Strategy After Ferguson

Introduction

This round­table is a part of our evolv­ing “Move­ment Inquiry” fea­ture, which opened with an inves­ti­ga­tions of hous­ing strug­gles in the US and Black Lib­er­a­tion in high­er edu­ca­tion. If you would like to get involved, email us at roundtables@viewpointmag.com.

Ferguson’s August upris­ing wasn’t the first to fol­low a police mur­der, not even in recent mem­o­ry. But unlike the 2009 Oscar Grant rebel­lion, or the actions in Flat­bush after the mur­der of Kimani Gray in 2013, the street mil­i­tan­cy exhib­it­ed by that small sub­urb of St. Louis endured long enough to inspire a nation­al move­ment for black lives and lib­er­a­tion. We should pause to reflect on the tremen­dous ground that’s been cov­ered in the­se first sev­en­teen months. How dis­tant do the denun­ci­a­tions of Al Sharp­ton and Jesse Jack­son now seem? Or the simul­ta­ne­ous out­pour­ing of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple into the streets and high­ways of every major Amer­i­can city? Those ear­li­est debates estab­lish­ing black lead­er­ship and the urgent defens­es of riot­ing now car­ry an air of inevitabil­i­ty to them, but just over a year ago, they remained open ques­tions.

That the move­ment has devel­oped at such a break­neck speed has posed unique chal­lenges for our inquiry. Try­ing to keep pace has often a been dizzy­ing task, as new ques­tions and con­jec­tures arise with star­tling quick­ness. Celebri­ty activists and NGO lumi­nar­ies are des­ig­nat­ed and in due time dis­cred­it­ed, as bat­tles over scarce seats at the table car­ry on when the mass mobi­liza­tions begin to recede. The cycles of co-opta­tion and repres­sion can move many of us to cyn­i­cism, but nei­ther has proved capa­ble of exhaust­ing the dynamism of the grass­roots. For every Teach for Amer­i­ca oper­a­tion, there’s a Twin Cities’ riot.

With equal dif­fi­cul­ty, we have had to con­front the incred­i­ble polit­i­cal diver­si­ty of this moment, which has includ­ed every­one from the Nation of Islam, non­prof­it exec­u­tives, and unaf­fil­i­at­ed lib­er­als, to afropes­simists, oath keep­ers, and yes, rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­mu­nists. And while the polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion of many par­tic­i­pants stretch­es across those camps, it is hard not to sense that the move­ment is enter­ing a new junc­ture in which the lines of demar­ca­tion are being drawn a lit­tle more clear­ly. With each day the gap between those who fre­quent the exec­u­tive offices of Sil­i­con Val­ley, and those who main­tain feal­ty to the black rad­i­cal tra­di­tion, grows.

The eleven groups fea­tured below con­sti­tute part of what may be an emerg­ing rad­i­cal pole in the strug­gle for black lib­er­a­tion. Even in their ana­lyt­i­cal diver­gence and orga­ni­za­tion­al het­ero­gene­ity, they yield the out­li­nes of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary uni­ty, opposed to sep­a­ratism, whose ambi­tions exceed that of the mis­lead­er­ship both new and old.

We hope that this round­table on “Strat­e­gy after Fer­gu­son” is an open­ing to fur­ther dia­logue and debate. We wel­come your ideas, feed­back, cri­tiques, as well as your sup­port in shar­ing this resource – with friends and com­rades, in work­places and orga­niz­ing meet­ings, at ral­lies and direct actions, and beyond. To get involved, please email us at roundtables@viewpointmag.com.

- Ben Mabie 


UNITY & STRUGGLE 

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“Rather than call­ing for ‘black and white, unite and fight’ as if both sides were equal play­ers in a given whole, we say the speci­fic strug­gles of black pro­le­tar­i­ans are in all of our inter­ests, and make it pos­si­ble for us to win togeth­er, and we relate to them as such.”
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

Uni­ty and Strug­gle is a small com­mu­nist col­lec­tive, pri­mar­i­ly locat­ed in Atlanta, Hous­ton, and New York City. We have reformed and reshaped our group­ing many times over the years, though our lin­eage goes back to Love and Rage Anar­chist Fed­er­a­tion in the 1990s. Our group has shift­ed most sharply around Marx’s ideas; we spent the last sev­er­al years ground­ing our­selves in a Marx­ist frame­work. Uni­ty and Strug­gle is pri­mar­i­ly a pro­pa­gan­da cir­cle, but it is expect­ed that our mem­bers engage in orga­niz­ing projects and study. We’ve been involved in a wide vari­ety of projects over the years, includ­ing stu­dent strug­gles around Palestine sol­i­dar­i­ty, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and worker/student cam­paigns; queer lib­er­a­tion strug­gles; antifas­cist orga­niz­ing; immi­grant orga­niz­ing; and ten­ant, neigh­bor­hood and work­place orga­niz­ing.  

Most recent­ly, we par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Black Lives Mat­ter (BLM) wave, start­ing with Trayvon Mar­t­in but real­ly gear­ing up dur­ing Fer­gu­son. On the local lev­el, we’re work­ing to tran­si­tion the ini­tial crest in BLM activ­i­ty into sus­tained orga­niz­ing in dif­fer­ent cities, in what­ev­er form(s) that may take. Our mem­bers are cur­rent­ly help­ing to build small fight­ing orga­ni­za­tions that chal­lenge polic­ing in our neigh­bor­hoods by build­ing milieus, host­ing Know Your Rights train­ings and anti-police edu­ca­tion­al events, devel­op­ing sol­i­dar­i­ty net­works, etc. We have dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of orga­niz­ing around the demand to “Dis­em­pow­er, Dis­arm and Dis­band” police every­where. Nation­al­ly, we will be con­nect­ing with oth­ers involved in BLM through writ­ing projects, coor­di­nat­ing events, trav­el­ing to cities with new rad­i­cal­iz­ing lay­ers and coor­di­nat­ing orga­niz­ing projects region­al­ly and nation­al­ly.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

The­se are always guess­es, but many of us have a sense that anti-police work is strate­gic because (1) police bru­tal­i­ty is a site of class strug­gle that is shared across a grow­ing swath of the work­ing class, and (2) police bru­tal­i­ty is a mech­a­nism the sys­tem can­not help but con­tin­ue to employ for the fore­see­able future, thus trap­ping itself between a rock and a hard place.

In the first place, the his­tor­i­cal ori­gins of the police as slave catch­ers and strike break­ers indi­cates their ongo­ing role in cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion. The police have been the means to attack and dis­ci­pline the social and polit­i­cal pow­er of the pro­le­tari­at and oppressed peo­ple, and ulti­mate­ly, deter­mine the over­all con­di­tions of labor. In our cur­rent moment, the eco­nom­ic cri­sis is forc­ing ever greater num­bers of us into poten­tial con­flict with the cops, which thus appears as the first sign of the objec­tive pow­er of cap­i­tal over our lives. The police have been the blunt end of the shift toward pre­car­i­ty as a uni­ver­sal social con­di­tion. Of course cops have been there for at least a cen­tu­ry, back­ing up the man­ager and the boss. But to the degree deep­en­ing inequal­i­ty and class antag­o­nism are accom­pa­nied by wide­spread pre­car­i­ty, lump­eniza­tion (hus­tling on the side to sur­vive), and “team man­age­ment” bull­shit in many work­places, police may become the most explic­it form of appear­ance of the cap­i­tal rela­tion.

The police are there­fore some­thing wide­ly encoun­tered across the pro­le­tari­at, the key mech­a­nism that ensures the repro­duc­tion of class rela­tions by force. Here we vibe a bit with Théorie Com­mu­nis­te, when they say “the police is the force which, in the last instance, is our own exis­tence as a class as lim­it.” Police pre­vent us from sim­ply tak­ing the means of sub­sis­tence and pro­duc­tion we need to sur­vive, and there­by abol­ish­ing our­selves as a class. Of course this is not the only way class strug­gle is expressed in our moment – there are mass strike waves hap­pen­ing in East and South­east Asia, sparked by con­fronta­tions with employ­ers – but it is a major dimen­sion of the pro­le­tar­i­an expe­ri­ence right now from Rio to Cape Town to Mum­bai.

Sec­ond­ly, the U.S. rul­ing class will have a hell of a time reform­ing the police in a man­ner suf­fi­cient to con­tain the unrest. True, there is a “decarcer­a­tion” ten­den­cy in the pro­gres­sive rul­ing class, which aims to low­er the pris­on pop­u­la­tion and shift fund­ing toward alter­na­tives to incar­cer­a­tion, com­pul­so­ry job and hous­ing place­ments, and indi­vid­u­al­ized mon­i­tor­ing and sur­veil­lance. This pro­gram could con­ceiv­ably synch up with “com­mu­ni­ty polic­ing” reforms, and damp­en the revolt again­st police vio­lence and mass incar­cer­a­tion. But real­iz­ing this ten­den­cy would require a huge over­haul of police, penal, and wel­fare agen­cies, and it might intro­duce more social insta­bil­i­ty in the process. Also, at least for the black strug­gle, there exists no ade­quate “patron­age sys­tem” to bro­ker such a tran­si­tion. The old civil rights lead­er­ship is aging out, and the new black petit-bour­geoisie and bour­geoisie is sep­a­rat­ed geo­graph­i­cal­ly, cul­tur­al­ly, and insti­tu­tion­al­ly from the black pro­le­tari­at, leav­ing in their wake a gap­ing cri­sis of legit­i­ma­cy.

Of course, anti-police work con­tains its own lim­its – this con­nects to the ques­tion about link­ing up dif­fer­ent move­ments. For most of Uni­ty and Strug­gle, con­nect­ing move­ments is not only about relat­ing to them rhetor­i­cal­ly (“cops taze peo­ple on the street, and stu­dents get tazed on cam­pus”) or ana­lyt­i­cal­ly (“the sur­plus val­ue work­ers make in fac­to­ries is tapped by mer­chants in sales and land­lords in rent”), though the­se are impor­tant. It is also very prac­ti­cal and rela­tion­al: how do we weave togeth­er the milieus that devel­op around our dif­fer­ent areas of work? How do we con­nect peo­ple who have rad­i­cal­ized in one con­textsay, BLM protests and intro­duce them to new and dif­fer­ent kinds of activ­i­ty, as things pop off in dif­fer­ent areas and around dif­fer­ent issues? Uni­ty and Strug­gle mem­bers gen­er­al­ly believe “activ­i­ty pre­cedes con­scious­ness”: our sense of our­selves as mem­bers of a glob­al work­ing class is shaped through prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ences of col­lec­tive coor­di­na­tion and pow­er, and not sim­ply through rea­soned argu­men­ta­tion or pro­pa­gan­da. So cul­ti­vat­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion between, say, peo­ple fight­ing police vio­lence and peo­ple fight­ing slum­lords – and through it imag­in­ing how the­se strug­gles might influ­ence one anoth­er mate­ri­al­ly – is one way to lay the seeds for class uni­ty to emerge in the future.

In Hous­ton, this has involved invit­ing folks we met in the streets dur­ing the Fer­gu­son protests to accom­pa­ny us when we vis­it­ed pick­ets dur­ing the Feb­ru­ary oil strike, and to get involved in a local sol­i­dar­i­ty net­work that can piv­ot between anti-boss, -land­lord, and -cop orga­niz­ing. The goal remains to devel­op con­ti­nu­ity between waves of strug­gle by con­nect­ing organ­ic mil­i­tants we meet in strug­gles and devel­op­ing ties across dif­fer­ent sec­tors. The old­er syn­di­cal­ist, social­ist and com­mu­nist tra­di­tion had its set of orga­ni­za­tion­al forms to do this, and we need new forms to do so across strug­gles at dif­fer­ent points of pro­duc­tion and repro­duc­tion. We are play­ing with S. Nap­polos’ “inter­me­di­ate orga­ni­za­tion” idea to help us think through doing this today. “Inter­me­di­ate” groups bring togeth­er com­mit­ted rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and work­ing class mil­i­tants beyond the sin­gle-issue or sin­gle-sec­tor focus of mass orga­ni­za­tions, like trade unions or activist coali­tions. They may oper­ate with­in exist­ing mass groups (like inde­pen­dent work­place com­mit­tees with­in a union) or on their own as inde­pen­dent col­lec­tives. In an era where union den­si­ty is declin­ing, while small autonomous groups are able to ini­ti­ate and dri­ve activ­i­ty using the inter­net, we can explore “inter­me­di­ate” groups as a type of orga­ni­za­tion with their own poten­tials.

