Black Lives Matter in Brighton

On 13 June 15,000 people took to the streets of Brighton in peaceful protest for the Black Lives Matter movement, but that must only be the beginning, comments protest organisers, Brighton BLM.

How did the Brighton BLM team come together?

As one of the organisers I made the Instagram profile for Brighton BLM and at the same time I received messages from a number of people – who didn’t know I had set up the account – saying that they had the idea of organising a protest in Brighton and would I be interested in helping on it. It seemed so crazy because I had the idea myself and was just about to search out people to do it with me, it was a very simultaneous, natural idea all coming together. I believe that things happen for a reason, and that was the case here, this collective team of young people was brought together for a reason, to bring a vision to life and in such a successful way. We didn’t anticipate that what we created would end up being so large. We thought that only a few hundred people would turn up and it turned out that over 15,000 did.

It is so inspirational and we are all filled with so much honour at having this responsibility. As a young person you wouldn’t think that you could bring this to Brighton, a big city where people come to go on holidays, I wouldn’t have thought that a young person would have been able to do this, but clearly age has no limits.

How important do you feel these localised movements are within the wider cause?

Often with these movements people will go up to somewhere like London for a big central protest, whereas having a number of localised protests can help mobilise people that may not have taken part before. I think there was an issue with people sitting behind their phone screens and reposting things thinking ‘yeah I support this’ but there is a real difference between posting something then going back to your daily life and actually being a real ally. Ally is a verb, it means you have to do something. That doesn’t necessarily mean going to the protest – It can be donating to pages, supporting independent black businesses – but it does mean showing real support, it is more than just posting online and leaving it.

I think that it was important to set this up as a collective team as it allows us to show that Brighton does care about this issue, which has been going on for 450 years, and it is finally time for us to take a stand, take to the streets and show our support together.

I feel that it is all the more special because it is such an unsettling time. Who would have thought that in a global pandemic all of us would have come together to show support and take this battle into our own hands? It is so important and we as a team are so honoured to have brought this together in Brighton and mobilised people.

Black Lives Matter is a huge umbrella for all inequalities faced in society and, by us saying this, we are not stratifying people but striving closer to unity and equity. By saying “Black Lives Matter”, we are not excluding any other voices that experience discrimination in contemporary society. It is imperative that, as a black-led movement, this is achieved and that this message is established because otherwise, we have no real motive, but rather merely achieving the opposite: more divisions, shadows and injustices in society. The most marginalised voice, being black people, are arising to provoke change for everyone; a pro-black movement, not anti-white.

Young people have been the key drivers behind many of these events, how important do you feel this has been?

I feel that we as young people are digital natives, we have grown up with social media and know it like the backs of our hands. It is such an advantage for us to be able to utilise these platforms to bring a movement together and I feel that this has been the case for some time. The original Black Lives Matter in the US I believe came together through twitter, so it is something that has been used to our advantage.

I feel that young people especially have been able to do this because I think that they are able to see through the ideological barrier of ‘everybody is equal’ especially in somewhere like Brighton where it is so liberal. They have been able to step forward and say that it is not the case. They have been able to not just mobilise other young people but people of all ages, including those who have restrictions such as family commitments and jobs, which we fully understand.

Being an organiser but also being a participant on an equal level, this mobilisation of all demographics is just as important, regardless of the age somebody set up the event, but if it is set up and nobody comes that you’ve kind of set up nothing, accomplished nothing.

When you have people of all ages, identities, creeds and colours coming together it really shows the support: both in solidarity with America, but also to highlight the fact that the UK is not innocent,  we need to reconstruct the society that we live in and it’s institutions. If we can come together, regardless of age, I just think that it is so special, it is so unique but I think that young people have an advantage at this stage because they don’t have the restrictions that you might have when you are older.

Do you feel the protest was a success in these terms?

I would say we reached a wide range of people, for sure. Setting up was very hard, very stressful, I think we did it all in two weeks and obviously from evaluating it there are things we need to put in place to make it safer, but for a first time round, having never organised anything like this before, we’ve accomplished something that we never thought we actually could. We have received so much support through social media from those that are experienced, those that can offer help and that has been an advantage of bringing this together in that way. 

I am so lost for words, looking back to see that this all actually happened, that it is no longer a dream, to see that we can make this happen and reach such a wide range of people to support the most marginalised voice in society.

Do you hope these events can inspire others, to show that they too can speak up and be successful in doing so?

I believe so. If a team of young people has been able to touch all demographics, it shows that personal constraints can be overcome, that people can speak out and use their voices. Not everyone can put on a protest, but it’s also having a conversation with a workmate or family members that may have views that are considered prejudice, it is speaking up about any inequality.

I think that a protest is great in that it brings so much unity, but it allows people to make changes in their everyday life, which is really how a revolution can take place. It starts from changing the minds of people, it starts in making changes in your workplace, your home and with the people in these spaces. I think it is able to bring changes, not just in a one-off sense of going to a protest every month, but being able to keep the momentum in everyday life, both in the small and the big things, which is just as impactful.

Is this why it is so important for people to educate themselves?

A protest is great in the sense that it brings people together but once they leave that space where they did the chants, made the sign, went to the streets, it is critical that it is not just reduced to a trend. The mass incarceration and mass oppression of black people is not a trend, it is slavery at its finest, and that was supposed to have been abolished hundreds of years ago. Clearly that is not the case. 

