Today two of the themes that I continue to raise in social media and in circles of scholars and friends became even more evident: a social movement cannot be successful without leverage, and sometimes the creation of leverage requires collaboration.
Earlier today The University of Missouri’s system’s president, Tim Wolfe, resigned his post due to accusations of racial insensitivity pertaining to issues on and around Mizzou’s campus. This accomplishment should be taken as a step in the right direction, and the students (and cooperative faculty and staff) on Mizzou’s campus should be very proud of their work.
But social movement scholars and black activists alike should clearly see two very important elements of this movement that is often lacking in many of the recent attempts for social change that people (especially people of color) make.
- The students organizing at Mizzou made a clear demand that could realistically be met. Calling for the president’s job was lofty, but obviously achievable, even if no one saw today’s announcement coming (especially not this quickly). The president’s resignation did not, by itself, fix any issues. However, the next president at Mizzou will have to demonstrate, among other things, that they are willing to work in the best interest of black students.
- The students at Mizzou were able to actually create leverage by getting the university’s football team involved; this includes non-black student-athletes. With the understanding that football activities would grind to a halt until Wolfe was out of office created a real threat to Mizzou, resulting in swift and strong action. CNN reported that Mizzou was going to lose $1M this weekend alone if the football team did not play.
Too often, a movement’s leadership creates an unwinnable situation by not clearly asking for some direct outcome, or, goes through great lengths like spending a year in the park while asking for the dismantling of the US government. Requests are often either too much or not enough–and usually come from groups with no leverage which creates no incentive for the power structure to acquiesce. Black social movements especially tend to reject support from non-blacks, and as a result miss out on opportunities to create or borrow leverage.
That said, we should not–even for one minute–see Wolfe’s firing as an act of sympathy toward the black community. Instead, it is a big business sacrificing a figure head in order to protect its investment. Without football, especially in the SEC, and without the ability to widely recruit football players going forward, coupled with the threat of the reduction of alumni support, Mizzou would have suffered greatly.
Once again . . .