In this era full of social media activists and movements that come and go as quickly as a tweet. The organization, Black Lives Matter is determined to make the subject of Black Lives more than just a hashtag. Even though the organization started as a hashtag in 2012 after the murder of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, it has since grown into a national organization with 26 chapters spread across the nation.
The movement began to grow from a hashtag into an organization after the murder of the unarmed teenager, Mike Brown by the police officer, Darren Wilson in August 2014. When Wilson was not indicted for the murder of Brown, it sparked protests, riots, and unrest in the city of Ferguson, Mi. where the murder took place. This would inspire #BlackLivesMatter Founders, Opal Tometi, Alicia Garza, and Patrisse Cullors to organize “freedom rides” to Ferguson under the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. 500 people from 18 different cities across America signed up for the trips and one of these people was future Black Lives Matter NYC chapter member, Arielle Newton.
“I found a group of people through Facebook who was trying to journey to Ferguson, those people eventually became Black Lives Matter New York City,” said Newton. “Ever since the journey to Ferguson, we descended from different parts of the country.”
Black Lives Matter was an organization formed organically through the mutual vision of seeing the lives of African American’s become valued in the United States. The hashtag helped to bring people together under a shared vision which sparked the movement and organization, Black Lives Matter.
“The three women who founded the term black lives matter, didn’t found the movement, they just had a term and people were able to just latch on to that term to propel a movement,” Newton said.
Determined not to repeat the same mistakes of the civil right’s movements of the 1960’s, Black Lives Matter does not have just have one designated leader. They rather have the organization structured with no designated leader because in the past, African American leaders have been killed, and then the organization and movement would die along with them.
“I think back then there was a lot more reliance on organizations and hierarchal structure for social change, we like to say in this day in age, we’re not a leaderless movement we’re a leader full movement,” said Newton.
The chapters are also self-organized and do their own local work.
“Chapters do their own local work because what’s happening here in New York City, is a lot different than what’s happening in Chicago…,” said Newton. “Each chapter self-organizes and self-directs which initiatives, campaigns, and ideas they want to put forward in their local space,” says Newton.
According to the Guardian article, “the new civil rights movement combines localized power structures with an inclusive ethos that consciously incorporates women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer activists.”
One of the co-founders of #BlacklivesMatter Alicia Garza told Guardian, “We have a lot of leaders, just not where you might be looking for them. If you’re only looking for the straight black man who is a preacher, you’re not going to find it.”
It is, however, important for local chapters of Black Lives Matter to have alignment with the core guiding principles of #BlacklivesMatter, found on the website. Having the same core values is the only pre-requisite for starting a local chapter. Other than that, local chapters determine what their membership looks like and if it will be multi-ethnic or racial.
What separates Black Lives Matter from civil right’s movements of the past is its fluidity. No one can grab on to the movement to control it. While that definitely has it’s weaknesses, Black Lives Matter is seeking to keep it’s message and values alive, above all. To do that, it cannot be connected to just one person or one structure. Even if Black Lives Matter cease to exist, if the people that embody the values and principles of the organization continue in their community, Black Lives will one day be valued.