By Priscilla Ocen & Khaled A. Beydoun
In the spring of 2010, we witnessed massive protests in the Arab World. The people of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya had enough; they had enough of the violence propagated by the state, of the political and economic marginalization that characterized their existence for generations and they had enough of the unaccountable governmental agencies that inflicted harm with seeming impunity. The protests were driven by social media, the energy of the youth and people who were willing to use their bodies to disrupt the status quo. We were transfixed as images of these protests, dubbed the “Arab Spring,” flooded the airwaves in the United States and across the world.
The description of the Arab Spring could just as easily apply to the mobilizations in the United States, in Ferguson, in New York and now in Baltimore. The similarities between these movements have not escaped the notice of many activists in the United States, as they see the connections between the conditions they confront in poor Black neighborhoods, the eruption of protests in American cities, and the resistance efforts of peoples in the Arab World. For these activists, the protest movements in places like Baltimore signal the rise of a “Black Spring,” a kindred movement spurred by many of the same structural symptoms and subhuman conditions that ignited the popular protests in the Arab World.
Some may suggest that this comparison is unwise or hyperbolic; that the people in the Arab World were protesting autocratic systems that ruled by force rather than by the consent of the governed not the acts of members of law enforcement agencies established in the context of a representative system of government. Certainly, there are important distinctions. Yet the symptomatic and structural similarities between the Arab Spring and the newly dubbed Black Spring are striking. First, disenfranchised youth and young adults are at the forefront. Second, state policing strategy that links specific demographics to crime – or more broadly, security threat – is the target of popular resistance. Third, and perhaps most saliently, both have the archetypes, rallying cries, and social media savvy that not only galvanizes people for immediate action, but also long-term and sustainable movement building.