Julian Bond, former NAACP chairman, hopes activists of today learn civil rights history
5:54 PM on 05/07/2012
NAACP chairman Julian Bond poses for a portrait during the 41st NAACP Image awards held at The Shrine Auditorium on February 26, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for NAACP)
The images from last week's May Day protests look like a montage from a movie set in the 1960s. Sign- and bullhorn-wielding protesters organized by the Occupy movement railed against the capitalist industrial complex, while riot gear-clad police sought to contain them with tear gas and flash-bang grenades. Dozens were arrested.
Weeks earlier, thousands gathered in cities across the country to demand the arrest of George Zimmerman. These protests were searing indictments of the Sanford, Florida police department's handling of Zimmerman's killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. They were also rallying cries against the implicit racism embedded in Martin's identification as suspicious, and the gun laws that buttress Zimmerman's defense. Those who couldn't physically take part in the marches took to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to express solidarity via status updates, shared links to articles, posted pictures, and hashtags.
The protests, marches, and Tumblr feeds springing up against capitalism and racism reflect the confluence of deep frustration with the status quo -- and the means enabling people to more easily protest. We are in a new moment that echoes the start of the Civil Rights Movement, when thousands in Montgomery, Alabama carpooled and walked to work in solidarity with Rosa Parks after she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white passenger in 1955 -- another organized group effort.
In other words, mass frustration, social media and timing have brought the 1960s into 2012. How can the black community best take advantage of this new surge of populist activism?
"This is an exciting time," Ytasha L. Womack, author of Post Black: How a New Generation is Defining African-American Identity, told theGrio. "Many people want to explore ways that reframe how we discuss and act on issues that have defined the past. We want to look at what's changed, what has not, and how we can build a better tomorrow."
Veteran NAACP leader and former professor of civil rights Julian Bond cites the ability to identify with Trayvon Martin as part of the reason the boy's death sparked a renewed interest in activism. "So many people identified with him because they had a little brother or a kid down the street or somebody they knew who's like him. It's like Obama said, had he had a [son], he'd look like Trayvon Martin," Bond told theGrio. "And I think all of us felt the same way. I have three sons and one of them easily, or all three of them could have been this kid. So it just strikes us in a peculiar way. It's so horrendous that it happened. The law that allowed it to happen is itself horrendous -- and it just struck a chord with black people everywhere and some white people as well."
With the proliferation of social media tools available to express our outrage, the 24-hour news cycle that feeds on provocative sound bytes, and the presidential election just six months away, the time is ripe for discussing weighty matters. Bond believes African-Americans need to seize the moment to channel the activism sparked by Trayvon Martin and Occupy Wall street into concrete political work. The black community has a lot to lose otherwise.