Friday, July 26, 2013

Weak Ties and the Trayvon Martin Movement

In the book "The Power of Habit", author Charles Duhigg says, " A movement starts because of the social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances.
It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together.
And it endures because a movement's leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership."

In February 2012, George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin dead with a bullet through the heart, and many people in the U.S., particularly those in the black community, became enraged because a 17 year old black boy, carrying an Iced Tea and a bag of skittles, was dead, shot by a white man with a gun who pursued him while he was on his way home. The Sanford, Florida Police department did nothing to arrest Mr. Zimmerman. They claimed he acted in self defense although Trayvon Martin was unarmed. 

Hence protests in the form of non-violent activism broke out across many states in America, not just in Florida, with protesters speaking out against the Stand Your Ground law and the need for the Florida Sanford Police department to arrest George Zimmerman and bring him to trial.  In June, 2013 (according to Martin Hodgson of Australia in the article Trayvon and License to Kill) ; for,14 days, 56 witnesses, 2010 pieces of evidence and 6,720 minutes of trial, the George Zimmerman case was tried in the courts.  I watched too, not every minute, but intently so, as the character of Trayvon Martin was tried, stabbed at and he was killed all over again; while a nation watched and shook its head as the aggressor, the perpetrator, the adult in the room was said to be the one who believed HIS life was in danger, and therefore cried, yelled for help and "rightly" KILLED to defend himself because HE thought THAT HE was going to die!  Anyone who watched the case, Mr. Hodgson in Australia, myself here in Bermuda and I'm certain many others in varying parts of the world and of course countless concerned citizens, black and white, in America who deliberately followed this case; many felt, once again, that this was a case gone terribly awry!

At the briefing, after the verdict was read, I remember watching the interview with defense lawyer Mark O'Mara when he stated,  "On the civil aspect, if someone believes it is appropriate to sue George Zimmerman, we will seek and we will get immunity...and we'll see just how many civil lawsuits is spurn from this fiasco. " I suspect  lawyers had similar attitudes toward Rosa Parks who would not give up her seat on the bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King who did not succumb to the fear, hatred and violence of those who refused to believe that blacks should have equal rights and be treated with equal dignity and respect during the Civil Rights Movement. What Mr. O'Mara fails to realize (perhaps) is that the  unstoppable civil rights movement of the 60's  (as expressed in Power of Habit) was spurn out of the strength of weak ties.  My take is that it is these same weak ties, since the George Zimmerman verdict, that are now connecting many Americans and bringing them to the brink of proclaiming enough is enough!

The strength of weak ties is the social network theory of American sociologist Mark Granovetter who argued  that it is weak ties, not strong ties, that build bridges and spur social movements.  The peaceful marches led by Reverend Al throughout many American cities, the sit-in of the "Dreamers" at Mayor Rick Scott's office in Florida, the commentaries of  the T.V. anchors supporting and encouraging (on most stations) a healthy discussion on race in America; and,politicians to the left and to the right and actors from Hollywood, are all steadily weighing in on this tragedy and speaking up about it.  Then there are  the words of the President of the United States of America, who happens to be black , talking out about his own personal experiences and about racism and racial profiling in America and the marginalization of black males. All of these actions suggest a surge, a movement  where the strength of weak ties are taking root and an activist movement is making its case for how and why it needs to be.

Maybe my thinking as an activist is enthusiastically oversimplified.  Or maybe it is not.  It is still too early to tell.  But what I do know, each time I turn on the T.V. or check my twitter page, read the newspaper or see reactions to the verdict in our own Royal Gazette here in Bermuda, I am inspired by the development and integration of a convergent force of energy around a common cause, a common aim  - justice for Trayvon Martin and the many other black and brown boys and men who have been treated unjustly, profiled or killed in America (or any place else for that matter) simply because they are black!

So when Mark O'Mara talks about immunity for his client, I smile.  True justice is more than just facts that are permissible in a court of law.  Real freedom is borne out of the procilvity for true justice, true peace.The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., the fight against Apartheid in South Africa; the Theatre Boycott in Bermuda or a nation's response to the George Zimmerman verdict and the senseless killing of a young black youth armed with skittles, are all motivated by the strength of  those weak ties, that have caused a movement  ( in this case) to rise up for Justice for Trayvon Martin!  A movement that will leave a legacy for this young man beyond the image of a hoodie, a movement that will change American, the world and the Civil Rights Movement, for good, for ever more.

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