Why is #BlackLivesMatter aligned with the left? This political decision makes no more sense than the Tea Party’s decision to align with the right. Both movements weaken themselves when they involve themselves with corrupt political parties. It’s true that BlackLivesMatter did not declare itself a movement under the Democratic umbrella, as the Tea Party did when they declared themselves an insurgent movement in the Republican party. Nevertheless, the altogether visible cooperation between Black Lives activists and other people on the left, both on campuses and off, can leave no doubt where this effort has cast its political hopes.
These are sad outcomes. The two political parties are infested with the worst kind of rot. They do not want the activists, and the activists do not need them. First Tea Party and then Black Lives activists seem to have drifted toward one political pole or the other because that’s what iron filings do in a highly polarized political environment. It seems lazy to me. Movement leaders go with an option that requires no leadership, since now the party provides structure and direction. It’s like a default option when you set up a computer program.
The results are predictable enough. You lose so many potential supporters when you ally yourself with one tribe or the other. Tea Party activists want lower taxes, and along with that, governmental power apportioned constitutionally. Black Lives activists want an end to wanton murder of blacks by police officers so eager to kill, they would empty their weapon into the back of a man running away. These were goals that could appeal to broad groups of citizens, people who could share in the effort to accomplish humane, practical outcomes. Members of both groups had reasons to be angry, but many became involved with an earnest, community-minded spirit of peaceful change.
That spirit did not last long, especially as party affiliations formed. Consider these two simple examples. As the Tea Party evolved under the Republican umbrella, it became identified with virulent nativism. Anti-immigrant sentiment flowed. Before you knew it, some segments of the movement had themselves portrayed in the media as racist as well. Once you hate on one large group of people you want to exclude, it’s a short hop to accusations of bigotry across the board. The Democrats wasted no time with their broad paint brush, and soon the media lost sight of what the early Tea Partiers sought to begin with.
Black Lives is almost a sadder story. After Ferguson, and so many other murders we can’t even count them anymore, people actually began to defend police officers and their behavior. More than that, arguments on the subject devolved into the usual racial tropes: white racist cops were out to get blacks whenever the chance presented itself. Instead of taking up these complex arguments rationally, Black Lives activists dreamed up angry civil action intended to intimidate and publicize. They stoked violent action even as they spoke of non-violence. They did not bother to show any connection between what they were doing, and their own goals. They seemed to latch onto the methods of Students for a Democratic Society, or the Weathermen, rather than the spiritual resolve of a leader like Martin Luther King.
In both cases, the outcomes speak for themselves. No one talks about lower taxes in this election cycle. No one has practical suggestions for police reform. After the targeted killing of five police officers in Dallas, the discussion can no longer sustain itself. Self-evident and self-grounded pleas for humane treatment from civil authorities became shot through with questions of respect for authority, exactly a turn this issue did not need. The movement became an interaction fraught with threats and counter-threats. Goals of civil rights seem swamped. Taxes that break the spirit of working people and employers alike no longer stir indignation. That’s what happens when you ally yourself with corruption.
I know that analysis simplifies matters. To begin with, the Tea Party and Black Lives differ in a lot of ways, not just in their goals. The two political parties differ as well. Nevertheless, when Black Lives protesters showed up at Bernie Sanders rallies to heckle and intimidate, I thought, “That’s a wrong turn that can only have a bad end.” Similarly, when Republican activists identified with the Tea Party gave full throat to Republicans’ nativist themes during the 2012 election cycle, you had to be frustrated with the movement’s ability to lose itself in a swamp of hate. Black Lives comes across as a strident movement of hate now, too. Martin Luther King never hated. That’s why he was such a strong leader, and why we remember him today.
So that’s the advice one wants to offer: social and political movements should stay away from the pre-formulated themes and methods built into the two political parties. Some political movements want to recruit citizens, people who care about their country. Political parties merely want to recruit voters, people who care about their tribe. There’s an obvious difference, since one’s country is a lot bigger than – and a lot more worth fighting for – than one’s tribe. Once you roll a broad social movement into a political party, it can no longer function as a comprehensive movement for change. It becomes a narrow, partisan, divisive cog in the party’s political maneuvering, as well as the party’s propaganda and voter recruitment machines. The movement becomes unintelligent, and with it all, ineffectual.