advice for black student movements today
I recently had a long discussion with a journalist about the current state of black student activism and we spent a lot of time thinking about what can be learned from the past. I started with two major points:
- Have specific and achievable demands. One of the big lessons of movement research is that you need to present ideas that make sense within the institutional context of the protest. Hire more minority faculty? Achievable. End all micro-aggression? Not achievable.
- Clearly link protest tactics to outcomes. A lot of protest is highly expressive and it is not clear how it is linked to some concrete social change. One of the brilliant tactics employed by the students at Missouri was having football players boycott an NCAA game. The penalty was $1 million per game. The protest mattered.
Then, we got into more subtle issues:
- When possible, student activists should be deeply involved in activism off campus. In my study of the Third World Strike, I was deeply impressed with how much help campus activists got not only from “protest groups” (like the Oakland based Black Panthers) but also from religious leaders, attorneys, and politicians.
- Learn to cultivate alliances with institutional insiders. In my book on Black student protest and Black studies, I discuss numerous instances where students relied on deans, consultants, and lawyers to help push their case.
- Know when to fight and when to compromise. Assuming that one has a well planned protest, there may be a point when you can get something. Social change is not about eternal fighting, it’s also about knowing when to claim a victory and get something.
Feel free to use the comments to discuss more lessons from research for activists.
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