One of the ongoing undercurrents in the Black community, particularly’s Chicago is the divide between the so-called “activists” and people who don’t get on the front lines to protest, march and visibly advocate for change. Those who assume the activist roles take the position they are the only ones contributing to a cause. The tragic part of this kind of thinking is it ignores the elements of the past that made every Black protest successful. Everything that succeeds has more to it than is visible on the surface. In fact, activism is very akin to a game of college or pro football.
Fans watch two football teams do battle. The attention is focused on less than a handful of seemingly key players. When the focus is on them only, most of the nuances of the sport are missed. Both sides have 11 men on the field for every play. Each one of them has a specific assignment. Most of those assignments, even when executed perfectly will not make each of those players stand out. When they are executed perfectly, the team moves closer to meeting its objective.
Besides those players on the field there are scores on the sidelines for each team. There also are coaches, assistants, trainers, equipment managers and others. Each has a role to help make the team click. That is how activism should be, but usually isn’t viewed. The attention, and often adulation, is focused on individuals with bullhorns, or who in front of the marches or get television and newspaper interviews.
However, the men and women who printed and distributed the fliers, made phone calls, posted on social media, tweeted and organized news conferences deserve a lot of credit as well. These are the people who play a role very much like the coaches assistants, trainers, et al. They are behind the scenes but without them things wouldn’t go well at all. That also goes for the individuals who opt not to participate. Look at them as the fans. We all know fans make the difference. But sometimes fans are fickle, and that’s OK, They are often there when you need them-just not on the front line.
From follow-up conversations, social media offerings and general conversation it is painfully clear that many show up for the social aspect of a protests. The mission of the demonstration or march is secondary. Folk want to say ‘I was there.’ That is akin to football fans showing up at the stadium for the tailgating, and aren’t really concerned about the game or its outcome.
Another key parallel the activist community should emulate football on is a game plan. Prior to and during demonstrations or marches, protest leaders share what they want or demand. Yet, rarely is there a game plan when those demands aren’t met. Look at the Shut Down the Ryan July 7 protest. One of the repeated demands was a meeting with the mayor, governor and CPD superintendent. Two weeks later the meeting still hasn’t occurred, so was there any “win” in having part of the Dan Ryan Expressway closed for a few hours?
Shouldn’t there have been a plan to initiate the next step if the initial demand(s) weren’t met? In essence the Dan Ryan demands came off like a toothless tiger, roaring and threatening to bite while the would-be victim knows the lion has no teeth. In the game of football as many steps as possible are planned, and there is a contingency in place for just about anything that goes wrong. This is where activists repeatedly fall short -Black Friday protest, marches on the expressways, rallies in front of the mayor’s house. Are all of these intended to have an impact or merely be cathartic?
The ranks of the local activist community numbers in the thousands, possibly ten thousand. That is a huge force. Unfortunately, those who position themselves as leaders fail to recognize that coalescing will give them more social and political influence than Black Chicago has seen since the middle of the last century. To continue to be divided, chase issues like moths to a light, and operate with no cohesive game plan; they are playing the game that the very people they are protesting against want them to play. The activists should huddle up, pick a starting team and play the next few quarters with fewer emotions and more smarts.