The Social Movement & the Civic Moment

Photo from Faith Matters Network

Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner who left Colin Kapernick out to dry, just made a video where he apologized for his past silence and said the words, “Black Lives Matter.”

Jeff Bezos just said it too, and posted this response to an angry customer who didn’t like it: “‘Black lives matter’ doesn’t mean other lives don’t matter. Black lives matter speaks to racism and the disproportionate risk that Black people face in our law enforcement and justice system.”

Michael Jordan, who famously declared himself simply a basketball player and not an activist, just gave $100 million to racial justice organizations and wrote: “Black lives matter. This isn’t a controversial statement.”

I was thinking of all of these people during my recent conversation with the Reverend Jen Bailey, Founder of the Faith Matters Network and an alum of IFYC. None of these people were in the streets over the last ten years when Black Lives Matter was building. They weren’t even part of the conversation.

Neither, for that matter, was I.

A social movement did what a social movement does – it pointed out things most people didn’t want to see, it said things other people thought were too rude, it kept pushing, pushing, pushing for years (it’s not wrong to say decades, even centuries) until it WON!

We have very clearly entered a new phase. Black lives matter is no longer a controversial statement. Even the man who wouldn’t publicly get involved in an election against Jesse Helms, one of the most famous racists of the past fifty years because “Republicans buy shoes too”, recognizes that. So do people across the nation who generally want to do good but don’t really like controversy.

As I was expressing my contrition about my own reticence on the issue until quite recently, Jen referenced a model that’s deeply influenced her life: the ecosystem of social change model, created by lawyer/activist/author Deepa Iyer. The key insight is that there are many different roles in social change, from disrupter to healer to weaver.

Getting to a better world takes all types.

Jen’s key insight: The people in the Black Lives Matter movement who are doing the frontline responding and the disrupting did their work so well that they are changing the space entirely. Now it’s time for those of us who play other roles to honor their work by doing our work well.

Here’s another way of saying that: the vanguard of the social movement has created something of a civic moment. Social movements are very good at turning people out into the streets to say the current order is indefensible. People who lean towards the civic have a different temperament, and different skills. We share many of the goals of the disrupters and frontline responders but we are a little afraid of the divisiveness and controversy that comes with being on the vanguard of a social movement. We are leaders of schools and founders of nonprofits and directors of foundations. We are good at building programs, organizations and institutions. We know about staff management and strategic plans.

The slogans in the street – reform/defund the police, a quality education for all, access to health care for the many not just the few – we civic types can help with the institutions that make those ideas reality, this time towards a new order with racial justice at the center. 

Jen pointed out that she has personally cycled through a variety of the roles in the social change ecosystem over the past fifteen years. Back in 2011, she was much more of a disrupter.

“Remember?” she said, and I caught the twinkle in her eye over Zoom.

“How could I forget,” I responded. “You were disrupting the organization that I lead – while you were on staff and drawing a paycheck!”

That led to a good laugh.

Jen’s work as a disrupter lasted for some years, and then she cycled into the role of being a healer, helping develop a powerful new field called ‘movement chaplaincy’.

And now, at 32 and close to giving birth, she jokingly calls herself an ‘auntie’. In the lexicon of the social change ecosystem model, she’s a guide for many, especially young female activists.

She’s more a storyteller, a visionary, and a builder than a disrupter or a first responder. 

“I spend more time doing budgets for Faith Matters Network than I do going to protests,” she told a group of IFYC alum.

And later, she shared with me the wisdom behind that statement: “I recognize that it’s not my time to lead from the front. The young people in Generation Z are leading beautifully in this season. I see my evolving role as someone who can share what I know, help them get the material resources they need, and then get out of the way.”   

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.