October 16, 2015, by Michael Jennings
The October Dialogues 2015: Britain’s first conference on the Black Lives Matter movement
Hannah-Rose Murray is a PhD student in the Department of American and Canadian Studies. She is a research associate with the Centre for Research in Race and Rights, and a co-convener of the October Dialogues 2015. Her PhD focuses on transatlantic abolitionism and African American resistance against racism in nineteenth century Britain.
For Black History Month in October 2015, the Centre for Research in Race and Rights’ annual ‘October Dialogues’ will explore the Black Lives Matter movement in Britain and the USA. It marks the 50th anniversary of the UK Race Relations Act and the American Civil Rights Movement, and this year’s October Dialogues theme focuses discussion and performances on ‘Black Lives Matter: the past, present and future of an international movement for rights and justice’. The conference is on Wednesday 28 October, 9.30am-9pm at the Nottingham Contemporary: blacklivesmatter.eventbrite.co.uk
Organised in collaboration with Bright Ideas Nottingham, the Monitoring Group, and Nottingham Contemporary, and supported by the British Academy, this is Britain’s first conference about the Black Lives Matter movement and involves international activists, scholars, artists, poets and members of the local community. It will also include an evening of hip-hop performance featuring the celebrated artist Akala, and keynote talks by activist-scholars Dr Monica Miller and Dr James Peterson, who will travel from Lehigh University, USA, an international partner campus for the University of Nottingham.
The day will begin with a spoken-word performance and an introduction by the conference organisers. Panels throughout the day will focus on transatlantic and international protest movements; the role, legacy and future of black feminism; police brutality and the heritage of the Black Panther movement; and grassroots activism, segregation and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. These panels will explore the origins and possible futures of #BlackLivesMatter: is it a movement or a moment? A transatlantic or an American phenomenon? How does it operate on local, regional, national or international levels? Is it a new civil rights movement, a new Black Power movement or a new black feminism? What is its protest heritage – does it draw from the lessons, tactics and legacies of anti-slavery, anti-lynching, the Black Panthers, anti-racism, anti-apartheid, or Occupy? The conference will also include a ‘manifestos workshop’, where participants will analyse and in some cases appropriate the strategies of past and present protest movements to create a modern manifesto for #BlackLivesMatterUK. What lessons can we learn from the past, what mistakes can we avoid, and how can we ensure the Black Lives Matter movement achieves long-lasting change in Britain, the USA and worldwide?
There have been over 1,000 Black Lives Matter protests worldwide in the last two years and mobilisations in at least 10 UK cities. There are now 30 Black Lives Matter chapters across the United States. The movement responds to the oppression, violence and exclusion that shapes black lives: in the US, 42% of black children are educated in high-poverty schools, black Americans are 37% of the country’s homeless population, constitute nearly half of the 2 million jail population, and are 26% of those killed by police (though are 13% of the population). In the UK, black children are more than twice as likely as white children to be living in poverty, black people are six times as likely as whites to be stopped and searched, are more likely to go to jail when convicted of similar crimes and will serve longer sentences, are twice as likely to be not in employment, education or training, and are more likely to be forcibly restrained when held under mental health legislation. The rallying call of “I Can’t Breathe” evokes the suffocating daily reality of all these statistics.
The Black Lives Matter movement is global in scope and demands equality and justice, especially in response to police brutality. Nottingham has played an important part in these protests; for example, shortly before Christmas in 2014 a Nottingham collective of around 150 people protested the death of black men and women at the hands of police on one of the busiest days of the year in Victoria Shopping Centre. Protestors wore T-shirts and carried banners that read “I Can’t Breathe”, “Black Lives Matter” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” The October Dialogues will not only draw from this local black community protest but also analyse the efficacy of grassroots activism in British and American cities. The deaths of Tamir Rice, Trayyon Martin, and Eric Garner in America and Mark Duggan, Sean Rigg and Stephen Lawrence in Britain testify to the urgent need for a discussion on racism and police brutality from local and international activists, scholars and members of the community; as well as a plan of action for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement.