My favorite documentary series is Eyes on the Prize and I particularly enjoy the segment titled Awakenings. If you don’t know…and you should know, ’cause the series is fantabulous…Eyes on the Prize covers the history of the Civil Rights Movement in America through first person accounts and interviews with the regular folks who were foot soldiers in the struggle. In Awakenings the film picks up at the end of WWII…when folks like my Grandfather returned home after fighting to liberate Europe only to find Jim Crow still calling the shots in America.
I watch a segment from Eyes on the Prize at least once a month – it is essential food for my activist soul and helps to remind me how far we’ve come, what it took to get here and what it will take moving forward.
I watched Awakenings the other night because I needed to witness some history that is going to apply to the present – specifically, the current call by organizations like National Council of La Raza (NCLR) to boycott the state of Arizona in response to passage of the heinous SB 1070 law. Just as I was reading the news about NCLR’s press conference, I received an email from a friend who was undecided about the boycott because 1) boycotts hurt everyone, not just the rancid fools supporting this law and 2) she isn’t convinced that boycotts work.
Here’s the thing…
Boycotts are hard to maintain.
Eyes on the Prize documents some of that when it covers the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
I also know people who were there and who tell stories of just how challenging that boycott was.
According to a family friend Ms. B., the Montgomery bus boycott hurt like hell and mostly at her feet, legs and pocketbook.
Ms. B. was working as a day maid when the Montgomery bus boycott was organized.
She took the bus to and from work the day before the boycott began…
…and she didn’t take the bus again for 381 days.
Let me write it out…three hundred and eighty one days.
That’s how long the Montgomery Bus Boycott went on…because that’s how long it took for the bus system to be racially integrated.
For 381 days, folks who supported the boycott didn’t ride buses in the city of Montgomery.
And for 381 days, businesses suffered…people lost their jobs…regular folks were intimidated and threatened…and a lot of people doubted that the boycott would work.
There had been boycotts before that failed to do anything other than cause economic and physical pain.
But Montgomery worked because people like Ms. B walked their 6 miles every day just to stay employed and were prepared to endure the impact because their eyes were on the prize.
So, now we’ve got a call for a boycott of Arizona.
People…good people who hate this new law too…will suffer.
Boycotts hurt and they are hard to maintain.
Rather than focus on that fact, we should instead focus on the goal of the boycott…what’s on the table and what do we want…and then decide to commit or not commit.
Because boycotts aren’t going to get easy or become painless…but boycotts can work.
Just ask Ms. B., who has been riding the bus in Montgomery as an equal passenger ever since her 381 days of non-violent protest ended in progressive change on December 20, 1956.
They call the social justice movement a struggle for a reason.
It often hurts…and it is almost always hard…but the one thing we did right was the day we started to fight.
Who knows, another Awakening may be unfolding before us…
Notes from a bitch…on boycotts…