Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Chorus Has Spoken: The New York Times Editorial Board Supports the "Black Lives Matter Movement"

As is our habit and tradition, do consider this a semi-open thread. Do you think that The New York Times' support of "Black Lives Matter" will help or hurt the movement?


One of the primary ways that social movements affect political change is through the manipulation and mobilization of elite opinion. While the "people" in "people's movements" are essential and foundational, the backstage politics and ability of elite actors and insiders to sway policy is often overlooked.

For example, the public memory of the Black American Civil Rights Movement focuses on personalities such as Martin Luther King Jr. and memorable visuals such as the March on Washington. The political opportunity structure created by the Cold War and how elites and other policy insiders worked to enact civil rights legislation (and to also forestall more radical justice claims about full employment, housing segregation, ending the Vietnam War, reparations for slavery as well as Jim and Jane Crow, and economic redistribution) is largely unknown except among scholars and other experts on American political and social history.

Earlier this week, there was a moment when elite actors made their position known on what could be an emerging social movement here in the United States.

On Thursday, The New York Times Editorial Board issued a statement in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. I was not stunned by such a development; however, I was a bit taken aback and pleasantly surprised. The Times has positioned itself (as it should being a "journal of record") against the irresponsible Fox News and the latter's efforts to delegitimate and encourage white violence against the activists in the Black Lives Matter movement.

To that end, the Times unleashed a fusillade:

The Republican Party and its acolytes in the news media are trying to demonize the protest movement that has sprung up in response to the all-too-common police killings of unarmed African-Americans across the country. The intent of the campaign — evident in comments by politicians like Gov. Nikki Haley of South CarolinaGov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky — is to cast the phrase “Black Lives Matter” as an inflammatory or even hateful anti-white expression that has no legitimate place in a civil rights campaign. 
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas crystallized this view when he said the other week that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., were he alive today, would be “appalled” by the movement’s focus on the skin color of the unarmed people who are disproportionately killed in encounters with the police. This argument betrays a disturbing indifference to or at best a profound ignorance of history in general and of the civil rights movement in particular. From the very beginning, the movement focused unapologetically on bringing an end to state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans and to acts of racial terror very much like the one that took nine lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., in June. 
The civil rights movement was intended to make Congress and Americans confront the fact that African-Americans were being killed with impunity for offenses like trying to vote, and had the right to life and to equal protection under the law. The movement sought a cross-racial appeal, but at every step of the way used expressly racial terms to describe the death and destruction that was visited upon black people because they were black. 
Even in the early 20th century, civil rights groups documented cases in which African-Americans died horrible deaths after being turned away from hospitals reserved for whites, or were lynched — which meant being hanged, burned or dismembered — in front of enormous crowds that had gathered to enjoy the sight.
The editorial concluded with:
The “Black Lives Matter” movement focuses on the fact that black citizens have long been far more likely than whites to die at the hands of the police, and is of a piece with this history. Demonstrators who chant the phrase are making the same declaration that voting rights and civil rights activists made a half-century ago. They are not asserting that black lives are more precious than white lives. They are underlining an indisputable fact — that the lives of black citizens in this country historically have not mattered, and have been discounted and devalued. People who are unacquainted with this history are understandably uncomfortable with the language of the movement. But politicians who know better and seek to strip this issue of its racial content and context are acting in bad faith. They are trying to cover up an unpleasant truth and asking the country to collude with them. 
The support of The New York Times demonstrates that Black Lives Matter has the positive attention of elite media opinion makers. The question now becomes, how can Black Lives Matter leverage that support into pressuring political insiders and others within the deep state and interest group network to advance their policy goals.

[Elites are not moved by emotions and high-minded principles. They need something to tip the scale in their cold calculations of action. Shorter version: what is in it for them by supporting Black Lives Matter?]

The New York Times has been both on the right side of history (the Civil Rights Movement) as well as the wrong (the Iraq Wars). It is my hope that their support of Black Lives Matter portends the durability and long-term power--even in the fact of efforts by other parts of the State to discredit and infiltrate the movement such as was done via Cointelpro--of one of the most important people's movements in recent American history.

What does the near, mid, and long-term future hold for Black Lives Matter?

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