An impor­tant turn­ing point for the black free­dom strug­gle in the 1960s were the urban rebel­lions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of oth­er cities, which involved a great deal of prop­er­ty destruc­tion and loot­ing. Much has changed since then, but the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment is still a cen­tral dynam­ic of racial inequal­i­ty in places like Bal­ti­more, Oak­land and Fer­gu­son. Are riots also still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant, or has their mean­ing changed? And what about those places with sim­i­lar con­di­tions where major riots have not hap­pened, like New York or Philadel­phia? What oth­er met­rics might we use to mea­sure the devel­op­ment of strug­gle beyond street mil­i­tan­cy?

Most of us have par­tial agree­ment with Blaumachen’s “Era of Riots” the­sis, in the sense that urban riots are a major dimen­sion of class strug­gle in the cur­rent peri­od (tak­ing into account the vary­ing devel­op­ment and class com­po­si­tion around the globe, and their dif­fer­ent tac­ti­cal reper­toires). We think the­se riots are polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant in the U.S. because they send shock­waves across the soci­ety; they frac­ture dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy, and spark mass ques­tion­ing of the sys­tem beyond their imme­di­ate social base; they expose inter­nal divi­sions with­in the class, and point to their pos­si­ble res­o­lu­tion. Of course riots do not imme­di­ate­ly pro­duce class uni­tydepend­ing on the stay­ing pow­er of (white) work­ers’ reformism, inter­nal divi­sions could even deep­en. But they estab­lish the con­di­tions for a high­er uni­ty to emerge, and for class recom­po­si­tion to occur. We agree with C.L.R. James that autonomous black strug­gle has the poten­tial to “bring the pro­le­tari­at on the scene.”

Still, riots only cre­ate open­ings. Peo­ple have to build around that open­ing and devel­op the abil­i­ty for strug­gles to deep­en and broad­en. We don’t mean this just in a mil­i­tary sense, in terms of what tac­tics we use in the streets, but also in a polit­i­cal sense. To pre­vent the class base that launched a riot from being out­right repressed, or sim­ply con­tained, exhaust­ed and co-opt­ed, we need to help riots sus­tain in time, leap across sec­tors (like when the urban rebel­lions of the late 1960s fueled the wild­cat strike waves of 1970 and 1974), and take on a “com­bined and uneven” char­ac­ter of riots, strikes, occu­pa­tions at once. This involves all kinds of orga­ni­za­tion­al, strate­gic and tac­ti­cal chal­lenges, but also polit­i­cal ones. How do we seed the kind of class con­scious­ness that will facil­i­tate the­se leaps when they are pos­si­ble, and unveil the ways our lives are bound togeth­er under the forms of appear­ance imposed on us by cap­i­tal?

In terms of the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment, there have been some good posts on this. We’ve seen flash­points in “weak links” like Fer­gu­son, and sub­urbs like McK­in­ney or where Trayvon was killed. All the­se were racial bor­der zones out­side the urban cores, which brought white secu­ri­ty forces into con­tact with the black pro­le­tari­at and petit-bour­geoisie in new ways. Sim­i­lar things could hap­pen in sprawl cities like Hous­ton, where the devel­op­ment of the black polit­i­cal elite has not kept up with the growth of the city. Exist­ing patron­age net­works there are fixed to his­tor­i­cal­ly black neigh­bor­hoods, whose pro­le­tar­i­an black pop­u­la­tion is being pushed into oth­er areas, such as south­west Hous­ton. This cre­ates poten­tial open­ings for strug­gle that can’t be imme­di­ate­ly sub­sumed by the black polit­i­cal elite. 

In Bal­ti­more by con­trast, riot­ing broke out in a black urban cen­ter – one of the most immis­er­at­ed on the East Coast – but it was con­tained by black mid­dle class lead­er­ship (the Nation of Islam, black politi­cians, the young black state pros­e­cu­tor who brought charges again­st the cop, with whom many peo­ple sym­pa­thized). Places like New York City haven’t even seen that much, because while you have a bru­tal police-army, you also have a robust NGO com­plex with a still hege­mon­ic petit-bour­geois left, and a “pro­gres­sive” mul­ti-racial city bureau­cra­cy with its patron­age sys­tems still fair­ly intact. The social decay is more con­tained in there, despite flash­points like the 2013 Flat­bush riot. In Atlanta, black respectabil­i­ty pol­i­tics still dom­i­nates much of the dis­course of the media and polit­i­cal elite. Although this is being chal­lenged by an increas­ing­ly rad­i­cal­ized BLM move­ment, there is a strong prece­dent of respectable protest­ing and “shout­ing truth to pow­er.” Sim­i­lar­ly in Philly you have a very long-estab­lished black polit­i­cal elite, and a police chief (Ram­sey) renowned as a vel­vet glove spe­cial­ist – though Philly is crazy immis­er­at­ed, so a Bal­ti­more sce­nar­io could be pos­si­ble there too.

Regard­ing met­rics for strug­gle, most of us would agree you have to mea­sure move­ments by more than their street mil­i­tan­cy. We would say you also have to look beyond the num­bers of mem­bers in estab­lished left orga­ni­za­tions. Some cri­te­ria for a grow­ing move­ment might be the amount of inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion and class con­scious­ness it’s leav­ing in its wake: how many new grou­plets mush­roomed up in the course of the wave? How many have per­sist­ed? How pro­found is the sense that “some­thing is wrong with this soci­ety,” and how deeply are peo­ple search­ing for polit­i­cal answers? How much did peo­ple devel­op a sense that, col­lec­tive­ly, we can dri­ve the course of his­to­ry?

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

New kinds of orga­ni­za­tion inevitably emerge in a mass move­ment, although, given the recent lull in activ­i­ty, the tra­jec­to­ries of the new groups formed out of BLM aren’t entire­ly clear. To make our best guess at where things will head, we have to be attuned to the objec­tive basis of the­se new forms of orga­ni­za­tion, and under­stand how their devel­op­ment unfolds in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions than the 1960s and 1970s. 

His­tor­i­cal­ly, like all mass move­ments in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, the black strug­gle has had con­tra­dic­to­ry expres­sions. On the one hand, black move­ments have been strug­gles for entry into the wage rela­tion, the labor mar­ket, and civil soci­ety. On the oth­er hand, they have revealed the arbi­trary and his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ter of race and the social and polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions that repro­duce it, and so have drawn mod­ern cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety into ques­tion. In each peri­od of black strug­gle, from the slave revolts, to Recon­struc­tion, to the Great Migra­tion, to Civil Rights, the­se con­tra­dic­to­ry poten­tials have been con­tin­u­al­ly re-pre­sent­ed.

We’ve writ­ten a bit else­where about the dual char­ac­ter of the black move­ment from the 50s-70s, and how it played out. Suf­fice it to say, this move­ment destroyed Jim Crow, and gave rise to the so-called “post-racial” sit­u­a­tion we have today. This new era was char­ac­ter­ized by the hap­haz­ard entry of some blacks into fac­to­ry, pub­lic sec­tor, and white col­lar jobs, fol­lowed by down­siz­ing; the break­out of black cap­i­tal­ists into inte­grat­ed mar­kets; and the for­mal accep­tance of black politi­cians into the polit­i­cal sys­tem. In the process, the old black com­mu­ni­ty, shaped by decades of legal and de fac­to seg­re­ga­tion, was riven with grow­ing class antag­o­nism. Some peo­ple moved on up, while the black work­ing class endured dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion, white flight, the drug war, mass incar­cer­a­tion, and resur­gent pre­car­i­ty.

Today a rein­vent­ed “col­or­blind racist” dis­course sur­rounds the black work­ing class, whose class posi­tion is ratio­nal­ized as a result of their nature as inher­ent­ly crim­i­nal, unem­ploy­able, shift­less, inca­pable of main­tain­ing nuclear fam­i­lies, etc. The black upper-mid­dle class and bour­geoisie encoun­ter prej­u­dice in the inte­grat­ed uni­ver­si­ties, pro­fes­sions, and neigh­bor­hoods they have gained access to. They occa­sion­al­ly catch shit from insti­tu­tions geared toward repress­ing the black pro­le­tari­at (for exam­ple, when New York Times colum­nist Charles Blow’s son, a stu­dent at Yale, was stopped by cam­pus secu­ri­ty with guns drawn). The uni­ver­si­ties and NGOs bring the­se lay­ers togeth­er, in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions.

There are many small group­ings devel­op­ing out of the BLM move­ment, and all of them are shaped by the­se con­di­tions, and express their con­tra­dic­tions. That said, the move­ment is still unfold­ing and its tra­jec­to­ry is open. No sin­gle polit­i­cal per­spec­tive or class frac­tion holds hege­mony. While young mid­dle-class peo­ple are shap­ing the movement’s direc­tion nation­al­ly (out­side moments of riot­ing), this lay­er itself is inter­nal­ly con­tra­dic­to­ry, and pulls in dif­fer­ent direc­tions.

Some of the new groups are more work­ing class or lumpen in char­ac­ter (say, Lost Voic­es in Fer­gu­son), while some are more mid­dle class in char­ac­ter (some of the “offi­cial” #BLM groups, it seems to us, are com­prised of grad/students or peo­ple with some con­nec­tion to non­prof­it staff). Some are exclu­sive­ly black, while oth­ers are mul­tira­cial in com­po­si­tion, if usu­al­ly major­i­ty non-white. Across the board, the new groups are autonomous from the old black patron­age sys­tem forged out of Civil Rights, and rely on their dis­rup­tive poten­tial in the streets for polit­i­cal lever­age, rather than the city, state, or fed­er­al polit­i­cal con­nec­tions employed by the old guard. They have been act­ing as “net­worked Lenin­ists” (see Rodrigo Nuñes 1, 2) by jump-start­ing mass protests through loose net­works, and dri­ving pop­u­lar dis­cus­sion.

Pro­gres­sive cap­i­tal­ists have already made over­tures to draw the­se new groups into the fold: Soros donat­ed $33 mil­lion to BLM groups last year, for exam­ple. So far their con­trol is weak, and the recent state­ment repu­di­at­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty is a good sign. Nev­er­the­less, we find many BLM groups oper­at­ing out­side the non­prof­its still repro­duce their log­ic in rhetoric and strat­e­gy. For exam­ple, many new groups are doing direct actions, but remain stuck in a moral cri­tique of racism and cap­i­tal­ism that leaves room for the par­ties and NGOs to step in with “real” solu­tions. We saw this in the back­stage dis­cus­sion with Hillary.

So young peo­ple have leapt beyond the par­ties and NGOs in the streets, but they don’t yet have a rev­o­lu­tion­ary analy­sis of soci­ety to defin­i­tive­ly sep­a­rate them­selves from the lat­ter, and they aren’t yet able to con­sol­i­date their own fight­ing orga­ni­za­tions. In the vac­u­um, pos­si­ble polit­i­cal dif­fer­ences con­tin­ue to emerge. One emerg­ing divide is a between black fem­i­nist, queer and trans pol­i­tics on the one side, and a kind of pseudo-black nation­al­ist patri­ar­chal pol­i­tics on the oth­er. We saw this play out in the #Say­H­er­Name protests, espe­cial­ly in Philly, and in the cri­tique of hotep dudes online (1,2). Anoth­er is the divide between parts of the move­ment sym­pa­thet­ic to social democ­ra­cy (say, BLM groups that want to be polite to Bernie Sanders), and parts mov­ing in more rev­o­lu­tion­ary direc­tions. Some of us feel the bub­bling pop­u­lar­i­ty of Afro-pes­simism among BLM activists in col­lege is a reflec­tion of this search for a total cri­tique of soci­ety.

Uni­ty and Strug­gle is try­ing to keep track of this dizzy­ing and uneven devel­op­ment across the coun­try, and high­light any lines of coher­ence that tend in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary direc­tion. We have been work­ing with the “Dis­em­pow­er, Dis­arm and Dis­band” slo­gan as one way to encap­su­late the rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­spec­tive that is out there right now, but has yet to cohere in a dis­tinct pole. Of course, dis­arm­ing and dis­band­ing the police is a long-term goal (while we could see de-mil­i­ta­riza­tion, and the dis­band­ing of par­tic­u­lar units, soon­er). But “dis­em­pow­er­ing” the police is already hap­pen­ing on a mass lev­el, for exam­ple in the video of the wom­en in New York City pre­vent­ing a young girl from being arrest­ed. And this emerg­ing mil­i­tan­cy is reflect­ed in the “offi­cial” BLM move­ment too, for exam­ple in the de-arrest that hap­pened at their con­fer­ence in Cleve­land. We can help this activ­i­ty spread and for­mal­ize.

