On Saturday, April 11, 2015, a dozen Black Lives Matter demonstrators marched in Philadelphia for the “Unite the People, Unite the States: March to Victory.” We dozen demonstrators gathered at the Macy’s parking lot on Cottman Avenue, the location of an earlier protest on January 31, held for the black victim Brandon Tate Brown. We then marched in the street to the Police Station half-a-dozen blocks away. At first we locked arms with one another, but after a few minutes we separated arms and led the regular chants: “No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police” “Whose Streets, Our Streets” and “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” Out of the dozen demonstrators, I was one of only two white persons, the other ten being black. Roughly three dozen police officers patrolled the march, with a good dozen riding bikes to our left and right, actually making our size look slightly bigger than it was.
The main organizer of the event, a dark-skinned man wearing a suit in his mid-30s or 40s, had good relations with police, talking with them before, during and after the parade. The organizer had been to the previous demonstration in January, and was well-spoken and seemed genuinely concerned about the relations with officers and demonstrators. The flier for the demonstration emphasized the need for the two sides to work together: “The People Are Feed Up With Police Abuse of Powers & Corruption/The Police Are Tired Of The People Not Trusting Them/Both Agree Change Needs To Come /IT’S Time To Stop Hating Each Other & Stand Up For Change.”
Thus it was friendly between officers and protestors during the march, although it felt awkward chanting the “Racist Police” slogan while they tripled our numbers and were only a few feet from us. Nevertheless the organizer gave a moving speech at the police station, which more police listened to than demonstrators. He called for local people and police to work together to solve problems, especially in poor and black communities. He didn’t neglect to mention the killing of Brandon Tate Brown, emphasizing that there were bad police officers who committed that crime, but there were other good cops who weren’t involved.
Out of the dozen demonstrators, only two of us brought signs. The other sign was small and I never read it. As for mine, it was on a large, white poster board, reading in different colors: “Legalize Cannabis/Black Lives Matter/15 Now/Full Employment.” Had I not brought this, then the thousands of cars backed up in traffic would have had nothing to read to find out what this event was for. Since there were no newspapers or pictures being published about the action, I felt my sign at least made the event worthwhile. At the Macy’s parking lot after the rally, one of the higher ranked black officers, who was wearing a black coat with an armband, came up to me and made a remark about my sign: “I couldn’t help but read your sign during the march, and it seems to cover an entire ‘smorgasbord’ of causes.” He said this in a friendly manner with a smile, but since I was exhausted from chanting the entire walk and had nothing to eat or drink all day, I merely replied: “I did my best to cover everything important to me.” He responded by patting me on back and wishing me a happy weekend.
The reason for the small turnout was because the organizer went against every basic requirement for organizers today. First, he didn’t contact any newspapers, resulting in the demonstration becoming unknown to the public the second it ended. Second, and most importantly, he didn’t make a Facebook event page, which to me is the worst thing any organizer can do. Creating a Facebook event page is my Golden Rule as an organizer, and anyone who doesn’t create one should expect no one to turn out. Facebook event pages achieve numerous things a paper flier cannot: reaches hundreds and thousands of strangers online without any additional work; allows anyone with questions or comments to post on the page, answering needed questions and forms a community spirit that excites people for the event; provides MapQuest directions with one simple click at the top of the page (and organizers will still receive a hundred questions on the page about where the event is); roughly indicates how many people will attend the event (the larger this number the more likely it is for more people to attend); provides a meaningful summary of why this is being organized and by whom; and in general gives a daily update about the event for everyone to read.
On this subject there seems to be a slight generational conflict. All young organizers seem to automatically accept the need for a Facebook page, since their activism has been most likely reliant on such pages already. A rough line in the sand for this generational gap can be people above the age of 40 – those who are new to social networking and are unaware how to organize effectively through it. Let me be clear that only a minority of older people fail to use event pages. Most do, or at least work with young people in the same organization who are responsible for making the event page. But it’s a significant phenomenon, and anyone who doesn’t use event pages will not remain on the cutting edge of the movement for much longer.
The two smallest Black Lives Matter demonstrations I ever attended were organized without Facebook. The first is the event this article is dedicated to, which I only learned about because Captain Ray Lewis reposted the event, although I didn’t see it posted anywhere else. The second was the Bridgeton protest on February 3, organized by my older friend who is in his 40s. Only 50 persons attended the Bridgeton rally, and they were the same type of people who attended the April 11 rally – older community members, most of whom were black and seemed to be grandparents. These older people more likely learned about the demonstration at some meeting in their area, or had a membership for the organization putting the event together. Either way, without a Facebook event page, neither event should have expected many people to attend.
The organizer for the Bridgeton rally made a simple mistake that others his age seem likely to do – he posted events on a “Community” page, not an “Event” page. Relying on community pages fails in the following ways: 1) Only those who follow the page will learn about the event (unlike event pages that have links on the side of other event pages in the same general area). 2) Even those who follow the community page will not automatically see the flier posted on the page, because most activists follow numerous community pages and can easily go a long time before realizing certain posts on each one. 3) Organizers of the event must rely completely on others sharing a flier online. Very few people will share the flier in comparison to the number of people who will “share” the event page with their friends. The list goes on and on, but in short: while several dozen may respond to a community page; on average several thousand invites are sent out for event pages.