The protests can bring people to see that they need to educate themselves, there is so much more than just going to a protest and thinking “yay, done it, I went to the protest and will look out for more”. It is not just about that, it is about making changes in your everyday life and the relationships that you have with people and even going back and having a look at yourself and what you can do to make change. For example, a teacher you could go to the class room and make a lesson to decolonise the education system, or talk to those in higher positions than your own and say ‘well actually change needs to be made’ not just for black people, but any ethnic or oppressed group, LGBTQ+ for example.

These changes are about having a look at yourself and asking “from my position of power, my position of privilege how can I utilise this to amplify the voices that are left in the shadows”.

A movement can spark changes like this, but it is up to the individual to take that responsibility and make changes in their own lives and in those of others.

The BLM movement may have started in America, but how important is it for these events to highlight the issues that are still so prevalent here in the UK?

Speaking to radio stations we have been asked questions as to why we are putting these protests on when we’re not in America, and yes clearly we are not, but we can protest to stand in solidarity with this cause whilst also highlighting the issues that the UK itself has and how these can be improved.

Some areas in the UK are ranked among the poorest in the western world, and whilst people are perhaps not being shot in the street as much as they are in the USA, in policing, in law, in big companies there is clear systemic racism. It is about seeing that the UK is not innocent in that respect. Yes it may be liberal in some senses, and more accepting, but at the same time it is about looking to see how can we make it as close to justice, to equity as possible, and it is a fact that the UK is not at that standard.

This is a peaceful thing. I think people sometimes see a protest and think of it as something that is only going to cause more issues, which this is not. These were and will continue to be peaceful protests and even if you look at those in the US that in some instances weren’t as peaceful, the focus should be on the reasons why these people turned to looting for example, what were the systems behind it? Are these working class people with no secure income, especially with the loss of jobs from Covid-19 and they are only looking to feed their family? The focus should be on what structures and institutions have led to this action, not just the single action itself. 

It is about moving forward to create that vision, so that people of all colours and all identities feel safe walking down the street, so that they feel comfortable in a workplace, or go into a place of worship, that they don’t feel judged for their colour, sexuality or gender.

It shouldn’t be that we have certain organisations or certain charities looking to create that, it should be that the original world is one of equality and equity. Until that is reached we need to keep fighting and keep this momentum going so that we can provoke that change.”

What do you feel the next steps are to keep this momentum going?

“We hope to keep the protests going, but at the same time the revolution is taking place within individuals and the people that they are associated with. Because yes you might have many people going to a protest, but some of the attendees could be prejudiced, they could be Islamophobic or homophobic, or discriminatory to anyone that isn’t a middle class straight white male.

So it is about making the changes on all scales, in all institutions and that starts with personal relationships. This can be with family, friends, colleagues, anyone you interact with, it is calling these people up on their behaviours and not being complicit in this. It has to become an everyday thing, it is not about only fighting it when it is convenient for you.

I think that the issue is that people have seen the killing of George Flloyd and thought ‘this is my opportunity to say something’ but that should always be the case, this should be kept up at all points. 

It should be that, for example, six months time, if these physical protests have stopped, people are still uplifting the voices of the oppressed, they are still having the right conversations,they are still donating and actively seeking to make changes every day. 

The change has to take hold within a person so that they are always checking themselves and their actions, their language, and challenging prejudice every single time they encounter it, opening up conversations with those that have different viewpoints, challenging their views and seeking to educate not just condemn.

The change has to take hold in every person. Protests can spur changes in pieces of legislation, and in structures, but if the people rising up to take positions of power are unchanged, they are still racist people then what’s the point?

It is about changing individuals in society so that their approaches to institutions and their everyday life are driven by promoting equality for everybody.

Do you feel this movement is a seminal moment?

I would say so. Protests like these have been happening throughout the years, but I feel like because this is on such a global scale, all 50 American states are protesting which is a first I believe, changes are being made. However, it is important to realise that at the same time those that want to maintain their positions of power are still trying to put things in place to oppress people, which has been a response to change all throughout history and that is why it needs to keep going.

I think the difference this time is that people have come together at such an unsettling time, at a time when there was so much risk in place and they still wanted to fight for the cause, to put all the precautions in place so that it would be possible. I think it has shown people that they can still make a change, even when we are all supposed to be locked at home, that everyone has come together any way they can to provoke change and not stop.

These protests can be crucial to momentum because it can stop people from getting tired, even though they shouldn’t be. These issues affect people’s everyday lives, it’s about showing people that you can’t be tired of something you don’t endure. People have been facing these issues for 450 years, how do you think they have felt?

It is keeping people mobilised and highlighting not just Black Lives Matter, but all issues of oppression across the globe. We are seeing increased recognition of some of these things, such as the current crisis in Yemen, and a general increased awareness, which is allowing people to actively reflect on their own position within this and what power they have for change.

Does this change start with people being willing to ask themselves questions they may think of as uncomfortable?

If people are uncomfortable with asking themselves where they exist in systems of oppression then they need to think about the people suffering from it. We should disrupt the idea that talking about racial issues is ‘uncomfortable’ at all because these are things that impact people’s lives. Instead of talking about what a celebrity did last week, talk about Grenfell Tower, which justice has still not been delivered on. If people are unsure of what to do they should seek to talk with people and discuss as a collective how you can make a change. It shouldn’t be uncomfortable, I don’t even like that term, these discussions should be something that happens regularly in everyday life.

Unless these conversations happen, the institutions, the things that are enslaving and oppressing people are going to stay the same. Confronting these issues and confronting people on these issues should be everyday life, not just something done when it is convenient.