Gen­er­al­ly, we see the role of rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies being to rec­og­nize this pole in for­ma­tion, and help it cohere polit­i­cal­ly and orga­ni­za­tion­al­ly across the coun­try. Our hunch is, the con­tours of this pole include some kind of anti-cap­i­tal­ism, a rejec­tion of bour­geois par­ties, and an attempt to grap­ple with race and white suprema­cy as a sys­tem endemic to cap­i­tal­ism.

Since the upris­ing in Fer­gu­son, we’ve seen racist, right-wing ter­ror­ism flare up with the bomb­ing of an NAACP office in Col­orado and the trag­ic and mur­der­ous attack on a his­toric Black Church in South Car­oli­na. The shoot­ing of two police offi­cers in New York seems to have encour­aged NYPD mem­bers to open­ly defy the city’s may­or, ham­string­ing his own agen­da. And else­where, politi­cians and police have start­ed to use the specter of Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more to jus­ti­fy pre­emp­tive police repres­sion and mobi­lize sup­port for cur­fews. Might the­se move­ments and upris­ings pro­voke a right-wing resur­gence? Do you see exam­ples of this hap­pen­ing where you orga­nize? What can we do to rout the­se efforts?

Polar­iza­tion is def­i­nite­ly part of the dynam­ic right now, with resur­gent black and left-wing move­ments prompt­ing a right-wing respon­se in turn. It has a con­tra­pun­tal char­ac­ter: the BLM move­ment crests and begins to fall, and then a con­ser­v­a­tive reac­tion hap­pens. At times the reac­tion is premised on indi­vid­u­als who haul off and shoot cops for a vari­ety of rea­sons, may­be relat­ed to mass frus­tra­tion at the inabil­i­ty of the move­ment to achieve deep gains (cop shoot­ings like this hap­pened after the BLM crest in NYC, but also LA and recent­ly Tex­as).

Part of the reac­tion comes from with­in the state itself, with politi­cians call­ing for the move­ment to dis­ci­pline itself under respectable lead­er­ship, and police agen­cies rolling out new sur­veil­lance pro­grams. But part of it also emerges “from below” and is semi-autonomous from the state. This includes the rank-and-file rebel­lion with­in the police unions, iso­lat­ed fas­cist shoot­ers like Dylan Roof, orga­nized fas­cist activ­i­ty like the Nazis in Olympia or the Klan in Charleston, and broad­er right-pop­ulist mobi­liza­tions like the Oath Keep­ers going to Fer­gu­son.

In this area, we are still estab­lish­ing a com­mon frame­work to dis­cuss the ques­tions at hand, and com­par­ing con­clu­sions from prac­tice and study. One line of dis­cus­sion we are hav­ing relates to the con­cept of the “unit­ed front,” and anoth­er relates to the polit­i­cal dynam­ics of right-pop­ulism.

The “unit­ed front” dis­cus­sion is about how to smash the far right, with­out being iso­lat­ed and tar­get­ed by the state, nor being absorbed by the lib­er­al respon­se to the right. This includes strate­gic and tac­ti­cal ques­tions like: what is the best bal­ance between smash­ing fas­cists mil­i­tar­i­ly vs. out-orga­niz­ing their base? How to avoid state repres­sion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary antifas­cism? When and how to cohere a broad front again­st right-wing attacks, includ­ing lib­er­als? How to piv­ot from defen­sive moments, where we are fend­ing off right wing attacks, to offen­sive moments, where we emerge as a strength­ened, inde­pen­dent rev­o­lu­tion­ary pole? We haven’t come to a com­mon posi­tion on the­se ques­tions yet. But we are learn­ing in prac­tice through suc­ces­sive moments of right-wing reac­tion, and through his­tor­i­cal study of “unit­ed fronts” in the com­mu­nist and anar­chist tra­di­tions.

Anoth­er dis­cus­sion is about how we should under­stand the pop­ulist right, par­tic­u­lar­ly the broad Patri­ot move­ment. One per­spec­tive says the Patri­ot move­ment is more dan­ger­ous than the ide­o­log­i­cal­ly com­mit­ted fas­cists, because of their broad­er polit­i­cal legit­i­ma­cy, and their open use of arms in the streets. On top of this, we are also weigh­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the inter­nal con­tra­dic­tions with­in the Patri­ot move­ment, and whether any frag­ments of it could poten­tial­ly swing to the left – and if so, how we should then con­front Patri­ots in the streets. Final­ly, we are won­der­ing if there is a pos­si­bil­i­ty of an alliance between ele­ments of the Patri­ot move­ment and con­ser­v­a­tive black groups like the New Black Pan­ther Par­ty or Detroit 300, like a con­tem­po­rary muta­tion of the his­tor­i­cal talks between Gar­vey and the Klan. We’re pay­ing close atten­tion to devel­op­ments like the recent split in the Oath Keep­ers over the pro­posed black open car­ry protest in Fer­gu­son, and lis­ten­ing to what the rest of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary antifas­cist left is say­ing. We don’t have a com­mon posi­tion on the­se ques­tions yet, either.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

Most of Uni­ty and Strug­gle agrees there are dif­fer­ences of pow­er with­in the work­ing class, with some sec­tions (men, whites, cit­i­zens, etc.) able to gain ben­e­fits at the expense of oth­er sec­tions, but at the cost of class sol­i­dar­i­ty and pos­ing a chal­lenge to cap­i­tal­ism as a whole. The autonomous move­ment of black pro­le­tar­i­ans, even as it prompts the black bour­geoisie and polit­i­cal elite to make their own moves, also chal­lenges the­se inter­nal divi­sions with­in the class, and so lays the ground­work for a renewed strug­gle again­st both race and cap­i­tal.

Non-black work­ing class peo­ple thus have rea­son to sup­port and par­tic­i­pate in black strug­glesnot only from an eth­i­cal per­spec­tive, but also in order to real­ize their class inter­ests, which requires abol­ish­ing race as we have known it. We vibe with Sojourn­er Truth Organization’s ideas from back in the day: rather than call­ing for “black and white, unite and fight” as if both sides were equal play­ers in a given whole, we say the speci­fic strug­gles of black pro­le­tar­i­ans are in all of our inter­ests, and make it pos­si­ble for us to win togeth­er, and we relate to them as such.

Our take on non-black par­tic­i­pa­tion in the BLM move­ment jumps off from this per­spec­tive. If the BLM move­ment inspires non-black peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate, they can and should do so, while high­light­ing how the suc­cess or fail­ure of the black strug­gle bears on their own lib­er­a­tion. They can and should dis­cuss any dis­agree­ments they have, if they believe the­se ideas under­mine the self-move­ment of the black pro­le­tari­at, and there­fore, the class strug­gle. They can and should con­nect the black move­ment (rhetor­i­cal­ly, ana­lyt­i­cal­ly, prac­ti­cal­ly) to oth­er areas of orga­niz­ing, while con­fronting any devel­op­ments that would under­cut the black move­ment in turn.

Most of us think “ally” pol­i­tics is too lim­it­ed to cap­ture this: it assumes a lib­er­al hori­zon of rights and inclu­sion, rei­fies racial cat­e­gories, and lends legit­i­ma­cy to black bour­geois forces. From this per­spec­tive, black groups call­ing for black-owned busi­ness­es ought to be sup­port­ed unques­tion­ing­ly by white allies. Non-black mil­i­tants sup­port­ing black youth in the streets again­st NGOs should be “called out” for endan­ger­ing the direct­ly affect­ed. All of us should “stay in our lane” based on our iden­ti­ty cat­e­go­ry, with a fixed tac­ti­cal play­book assigned accord­ing­ly.

We gen­er­al­ly sup­port autonomous orga­ni­za­tion based on shared expe­ri­ence, as a way to devel­op new the­o­ry and prac­tice that the broad­er move­ment has under­mined. At the same time, we hold up the use­ful­ness of mul­ti-racial, mul­ti-gen­der orga­ni­za­tion as a venue to syn­the­size autonomous expe­ri­ences. The­se are moments that move back and forth, dynam­i­cal­ly and his­tor­i­cal­ly. There will be peri­ods of dis­con­ti­nu­ity and ten­sion between black and non-black mil­i­tants, so long as the real dif­fer­ences between us aren’t yet under­mined in prac­tice and strug­gle. But there will also be times when uni­fied action, or the ini­tia­tives and ideas of non-black peo­ple, will be use­ful for the black move­ment.

There is no “one size fits all” way white peo­ple should relate to black strug­gles, or vice ver­sa. As Sel­ma James described very well, there is instead a con­tin­u­al process of devel­op­ment, that cre­ates the pos­si­bil­i­ty for ever high­er lev­els of uni­ty and strug­gle.
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ANN ARBOR ALLIANCE FOR BLACK LIVES
by some mem­bers of Ann Arbor Alliance for Black Lives

11084021_1641810649374540_499207291129150379_o“Our expe­ri­ences in this and oth­er move­ments have clear­ly demon­strat­ed to us that the con­cept of ally­ship is dead or at least dying. The key is to remem­ber that while we may have sim­i­lar ene­mies, we do not have the same rea­sons for our antag­o­nisms.”
[tog­gle title=“Read More”]

What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

The Ann Arbor Alliance for Black Lives (AAA4BL), for­mer­ly Ann Arbor to Fer­gu­son (AA2F), came togeth­er after the killing of a 40 year-old black wom­an named Aura Rosser by Ann Arbor Police on Novem­ber 9, 2014. At the time, there were no orga­ni­za­tions in the area that were active­ly work­ing on the issue of polic­ing. Even after the killing of Mike Brown, the res­i­dents of this most­ly white, liberal/progressive col­lege town tend­ed to see of them­selves as sep­a­rate from or even in oppo­si­tion to the prob­lem of racist polic­ing in cities like Fer­gu­son. The first demon­stra­tion again­st Aura Rosser’s mur­der wasn’t even held in Ann Arbor at all but in Ypsi­lan­ti, the next city over. It was only with the nation­al call for actions in the wake of the non-indict­ment of Dar­ren Wilson that things start­ed to come togeth­er. A small group of stu­dent and fac­ul­ty orga­niz­ers decid­ed to put togeth­er an action but had very low expec­ta­tions, hop­ing that may­be 40 peo­ple would come out for a vig­il. But with the nation­al con­text giv­ing the call vis­i­bil­i­ty and urgen­cy, a thou­sand peo­ple end­ed up com­ing out and the demo was far more suc­cess­ful and con­fronta­tion­al than we could have hoped.

Since there was still no orga­niz­ing plat­form, a fol­low-up assem­bly was announced for the fol­low­ing week. A cou­ple hun­dred peo­ple came out and were able to reach con­sen­sus around two projects: to do anoth­er street march to a city coun­cil meet­ing in the fol­low­ing weeks and also to hold a fundrais­er for Aura Rosser’s three chil­dren. Inter­est­ed folks were also able to sign up to start com­ing to orga­niz­ing meet­ings. Since then, AAA4BL has had orga­niz­ing meet­ings near­ly every week. We’ve done four more pret­ty rau­cous street march­es (ille­gal march­es and street block­ades are pret­ty much unheard of here), shut down city coun­cil meet­ings, raised over $3,000 for Aura’s chil­dren, and pro­duced some valu­able doc­u­men­ta­tion, includ­ing a metic­u­lous cri­tique of the offi­cial ver­sion of Aura’s killing.

