VIEWPOINT: Parting the Sea Without Moses – BLM Protests Can't Deliver Change Without Leadership

June 12, 2020 by Alan Iturriaga

I do not pretend to understand the pain behind the recent protests that have flared up around the world. However, as someone sympathetic towards ideas of equality, I have been paying close attention to the development of the protests, as well as the response of the American government. The violent escalations of police vs. protesters confrontations have only made the issue more pressing. My attention in the last few days has been held by news feeds, Twitter, and editorials – yet, I just can’t seem to grasp what the goal of the protests is. A lack of clarity regarding the political end goal of the protests is why I believe it is failing to deliver their vision of meaningful reform.

Revolutions are not too complicated. The lead up to a revolution may be convoluted and complex, and perhaps the terms of the revolution may be poorly defined, but once they begin, the goals become clear. Independence, secularization, a coup, or the obliteration of apartheid. Most, if not all, successful revolutions and large scale social movements, have clear goals. Furthermore, in most cases, successful revolutions require competent and recognizable leadership that understands the goals of the revolution in the context of the world at large. A noteworthy case could be that of the thirteen colonies, and that of revolutionary France. In the American continent, the revolution was, since its infancy, spearheaded by a group of individuals who were able to steer the American experiment. In the case of the French revolution, various competing factions were already being aggressive towards each other before even a semblance of a coherent national identity cemented. Any figurehead of leadership was either disconnected to the revolutionary movement, such as Lafayette, or only lived long enough to get their head chopped off by their contemporaries, such as Robespierre.

Today, we must acknowledge an uncomfortable but necessary truth. If policymakers requested a hearing with the movement, who would step up? Who would claim that they understand why all the others are protesting? Because of the lack of a clear political goal, if our congress were to call on the American people for leadership, I don’t believe anyone could, confidently stand up and say: “THIS is what this movement is about, and THIS is what we want you, as policymakers, to do.” Not a single person.

#BLUEFALL or “All cops are bastards” are rally calls that embody resentment that is justified, but they are not policy. Hashtags alone can not bring about legislative change. Some of the proposed goals for the BLM protests are also dangerous, such as that law enforcement should never, under any circumstances, be able to kill. These propositions are not only harmful but are infused with the hyper-potent radicalism that so famously characterized the failings of the French revolution. Either way, no one really agrees on what should be done. Until the BLM protests establish reliable leadership and a clear political standing, their path to success will be blocked by a confused base of supporters, who know why they fight, but not what they fight towards.

The BLM movement must succeed for the United States to survive as a true democracy. In a sense, by bringing to light issues surrounding racism and holding American leaders’ feet to the fire, it already has. However, if we want tangible, permanent change, then we must have clear political leadership and goals.

Alan Iturriaga ('20) is a Senior Editor at SPR and the founder of the Muse Collective on Instagram.