We’re Winning: How Occupy Wall Street And #BlackLivesMatter Changed The Country

A few days ago, I put a post on Facebook condemning the violent arrest of a terrified teen. Within minutes, I had a cop apologist whining at me. His big argument is that I’m just a keyboard warrior and that words can’t solve anything. The more he ranted about this, the clearer it became that we both understood a fundamental truth and one of us was afraid of that truth:

Words DO make a difference. A very VERY large difference.

If you don’t believe this, take a look at the “failed” Occupy Wall Street movement. In September of 2011, the first group of people show up in downtown Manhattan and to protest the greed of the big banks and income inequality. The response from the police is swift and increasingly violent. The corporate media ignores the protests for days while every gathering of 20 Tea Partiers is covered as if it were the next American Revolution.

Occupy Wall Street had no leaders and no single set of demands but the words “Income Inequality” are used over and over and over as an underlying theme to the protests. The “liberal” media and politicians laugh it off, but the laughing becomes more and more uneasy as the protests spread to dozens of cities, including some in other countries. The police begin to find new and inventive ways to arrest people for exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.

The smear campaign against Occupy ramps up as “rumors” of rapes, murders and rampant violence are breathlessly reported by the media and cited by politicians as reasons to stomp on the protesters’ civil liberties. Eventually, the gatherings disband under the relentless weight of police violence and intimidation. The establishment breathes a sigh of relief and declares Occupy to be a total failure dreamed up by some pot smoking hippies.

But the words “Income Inequality” won’t go away.

Like a song that gets stuck in your head, “Income Inequality” keeps persisting in the background, slowly getting louder and louder and more annoying until you start humming it out loud. It gets picked up by liberal politicians like Elizabeth Warren (Bernie Sanders always talked about it, but now people are listening) and takes on a life of its own. Even establishment Democrats start banging on that drum. Now it’s a central theme of the 2016 presidential race that the Republican candidates would very much not like to talk about. The entire country is acutely aware that the rich have gotten obscenely wealthy while the rest of us have stood still or even gone backwards.

People across the political spectrum want to know, “If the economy is working properly, how can that be?” The pressure is mounting and even the rich are starting to say out loud that maybe the status quo is unsustainable, immoral and dangerous.

“Income Inequality”: Two words that changed America.

Then there’s these three words that also changed America: Black Lives Matter.

In 2013, the Black Lives Matter hashtag appeared on Twitter after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of Trayvon Martin. By 2014, it had spread and become a rallying cry for the black community after the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and all of the other unarmed or non-threatening black people needlessly killed by police.

Just words, right? Words can’t change anything.

But they did.

Up until then, the White community has been able to pretend the Black community was exaggerating the actions of police. After all, they never beat up little Timmy from down the street and that kid was a bad apple! If the police don’t smack him around, then the people they DO beat to the ground MUST have done something to deserve it!

But phone cameras started catching not dozens or even hundreds, but thousands, of people being savagely brutalized by the police. The almost daily videos of the police killing or brutally assaulting unarmed black men, women and children dispelled the myth that the police are here to protect and serve everyone. But even then, people didn’t know quite how to frame the problem in a way that was easy to voice. Sure, we all understood that the police were out of control but Americans suffer from a peculiar inability to act unless the problem can be put on a bumper sticker.

Fortunately, “Black Lives Matter” is the definition of succinct.

The words “Black Lives Matter” has sent the police and their authoritarian apologists into a frenzy of violence, unhinged rhetoric and outright death threats against black people. The right-wing media and the police have taken refuge in a persecution complex, the so-called “War on Cops” that supposedly has the police being murdered left and right. This narrative fails when confronted by the fact that police murders are at historic lows but this is what is now being taught at police academies across the country: It’s “us” versus “them” and anyone, at anytime, could be a lethal threat. Especially Black Lives Matter people who are really just a hate group like the KKK.

Sure, there’s exactly zero evidence for this attitude but the words “Black Lives Matter” has triggered an almost rabid response from the people invested in keeping things they way they are. The reason why is simple, “Black Lives Matter” has crystallized a reality for the entire country: Black lives do NOT matter to the police and people outside the black community are deeply unhappy with the status quo. As long as it was just the Black community, they could be ignored and the violence coul continue unabated. But now that the White community, the overwhelming majority of the country, understands and, more importantly, believes that something is deeply broken in the culture of American law enforcement, the pressure is building.

No, it’s not really fair that blacks had to wait for whites to wake up but that’s how it is for any minority group looking for equality or help: They need the dominant group to step up and push back at the establishment. “Black Lives Matter” were the words that focused the White community.

Words have power. They always have and they always will. The people who tell you otherwise are the ones who fear what you have to say. They’ll tell you to stop wasting your time arguing with people online but that’s because they want to own the narrative and you’re getting in their way. If you really care about making this country a better place, don’t ignore that crazy uncle or high school acquaintance posting “Blue Lives Matter” memes. Challenge them with facts. Make them defend their claims. More often than not, they won’t know how or they’ll come off sounding like a crazy person. The only way change happens is when we push back against the lies and anger and hate that keeps an unjust status quo in place.

A million breaths of air moving in the same direction can topple a mountain. Take a deep breath and never stop speaking out against injustice.

Featured Image via AI archives