Black liberation from state-inflicted violence has evolved into one of the most influential social movements of the post-civil rights era.
Black Lives Matter has always been more of a human rights movement rather than a civil rights movement. BLM's focus has been less about changing specific laws and more about fighting for a fundamental reordering of society wherein Black lives are free from systematic dehumanization. Still, the movement’s measurable impact on the political and legal landscape is undeniable.
What gets referred to as “the Black Lives Matter movement” is, in actuality, the collective labor of a wide range of Black liberation organizations, each which their own distinct histories. These organizations include groups like the Black Youth Project 100, the Dream Defenders, Assata’s Daughters, the St. Louis Action council, Millennial Activists United, and the Organization for Black Struggle, to name just a few.
Collectively, since 2013, these organizers have effected significant change locally and nationally, including the ousting of high-profile corrupt prosecutors. In Chicago, the labor of groups such as BYP100 and Assata’s Daughters, among others, led Anita Alvarez — who had inexplicably failed to charge police officers who shot at least 68 people to death — to lose her re-election bid for Cook County prosecutor. And in Florida, groups like The Dream Defenders and others helped end Angela Corey’s reign as a state attorney. Corey remains infamous for failing to convict Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman while prosecuting Marissa Alexander, a Black woman who didn’t hurt anyone when firing a warning shot at her abusive ex-husband.
The BLM movement’s work certainly doesn’t stop there. Students on the ground in Missouri, as part of the #ConcernedStudent1950 movement, helped lead to the resignation of the University of Missouri president over his failure to deal with racism on campus. BLM compelled Democrats to restructure their national platform to include issues such as criminal justice reform, and the movement contributed to the election of Black leftist organizers to public office, such as activist Chokwe Lumumba to mayor of Jackson, Mississippi.
Moreover, the broader cultural impact of BLM as a movement has been immeasurably expansive. BLM will forever be remembered as the movement responsible for popularizing what has now become an indispensable tool in 21st-century organizing efforts: the phenomenon that scholars refer to as “mediated mobilization.” By using the tools of social media, BLM was the first U.S. social movement in history to successfully use the internet as a mass mobilization device. The recent successes of movements, such as #MeToo, #NeverAgain, and #TimesUp, would be inconceivable had it not been for the groundwork that #BlackLivesMatter laid.
As we reflect on five years of BLM, we would do well to consider the myriad ways that #blacklivesmatter has influenced our contemporary moment and given us a framework for imagining what democracy in action really looks like. Whether it be transforming how we talk about police violence or transforming how we talk about “abolitionism,” the BLM movement has succeeded in transforming how people talk about, think about, and organize for freedom.
In the next and last part we will talk more about this.