Black Friday: The Forgotten Non-Violence Tool for Social Change

My nephew, Charles Goodridge, was killed by an off duty policeman in Texas this past summer. Charles’ killing is not an uncommon occurrence. A policeman kills a black person every 28 hours. Because of my loss, hurt and anger, I am drawn to write this piece.

People have responded to these injustices by protesting to express their justified anger and rage. Some protests have gotten unruly and led to burning and looting. The media and so-called spokespeople for the injured parties implore us to remain calm and not burn and riot. Violence gets us nowhere and leaves our neighborhoods in ashes. We must remain calm.

Critics of violent protest often invoke Martin Luther King’s message of nonviolence. But even King said that “rioting is the language of the unheard.” The philosophy of nonviolence, and the representation of people who espoused it, have become oversimplified. There was more to MLK’s nonviolence than just turning the other cheek.

Economic Impact: The Forgotten Factor

One of the reasons that leaders like Gandhi and Martin Luther King taught non-violence was that they deeply believed that everyone, even the oppressor, had a moral conscience and if you remained nonviolent in the face of violence, the oppressor would reconnect with that moral ingredient within and begin to do the right thing. I think that one of the reasons why Gandhi and King preached nonviolence is that they knew that an armed revolt would give the people in power justification to slaughter the insurgents. But both Gandhi and King also knew that just marching and protesting would not defeat colonialism and oppression. They understood that their oppression was not just race hatred, but it was also an issue of economic oppression.

Gandhi realized that his movement had to include developing more economic power and control. In 1920, he started a campaign of spinning and weaving that helped his people gain more control over this industry from the British. Gandhi also challenged the British Salt Act, which prohibited Indians from collecting or selling salt. Everyone needs salt and because demand for salt is so high, whoever sold it stood to reap huge financial gains. Gandhi and a handful of followers undertook a 240-mile march to the salt rich coastal town of Dandi to wage protest against the Salt Act. By the time he got there, giving speeches at rallies along the way, he had thousands of Indians marching with him.

Martin Luther King understood that the Non Violent Peace Movement had to have a strategy of economic empowerment. Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus ignited the famous Montgomery Bus boycott, which Martin Luther King was chosen to lead. Interestingly, the boycott was originally planned to last one day only. Organizers argued that the black bus riders could afford the inconvenience for one day. But the boycott was so successful that, in the end, it lasted over a year and involved over 40,000 people. It also had a huge negative economic impact on the bus line and the white establishment and was the catalyst for changing many segregation laws in Alabama.

In a speech King gave in Springfield, Illinois, on October 7, 1968 supporting the AFL-CIO sanitation workers strike, King said: “The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old age pensions, government relief for the destitute, and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome.”

Striking black sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee carried signs that read “I AM A MAN.” This is chillingly similar to the “Black Lives Matter” signs that we see today. The protest in Memphis in 1968 had over 1300 striking workers involved and Martin Luther King was with them from the start. King understood that economic justice and pressure were viable and powerful tools for freedom and social justice.

Black Friday

Recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations have been amazing. The public outrage is being heard loud and clear, but if we’re not careful, demonstrations can become a cathartic ritual that lead to little change. Daily demonstrations can’t continue indefinitely, but weekly demonstrations could.

What would happen if fifty, sixty or eighty percent of black people and allies just stayed home. Let’s make it symbolic and call it “Black Friday.” Stores and corporations hope to make a lot of money on Fridays. Let’s make Friday, Black Friday and boycott shopping, school, and work. You can afford the inconvenience of skipping school or work one day a week. Take Fridays off and see what it does to the economy that runs this shameless machine.

Organize teach-ins where people gather to talk and plan. Invite police chiefs and officers; invite the legislators; invite everyone to come and talk and most of all to listen. Creating a Black Friday walk out would put a bite into the protest. The corporations that run this machine would feel it where it hurts them most, in their pocketbooks, which could lead to them putting pressure on the legislators to make changes. Fridays become Black Friday, No Violence, No Participation, Active Non-Action.