People protesting near a traffic light at night. A person holds a sign that reads "Black Lives Matter."

Building on a Decade of the Black Lives Matter Movement

On August 9, 2014, the murder of Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked days of nationwide protests, especially after police in “black helmets and body armor sitting on top of armored personnel carriers” attacked residents (USA Today). Just over a year earlier, George Zimmerman was acquitted of the “vigilante” killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida (New York). Zimmerman’s acquittal and Brown’s murder sparked a decentralized global movement: Black Lives Matter. In 2020, people in 40 countries participated in Black Lives Matter protests (NBC News), including an estimated 15 to 25 million people in the United States (NYTimes). Today, the movement has existed for over a decade. What has been the impact Black Lives Matter movement?


Demand amnesty for incarcerated Black Lives Matter protesters and political prisoners.

• Support Community Movement Builders and the fight to Stop Cop City.

• Consider: how did the 2020 protests change your understanding of yourself and the society you live in? What was your role in the protest movement? What roles could you play in a future one? 

Black Lives Matter is a hashtag, a movement, and a diverse group of organizations sharing the name. In the broadest sense, it’s everyone who took action in support of the movement, including many readers of The ARD. Black Lives Matter protesters responded to ongoing state violence against Black people with calls to “‘Defund the Police,’ change police hiring and disciplinary procedures, and seek racial justice ‘by all means necessary’” (UC Press Blog). In the two years after Brown’s murder, there were massive Black Lives Matter protests against the murders of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and Freddie Gray (Britannica). But there were comparatively few mobilizations in the first years of the Trump administration. By early 2020, you’d be forgiven for thinking that any results of the Black Lives Matter movement must have already been achieved. 

Of course, that all changed with the George Floyd Rebellion, the largest social movement in U.S. history (NYTimes). The movement has now subsided once again. On the one hand, the Black Live Matter movement was a reminder that protest and rebellion work. In 2020, political and corporate leaders didn’t fall over themselves—sincerely or not—to tout reforms because they finally understood the humanity of Black people or read a convincing academic study on the structural causes of racial inequality. They acted because they feared a mass movement holding them accountable. The prosecution of Floyd’s killers, the recognition of Juneteenth, the removal of Confederate statues, an overdue national conversation about race (The Hill): the reforms elites offered weren’t enough, but we wouldn’t have gotten them at all without a truly confrontational protest movement. 

Like Frederick Douglass said at an earlier phase of the Black freedom struggle: 

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will” (Black Past).

“Virginia was never nearer emancipation than when General [Nat] Turner kindled the fires of insurrection at Southampton,” Douglass continued. The abolition of white supremacy’s contemporary manifestations was never nearer than when activists, artists, youth, community leaders, and everyday people were kindling the metaphorical—and literal—fires of insurrection in 2020. 

We should also be clear that every reform short of abolition is offered as a way to put those fires out. It is historically unprecedented that Derek Chauvin was convicted for murdering George Floyd. But the demand wasn’t just for Chauvin’s conviction: it was for the transformation or abolition of a system that made his actions all too common. That system sacrificed Chauvin to save itself. Civilian review boards, “less-lethal weapons,” officer-worn body cameras, and Democratic candidates have all been promoted as the silver bullet that will end police murders and racism. None have worked (The Progressive). 

According to criminal justice expert Dr. Jody Armour:

“We now know that technological tweaks like a camera can’t prevent the loss of innocent life or prevent violent encounters with police . . . we need to reduce the footprint of law enforcement in communities, not just document it” (Mel Magazine). 

That’s a lesson we can take with us to the next phase of the movement. Like in the late 2010s, we now talk about Black Lives Matter protests in the past tense. But given the unreformed U.S. political system and white supremacy, we can predict that there will be more uprisings in our future. When they arrive, we should remember that uprisings work and that disempowering, not tweaking, oppressive institutions is the goal. In the meantime, we can support organizations on the ground that are making it possible to continue this work and support future movements. That includes groups supporting those still incarcerated from Black Lives Matter protests and resisting efforts to expand police power, like the struggle to Stop Cop City. The best way to prepare for a future mass protest movement is to join a grassroots organization fighting for social justice in your community today. Though the Black Lives Matter movement has not yet achieved its ultimate goal of eradicating white supremacy and state violence, the past decade has shown the necessity of coming together to fight oppression. 


• August 9 is the anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder, and 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

• Black Lives Matter is a diverse, decentralized movement of different groups and individuals. 

• Though the ultimate goal must be abolishing oppressive systems, even meaningful reforms can’t be won without massive oppositional protests. 

1200 800 Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee

Andrew Lee is a writer and organizer plotting a better world in Philadelphia. His work has previously appeared in Notes From Below, Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Plan A Magazine, ROAR Magazine, and Teen Vogue.

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