AAA4BL is a group whose core orga­niz­ers include stu­dents and fac­ul­ty at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan as well as com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers from Ann Arbor and Ypsi­lan­ti. Over time the num­ber of peo­ple attend­ing orga­niz­ing meet­ings has decreased but there has also been a use­ful if lim­it­ed process of rad­i­cal­iza­tion. Ide­o­log­i­cal­ly, the group is very diverse. Ear­ly on there were a lot of calls to draft a mis­sion state­ment but it was hard to come to con­sen­sus on the­se ques­tions when some folks are call­ing for body cam­eras or review boards and oth­ers are call­ing for police and pris­on abo­li­tion. It worked bet­ter for us to focus on tac­tics rather than strat­e­gy, to come togeth­er around speci­fic actions or projects, and to try to keep ide­o­log­i­cal debates to a min­i­mum. How­ev­er, in the last few months we have craft­ed a plat­form cen­tered upon local­ly demand­ing the reforms advo­cat­ed in Cam­paign Zero, put togeth­er by BLM activists such as

Net­ta Elzie and Der­ay McKesson, so that we pre­vent more Black lives from being tak­en. As well, we con­tin­ue to demand that the offi­cer who killed Aura Rosser and the Pros­e­cu­tor who did not bring charges again­st him be fired, that racial pro­fil­ing end, and that Huron Val­ley Women’s State Pris­on improve the con­di­tions of its over­whelm­ing­ly Black inmates, etc.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of
sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

Specif­i­cal­ly, focus­ing our orga­niz­ing on the police in a col­lege town like Ann Arbor has been use­ful for three main rea­sons. First, it cre­ates an open­ing for a pol­i­tics beyond the state. Most of the polit­i­cal work that hap­pens in Ann Arbor is premised on the assump­tion that the city is both excep­tion­al and account­able, that is, dis­con­nect­ed from struc­tures of vio­lence and exploita­tion and at the same time respon­sive to demands from below. But the police are nei­ther, as the mur­der of Aura Rosser and local politi­cians’ refusal to indict or even crit­i­cize them have made clear. As a result, activists who have tend­ed to rely on cir­cu­lat­ing peti­tions and attend­ing city coun­cil meet­ings have been pushed to broad­en their reper­toire to include more antag­o­nis­tic tac­tics and to see local pol­i­tics as tied to struc­tural forces. Sec­ond, doing polit­i­cal work here has forced us to con­sid­er how to frame demands in ways that force peo­ple to think in both mate­ri­al and struc­tural terms. Draw­ing on the work of Chicago-based abo­li­tion­ist orga­niz­er Mari­ame Kaba, we have begun to track the flows of resources into repres­sion at both city and coun­ty lev­els. In Ann Arbor, for exam­ple, the police bud­get now eats up 25% of the city bud­get, far and away the sin­gle largest expen­di­ture (num­ber two on the list is the fire depart­ment, which comes in at 14%). This makes polic­ing an espe­cial­ly good tar­get because it invites reflec­tion on the many oth­er things that mon­ey could be used for. Third, it goes with­out say­ing that polic­ing is struc­tural­ly racist, its vio­lence dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly exer­cised again­st peo­ple of col­or and espe­cial­ly black folks. Focus­ing on the police in our orga­niz­ing has helped to decen­ter the white liberal/progressive/socialist ten­den­cies that more or less dom­i­nate polit­i­cal activ­i­ty in the city (though not nec­es­sar­i­ly on cam­pus). The­se activists have found that their “col­or-blind” pet agen­das do not res­onate in a space where black orga­niz­ers have been able to take the lead and have worked hard to keep the speci­fici­ty of racial dom­i­na­tion at the cen­ter of our actions and con­ver­sa­tions. This is not to say that ten­sions have not emerged in our meet­ings, we’ve seen every­thing from pre­dictable white dudes insist­ing on print­ing “all lives mat­ter” t-shirts to white social­ists read­ing pre-writ­ten man­i­festos denounc­ing “priv­i­lege the­o­ry” but for the most part the­se peo­ple have end­ed up either leav­ing AAA4BL or step­ping back.

Last May, we pub­lished an
analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

The­se ten­sions are always already present in the con­text of anti-racist orga­niz­ing and this is even more the case in a place like Ann Arbor, where white folks are used to being front and cen­ter and there is lit­tle recent his­to­ry of cross-race orga­niz­ing. In grap­pling not only with the city gov­ern­ment but also with our­selves, we’ve learned what it means to tack­le the­se issues at their heart. Black Lives Mat­ter is a black-led move­ment that mobi­lizes non-black “allies,” but our expe­ri­ences in this and oth­er move­ments have clear­ly demon­strat­ed to us that the con­cept of ally­ship is dead or at least dying. The key is to remem­ber that while we may have sim­i­lar ene­mies, we do not have the same rea­sons for our antag­o­nisms. This is why we’ve found the mod­el of co-con­spir­a­tors, as pro­posed by Fem­i­nista Jones, more use­ful.

As co-con­spir­a­tors, we rec­og­nize that we can­not col­lapse our speci­fic expe­ri­ences of vio­lence and exploita­tion or refuse to rec­og­nize the nuances that dis­tin­guish them. We can’t be the voic­es in all move­ments and no one can be every­where. What we can do is iden­ti­fy shared goals and try to build toward them with­out los­ing the speci­fici­ty of each. Specif­i­cal­ly, in AAA4BL we’ve con­tin­u­al­ly had con­ver­sa­tions about the posi­tion­ing of black, brown, yel­low, red, and white voic­es. As a mixed-race grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion, we are chal­leng­ing our­selves to priv­i­lege black expe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives while nav­i­gat­ing how co-con­spir­a­tors can best lend their sup­port.

That is why we show up when called. For exam­ple, when stu­dent orga­niz­ers host­ed a car­a­van of the rel­a­tives of dis­ap­peared stu­dents from Ayotz­i­na­pa, Mex­i­co, we were there to join the 7-mile cam­i­nata from Ann Arbor to Ypsi­lan­ti and par­tic­i­pate in dis­cus­sions about the ways in which state repres­sion links us all. We lis­tened to what our Mex­i­can, Chican@, and Latin@ orga­niz­ers need­ed from us and fol­lowed accord­ing­ly. Anoth­er poten­tial local site of con­ver­gence is the recent killing of 20-year-old black man named Ter­rance Kel­lom in Detroit, shot by an ICE agent dur­ing a joint oper­a­tion with DPD. Given that Detroit is a bor­der city, south­east Michi­gan expe­ri­ences inten­si­fied though uneven­ly dis­trib­ut­ed forms of state vio­lence that nev­er­the­less occa­sion­al­ly inter­sect direct­ly as in this instance. We are begin­ning to build trust with orga­niz­ers work­ing on migra­tion and depor­ta­tion in the region and are hop­ing to bridge the­se strug­gles.

Alongside repres­sion, the Black Pan­ther Party’s han­dling of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty is often named as one of the cen­tral rea­sons for their decline. In fact, it’s one of the few argu­ments that dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the Pan­thers can agree upon – Elaine Brown and Assa­ta Shakur have made remark­ably sim­i­lar obser­va­tions about patri­archy in the par­ty. Some have even drawn a causal link between the force of repres­sion and the dan­ger­ous prac­tice of patri­archy that was active in some quar­ters, show­ing how “misog­y­nists make great infor­mants.” And yet, recent schol­ar­ship has shown that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary activism car­ried out by so many rank and file wom­en Par­ty mem­bers made the sur­vival pro­grams pos­si­ble. Women’s polit­i­cal work and lead­er­ship around issues of hous­ing rights, health care access, edu­ca­tion, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices trans­port­ed the strug­gle for black lib­er­a­tion onto a much broad­er ter­rain. It’s often not­ed today that Black Lives Mat­ter is large­ly not led by cis men but by black wom­en, trans* wom­en and men and queer orga­niz­ers); if this is the case, what’s the sig­nif­i­cance of this lead­er­ship? Does this lead­er­ship sig­nal a poten­tial change in the con­tent and direc­tion of this move­ment?

In all cas­es, we are only as strong as the most vul­ner­a­ble among us, name­ly black wom­en, black queer wom­en, and black trans* wom­en. AAA4BL has been one of the few sites of strug­gle explic­it­ly orga­niz­ing around the police killing of a black wom­an, and we can­not afford to let patri­archy and misog­y­ny sneak into our orga­niz­ing spaces and dynam­ics. We believe that black wom­en should be at the fore­front of every action and should be pub­licly rec­og­nized for the work they do behind the sce­nes. Although we have not always been able to avoid some of the stub­born dynam­ics that under­mine our orga­niz­ing, such as unspo­ken “deci­sions” to leave cer­tain tasks to wom­en, we are com­mit­ted to address­ing the­se issues as much as pos­si­ble. It has not been easy for us to put Aura Rosser’s name on the tips of people’s tongues even at our actions, it has been easy for activists to slip unin­ten­tion­al­ly back into fore­ground­ing the killing of “black men” in their lan­guage and by doing so erase the speci­fici­ty of the strug­gle both in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti and across the coun­try.

Look­ing back, it is a com­mon­ly held con­cep­tion that the Black Pan­ther Par­ty and oth­er Black Pow­er orga­ni­za­tions, which are so often regard­ed as role mod­els, fell apart because of the sheer preva­lence of patri­archy. But the­se orga­ni­za­tions were no less equipped to han­dle ques­tions of sex­u­al­i­ty and gen­der than any oth­er orga­ni­za­tion that has ever exist­ed in the Unit­ed States. Not only was the Civil Rights Move­ment equal­ly patri­ar­chal, but there was, if any­thing, more dis­cus­sion of gen­der dynam­ics dur­ing the Black Pow­er Era than there had been dur­ing the Black free­dom Strug­gle under King and the SCLC. It is just as impor­tant to keep this in mind as it to acknowl­edge the con­tra­dic­tions that exist­ed amongst of the thou­sands of indi­vid­u­als and count­less orga­ni­za­tions that com­prised the two move­ments.

The biggest dif­fer­ence between then and now is that black wom­en have suc­cess­ful­ly ensured the cen­ter­ing of their nar­ra­tives and voic­es. It rep­re­sents a change in direc­tion for Black lib­er­a­tion move­ments’ rhetoric, a depar­ture from the past that will hope­ful­ly cre­ate a prece­dent. The sig­nif­i­cance of admit­ting that this move­ment could not be run with­out black trans* wom­en is immense. This pri­or­i­ti­za­tion and polit­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion has been set from the begin­ning of this move­ment. Hope­ful­ly, cur­rent lead­er­ship and pri­or­i­ties will make it impos­si­ble for cer­tain black voic­es to be erased and exclud­ed from media rep­re­sen­ta­tions and his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. A future is being fought for where Black trans* men and wom­en and Black agen­der and non­bi­na­ry peo­ple will nev­er have to ques­tion if their lives are being revered and pro­tect­ed; a future where sep­a­rate cam­paigns will no longer be nec­es­sary because we will always, always #Say­H­er­Name.
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BALTIMORE BLOC
by Ralikh Hayes

“The Civil Rights Move­ment and all those orga­niz­ing for Black lib­er­a­tion nev­er actu­al­ly stopped, even as the 1960s wind­ed down. This is a long strug­gle that was sub­merged beneath the sur­face for the last few decades, only emerg­ing as a mass move­ment again recent­ly.” 
[tog­gle title=“Read More”]

What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

Bal­ti­more Bloc is a fair­ly new orga­ni­za­tion, who in the wake of the Mike Brown ver­dict, decid­ed to come togeth­er as a more for­mal col­lec­tive. We had a pri­or his­to­ry as a looser group of like­mind­ed indi­vid­u­als, who shared out­rage with how the police treat­ed peo­ple, and pro­vid­ed infor­ma­tion about that kind of ter­ror. We infor­mal­ly did stuff like watch­ing the police, and pro­vid­ing infor­ma­tion to the pub­lic. We inter­viewed the fam­i­lies imme­di­ate­ly affect­ed by this kind of vio­lence and start­ed to build rela­tion­ships with them. 

There are a few things that make us unique in Bal­ti­more. While there are many groups pro­mot­ing and plan­ning protest activ­i­ty, we’re the only one fol­low­ing the spir­it of Stu­dents for Non­vi­o­lence Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee and Ella Bak­er. We’re still in the process of group for­ma­tion, so as we try to achieve con­sen­sus on the­se orga­ni­za­tion­al ques­tions, I’ll describe a bit more of what our group does. Right now, we’re a small group of peo­ple, try­ing to be in com­mu­ni­ty with peo­ple, to orga­nize them­selves with the tools we have expe­ri­ence in. Pri­mar­i­ly, our aim is to sup­port the fam­i­lies of the vic­tims of police bru­tal­i­ty. With the new fol­low­ing that we have in Bal­ti­more fol­low­ing the upris­ing, we’ve worked as a source of media for some, and a plat­form for oth­ers to get their sto­ries out. We also aim to get oth­ers involved in the­se strug­gles, to provide both knowl­edge and resources to the peo­ple.

