I won't dwell on the main issues surrounding the #blacklivesmatter disruption of Bernie Sanders' event. If you have a Facebook feed like mine, you've already seen 10 friends post 50 things on that subject, and though I have many things to say, I'm sure the things I have to say are mixed in somewhere within those 5o other pieces. Somewhere. The odds are definitely good.
I'm more interested in a technical question that is behind the scenes in these discussions. One of the questions that has come up repeatedly is whether the women who took the stage truly represent #blacklivesmatter.
I find this to be an odd question, in large part because I don't know what it means to represent a #. Thus, my question is what makes for a # movement?
It seems to me that it is very difficult for people to grasp movements that are by their nature so vaguely defined and organized as to be inherently inclusive and democratic (in the truest [anarchist] sense of "democratic," not the pulling a lever on a hackable machine delivered by an interested corporation sense).
This difficulty may be an honest or somewhat feigned difficulty on the part of the mass media, but it is certainly there.
But the very question, "Are these women truly representative of #blacklivesmatter?" is a bizarre one for a simple reason: It is a #!
It is not clear that #'s have high entrance requirements. In fact, I have repeatedly pointed out to people that I don't even know how to use #'s, but I use them nonetheless. I'm consistently told my #'s are horribly put together, and I don't even know what that means. But, there I am, joining membership in #'s. No one can stop me...
And, look, I'm not saying there might not be organizations that take #blacklivesmatter as their name. Though, there doesn't appear to be a single one, and I think I'd make the same point were there only one.
What I'm saying is that #blacklivesmatter is primarily and essentially a #, with organizations, where they exist, as secondary entities that are united under the #. And this claim is neither something deep nor philosophical; it is simply how the movement was initiated and has moved forward.
For better or worse, a # does not have the structure of an organization. Now, I think it is definitely in some ways better and in other ways worse, but that's not my discussion here. I just want to point out that it needs to be taken as bizarre to treat a # as an organization, and that it reflects our organizational biases that we lazily do so.
Thus, we cannot truly ask, "Who are the leaders of the #?" #'s don't have leaders. They may have first people to use them, but, as these things go, those people tend to become closer to trivia answers than leaders. This isn't meant to be a putdown as much as an observation. The first person to use a #, especially when it later becomes a socially and political significant movement, is important and deserves recognition. But they do not, and should not, get to determine the direction, use, or even meaning of the # moving forward. A # is a gift unto the world, not a corporation that the largest shareholder claims controlling interest over.
We also cannot truly ask, "Who are the real members of the #?" Perhaps we can identify members of a # in a sense, but it will not be through official lists held at # headquarters. It will simply be created via use. I used the #, therefore I am--in as much of a sense as anything else makes sense while talking like this--a member of the #.
We also cannot ask, "What are the rules by which the # operates?" I mean, there might be some technical rules, but even that's a bit silly. I am neither on Twitter nor Facebook right now, but I can insert a # here. I could do one on a poster.
Nor are there other rules, as if we were in a militar structure where rules were delegated from the top, and we were ordered to follow them. Variants are recognizable and fine, ranging from the simple (#blacklivesmatter.) to the more clear for the non-# generation (#BlackLivesMatter) to the emphatic (#blacklivesmatter,racistpunk). That's right, I even added a comma. What are you going to do? That's what I thought.
Further, anyone can use the #. There's no rules as to who counts or who is allowed. There's just not rules of these sorts. Because it is a #.
And, all this is important.
The very possibility of a # movement, as well as the possibility of our minds (and, hopefully, some day the media's minds as well) to grasp a # movement is quite significantly important.
For, in the end, the #blacklivesmatter movement is not just about race. It is about the way in which race is intermixed and inseparable from American organizations and institutions. #InstitutionalRacismSucks.
And, what making the movement into a # does (whether the first user intended this, of course, is now irrelevant) is locate that these problems are connected to the ways in which we assume organizations/institutions/structures need to be arranged: with leaders (who tend to be white) who are supported by unquestionable violence (often through white cops), that you are either a member of, or a danger to (you are either a good American, or you use the wrong #'s, and may need to be pulled over...).
The # movement challenges these ideas. We can move forward, trying to change the world, while joining together under a #.
We won't all agree. Some will claim to be leaders. Some will insist on trying to use a institutionally-challenging-movement to make merely apparent changes within the institutionally-grounded-system. Some will try to reject others, while some it would be nice if we could reject.
But, just by not being a structure that is recognizably safe to those who love their institutions, the # matters.
Thus, and in closing, #blacklivesmatter