I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Freedom marches of the 1960s with the mind of a child. Something was happening that I understood at the surface, yet had no idea of the consequences or the price. Yet even from a child’s surface of perception, I learned from the news a respect and admiration for the struggle, because as a child I never learned that one person was better than another.
I lived as a little brown girl with an odd and foreign sounding name in a racist town in Northern California. Even though I am not black but a person of color, there was still a divide between whites and us. Some of these divides were stronger, deeper and harder than others. It “All depends on the skin we’re living in,” as poet Sekou Sundiata once wrote.
Which brings us here, one year and a day after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, where he was gunned down by Ferguson police and his body left on the street for four hours. It wasn’t the first death of an African-American by police or vigilante that we’ve known about in the news this decade, but in light of Trayvon Martin’s killing by George Zimmerman on the pretext of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” laws and Zimmerman’s subsequent acquittal, it was one of way too many straws on a camel’s back.
It was in this crucible of news, fueled by this century’s technology that #Black Lives Matter was born. It is the Civil Rights Movement updated for the 21st century.
At last count, since its inception in 2013, the movement has staged close to 1000 demonstrations. It has 23 chapters in various cities across the United States, including my home town of Oakland, California, as well as in Canada and Ghana.
The Movement is proving to be a new litmus test for election politics as experienced by Democrats and Republicans. Some more than others are trying to bridge the gap between the issues of income inequality and racial inequality, and the promise of equal protection under the law.
By every police action from Michael Brown to Sandra Bland, and by every acquittal of police officers who shoot first and show remorse later, this promise remains unmet. If there is a ‘but’ in this conversation, it is that at least the conversation, though heated, has started. And thanks to Pluto, it is going deep, as Eric presciently wrote about in early 2013 on the Trayvon Martin case:
Even as the major aspects (for example, Uranus square Pluto) strive to push us forward and help us confront modern problems, we’re being reminded of what remains unresolved from our collective past. While Trayvon Martin may seem insignificant to some and an overblown story to others, racial karma is one of the most significant issues we face on the planet, though in truth the next layer down involves the economic problems we face: the distribution of resources that fuel racial crises and are at the root of many ethnicity-based wars and genocides.
What exactly was George Zimmerman worried that Trayvon Martin was doing? Well, stealing, of course. Stealing what? What else? White people’s stuff.
Let’s not forget the elemental equation that informs so much of what we think of as politics: lighter-skinned guy thinks darker-skinned guy is trying to take the stuff of lighter-skinned guys. Sadly, this sounds more reductionist than it is. You can look at almost any national issue through this filter and suddenly it makes more sense.
Set aside the Confederate flag, the out-of-control gun lobbyists in Congress and the prison-industrial complex that make it profitable for cities to fine the poor to meet budget constraints to fund police departments. Set all that aside, and you still have the dregs of the pot stirred up, crusted, rotting and needing to be removed. Pluto is serving as the ultimate solvent.
But — and here’s another ‘but’ — I see Pluto providing the ash heap upon which we can revive civilization in our civil society. We are confronting our most horrible racist demons in the worst ways imaginable — witnessing unjustifiable deaths of our fellow citizens at the hands of law enforcement. All available now by tweets, camera phones and hashtags. But this is exactly what the Civil Rights Movement needed as well back in the 1960s: open information and eye-witnessing to the truth. A chance to write the whole history warts and all, not the parts we are more comfortable with. Pluto.
We’re accomplishing this today, with the help of courageous people and their allies. The generation of Black Lives Matter is growing a movement that needs to finish the job started by their parents and grandparents five decades ago. I benefited from that struggle 50 years ago, as did so many of my brothers and sisters of color back then.
Yet equal protection under the law for all should mean for all. And to our country’s shame, this is something that our African-American brothers and sisters still have to fight for, a year after Ferguson, more than a month after Charleston, and Baltimore, and Staten Island and centuries and thousands of places more in a history that still needs to be revealed and taught about ourselves. We can’t ever forget justice belongs to all of us, this year and the years to come.