We’ve worked close­ly with many fam­i­lies, includ­ing the fam­i­ly of Fred­die Grey. We’re proud to have been orga­niz­ing with Tawan­da Jones and the West fam­i­ly, fol­low­ing the mur­der of Tyrone West. We’ve been help­ing orga­nize protests and speak outs every Wednes­day, but real­ly, we sup­port how­ev­er we can, on a case by case basis. So if a fam­i­ly decides they want to host a fundrais­er, we’re right alongside them. If they want to plan a protest, we do that. We’re try­ing to build up a com­mu­ni­ty of activists and orga­niz­ers, by spread­ing the knowl­edge and skills we have, devel­op­ing our col­lec­tive capac­i­ty togeth­er.

Already, we’ve par­tic­i­pat­ed in and planned over a 100 demon­stra­tions in Bal­ti­more city, repeat­ed­ly tak­ing the streets and the high­way. We’ve seen the peo­ple of this city pre­vent mul­ti­ple arrests in the last few months, but we’re will­ing to use arrestable actions to advance our cause. But now there’s a new police com­mis­sion­er, who seems harsh­er, and it looks like we may have a new may­or soon, too. Despite the­se changes, in the future we will con­tin­ue to fight again­st the sys­tem­at­ic oppres­sion that Black and Brown peo­ple face.

An impor­tant turn­ing point for the black free­dom strug­gle in the 1960s were the urban rebel­lions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of oth­er cities, which involved a great deal of prop­er­ty destruc­tion and loot­ing. Much has changed since then, but the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment is still a cen­tral dynam­ic of racial inequal­i­ty in places like Bal­ti­more, Oak­land and Fer­gu­son. Are riots also still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant, or has their mean­ing changed? And what about those places with sim­i­lar con­di­tions where major riots have not hap­pened, like New York or Philadel­phia? What oth­er met­rics might we use to mea­sure the devel­op­ment of strug­gle beyond street mil­i­tan­cy?

As a start­ing point, we need to rec­og­nize that the Civil Rights Move­ment and all those orga­niz­ing for Black lib­er­a­tion nev­er actu­al­ly stopped, even as the 1960s wind­ed down. The most promi­nent orga­ni­za­tions might have col­lapsed due to state repres­sion, but this is a long strug­gle that was sub­merged beneath the sur­face for the last few decades, only emerg­ing as a mass move­ment again recent­ly. Then, as now, street mil­i­tan­cy is a good indi­ca­tor of where the move­ment in a par­tic­u­lar city is at. It’s often a sure sign of how devel­oped the local strug­gles are. 

Those upris­ings were very impor­tant in the 1960s, and then, they were more wide­spread than they are today. This isn’t to say that there aren’t sim­i­lar instances now, but I don’t think we’ve hit that thresh­old. For instance, even in Bal­ti­more, the lev­el of prop­er­ty dam­age was pret­ty min­i­mal. So, at times, I’m even hes­i­tant to call it a riot. There was cer­tain­ly an out­pour­ing of emo­tion, but state repres­sion stopped it pret­ty quick.

Still, it was pret­ty effec­tive respon­se to the hyper-mil­i­ta­rized actions of the state. The peo­ple were mere­ly respond­ing in kind. In pre­vi­ous protests, one could detect the lev­el of mil­i­tan­cy and courage in people’s move­ments, and they weren’t mov­ing too aggres­sive­ly. But some­thing changed last spring, where, just as it hap­pened in Fer­gu­son, we were like a tiger, pro­voked and cor­nered.

I remem­ber think­ing that the mobi­liza­tions fol­low­ing the mur­der of Trayvon Mar­t­in would be that kind of moment. There was a mas­sive ral­ly, and it was one of the biggest I had seen in ten years, but it didn’t devel­op into what we had expect­ed. Still, I believe it was prepar­ing us for Mike Brown. And then with the cir­cu­la­tion of video footage of police bru­tal­i­ty and mur­der con­firm­ing how rapid­ly this kind of vio­lence was occur­ring, was anoth­er kind of devel­op­ment that pre­pared us for the upris­ing. It’s not just some­thing that hap­pened by chance – it was a result of the deep res­o­nance of those kinds of tac­tics from the com­mu­ni­ty itself, when they choose to take part in much greater num­bers than any­thing we’ve seen here in decades.

The fate of the kind of pol­i­tics we’re prac­tic­ing do rely on how quick­ly peo­ple cling to the ques­tion of pow­er as Black peo­ple. And often, rage in all of its tac­ti­cal expres­sions, become an easy entrance to that pol­i­tics, and present it with a chance of leap­ing for­ward in its devel­op­ment. But that doesn’t dis­count the fact that there were plen­ty of peo­ple who have been orga­niz­ing before this year, and that they were the ones lay­ing the ground­work for the upris­ing to take place at the scale that it did. That’s why it’s impor­tant to acknowl­edge the deep con­ti­nu­ity with ear­lier cycles of strug­gle, because they con­tin­ue to provide the con­di­tions of pos­si­bil­i­ty for the work we do today.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

While there are cer­tain­ly new groups form­ing across the coun­try, most are not “mass” orga­ni­za­tions yet. From my van­tage point, the­se are groups are pri­mar­i­ly form­ing as a reac­tion to cri­sis sit­u­a­tions that have erupt­ed across the nation in the last few years. They often exist with­out an infra­struc­ture typ­i­cal of an orga­niz­ing body, but are bound togeth­er instead by some shared pol­i­tics and projects. 

This is the case for Bal­ti­more Bloc. When the upris­ing first began, we were sim­ply not ready for it. In fact, when it had start­ed, we were in the mid­dle of our month­ly meet­ing and we got a call from one of our mem­bers who was with the fam­i­ly of Fred­die Grey, who asked us to come out and sup­port this kind of spon­ta­neous gath­er­ing. It snow­balled quick­ly after that. We didn’t have time to devel­op a plan on how to get peo­ple engaged in longer term orga­niz­ing projects. With lim­it­ed resources or prepa­ra­tion, we were ask­ing: how do we keep peo­ple safe so that they can con­tin­ue to lead this resis­tance?

When turn­ing back to the his­to­ry of our move­ments, we must remem­ber that they were not mono­lithic, but com­prised of the­se small, but absolute­ly essen­tial orga­ni­za­tions. While we’re all orga­niz­ing for Black lib­er­a­tion, there are dif­fer­ences in how peo­ple strate­gi­cal­ly pur­sue that, mak­ing deci­sions on the basis of their own lived expe­ri­ence. To be sure, there are times when it will be nec­es­sary to mount larg­er-scale col­lec­tive action, and we will need to ham­mer out a shared analy­sis to unite the­se dif­fer­ent ten­den­cies with­in the move­ment. And while the nation­wide con­ver­gences and con­fer­ence calls are cer­tain­ly aid­ing those efforts, the real point of uni­ty for us, across the dif­fer­ences between small­er, local orga­ni­za­tions is our rela­tion­ship to the peo­ple in the streets. That’s what pro­pels us to come to Fer­gu­son, Flori­da, Bal­ti­more, and Cleve­land.

But it must be empha­sized that this is not one cen­tral­ized move­ment, with a sin­gle fig­ure head, but a mul­ti­tude of col­lec­tive and inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tions based in our own com­mu­ni­ties. Because while we are moti­vat­ed by shared con­di­tions, those con­di­tions man­i­fest them­selves dif­fer­ent­ly with­in speci­fic locales. Laws and his­to­ry of cities changes the field of action, the needs of com­mu­ni­ty, the tac­tics appro­pri­ate. Our first job is to respond to those local con­di­tions.

I believe that this “decen­tral­ized” style of orga­ni­za­tion is a pos­i­tive thing, as we don’t know exact­ly what black lib­er­a­tion or the lib­er­a­tion of peo­ple of col­or exact­ly looks like just yet. We need to con­tin­ue to dream, hope, and dis­cuss with one anoth­er, but ulti­mate­ly, peo­ple will find their own way. There is no “cor­rect” way to orga­nize – every­one can be their own lead­er. We’ll have to craft our own path­ways to self-deter­mi­na­tion.

And that’s why you see such a vari­ety in tac­tics used across the coun­try, as dif­fer­ent group­ings of orga­niz­ers are test­ing out new forms of dis­rup­tion speci­fic to their cities. Some­times, when it seems like tac­tics have some util­i­ty else­where, they’re tak­en up and shared. And so you see there’s still some col­lec­tiv­i­ty in this, as tac­tics cir­cu­late, even if there are lots of inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tions. Black Brunch­es in the Bay Area are a good exam­ple of this. They’ve spread across the coun­try, pret­ty autonomous­ly, because it’s an attempt to adapt to the con­tem­po­rary con­di­tions we live under that res­onat­ed with a lot of peo­ple.

We can­not use the same tac­tics as the old­er gen­er­a­tion. Yes, they had their vic­to­ries, but we are still not free.This last year was a major turn­ing point. As we con­tin­ue to seek out the elders and learn our his­to­ry, we must also dream and rethink a lib­er­a­to­ry strat­e­gy in new ways. What of the old can we retain? What must we invent for our­selves? That’s why the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of small­er orga­ni­za­tions is impor­tant.

There is a long his­to­ry of sol­i­dar­i­ty between rad­i­cal black move­ments in the Unit­ed States and anti-impe­ri­al­ist and anti-colo­nial strug­gles abroad, includ­ing Alge­ria, Cuba, Chi­na, and Viet­nam. Mem­bers of the Detroit-based League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers were in con­tact with Pales­tini­an guer­ril­las in the ear­ly 1970s. The Black Pan­ther Par­ty had an inter­na­tion­al office in Alge­ria. How does inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty fig­ure in the move­ment today? Beyond the rhetoric of a shared strug­gle, what could mate­ri­al sup­port across bor­ders between move­ments look like? And most specif­i­cal­ly, how does today’s move­ment con­nect with the strug­gle in Palestine?

We agree that inter­na­tion­al­ism is an essen­tial per­spec­tive to main­tain in this strug­gle, but there are two things we need to under­stand. First, this move­ment is always most effec­tive­ly led by young peo­ple, even though they are still learn­ing this his­to­ry of inter­na­tion­al­ism, and the glob­al visions that those pol­i­tics had. They shouldn’t be pun­ished for this learn­ing. After all, with the issues in their own “back­yard,” with their com­mu­ni­ties being destroyed, it makes sense that their own neigh­bor­hoods should come first. But sec­ond­ly, even in the­se ear­lier waves of action, the many elders in the move­ment bare­ly scratched the sur­face of inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty.

What’s impor­tant is that cap­i­tal­ism caus­es oppres­sion all over the world, and US impe­ri­al­ism is a dri­ver of those dynam­ics. We saw this clear­ly when Mike Brown died, and there were peo­ple in Palestine tweet­ing about how to deal with tear gas. They’ve expe­ri­enced a lev­el of oppres­sion that at times is more poignant than ours. There is racial oppres­sion in this coun­try, but it’s not the same as the state reg­u­lar­ly shoot­ing whole groups of pro­test­ers, or autho­riz­ing lethal bomb­ings reg­u­lar­ly, or cen­sur­ing media. Yes, we’ve seen exam­ples of that kind of vio­lence, with the case of Min­neapolis, being the most recent, and else­where we have actu­al­ly seen sim­i­lar behav­ior by local racists, but that kind of vio­lence doesn’t hap­pen to the same extent in the US. And I think that implies that we’ve got to fig­ure out how else we can help oth­er peo­ple in oth­er coun­tries. There’s a lot to learn and grow as we build with peo­ple inter­na­tion­al­ly.

There’s a rush to fig­ure out all of the­se strate­gic ques­tions imme­di­ate­ly. The fact that there were peo­ple doing this work before, pre­pared us for where we are now in Bal­ti­more. If we hadn’t had some expe­ri­ence and con­nec­tions with allies nation­al­ly, for instance, we couldn’t have cre­at­ed the infra­struc­ture we did to help with the upris­ing. Effec­tive strug­gle requires, mass­es, and pas­sion, and a com­mit­ment to shared prin­ci­ples but there are few peo­ple with that kind of exper­tise. Often, you have ten or so peo­ple try­ing to direct things for a whole city, and so orga­niz­ing becomes dif­fi­cult. Some months after the upris­ing, we’ve got some more peo­ple ready, now. I don’t believe Bal­ti­more is the last upris­ing we’re going to see, not even with­in our own city, as this move­ment con­tin­ues to grow stronger. But in many places, there’s very lit­tle infra­struc­ture in place. What does it look like to cre­ate infor­ma­tion for jail sup­port or to train street medics when there isn’t a strong move­ment cul­ture? We’ve got to devel­op those capac­i­ties pret­ty rapid­ly, and we have in respon­se to recent actions. But when we think of the­se ques­tions of inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty, the local stuff has to be in mind as well.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

I think it’s under­stand­ing that race is an impor­tant social con­struct, and that class is impor­tant as well. At the end of the day, there are lev­els of priv­i­lege amongst the peo­ple. And it’s about under­stand­ing how your priv­i­lege and your social loca­tion fits into the spec­trum of oth­er peo­ple. For instance, I’m a cis black male, so I have cis-male priv­i­lege. There are a lot of bril­liant black wom­en in the BLOC, and 9 times out of 10, even if I’m not the lead­er that day, peo­ple will come to me for deci­sions. This hap­pens even if they don’t know me! But the same things hap­pen­ing now have hap­pened in oth­er move­ments, as well.

