I would have liked to open this essay with the line qualifying I am for BLM but not for violent riots. Wouldn’t I only open up myself to debate that would divert me from my discussion points? In any case, let me just share that my opening sentiments were spurred by the show of sympathy by 39 white NASCAR drivers for Bubba Williams at the opening day of the race. This is the kind of shows of indignation that make sense to me.
I was a protester of the opposition marching against the Marcos dictatorship in the 80s. These were frightening times with scary prospects. To be picked up by secret police was not a fantastical speculation. I had a good friend who disappeared after joining one protest. Disappearance was a more chilling prospect than facing truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.
I believe our protest leadership labelled ourselves “opposition” to distinguish us from the leftist activists ready to escalate peaceful protests to full-blown riots. These activists were mainly of the communist brand. Ranks of peaceful protests were strictly policed on its own not only to present the police our peaceful intent but to prevent leftist agitators from hijacking the march. As I came to learn, opposition leadership often negotiated with the left in order to keep protests peaceful for an outcome that if ever violence would erupt it would start from police dispersal.
That action is not a playing-the-victim strategy. It is the conviction of stalwarts who say no matter how much you beat me up, I’m still standing. Recently, I watched on the news this action of young black men who lined up, lay on the street across a phalanx of police in full tactical gear. They did so, in staunch silence until they were fired upon. Those are the actions that send the message across, clearly. Certainly, there will be activists with no qualms for violence escalating peaceful protests to full-blown riots. These are the actions that muddle the cause.
Why do black lives matter particularly for this old X-Gen Filipino a thousand miles away?
First, reforms are far reaching. BLM has made global impact. It has triggered racial protests in the UK, France, Myanmar, and South Africa, to name a few. Its significance also becomes relevant in nations that have little to do with racial conflict but much with “militarized” police. This was the kind of police force we faced in the 80s. It has been made “militarist” again by the past progressive administration and made to bear with full force by the present strongman administration. Police reform triggered by BLM protests will have far-reaching implications globally especially for those police institutions heavily patterned after the U.S. model. Nowadays, you can hardly recognize the police as a public enforcement agency.
My hope is BLM stays true to its course. I have an American relative, an immigrant, married to a white pro-Trump republican. She asked her sister for the reason she and her daughter joined a BLM peaceful protest. In the online discussion she became critical of the BLM mission-statement. I joined the discussion, looked up the mission-statement and asked, what was wrong with uplifting black communities? Of course, the group chat only got messier. As messy as anything gets, staying true to course matters.
The second reason it matters; it is a people’s movement of collective leadership working from the ground up. Change is ubiquitous and it is ever more present at this juncture in history involving BLM. Aporia and Hegel’s dialectic predicates the clash of identities in a process of integration long overdue in America. Pluralism is the best outcome, if not, anarchy or continued systemic oppression are the options. I may be told once more that the racial conflict I present is too deep but isn’t that where this movement is heading, deeper and deeper?
I mentioned movement. It is because a collective leadership seems to be moving people towards the demand for reform. I can hardly identify a personality or personalities taking the limelight forward and toward the upliftment of black communities in the effort to liberate these from systemic injustices. I have this sense that reforms through local politics may matter more than reforms pursued at the national level. Hence, building from the ground up may inspire new organizations and new activities by BLM’s social movements. The movement demonstrates the democratic potential that allows public debate thereby allowing citizens to participate in collective decision making.
If BLM stays true to course, and since it can influence public sector reforms globally, it can model itself as a site of free and spontaneous associations of citizens. The demands of community and individual freedom can reconcile, hopefully, free of force and compulsion by state, corporations, and other institutional organizations that exercise the power of financial and industrial capital. These are the causes that effect rolling back the state and perpetuates social, economic, and political inequities.
What we have on hand is an opportunity. It may have been made possible by the sacrifice of lives but are chances nevertheless, for change. The NASCAR show of support is a development from the riots of the past week. At present the political negotiations for police reform are a leveling up from the loud rhetoric of protests. The protests steered against racial discrimination to other countries is a far-reaching outcome from the advocacy started to improve lives in black communities. Black Lives Matter, it does. Keep it loud, demanding, and peaceful.