Black Lives Matter is 7 years old. It’s already changed the country forever

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Hey, folks. It’s raceAhead editor Aric Jenkins tagging in for Ellen today.

A remarkable headline flashed across my screen the other week: “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest Movement in U.S. History.”

The article, published in the New York Times, cited polls from several data science and research firms. Each polling period covered about a week, give or take a few days, in early to mid-June. They placed the amount of people protesting in the U.S. at anywhere from 15 million, about 6% of the adult population (Pew), to 26 million, or roughly 10% of adults in the U.S. (Kaiser Family Foundation).

The professors who spoke with the Times for the story were astonished.

“I’ve never seen self-reports of protest participation that high for a specific issue over such a short period,” said Neal Caren, who specializes in social movements in the U.S. at the University of North Carolina. Another cited professor, Erica Chenoweth of Harvard, co-directs the Crowd Counting Consortium, which collects data on the size of crowds at political protests. In a scholarly review, Chenoweth found that international protests that successfully overthrow governments typically require about 3.5% of the population at their peak.

Black Lives Matter never sought to overthrow any governments, but the lasting change it’s accomplished is reminiscent of a revolution. All across the country we’ve been watching a reckoning unfold, from the Minneapolis City Council’s vow to dismantle the police department to the toppling of Confederate monuments. Public opinion of the movement has shifted dramatically in favor over the past two years, paving the way for new generations to more fully grasp the extent to which Black Lives Matter.

There is so much more work to be done, but it’s worth taking a moment to acknowledge all that has been achieved by Black Lives Matter as an official movement and organization. Seven years ago yesterday, July 13, 2013, Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors first told the world that Black Lives Matter. Happy anniversary to the movement that was strong enough to stay the course as the rest of the world caught up.

I profiled Cullors for Time in 2018, just as public opinion on Black Lives Matter was starting to reverse from a net negative. “I think we have a crisis of divesting from poor communities, black communities in particular, and reinvesting into these communities with police, jails, courts, prisons,” she told me at the time. Her words are still as relevant as ever.

The difference is, instead of her saying it, or Garza, or Tometi, or me, or Black people in general, a mathematical majority of the country is now saying it. And a big reason why is because of Black Lives Matter.

Aric Jenkins

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