Do “Black”-outs work?
Cross-posted at the Brave New Films Blog.
Activist and Radio Talk Show Host Warren Ballentine has called for a Black out on Friday, Nov. 2nd. This is in response to, among other things, the domestic torture of Megan Williams, and the Jena 6.
From the release:
Until we have federal legislation in place regarding these hate crimes, as African Americans we need to band together to show our “Economic Power” by refusing to spend ANY money that day from fast food restaurants to gas.
There are calls for these sorts of actions all the time, and they are usually motivated by positive intentions: solidarity, taking a stand, being deliberate with your economic power. We see them on all sorts of issues, from gas prices to impeachment. These are all good things, but I question their effectiveness. For one, this sort of action can only successful if it is extremely specific and if it is sustained.
Case in point:
- Motgomery Bus Boycott:
Extremely specific, focusing on one business in one sector in one location.
- Don’t spend any money anywhere:
Not-so-specific, a call to every everywhere not to spend anything anywhere.
Something this non-specific is overwhelming, and ends up being a bigger ask to the participants than it is to those you are trying to influence.
Finally, sustainability. A disparate, one-day action will not register more than a blip on people’s radars. One-day actions don’t really show mettle in terms of demonstrating a willingness to change behavior in any meaningful way. It’s like going to the gym once a year and then telling someone, “Yeah, I work out.” Only when a change in behavior is
- Demonstrated, and
does it have lasting impact. The Montgomery Bus Boycott went on for nearly a year. Saying “I’m not going to ride the bus for a day” would not have sent any message whatsoever.
These two go hand-in-hand: it’s pretty hard to create something sustainable out of something non-specific. Boycotting McDonalds, Citgo, and Kmart for a day won’t do a thing to change situations.
My suggestion to Ballentine and the other organizers is to pick a specific target and commit to action against that target for a significant amount of time. Here’s an example:
For every day that Mychal Bell remains incarcerated, we will hang a noose outside of Gov. Blanco’s office.
This would force the Governor to decide how long she wanted this to continue. The visibility of the nooses would highlight the absurdity of the situation.
Am I off?
One Love. One II.