Non-black peo­ple should relate to the issues addressed by the move­ment on the basis of their own expe­ri­ence. How does your priv­i­lege, your oppres­sion, and your lead­er­ship relate to the over­all move­ment. Peo­ple tru­ly are oppressed all over the world: where are you sit­u­at­ed with­in that? We can under­stand and be in sol­i­dar­i­ty with oth­er strug­gles, but you can only lead move­ments based on your own expe­ri­ence. In the BLOC, we try to make space to think and talk about this ques­tion. This is about the polit­i­cal devel­op­ment of our mem­bers on the lead­er­ship ques­tion, and it’s impor­tant.

The BLOC is a Black-led orga­ni­za­tion or POC-led orga­ni­za­tion, and we start from the posi­tion that our inter­ests are all inter­con­nect­ed. We’re not going to turn down your mem­ber­ship in the orga­ni­za­tion because of your race. It’s about shar­ing in the work that we’re all com­mit­ted to. White mem­bers know that it’s not their place with­in this move­ment to direct the strug­gle. They have lead­er­ship roles with­in the orga­ni­za­tion, but that’s dif­fer­ent from lead­ing the move­ment. It’s not like being white means you can’t con­duct an inter­view on behalf of the orga­ni­za­tion, or some­thing like that. That’s not some­thing we would do, because we think this work should be shared.

While every strug­gle is impor­tant, right now, we’re try­ing to put those of Black peo­ple at the fore­front. And it’s not a mono­lithic black­ness but all black peo­ple no mat­ter how they iden­ti­fy, but one that can under­stand all of the oth­er strug­gles from the view­point of the most oppressed group in the Unit­ed States. What­ev­er work you’re doing, on what­ev­er ter­rain, you make your strate­gic focus the most oppressed peo­ple, so that you might uplift every­one else in the process. That’s why you see non­black peo­ple sup­port­ing this move­ment, because their own lib­er­a­tion is at stake.
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CHICAGO ALLIANCE AGAINST RACIST AND POLITICAL REPRESSION
by Mike Sivi­we Elliott

imgres“The police are just one front of the attack on poor and work­ing peo­ple. We fight there because it’s an impor­tant part of this larg­er fight, one that speaks imme­di­ate­ly to the needs and inter­ests of those in oppressed com­mu­ni­ties. But even our strat­e­gy to build up this par­tic­u­lar fight around com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of the police is based on par­tic­i­pat­ing in and sup­port­ing oth­er strug­gles.”
[tog­gle title=“Read More”]

What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

Our orga­ni­za­tion was found­ed in 1973 by Ange­la Davis, Choline Michel, and sev­er­al oth­er activists. We were ini­tial­ly brought togeth­er by the Davis tri­al, but devel­oped into an orga­ni­za­tion as we were com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing to address the issues of polit­i­cal pris­on­ers and police repres­sion. Given what Davis and Michel had expe­ri­enced under COINTELPRO, and the rise of mass incar­cer­a­tion and pris­on expan­sion, this work seemed all the more press­ing.

We have stuck to those tasks through­out the years and have orga­nized a range of actions for them. In recent years, we have been focus­ing on estab­lish­ing an elect­ed civil­ian police account­abil­i­ty coun­cil. Cur­rent­ly, Chicago has an inde­pen­dent police review author­i­ty that inves­ti­gates all inci­dents of police mis­con­duct and shoot­ings, but it is over­seen by the police board and inter­nal review depart­ment, and most impor­tant­ly, all mem­bers are hand­picked by the major and are affil­i­at­ed with law enforce­ment.

Our orga­ni­za­tion is at the fore­front of advanc­ing a con­crete alter­na­tive: the Cit­i­zens’ Police Account­abil­i­ty Coun­cil (CPAC). We believe that such an insti­tu­tion would empow­er peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ty to con­trol how their neigh­bor­hoods are policed, by grant­i­ng them pow­ers to rewrite the rules of con­duct, pow­ers to appoint or fire the police super­in­ten­dent, the pow­er to call for a fed­er­al indict­ment of offi­cer, and the pow­er to bypass­es the coun­ty pros­e­cu­tor, who is noto­ri­ous­ly on the side of the police through­out Chicago’s his­to­ry.

Towards that end, we’ve just orga­nized a big march on August 29th, where between 2,500 and 3,000 peo­ple dis­rupt­ed traf­fic and marched on city hall, demand­ing a Civil­ian police account­abil­i­ty coun­cil. What was most hope­ful was the diver­si­ty of par­tic­i­pants: there was a very strong con­tin­gents of neigh­bor­hood orga­ni­za­tions, the Pales­tini­an, the Fil­ipino and Latin@ com­mu­ni­ties, young white activists, church­es and com­mu­ni­ty groups, the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, along with a lot of sup­port from labor. I believe this dis­plays the pow­er of our demand.

Dur­ing the Mil­lions March in Wash­ing­ton DC, many of the young grass­roots orga­niz­ers who have dri­ven the direct actions again­st police vio­lence were pre­vent­ed from speak­ing by the old­er lead­er­ship. This pat­tern has con­tin­ued. What are the pol­i­tics behind this clash – why is the old­er, local black polit­i­cal and cler­i­cal lead­er­ship try­ing to keep protests con­tained and con­trolled, and what kind of alter­na­tive strate­gies can younger mil­i­tants put for­ward?

Why is the old­er black lead­er­ship act­ing in this fash­ion? First, I think that they’ve for­got­ten that civil dis­obe­di­ence and oth­er forms of dis­rup­tion is an effec­tive way advance our inter­ests and have our issues addressed. This old­er gen­er­a­tion of Civil Rights types – the Al Sharpton’s – have got­ten com­fort­able as they’ve set­tled into the insti­tu­tions we should be dis­rupt­ing. But our alliances are always ready to move in a more rev­o­lu­tion­ary fash­ion, in a more cre­ative way. 

I believed that they’re threat­ened by this approach, and so they stress the devel­op­ment of move­ment icons and indi­vid­u­al lead­ers. What they can’t grasp – and what a lot of old­er or more con­ser­v­a­tive black folks more gen­er­al­ly don’t grasp – is that this move­ment is led by black wom­en across the board. Not only that, this move­ment doesn’t have an icon as a lead­er, but has deep col­lec­tive lead­er­ship. To take us as just one exam­ple, almost every­one in our orga­ni­za­tion can artic­u­late the pur­pose of their protest, and the direc­tion of the move­ment. Rather than cen­tral­iz­ing the lead­er­ship, we see a more col­lec­tive kind of prac­tice.

We’re a multi­gen­er­a­tional group, and I think this is incred­i­bly impor­tant for orga­ni­za­tions today. So, we def­i­nite­ly don’t approach this like many of the old­er orga­ni­za­tions. Even if some of us are of the same age as the estab­lished black lead­er­ship, we aren’t of the same men­tal­i­ty. We wel­come and val­ue the cre­ative input of younger activists, we hon­or their lead­er­ship. That’s why they respect us! We have young folks on our board and with­in our orga­ni­za­tion who are mem­bers of the Black Lives Mat­ter Move­ment. The youth have taught us how to tweet, how to use new tac­tics, and of course we’ve taught them a lot, too. As more vet­er­an orga­niz­ers, we always let them know how much we’re learn­ing from them, and the impact that they’re hav­ing on us, at the same time that we’re relay­ing lessons from our his­to­ry.

A multi­gen­er­a­tional move­ment is being built in Chicago, and our orga­ni­za­tion has been lead­ing that effort. We’ve been wel­comed and earned the trust of younger activists, with­out ques­tion.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

The police are just one front of the attack on poor and work­ing peo­ple, alongside the oth­er issues that you men­tion. We fight there because it’s an impor­tant part of this larg­er fight, one that speaks imme­di­ate­ly to the needs and inter­ests of those in oppressed com­mu­ni­ties. But even our strat­e­gy to build up this par­tic­u­lar fight around com­mu­ni­ty con­trol of the police is based on par­tic­i­pat­ing in and sup­port­ing oth­er strug­gles in hous­ing, schools, and work­places, again­st aus­ter­i­ty, and again­st exploita­tion. It’s the­se efforts of link­ing up with oth­er strug­gles, build­ing coali­tions across the board, that help us grow our move­ment. That’s what pro­duces the turnout we saw on August 29th. 

And we’ve been very suc­cess­ful with that. Per­haps the best exam­ple is the Chicago Teach­ers Union (CTU), who we’ve had great sup­port from. Part of build­ing up this alliance involved pub­lish­ing arti­cles link­ing issues of labor and edu­ca­tion togeth­er around the issue of polic­ing and pris­ons. The teach­ers have been very clear about how this all relates to the school to pris­on pipeline and the real­ly vicious bud­get cuts school work­ers and young peo­ple have to face. May­or Rahm Emanuel has been cut­ting pre­cise­ly the type of health pro­fes­sion­al you men­tion in your ques­tion! At least in pre­dom­i­nant­ly Black and Lati­no schools, though not in the white com­mu­ni­ties. And it’s not just the phys­i­cal health of the­se stu­dents, but their emo­tion­al health as well, as they’re lay­ing off coun­selors and social work­ers. Those peo­ple that did social work are no longer going to be avail­able to the kids. You can see right here, in the direct rela­tion­ship between pris­ons and bud­get cuts, their strat­e­gy of mak­ing con­di­tions more dif­fi­cult for poor and work­ing peo­ple to live and orga­nize.

We’ve also linked up to the anti-evic­tion cam­paign, because we know that this issue also means vio­lence again­st our com­mu­ni­ty. And the Fight for $15 is a major part­ner of ours. Those fast food work­ers are from the same oppressed com­mu­ni­ties deal­ing with the police! They can relate to what we’re call­ing for, and they can see how it’s going to ben­e­fit their lives. 

Ulti­mate­ly, we view the whole sys­tem was one that puts prof­it over peo­ple, and that all of the aspects we are fight are part of this big­ger sys­tem that doesn’t give a damn about the lives of poor and work­ing peo­ple. To fight back, we’ve got to have all the bases cov­ered.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

Well, I can say that our orga­ni­za­tion is very much inti­mate­ly a part of that his­to­ry you’ve just described. Our orga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sents that mul­ti-racial merg­er today. Our orga­ni­za­tion is diverse, both racial­ly and cul­tur­al­ly, but it’s led prin­ci­pal­ly by black folks. Though we come from many dif­fer­ent racial and eth­nic groups, we all respect what we do, with an under­stand­ing that the peo­ple most impact­ed are black peo­ple and latin@ peo­ple. So every­one respects us as lead­ers and defends us when that’s chal­lenged.

We feel very strong­ly that the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment is the major social jus­tice strug­gle in this nation today. We’re proud to be an active part of this move­ment. And we make sure that we are clear in say­ing we’re apart of this move­ment, even though we’ve been doing this work long before that term was ever devel­oped, in a dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal con­text of the Black Pow­er move­ment.

And so, we’ve been thrilled to see the emer­gence of this new cycle, this new move­ment. It has ele­vat­ed the lev­el of involve­ment of black youth in fight­ing again­st oppres­sion. It’s been a resource to mobi­liz­ing lots of folks onto the streets and to edu­cate them about the pow­er that we have as peo­ple. As a result, a lot of young peo­ple now know now to nav­i­gate police harass­ment more than they did before, which is impor­tant when you con­sid­er how fre­quent­ly some are stopped on the street. 

