Key organizers of the wave of recent protests over police treatment of African Americans lashed out at Oprah Winfrey Friday over comments she made to People magazine criticizing their movement as “leaderless.”
Her remarks came during an interview promoting “Selma,” the film she produced about the 1965 protests in Alabama over voting rights for African Americans. Her critique, and the reaction to it, underscored the rift that has opened between older black trailblazers and a younger crop of black activists since the police killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City.
The sentiment provoked outrage from protest organizers, most of whom are young and who have purposefully embraced a diffuse, leaderless approach. They pushed back against the insinuation that they have not articulated any demands, and accused Winfrey of being out of touch and elitist — in typical fashion, using Twitter to convey their anger.
This is the second recent clash between younger protesters and older black activists. Last month, a faction of protesters briefly took over the stage at a march in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Rev. Al Sharpton, complaining that the veteran civil rights leader and television personality was trying to take credit for a movement they spawned.
The divide is not just about generational differences, but about tactics, with older activists emphasizing peaceful marches while the younger protesters preferring more confrontational actions, such as staging “die-ins” at shopping malls at the height of holiday shopping and blocking highways.
In the interview, Winfrey suggested that the protests that have unfolded in New York, Ferguson and elsewhere have so far lacked the disciplined strategy of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. “I think that what can be gleaned from our film, ‘Selma,’ is to really take note of the strategic intention required when you want real change,” she said.
Of the demonstrations in Selma, Ala., she said, “Those marches just didn’t happen, and they weren’t happening haphazardly. They were happening out of an order and a design for change.”