By Sheryl Estrada
“Black Lives Matter” has been the theme of protests against the police-related deaths of Black males in many cities, including Ferguson, New York and now Baltimore, following the death of Freddie Gray.
Alicia Garza, a 34-year-old community organizer and one of the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter International movement (created in 2012 after the death of Trayvon Martin), said America’s “Black Spring” isthe Baltimore protests.
In an interview with NewsOne, Garza explained thatBlack Spring is taking form in “communities who have been under the boot of police terrorism, communities who have been, attacked by poverty and unemployment, are rising up and coming together advancing new solutions, new visions and new demand to create a new world where Black people’s live matter.”
Black Spring is a nod to Arab Spring, which refers to a series of demonstrations and uprisings in Tunisia in December 2010against the repressive policies of PresidentZine El Abidine Ben Ali.
The uprisings then spread to other North African countries, including Egypt, Morocco, Lybia and Arab countries in the Middle East, where citizens were oppressed by the government. While the protests started out peaceful, the responsebecame violent in areas. Arab Spring brought down regimes in some countries. For example, in Jan. 2011, Ben Ali was forced to flee from Tunisia; on Feb. 11, 2011, thePresident of EgyptHosni Mubarak resigned.
However, more than four yearssince the beginning of the uprising in Tunisia, and the efforts of demonstrators resisting the violence and poverty their governments perpetuated, instability and oppression remains in North Africa and the Middle East.
Arab Spring demonstrators proved to the world that, even under the most dire circumstances, standing up for one’s beliefs is possible. They wanted democracy and to bring international attention to oppressive authoritarian regimes. And they utilized social media as a tool to do so.
“With the Arab Spring, we have seen how oppressive governments, who controlled traditional media, were swept away by people with Internet and cell communications that were unavailable just 10 years ago,” said CEO of DiversityInc Luke Visconti.
Facebook, Twitter, and use of the hashtag #ArabSpring which is still active gave the young demonstrators leverage and garnered support for their cause.
Philip Howard, an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Washington and co-author of the book Democracy’s Fourth Wave: Digital Media and the Arab Spring, described in an interview findings of his research:
Our examination finds that the existence of long-term online civil society with connections to transnational observers including international news media and transnational diaspora networks helped outmaneuver many authoritarian regimes, this time. These days authoritarian regimes around the world take their Facebook and Twitter strategies seriously.
Social media and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter brought global awareness to the movement of peaceful protests in America, and the #BlackSpring hashtag is beginning to pick up steam as well.
Black Spring is a voice against disparity. According to2013 data, Blacks make up 63 percent of the population of Baltimore. And, almost 24 percent of Blacks live below the poverty level. A 2014 study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, found Baltimore teens between 15 and 19 years old face poorer health conditions and a bleaker economic outlookthan those in urban centers of India, Nigeria and China.
Baltimore also has a documentedhistory of police brutality, which is highlighted by the fact the six police officers involved in Gray’s death are facing criminal charges.
“If we want justice for Freddie Gray, we also understand that we need to make sure people have access to food, we need to make sure people have access to quality education, we need to make sure that occupying forces leave Black communities and allow Black communities to thrive on our own terms,” said Garza.
During the protests in Baltimore on May 1, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) posted on Twitterthat it is a First Amendment right to assemble and protest peacefully, and utilized the #BlackSpring hashtag.
ACLU National (@ACLU) May 1, 2015
In the U.S., non-violent movements, such as the civil rights movement, have proven that peaceful demonstrations can make changes to laws and lives. Drawing from that legacy, and the courage of demonstrators who began Arab Spring, the Black Spring movement continues.