The coali­tion work that we’re involved in, and our demands around the Citizen’s Police Account­abil­i­ty Coun­cil rep­re­sent a big part of our efforts in the move­ment. But we also have been build­ing with oth­er part­ners and orga­ni­za­tions who con­tribute in their own way. For instance, First Defense Legal Aid is the only group in the nation that will legal­ly rep­re­sent you for the first 48 hours after your arrest. They’ll come to the police sta­tion at 4 in the morn­ing if you call them. They check in you, they get infor­ma­tion from the cops, and put the police back on their heels. As a result, you’re treat­ed very dif­fer­ent­ly in jail, so they’re very effec­tive. This group is deeply involved in our coali­tion, and it pro­vides a con­crete exam­ple of ways that our orga­ni­za­tions have relat­ed not only to the move­ment in the streets, but also in the dai­ly lives of peo­ple who are strug­gling.

What’s real­ly excit­ing about this peri­od, is that we’re tak­ing a base orga­ni­za­tion and build­ing larg­er coali­tions that aren’t just city-wide and nation­al in its con­nec­tions, but even inter­na­tion­al. In the week lead­ing up to our action on August 29, we host­ed orga­niz­ers from Cal­i­for­nia, Flori­da, Cal­i­for­nia, Mass­a­chu­setts, Min­neso­ta, and Wis­con­sin in our hous­es, and they helped us turn out sup­port for the demon­stra­tion and get out the infor­ma­tion. We even have black activists from Paris out here. We’ve been build­ing a lot of good rela­tion­ships that will be nec­es­sary to devel­op our pow­er.

We under­stand that our next steps have to nev­er take any of the­se rela­tion­ships for grant­ed. And so we stay very vig­i­lant about con­stant­ly rein­forc­ing our alliances. And this doesn’t just hap­pen for­mal­ly, but often inter­per­son­al­ly. We’re not just part­ners in orga­niz­ing, because in many cas­es we become close friends and even fam­i­ly with the­se peo­ple. In fact, a lot of peo­ple in the move­ment are my per­son­al friends. We social­ize togeth­er, we strength­en our bonds with one anoth­er, and it’s impor­tant to do that as a part of our strat­e­gy. I think you see that reflect­ed in our orga­ni­za­tion.
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COOPERATION JACKSON
by Kali Akuno 

ooperation-jackson-300x300
“Orga­niz­ing again­st state repres­sion and police ter­ror are cor­ner­stones of the self-defense work that Black peo­ple must engage in out of pure neces­si­ty in the Unit­ed States. How­ev­er, we have to rec­og­nize that defense work of this nature, in and of itself, is not trans­for­ma­tive.”
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is a rel­a­tive­ly young orga­ni­za­tion. It was offi­cial­ly launched in May 2014, at the Jack­son Ris­ing: New Economies Con­fer­ence, which took place Fri­day, May 2nd through Sun­day, May 3rd at Jack­son State Uni­ver­si­ty. So, we are just over one year old.

How­ev­er, the vision and plan­ning for Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son has been years in the mak­ing. Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son was born as an instru­ment of the Jack­son-Kush Plan, a plan first devel­oped by the New Afrikan People’s Orga­ni­za­tion and the Mal­colm X Grass­roots Move­ment that seeks to facil­i­tate the devel­op­ment of a vibrant sol­i­dar­i­ty econ­o­my in Jack­son, by build­ing an inte­grat­ed net­work of coop­er­a­tive and com­mu­ni­ty owned enter­pris­es that would provide sus­tain­able, liv­ing-wage jobs. The objec­tive in build­ing a strong local sol­i­dar­i­ty econ­o­my is to advance the devel­op­ment of eco­nom­ic democ­ra­cy as a trans­for­ma­tive and tran­si­tion­al socio-eco­nom­ic sys­tem based on work­er self-man­age­ment and the direct own­er­ship of the means of pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion.

In our short year of exis­tence, we obtained sev­er­al sig­nif­i­cant accom­plish­ments. We have acquired a fair amount of land and prop­er­ties in West Jack­son that we are work­ing to trans­form into a Com­mu­ni­ty Land Trust. This will be home to a live-work Eco-Vil­lage – a liv­ing com­plex devot­ed to eco­log­i­cal and cli­mate sus­tain­abil­i­ty in its design and oper­a­tion, par­tic­u­lar­ly how it uti­lizes and pro­duces ener­gy – with coop­er­a­tive hous­ing and a num­ber of inte­grat­ed coop­er­a­tive busi­ness­es. The most not­ed of the­se prop­er­ties is the Chok­we Lumum­ba Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic Democ­ra­cy and Devel­op­ment, which serves as the oper­at­ing base of Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son, and the home of sev­er­al of our emerg­ing coop­er­a­tives. We also were able to get the City Coun­cil to pass a res­o­lu­tion call­ing for the cre­ation of a Human Rights Char­ter for the City of Jack­son, and a Human Rights Com­mis­sion to enforce it. 

This is a very sig­nif­i­cant vic­to­ry, one that unfor­tu­nate­ly has not received the atten­tion we think it deserves on a nation­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­el. When imple­ment­ed the char­ter and com­mis­sion will make Jack­son the only city in the Unit­ed States that attempts gov­ern itself in accor­dance with all of the fun­da­men­tal human rights con­ven­tions, covenants, treaties, pro­to­cols and stan­dards. We hope that it will serve as a mod­el to strength­en social move­ments through­out the US in the strug­gle to rad­i­cal­ly trans­form this soci­ety. We antic­i­pate a high lev­el of resis­tance to the full imple­men­ta­tion of the char­ter by reac­tionary forces in Mis­sis­sip­pi and through­out the coun­try, and we are doing all we can to pre­pare for that in an offen­sive man­ner as well. 

We are build­ing the Char­ter and the Com­mis­sion through the Jack­son Human Rights Insti­tute (JHRI). The Insti­tute is a train­ing and coor­di­nat­ing cen­ter com­mit­ted to mak­ing Jack­son a Human Rights City. The Insti­tute was launched in the fall of 2014 to strength­en the  local human rights social  move­ment, expand its base, and facil­i­tate the draft­ing of the Char­ter and the struc­ture of the Insti­tute.

We are also a pilot-site for the Our Pow­er Cam­paign, devel­oped by the Cli­mate Jus­tice Alliance. This past June, we held a South­ern People’s Move­ment Assem­bly for a Just Tran­si­tion to launch a local cam­paign to make Jack­son a “Sus­tain­able City,” com­mit­ted to elim­i­nat­ing its eco­log­i­cal foot­print over the next decade.

Over the course of the next year, we are going to focus on open­ing and sta­bi­liz­ing sev­er­al coop­er­a­tives, found­ing our Com­mu­ni­ty Land Trust, devel­op­ing the Human Rights Char­ter, and mov­ing the City to adopt key aspects of our Just Tran­si­tion cli­mate jus­tice pol­i­cy frame­work.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for
$15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

The Jack­son-Kush Plan is a tran­si­tion­al vision and strat­e­gy for the attain­ment of Black self-deter­mi­na­tion devel­oped by the New Afrikan People’s Orga­ni­za­tion (NAPO) and the Mal­colm X Grass­roots Move­ment (MXGM). This is crit­i­cal to men­tion, because the Mal­colm X Grass­roots Move­ment is per­haps best known for its decades of orga­niz­ing on a nation­al lev­el again­st state repres­sion and police ter­ror again­st Black peo­ple. How­ev­er, it should also be not­ed that despite the vis­i­bil­i­ty of the work again­st state repres­sion and police ter­ror, the orga­ni­za­tion nev­er upheld it as being cen­tral to the achieve­ment of self-deter­mi­na­tion. NAPO and MXGM always empha­sized obtain­ing self-deter­mi­na­tion for peo­ple of African descent in the Unit­ed States, which in Mis­sis­sip­pi and through­out the South cen­ters on two objec­tives. First,  on build­ing eco­nom­ic democ­ra­cy through sol­i­dar­i­ty and regen­er­a­tive eco­nom­ic orga­ni­za­tion, and sec­ond, on build­ing polit­i­cal pow­er through the con­struc­tion of autonomous people’s assem­blies and inde­pen­dent polit­i­cal par­ties.

Orga­niz­ing again­st state repres­sion and police ter­ror are cor­ner­stones of the self-defense work that Black peo­ple must engage in out of pure neces­si­ty in the Unit­ed States. How­ev­er, we have to rec­og­nize that defense work of this nature, in and of itself, is not trans­for­ma­tive. At its best, this type of self-defense work might stall the blows of the state’s iron fist, but the car­rots of the state and cap­i­tal are just as, if not even more so, dead­ly.

Now our peo­ple and our move­ment must nev­er aban­don its defens­es (in fact we would do well to build them even stronger). But, we have to be more strate­gic and try to get at the eco­nom­ic roots of our prob­lem. To this end, we have and will con­tin­ue to sup­port cam­paigns like the Fight for $15 and the orga­ni­za­tion of the work­ers at the Nis­san plant in Can­ton, MS. But, we have to go fur­ther. In the dis­pos­able era that we are in, where nei­ther the multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions or the state have the finan­cial inter­est or the polit­i­cal will to cre­ate jobs for the mil­lions that are under and unem­ployed, work­ing peo­ple must seize the ini­tia­tive by simul­ta­ne­ous­ly col­lec­tiviz­ing our resources to pro­duce the jobs that we need and by seiz­ing con­trol of the exist­ing means pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion, and con­sump­tion by any and all demo­c­ra­t­ic means at our dis­pos­al.  Part of the rea­son Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son was born, was to facil­i­tate work­ing peo­ple in Jack­son devel­op­ing their own capac­i­ty to impact, if not con­trol, their own eco­nom­ic cir­cum­stances and to fight for the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of the econ­o­my. In this effort, we have con­scious­ly tried to link the over­all strug­gle again­st white suprema­cy, colo­nial­ism, and state repres­sion to the strug­gle for eco­nom­ic jus­tice, polit­i­cal inde­pen­dence, and self-deter­mi­na­tion.

The most con­crete way we have done this is by build­ing the Human Rights Insti­tute. Pro­mot­ing a peo­ple-cen­tered human rights agen­da has long been an objec­tive of the forces advanc­ing the Jack­son-Kush Plan. One of the key ele­ments that we were set to imple­ment under the May­oral admin­is­tra­tion of Chok­we Lumum­ba, was the intro­duc­tion of a Human Rights Char­ter and a Human Rights Com­mis­sion. When May­or Lumum­ba unex­pect­ed­ly passed in Feb­ru­ary 2014, this ini­tia­tive returned to the social move­ment. In Decem­ber 2014, the­se forces took the ini­tia­tive, first by orga­niz­ing a high­way block­ade in Down­town Jack­son to draw atten­tion to the exon­er­a­tion of the mur­der­ers of Mike Brown and Eric Gard­ner. Then by wag­ing an action on City Hall to move it to com­mit to cre­at­ing and imple­ment­ing a com­pre­hen­sive Human Rights Char­ter, with strong enforce­ment mech­a­nisms for the pro­tec­tion of eco­nom­ic, social and cul­tur­al rights (ESC Rights such as dig­ni­fied employ­ment, qual­i­ty hous­ing, health care, water, etc.) and a Police Con­trol Board demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly elect­ed by the res­i­dents of the City. The City Coun­cil passed a res­o­lu­tion com­mit­ting the City to the cre­ation and imple­men­ta­tion of a Human Rights Char­ter and Com­mis­sion. Now the strug­gle is to broad­en the base of sup­port for this ini­tia­tive, build the char­ter with the peo­ple, and to see its imple­men­ta­tion through munic­i­pal gov­ern­ment to com­ple­tion.

Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son and the Jack­son Human Rights Insti­tute are con­crete ways we’ve been mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion towards the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of a inter­sec­tion­al strat­e­gy of social lib­er­a­tion. We think that there are lessons to be learned from our work. And we think that there are some broad strate­gies and meth­ods of strug­gle that can be applied through­out the US empire. We main­tain that we need to build a mass move­ment that focus­es as much on build­ing autonomous, self-orga­nized and exe­cut­ed social projects as it focus­es on cam­paigns and ini­tia­tives that apply trans­for­ma­tive pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment and the forces of eco­nom­ic exploita­tion and dom­i­na­tion.  This is imper­a­tive, espe­cial­ly when we clear­ly under­stand the dynam­ics inter­nal to the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem we are fight­ing again­st.

