Why Disruption Strategy Has Worked

by James Tracy on January 27, 2015

(Ed Note: James Tracy’s response to Editor Randy Shaw’s January 15, “Activists Must Do More Than Disrupt” will hopefully be part of an ongoing dialogue on this issue)

I read with interest your opinion piece “Activists Must Do More Than Disrupt” (January 22nd 2015) in Beyond Chron. I always appreciate in your writings the emphasis on strategy in progressive movements. In this instance, I think you miss the mark by minimizing the gains that disruption has brought thus far, and the possibility that Black Lives Matter activists have a strategy that you might not be privy to.

In a few short months, these brave organizers have rebooted the racial justice movement in several important ways. A year ago, who would have expected that a validity of Broken Windows policing be openly challenged in the mainstream media? The militarization of the police received scant attention before the protests.

These openings in political discourse were made possible by the disruption of business as usual, as well as formidable media skills of key activists. Policing is the political third rail in American politics. Today, it is impossible to find many electoral or legislative options to address police murder.

An intense web of laws used to shield officers who kill and the political strength of Police Officer’s Associations have shut them down. As you know and have written lucidly on, activists mobilize what resources they have at their disposal against the enemy’s few weaknesses. Given this is only natural that disruptive political tactics will dominate this phase of the movement.

The fact is that the Black Lives Movement, has already moved beyond simple disruption.  It hasn’t fallen prey to the Occupy trap of protest without program. Consider the concrete demands of Furguson Action as just one example. Do these demands seem like a movement without a strategy to you?

Most importantly, a new generation of Black radicals such as Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tomet (to name three among many) have worked hard to connect disparate protest movements. This work has not only reinvigorated the Black Left but the larger one in the United States as well.

Like you, I am always in favor of precise, targeted direct action over indirect action. But I can’t ignore the irony is that this young movement is already doing exactly what you have asked progressives to do in your book Reclaiming America by moving beyond solely local organizing towards a national set of priorities.

But these are very old debates. The youth who initiated the lunch counter sit-in were accused of the same lack of strategy you see in the current generation. It was Ella J. Baker who urged movement elders to see the youth’s actions as a crucial step in expanding the movement.

You use the example of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott to make your point. You understand then how the desegregation movement took at least a decade to perfect the strategy that brought and end to transit segregation.

This was not due to the lack of organizing acumen on Montgomery’s activists, rather the time it took to build strength and analyze past defeats. As dangerous as organizing was in the 1950s, organizing against police and incarceration today holds many life-or-death situations as well. The strategies and solutions aren’t going to be packaged on a Midwest Academy chart.

Historically, Black organizing has always been the catalyst for social action in the common good. This time around, so many of the movement’s key organizers have roots in the Bay Area. Perhaps the next time Beyond Chron would like to question their grasp of strategy, you could simply call them up and ask for an interview.

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Filed under: National Politics

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