LeBron James caused a stir on Monday night by wearing an "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt during warm-up practice before a game.
The symbolic gesture—in support of protests to a New York grand jury's failure to indict the police officer involved in the death of Eric Garner—was made for TV, made for social media, and made to stir up a pot of outrage that was already boiling over.
But I wonder if LeBron missed a bigger opportunity. What if the NBA superstar focused everyone's attention on something that can actually be changed: reforming qualified immunity laws that make it almost impossible to indict bad cops, for example?
That's what's missing here—and in so many other modern protests. We've gotten really good at developing clever hashtags, generating "likes" and producing turnouts big and small. (Even students from my local high school staged a "die-in" last week.)
But—as we've seen with the Occupy Wall Street and gun control movements—we're still failing at transforming that passionate activism into meaningful change.
Protests are a tactic—and, often, a highly effective one—for attracting attention to vital issues and causes. But they are not a strategy, which takes requires a measurable goal (something we can actually change) and a coordinated means to achieve it.
Change also requires enormous perseverance. (While distressingly hard to believe, it took more than 70 years of organized effort for American women to win the right to vote.)
In today's #WhatsTrending culture, generating that kind of long-term, committed support may be the biggest communications challenge of all.
And it can't be done by merely donning a T-Shirt or raising our hands in protest.