- - Monday, September 28, 2015

Over the last year, we have been increasingly inundated with videos of police killing unarmed citizens, scenes of peaceful protest, riots in America’s streets and everything in between. Along the way, Black Lives Matter grew from a hashtag used on social media to a de facto movement of diverse interests and agendas loosely organized in many towns and cities across the United States. Unfortunately, and much to the consternation of some, the diversity of interests aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement may be its greatest weakness.

In the months since BLM became the cause for nationwide talks on race and criminal justice reform, media coverage portraying those using the slogan while defacing public and private property and committing open acts of intimidation, has led to a backlash against BLM for lack of control of its “message” and its “supporters.”

Interesting enough, many of BLM’s initial supporters point to how slow the “movement” has been to turn into an advocacy organization as reason to begin to doubt its efficacy beyond being disruptive.

Seeming to garner as much or more air time on national media outlets as leading presidential candidates, Black Lives Matter took center stage in the election cycle, by literally storming the stage and taking the mic from Sen. Bernard Sanders at a campaign event. After protesters disrupted two other events, Mr. Sander’s campaign ceremoniously installed Symone Sanders as national press secretary and touted her as an activist loosely affiliated with the BLM movement.

The seemingly innocuous “All Lives Matter” slogan burst onto the scene as a sometimes visceral reaction to “Black Lives Matter.” For many who latched onto it however, the phrase seemed safe enough, reminding us all that lives matter in an all-inclusive way. But alas, because the phrase came to life as a part of the backlash against Black Lives Matter, it was bound to come under attack.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Martin O’Malley soon learned this the hard way, and both awkwardly apologized publicly for saying “All lives matter,” much to their own chagrin.

As one can imagine, these gaffes were especially disconcerting for Democrat candidates, all hoping to enjoy continued support from black voters based on party affiliation. But they were also very telling.

For the first time in a long while, Democrats now have to face opposition from part of their base that they haven’t had to prove their loyalty to for nearly half a century. They showed that they don’t have a tab on what’s on the hearts and minds of all African-Americans, nor are they able to control them.

Similarly, BLM showed us that there are swaths of the black vote that are willing to demand more than window dressing and condescending speeches on race to get their votes. This is a good sign.

Not only does it denote a crack in the infallibility of the Democratic Party in the eyes of some black voters, but it also suggested a possible break in the overwhelming support that Democrats traditionally enjoy from that demographic. The question is whether or not the Republicans would capitalize on it even if they knew how, and at what expense.

After much of the media coverage has died down, and following a summer which has seen record numbers of blacks killed by fellow citizens, many have begun to question whether there is a double standard.

Certainly the Black Lives Matter movement has come to embody the frustrations that many Black Americans feel about racial profiling and unjust treatment at the hands of law enforcement personnel.

But what movement will come to define the need to eradicate the senseless violence which is spreading like the plague through our streets, schools, homes, businesses, and places of worship. What movement will convince us that hurt-people hurt people and we must stop the genocide together as one nation? What movement will look honestly at the roots of violence and begin to address them?

Whatever movement it is, it’s going to have to be one that changes hearts and minds, not legislation. Because all the legislation in the world can’t change what’s in a man’s heart, just as all the king’s horses and the all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

I’m reminded of a South African principle I once heard the late Nelson Mandela describe called Obuntu. Loosely translated into English it means, “I am because we are.”

Obuntu speaks to the symbiotic relationship between human beings regardless of race, tribe or religion, which dictates our basic human duties to each other in civilized society.

That symbiotic relationship which puts “our” best interests ahead of “my” best interests, could be key to finding a cure to the violence we are faced with in our nation today. We certainly need to pursue the cure as if our lives depend on it. In a sense they do.

So let’s agree to come together as Americans in the spirit of “I am because we are,” and see if that helps. Here’s the hashtag: #OurLivesMatter. Now let’s turn it into a movement.

Akili West is a journalist and the CEO of Reclamation Energy LLC. He is also a green energy and sustainability advocate. 

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