Black Lives Matter began in 2012 as a response to the murder of Trayvon Martin, and his killer’s subsequent acquittal. Activist Alicia Garza began the movement in a love note addressed to all black people, which she posted online. When her sister, Opal Tometi, added a hashtag to the phrase “Black Lives Matter” the movement began to gain momentum on Twitter. Garcia argues that the Black Lives Matter did not start with her, but is instead a continuation of all black movements. To Garza, the movement began the moment black feet touched American soil.
The Black Lives Matter movement, however, is very different than all these other movements. In the age of the Internet, communication has become faster and easier than ever, making for greater organizing potential. In a departure from most other black organizations, Black Lives Matter silences charismatic leaders to let participants of the movement speak for themselves. As our society matures to give sexual minorities and disabled people more respect, Black Lives Matter leads the way by including individuals who are gay, disabled, and along all points of the gender spectrum. In the well-quoted words of activist Tef Poe, “This ain't yo momma's civil rights movement."
Because of the Internet, the Black Lives Matter movement is more spontaneous and fast growing than any black movement before it. In his article, “The Next Civil Rights Movement?” Fredrick C. Harris examines how technology was used to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people. Before the rise of the Internet, Harris remembers how, “a hand-driven mimeograph machine [was used] to crank out over 52,000 leaflets that announced a mass protest after Rosa Parks’ arrest in 1955." Even while it was difficult to communicate with many people at once, black movements in the 20th century still had the same basic need as movements in the 21st: the need to spread information and opinions to as many people as possible.
Using manual technology, 20th-century black movements were barely able to reach 50,000 people. In our current time, someone can tweet a message and reach millions of people right away and with minimal effort. Reacting to the murder of Trayvon Martin, organizer Alicia Garza posted a self-described, “love letter” to all black people online. Because of social media, the letter was shared worldwide, and inspired the hashtag, BlackLivesMatter. Since that time, over 41 million people have tweeted the hashtag, and over 100,000 web links have been posted online. New technology has revitalized black movements, allowing them to accomplish feats of communication that would have been impossible less than fifteen years ago.
Unlike previous movements, Black Lives Matter is without a leader, and instead takes its strength from the masses. In his article entitled "Black Lives Matter," Russell Rickford quotes civil rights activist Ella Baker, who says, “strong people don't need strong leaders.” Not relying on charismatic leaders has pros and cons. Because leaders are only individuals, they carry with them basic human weaknesses; charismatic leaders can be co-opted by powerful interests, pursue their own selfish goals, be imprisoned, repressed, and assassinated.
On the other hand, a well-known leader might help to galvanize support and crystallize the movement’s goals and demands. In a contradicting article titled, “I was a civil rights activist in the 1960s” author Barbara Reynolds describes her struggle to get behind the Black Lives Matter movement because it is so much different than any movement she has seen before. Reynolds believes that, “The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be the most obvious assets to BLM, as civil rights leaders who have run for president and led political campaigns." Others however, see Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton as more invested in their own goals than in the popular black struggle. By muting charismatic leaders, the structure of Black Lives Matter allows supporters to speak for themselves, making it truly a movement of the people.
Founded in part by two gay black women, the Black Lives Matter movement is revolutionary for including all types of minorities. BlackLivesMatter.com is a place for the movement to define who they are and what they believe in on their own terms. Under the “who we are” tab, Black Lives Matter makes it clear that they value all black lives equally. The movement, “[affirms] the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, black-undocumented folks, folks with records, women and all black lives along the gender spectrum.”
This is a unique phenomenon for black movements, because according to Reynolds, even Martin Luther Kind did not allow black women to march with him. Perhaps, this was only a product of his time, but even so, it is odd that a movement based on giving rights to the disadvantaged would repress women. Emerging at a time when gays are allowed to marry and the LGBT community is gaining greater public acceptance, Black Lives Matter is ready to embrace everyone. For perhaps the first time in history, there is a popular movement that all human beings can be a part of.