When we talk about great Black leaders, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. practically roll off the tongue. After all, they made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause. They are what many people aspire to be and some even model their lives after. But why?
We know how the movie ends and yet, people still plot and strategize with the same tactics from the 60s and 70s. So why are they shocked by low turnouts and/or the police shutting actions down? Why do these people end up spending more time planning for infiltration than planning their actual events?
Call me crazy but if you don’t want to take an L like the movements of the past, not copying them would be a good start.
We lionize the 60s and 70s because it was a revolution and we take pride in those that fought for us. But we don’t like to acknowledge that we lost that revolution. We can trumpet the heightening of consciousness and changing of some laws all we want, but did the power structure change? No. How many of our leaders were exiled, imprisoned, or assassinated? How many casualties did we sustain? How many did we inflict on the power structure?
Yes, we should honor those that fought for us, but trying to imitate Malcolm and Martin seems silly when Harriet Tubman freed countless slaves and died of natural causes.
By definition, revolution is a turn, a rotation. What turn is being made by mimicking strategies that didn’t work 40 years ago? What exactly do you expect if the standard you want to live up to is someone who was murdered in front of his family?
In Portland, revolution is fashionable. People love regurgitating Civil Rights and Black Power rhetoric.
As a recent, impressionable (see: naïve) college graduate, I remember coming back to town and going to demonstrations that put Civil War reenactments to shame. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought “revolution” meant costume party with a chance of arrest.
As I get older, I come across more and more people who dress the part but couldn’t know any less of what they’re talking about. For example, the person who has no idea and no intention of learning how money works, yet wants to tell me about tackling gentrification. Am I really supposed to be excited because the popular kids and the D students took up an interest in politics?
Or better yet, someone touring the college circuit, making money saying the same thing he was saying 30 years ago while kids mistake it for a blueprint.
At best, it’s performance art. At worst, it’s (hopefully) well intentioned misleading, perpetuating our problems by creating an economy dependent on having said problems to talk about.
Contrary to popular belief, I don’t think the issue is that we don’t know enough about the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power era. Actually, we know a lot. So does the power structure since all this info is available to them too. They must really appreciate the mimicry since it saves them decades of strategizing.
Conversely, how many of you can tell me EXACTLY how the Underground Railroad worked? I’ll wait.
And that’s why it worked.
In this Portland economy flooded with nonprofits, there is no shortage of people hanging their hats on, “Well, at least we did something.” Things may go back to normal a few days or a week later, but we can feel good about playing revolutionary house for a bit.
This is the reality of revolution in the age of reproduction. At this point, the most revolutionary thing you can do is not strive to be a “revolutionary.”
With that said, shout out to all the elders that always tell me, “You don’t get this old being a fool.” Shout out to the people working jobs they hate every day so they can feed their families and provide their kids with the opportunities they never had. Shout out to all the people providing childcare for those who are sacrificing their families for “the cause.” Shout out to the real educators and mentors. Shout out to the school volunteers. Shout out to the businesspeople providing job opportunities for people in the community.
And lastly, shout out to everyone who continues to resist the urge to go out in a blaze of glory. No matter how much people romanticize martyrdom, we’re always better off present and breathing.