Why would Black Lives Matter protesters choose Black Friday as a day to engage in protests? The answer has partly to do with two late November news stories.
As Americans hit the stores on the most celebrated shopping day of the year, they face two separate protest movements that will potentially change their shopping experience in the years to come.
The first is a general anti-consumer movement aimed at putting a halt to the post-Thanksgiving shopping binge in the US. That campaign received a moral boost this year when outdoor sports retailer REI announced it would be closing its doors on Black Friday to encourage employees to spend the day with their families. And while few hopped on to the company's #OptOutside campaign, many have expressed their support for the anti-movement using the hashtag #BoycottBlackFriday.
The second protest movement is more closely related to the Black Lives Matter anti-police-violence campaign.
The first Black Friday protest for the Black Lives Matter movement took place last year. Co-opting the popular shopping holiday was partly coincidental.
Two days before Thanksgiving in 2014, a grand jury in the US state of Missouri decided it would not indict police officer Darren Wilson for shooting an unarmed 18-year-old African-American named Michael Brown.That decision sparked another wave of Ferguson protests. That rage was still fresh three days later - Black Friday - when protestors in nearby St. Louis successfully shut down a shopping mall by engaging in something called a "die-in."
The die-in was a direct reference to Michael Brown's death - but also to the other African American victims of police violence in the US. On Black Friday last year, similar protests to the one in St. Louis took place throughout the US, resulting in arrests in New York, Oakland, Chicago and Seattle.
Circumstances are eerily similar this year.
With the release on November 24 of police dashcam footage showing Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke fatally shooting Laquan McDonald, popular anger at police violence against African Americans has again surged.
In Chicago, immediate protests followed. Nationwide, the outrage was reflected online through a spike in the use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag - but also in the spiking of two lesser-known hashtags, #RedistributeThePain and #JusticeOrElse.
Online, #RedistributeThePain and #JusticeOrElse have become the rallying cries for this year's Black Friday protests. Both have their origins in the recent Million Man March 20th anniversary celebration in October, but they have morphed beyond it. In the last month, they have been used a combined 150,000 times on Twitter, usually in reference to Black Friday protests. Meanwhile, a mishmash of other hashtags have also been used to lesser effect, including #NotOneDime and #BlackoutBlackFriday (but also mixed in with the previously mentioned #BoycottBlackFriday and #BlackLivesMatter).
As "Redistribute the Pain" indicates, the goal is to inflict economic and social pain on consumers and retailers on a day seen as dominated by white-capitalist consumerism. The original phrase, once spoken by civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., has been revived by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the religious and social leader who organized the original Million Man March in 1995 and whose Twitter following numbers 400,000.
Farrakhan and his supporters hope to demonstrate the economic power of the black community by refusing to spend money on that Black Friday - and through the Christmas season, a time when retail sales account for more than $600 billion (570 billion euros). The following tweet is from Farrakhan's own news outlet:
In Chicago, protestors plan to shut down the city's famous Michigan Avenue shopping district on Black Friday, while the Seattle Black Lives Matter Facebook page has registered more than 4,000 planning to attend. That makes it larger than last year's event, which resulted in arrests, the early closure of a shopping mall and the early stoppage of a tree-lighting ceremony.
A heatmap showing where people are using the hashtag #RedistributeThePain and #JusticeOrElse indicates that those hoping to get some shopping done on Black Friday can potentially expect to find protesters in numerous US cities.