Blog 2 will analyze the current state of leadership in #BlackLivesMatter, as well as overview
the procedurality and digital rhetoric of the movement.
It’s Saturday morning, March 7, 2015. As I continued research for my 2nd blog, I felt overwhelmed with a triumphant sense of reflection, as I quickly realized the significance of this date. Today marks 50 years since the Selma to Montgomery March, where Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of activists marched in protest for racial equality, particularly fighting for voting rights.
Writing and thinking about race, inequality, social activism, and in particular #BlackLivesMatter, on the anniversary of such a dark, yet crucial moment in history, put me in such a contemplative state of mind. Does a movement, such as the continued fight for racial equality, need a face or a symbol or just thousands of voices? Who is today’s face or symbol of #BlackLivesMatter? Who or whom are leading the continued fight for racial equality? The answer is many – but who stands out?
Through my research, I came across this name, over and over – DeRay Mckesson. He has been interviewed in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The LA Times, and Salon to name a few. He is a social media sensation, with over 68,700 followers on Twitter, constantly being quoted in several news articles and videos, and his co-curated website, WetheProtesters.org, captures historical moments that stemmed from the Ferguson protests. To top it off Mckesson and his writing partner, Johnetta Elize, recently were awarded The Howard Zinn Freedom to Write Award, for their collaborated efforts writing This is the Movement newsletter. Is he a dedicated curator, communicating and preserving each live moment through digital interfaces or the prominent face of the #BlackLivesMatter/#Ferguson protest movement?
In the digital age, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything that happens on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Flickr, or Instagram. But Mckesson diligently follows and communicates all the latest trends on #BlackLivesMatter, #Ferguson, protests, and even the recent #Selma50 march, and at the same time keeps his followers up-to-speed and engaged. He even took the time to “favorite” a Tweet I sent his way, indicating his digital engagement with his followers. With over 74, 400 Tweets and 11,800 “favorited” tweets, since 2008, he clearly is a highly active and dedicated Twitter user, utilizing this digital platform as a megaphone for his political and activist narrative.
In one of several interviews, Salon captures the relevance of Mckesson’s social media presence and purpose. That it has “served to legitimize certain voices as authoritative — not by virtue of their position in a national organization, but because we can see through their eyes.” Salon goes on to elaborate on the digital, social procedurality of this movement: “Social media can capture a moment — a die-in at a convenience store, a blocked highway — and give it life beyond its brief duration. It also adds pressure for the activists who have a large following to be there at every action.” The article also describes that through Mckesson’s leadership, his followers and non-followers become invisible laborers (and I mean this in a positive view). They “wind up functioning, themselves, as journalists, albeit ones who are not being paid and supported by a major publication … ones who can say what they feel without having to adhere to some ideal of objectivity, without having to ask for the cops’ side of the story.” They produce authentic and effective marketing strategies for the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Their voices do not have a hidden agenda or tread lightly – they go for the gut and hold nothing back. They expect nothing in return, but racial equality.
In Race After the Internet, edited by Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow White, the book dissects the importance of discussion and prevalence of race on the Internet. They elaborated that,
Mediatized conversations about race, whether on the Internet with human interlocutors or with the torrent of digitized media texts, have become an increasingly important channel for discourse about our differences. Race has itself become a digital medium, a distinctive set of informatic codes, networked mediated narratives, maps, images, and visualizations that index identity. Critical race scholarship, that is to say scholarship that investigates the shifting meanings of race and how it works in society, and proposes interventions in the name of social justice, must expand its scope to digital media and computer-based technologies.” (Page 5)
Mckesson is fostering and indexing, not only his own identity, but also the identity of the movement. He also gives us reason to pay attention to Twitter now more than ever. Mckesson is a digital force to be reckoned with.
As mentioned above, through WetheProtestors.org, Mckesson, along with 4 other “planners” produced a site that helps people focus on specific issues such as activism and best practices, where to protest and how to get involved, the mapping of police violence, and a timeline of protestor progress since the death of Michael Brown. The timeline shows how the protestor’s voices have already created change in our nation. Their voices are heard, and heard through an effective digital platform, in this case, a carefully crafted, curated website.
Mckesson, performing an invisible labor for racial equality, helps our nation understand the procedural rhetoric of #BlackLivesMatter, and in general everything that has happened since Michael Brown was killed. For instance, on WetheProtestors.org, the site focuses on a collection of Vine protest chant videos, which allows current and potential followers to relive experiences, but also understand and execute certain language that has withstanding effect on crowds. Through his curatorial skills, he gives everyone a voice and preserves important moments that define the movement.
Back to my other point. Is Mckesson a well-educated, savvy curator, or a leader of this movement? I think yes, he is one of many leaders. A distinct voice, both digitally and in real time. He educates and connects people through his multimedia messages. As stated in the We the Protestors’ Executive Summary, the purpose of this digital platform is to serve as,
a space for protestors nationwide to access the tools and resources to mobilize and organize. It is a hub and a source of information. This will never replace the pace and power of Twitter, the flow of Tumblr, or the grace of Instagram – social media has sustained the movement. The purpose of this space is to empower and equip activists and organizers nationwide with the tools and resources to continue creating and sustaining communities engaged in a radical new politics.
This is just a snip-it of what the website, what Mckesson, has to offer. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s did not have the privilege to spread their message like wild fire on social media, nor were they able to steward every moment simultaneously. Mckesson is a dynamic curator, activist, protestor, educator, and social media guru -- and it is hard to deny that he stands out as the possible face of 21st century activism, if not digital activism.