Everyone seems to have an opinion on what the #BlackLivesMatter movement should be doing.
Republicans like Ben Carson says the movement is 'bullying people' and Bill O'Reilly says the group should fear his wrath. Hillary Clinton says they should be giving her more policy specifics. Columnists and opinion leaders wax philosophic about how Black Lives Matter should be more organized, grow up, get a PAC, or find a leader.
All of this advice is fine, but ultimately it's a bit disingenuous this early in the existence of the political movement. It's like your neighbor looking over the fence and telling you how to turn the meat on the grill when you haven't even lit the charcoal yet.
However, three mayor's elections today could tell this nation of Ned Flanders what political clout Black Lives Matter has at the local level one year into its existence. As any politician knows, that local influence is worth paying attention to.
Elections in Houston Texas, Philadelphia and Charleston South Carolina may not catch the attention of our ubiquitous presidential election, but these cities are ground zero for the problems highlighted and fought against by Black Lives Matter protesters.
If Black Lives Matter activists demonstrate an ability to influence local races, as much as they've influenced national dialogue this may signal the rise of one of the most powerful American protest movements in 40 years. Here's how BLM plays a role in these top three races.
Earlier this year six Philadelphia police officers were acquitted for running a corrupt anti-drug unit right out of the "Shield". Despite being accused of stealing money from drug dealers, abusing witnesses and brutality they were somehow all found not guilty. This court ruling basically validates the volumes about the complaints about long term brutality against black and brown people in the city by cops.
Progressive Philly Uprising, which associates itself with the Black Lives Matter movement, has hosted forums, and proposed policy to increase police transparency on civilian shootings. Further they've endorsed mayoral frontrunner Jim Kenny and several members of city council. PPU has a chance to show some influence if their endorsements swing the council.
While the city of Houston does not have a 'certified' Black Lives Matter chapter, The Black Lives Matter Texas Facebook group is taking an active role in the mayoral election as well as key policies the ballot on Tuesday. The group is offering free rides to the polls as well as Uber discounts for interested voters. At stake is crucial policy in America's fourth largest city as well as one of the nation's largest police forces. The mayor's race will likely be a runoff but the future of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (H.E.R.O.) which is a year old anti-discrimination bill is on the ballot.
Further, in the wake of a random police shooting in suburban Houston the new mayor will be responsible for making sure police and peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters remain civil. Considering recent reports about police misconduct and abuse this won't be an easy task for any incoming mayor.
In Charleston, we saw the brutal assassination of Reverend and State Senator Clementa Pinckney and eight of his flock this past summer. Now the city has a chance to select a mayor who can play a significant role as to whether that tragic event sparks policy change in the form of gun laws, security and prosecution or if it just becomes a bloody shirt for local leaders to show empathy.
The same applies to North Charleston, where right up the road the city has just paid out millions in the Walter Scott case and still faces questions about police conduct during their city election today.Black Lives Matter activists have tried to play a role in the upcoming election while still facing harassment and surveillance from the local police.
All Politics is Local (Influence)
One of the biggest lessons in the aftermath of the Mike Brown shooting was the importance of voting and voter registration. No one asked Sandra Bland if she was registered before she mysteriously died in prison in Texas. No one checked Freddie Gray for an 'I voted' sticker before he was taken on a 'rough ride' that cost him his life.
However, it was the registered voters who voted for local mayors, sheriffs and city council people who eventually determine whether or not the abuses these individuals faced would be properly addressed or ignored for the sake of racism and political expediency.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been credited with getting criminal justice legislation passed in 27 states, and it has certainly changed how both Republican and Democratic presidential candidates have spoken over the last year.
Now we will see if that influence can come into play with shifting elections at the local level, where some of the most serious abuses can be addressed directly. We'll all know after tonight's election results come in, but as of right now, here's hoping they get that grill hot and cooking so that the rest of the nation's criminal justice armchair quarterbacks are wrong and can take a stadium full of seats.