Stacey Abrams and Black Lives Matter have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Both were unexpected, nontraditional choices. But only one deserves to win.
If the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, it is possible that his movement would look a lot like BLM and the person sharing the spotlight would be Abrams.
Both in their unique ways have taken on the most important aspects of King’s work — voting rights and social justice. They stepped up to finish the slain civil rights leader’s unfinished business at a time when America needed them most.
King held on to his movement with a steady grip, refusing to allow anyone to disrupt his mission and co-opt his message. Black Lives Matter has been too loose with its power, though the organization has done much good.
Abrams, however, created a concise blueprint for voter empowerment that is both successful and unwavering in its charge. Just as King did, she has challenged us to trust ourselves to bring about change through fierce, nonviolent determination.
Lars Haltbrekken, the Socialist Left Party member of Norway’s parliament who nominated her, said in a statement, “Abrams’ work follows in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s footsteps in the fight for equality before the law and for civil rights.”
Abrams recognizes, as King did, that there can be no equality in America until all citizens are allowed to freely exercise their right to vote. Voting allows people to chart their own destiny, and it is the key to a future full of hope and prosperity.
There are many competitors for the 2021 prize, some of them deserving, some not. They range from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Conservatives hailed former White House adviser Jared Kushner’s nomination.
Being nominated, however, is fairly easy. Winning the prize that has been awarded to former U.S. presidents, as well as leaders such as King, the Dalai Lama and South Africa’s anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, is tougher. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, based in Oslo, will announce finalists in March.
There are many reasons Abrams should be among them.
When we think of civil rights activists, our minds go back 60 years. We envision women dressed in heels and men wearing suits being beaten with police billy clubs and shoved to the ground by the force of a water hose.
We think of a man at the helm, speaking eloquently to masses of people. We think of marches through racially divided cities, with people standing arm in arm singing old-time spirituals.
That’s not the America we live in today. And activism isn’t the same, either. It is more vibrant and, sometimes, more combative. Men are not always at the helm. Often, women are the big thinkers, the organizers and the fuel behind the movement.
Abrams’ name has become synonymous with voting rights, having organized a movement in Georgia that drew enough people to the polls in November to turn a red state blue and later elect two Democratic senators.
Her organization, Fair Fight Action, provided a road map for combating voter disenfranchisement by working within the system. It is an updated version of the plan King executed to combat Jim Crow laws that required Black Americans to go to extraordinary lengths vote.
The literacy tests and “grandfather clauses” that made descendants of slaves ineligible to vote are no longer used. They have been replaced with tough voter identification requirements, voter roll purges and poorly equipped polling places.
Abrams proved that such things couldn’t stop determined people from exercising their constitutional right. She empowered voters to break through the barriers with a force some of them weren’t even aware they had.
She proved that it is possible to both fight against unjust laws and work around them simultaneously. She showed America the power of united minority voices and revealed why opponents are fighting so hard to silence them.
If Abrams is the modern-day King, then Black Lives Matter is the rebirth of his civil rights movement. As the quintessential social justice movement of the 21st century, it deserves praise too.
BLM has raised America’s consciousness and sought to hold the nation accountable for long-standing racial inequities with regard to police violence against people of color.
Three women, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, founded BLM in 2013, to make a political statement after George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon Martin.
In less than a decade, it has become a monumental movement, in many ways as popular — and as unpopular — as King’s. And it is as much necessary today as King’s was decades ago.
The year 2020 opened Americans’ eyes to many issues that some didn’t know existed or refused to see. George Floyd, who died with a police officer’s knee pressed to his neck, proved just how little value Black lives have to law enforcement.
His death forced us to confront one of the most blatant injustices Black people face — the systemic killing of Black Americans in the name of law and order.
It pointed to the savagery of law enforcement when it comes to keeping that order, and it revealed how inhumane officers can be in order to keep Black Americans in their place.
Black Lives Matter gave Americans who were troubled by what they saw a place to belong, a cause that everyone could stand behind. It provided a slogan we could place on our cars that not only expressed our frustration but also made a statement to the world about where we stood on the issue of police brutality.
BLM, however, could have learned some lessons from King. He controlled his movement with a fierce hand. Though many sought to derail his nonviolent message, he never allowed them in the forefront, let alone take over the message.
In its zeal to support the development of new Black leaders, BLM allowed chapters to operate independently across the country. That has been its greatest failure.
People with no vested interest in promoting the BLM ideology of empowering Black Americans to determine their destinies used the organization for their own gain. Anyone could put on a BLM T-shirt and hold a rally that often led to violence. With such little organizational structure, looters and other agitators pushed the organization too far away from King’s values.
It lost its identity and became not the Black liberating force it initially set out to be, but instead an undefined acronym for anything anyone decided it should be.
That should disqualify BLM from winning the Nobel Peace Prize, at least for now.