Autonomous projects are ini­tia­tives not sup­port­ed or orga­nized by the gov­ern­ment (state) or some vari­ant of monopoly cap­i­tal (finance or cor­po­rate indus­tri­al or mer­can­tile cap­i­tal). The­se are ini­tia­tives that direct­ly seek to cre­ate a demo­c­ra­t­ic “econ­o­my of need” around orga­niz­ing sus­tain­able insti­tu­tions that sat­is­fy people’s basic needs around prin­ci­ples of social sol­i­dar­i­ty and par­tic­i­pa­to­ry or direct democ­ra­cy that inten­tion­al­ly put the needs of peo­ple before the needs of prof­it. The­se ini­tia­tives are built and sus­tained by peo­ple orga­niz­ing them­selves and col­lec­tiviz­ing their resources through dues pay­ing mem­ber­ship struc­tures, income shar­ing, resource shar­ing, time bank­ing, etc., to amass the ini­tial resources need­ed to start and sus­tain our ini­tia­tives. The­se types of projects range from orga­niz­ing com­mu­ni­ty farms (focused on devel­op­ing the capac­i­ty to feed thou­sands of peo­ple) to form­ing people’s self-defense net­works to orga­niz­ing non-mar­ket hous­ing projects to build­ing coop­er­a­tives to ful­fill our mate­ri­al needs. To ensure that the­se are not mere Black or “eth­nic” cap­i­tal­ist enter­pris­es, the­se ini­tia­tives must be built demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly from the ground up and must be owned, oper­at­ed, and con­trolled by their work­ers and con­sumers. The­se are essen­tial­ly “serve the peo­ple” or “sur­vival pro­grams” that help the peo­ple to sus­tain and attain a degree of auton­o­my and self-rule.

Our pres­sure exert­ing ini­tia­tives must be focused on cre­at­ing enough demo­c­ra­t­ic and social space for us to orga­nize our­selves in a self-deter­mined man­ner. We should be under no illu­sion that the sys­tem can be reformed, it can­not. Cap­i­tal­ism and its bour­geois nation­al-states, the US gov­ern­ment being the most dom­i­nant amongst them, have demon­strat­ed a tremen­dous abil­i­ty to adapt to and absorb dis­rup­tive social forces and their demands when it has ample sur­plus­es. The cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem has essen­tial­ly run out of sur­plus­es, and there­fore does not pos­sess the flex­i­bil­i­ty that it once did.

Because real prof­its have declined since the late 1960’s, cap­i­tal­ism has resort­ed to oper­at­ing large­ly on a par­a­sitic basis, com­mon­ly referred to as neo-lib­er­al­ism, which calls for the dis­man­tling of the social wel­fare state, pri­va­tiz­ing the social resources of the state, elim­i­nat­ing insti­tu­tions of social sol­i­dar­i­ty (like trade unions), elim­i­nat­ing safe­ty stan­dards and pro­tec­tions, pro­mot­ing the monopoly of trade by cor­po­ra­tions, and run­ning finan­cial mar­kets like casi­nos.

Our objec­tives there­fore, must be struc­tural and neces­si­tate noth­ing less than com­plete social trans­for­ma­tion. To press for our goals we must seek to exert max­i­mum pres­sure by orga­niz­ing mass cam­paigns that are strate­gic and tac­ti­cal­ly flex­i­ble, includ­ing mass action (protest) meth­ods, direct action meth­ods, boy­cotts, non-com­pli­ance meth­ods, occu­pa­tions, and var­i­ous types of people’s or pop­u­lar assem­blies. The chal­lenges here are not becom­ing side­lined and sub­or­di­nat­ed to some­one else’s agen­da – in par­tic­u­lar that of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty (which has been the grave of social move­ments for gen­er­a­tions) – and not get­ting dis­tract­ed by sym­bol­ic reforms or los­ing sight of the strate­gic in the pur­suit of the expe­di­ent.

There are oth­er ten­den­cies that may be in a posi­tion to co-opt the move­ment –it is wide­ly not­ed that non­prof­its play a demo­bi­liz­ing role in social move­ments, medi­at­ing between action in the streets and munic­i­pal city gov­ern­ments whose fund­ing they depend on. Because non­prof­its have resources that grass­roots ini­tia­tives often don’t, they posi­tion them­selves as the lead­er­ship, while con­sti­tut­ing social bases of sup­port in ways that are more dif­fi­cult for rad­i­cals. How can this co-opt­ing be avoid­ed? How can rad­i­cals devel­op the same bases of sup­port that many non­prof­its enjoy?

First things first, we believe that you have to make a dis­tinc­tion between the system’s legit­imiza­tion of non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions and their actu­al lev­el of sup­port amongst the peo­ple. Peo­ple often give def­er­ence to the legit­i­ma­cy con­ferred upon non­prof­it orga­ni­za­tions because most do provide ser­vices that work­ing and poor peo­ple need. But, the uti­liza­tion of the­se ser­vices doesn’t mean that the peo­ple are in any way loy­al to the­se orga­ni­za­tions, as folks will seek sup­port from con­tra­dic­to­ry sources when they need it.

Rad­i­cal forces have to take a long-term view towards base build­ing and com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing. We have to call on the peo­ple to build and sup­port their own inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tions, orga­ni­za­tions that are not depen­dent on foun­da­tions or reformist elec­toral par­ties for their resources or their legit­i­ma­cy. We, the peo­ple and the social move­ments, have to resource our own orga­ni­za­tions, so that we own and con­trol their pol­i­tics, pro­grams, and agen­das. Self-orga­ni­za­tion can often be dif­fi­cult, but it isn’t for­eign to many. After all, many peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ties reg­u­lar­ly give to their spir­i­tu­al insti­tu­tions and to oth­er types of char­i­ties. We have to move folks to give in this same man­ner to their own polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment insti­tu­tions.

The pri­ma­ry thing that we must do, is to remain focused, prin­ci­pled, and dis­ci­plined, while at the same time being flex­i­ble enough to deal with new dynam­ics, be they oppor­tu­ni­ties or chal­lenges.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

Over the past 4 years, we’ve seen an explo­sion of new orga­ni­za­tions. From Occu­py the Hood, to the Mil­lion Hood­ies Move­ment, to the Dream Defend­ers, to BYP100, We Charge Geno­cide, Black Lives Mat­ter to the pletho­ra of orga­ni­za­tions that emerged in the greater St. Louis region after the Fer­gu­son rebel­lion in 2014. It is our view that this ris­ing tide of activ­i­ty has been brew­ing for well over a decade. It is the pro­duct of a generation’s respon­se to the hor­ror of Hur­ri­cane Katri­na, and what it indi­cat­ed about the val­ue of Black life in this soci­ety.

Black Lives Mat­ter has become the ral­ly­ing cry of this gen­er­a­tion, but what this call rep­re­sents is a pass­ing of the torch in the Black Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment. How­ev­er, it is still too ear­ly to ascer­tain clear­ly where many of the­se orga­ni­za­tions are head­ed. Will they move fur­ther to the left in a rev­o­lu­tion­ary direc­tion, or will they head in a more reformist direc­tion? It is still too ear­ly to tell. There are pos­i­tive signs that large num­bers of those who have been called to action dur­ing this upsurge are devel­op­ing a rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­scious­ness. But, it will take some con­sid­er­able work on the part of the­se indi­vid­u­als to turn their orga­ni­za­tions into rev­o­lu­tion­ary vehi­cles, par­tic­u­lar­ly given all of the pres­sures and dis­trac­tions they have to con­front, like attempt­ed buy-off’s from the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty and major foun­da­tions and phil­an­thropists, oppor­tunism of pub­li­cal­ly vis­i­ble mem­bers of the move­ment, and per­son­al dif­fer­ences amongst the move­ments lead­ers dis­guised as polit­i­cal dif­fer­ence.

The lev­el of sol­i­dar­i­ty exhib­it­ed by non-Black activists in Fer­gu­son, Bal­ti­more, and with the move­ment for Black Lives over­all has also been very encour­ag­ing. There are some signs, such some of the direct engage­ment of Arab, South and Asian, and Xican@ in many of the actions and ini­tia­tives of cur­rent Black upsurge, that this sol­i­dar­i­ty could fos­ter the devel­op­ment of new mul­ti-racial, mul­ti-nation­al rev­o­lu­tion­ary for­ma­tions in the near future. But, it will take some very focused work on the part of all of the forces involved.

Coop­er­a­tion Jack­son is built to serve the needs of the Black work­ing class major­i­ty of Jack­son, MS. It is designed to provide sta­ble employ­ment, equi­ty, demo­c­ra­t­ic con­trol and dig­ni­ty to Black work­ers. How­ev­er, it is a multi­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion and inten­tion­al­ly so. We attempt­ing to demon­strate, in prac­tice, that white work­ers can be prin­ci­pled demo­c­ra­t­ic actors under Black lead­er­ship and be agents in the strug­gle again­st white suprema­cy. We are also explic­it in our attempt to build “Black-Brown” uni­ty by doing out­reach to the grow­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties in Mis­sis­sip­pi, par­tic­u­lar­ly from Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca, to inter­vene in and defeat the many divide and con­quer strate­gies and tac­tics used to keep the work­ing class frag­ment­ed and iso­lat­ed.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

This is a very crit­i­cal ques­tion for the devel­op­ment of a trans­for­ma­tive force in the US. In order to main­tain and advance this res­o­nance, each peo­ple and move­ment must be open to process­es of crit­i­cal edu­ca­tion­al engage­ment with each oth­er. We are attempt­ing to do this in Jack­son by inten­tion­al­ly bring­ing the move­ment for Black self-deter­mi­na­tion into con­stant con­tact and engage­ment via joint study, strat­e­gy devel­op­ment and strug­gle with the sol­i­dar­i­ty econ­o­my move­ment, the trade union move­ment, the immi­grant rights move­ment, the queer move­ment and the cli­mate jus­tice move­ment. Our move­ments must under­stand the nuances, inter­sec­tions and par­tic­u­lar­i­ties that dif­fer­ent people’s, social sec­tors, gen­ders and sex­u­al com­mu­ni­ties each con­front in bat­tling the sys­tems of oppres­sion that struc­ture our lives. If we don’t come to some crit­i­cal under­stand­ings on how we are each posi­tioned in the cap­i­tal­ist world-sys­tem, will remain sub­ject to the whims of our oppres­sors and manip­u­la­tors, and the many sys­tems and, tech­niques they employ to keep us divid­ed. In short, we’ll be unable to devel­op a com­pre­hen­sive strat­e­gy of social trans­for­ma­tion and lib­er­a­tion that will free us all.
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#ITSBIGGERTHANYOU
by Aurielle Lucier

 

unnamed

“This old­er lead­er­ship class is clear­ly invest­ed in the pow­er they’ve obtained for them­selves with a seat at the table, and they mis­take that seat as real lib­er­a­tion for Black peo­ple. Since the 1970s, there’s been no account­abil­i­ty of Black lead­er­ship to the com­mu­ni­ty they claim to rep­re­sent, and those lega­cies of protest and move­ment build­ing weren’t passed down, but were for­got­ten.”
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

#its­big­gerthany­ou was formed in the wake of the exe­cu­tion of Michael Brown and the unrest in Fer­gu­son. We’re a grass­roots orga­ni­za­tion, com­prised of activists from oth­er Atlanta based groups, most notably in coali­tion with folks from the three local HBCU’s. Our group involves a large num­ber of stu­dents, as well as oth­er young adults, young entre­pre­neurs, and orga­niz­ers. We mobi­lized over 5,000 peo­ple in Atlanta to protest in resis­tance to police abuse and the crim­i­nal­iza­tion of black peo­ple. We have orga­nized dozens of protests, includ­ing a high­way shut-down and a con­fer­ence ded­i­cat­ed to action-based learn­ing around reform­ing polic­ing.

What are we push­ing for? We’re behind the demands: dis­em­pow­er, dis­arm, and dis­band. We’ve been quite pub­lic about our posi­tion, but we’re try­ing to fig­ure out how to real­ize it. In some ways, tak­ing up those par­tic­u­lar demands has been put on the back­burn­er while we do research, but in the mean­time we’ve been explor­ing and exper­i­ment­ing with cam­eras on cops ini­tia­tives, and call­ing for a slew of oth­er demands. We’re for giv­ing more pow­er to com­mu­ni­ty account­abil­i­ty boards, pro­vid­ing them with some lever­age again­st police, so that they’re not just a forum for speak­ing their mind, but as bod­ies that could call for an inves­ti­ga­tion and indict cops. 

Since the upris­ing in Fer­gu­son, we’ve seen racist, right-wing ter­ror­ism flare up with the bomb­ing of an NAACP office in Col­orado and the trag­ic and mur­der­ous attack on a his­toric Black Church in South Car­oli­na. The shoot­ing of two police offi­cers in New York seems to have encour­aged NYPD mem­bers to open­ly defy the city’s may­or, ham­string­ing his own agen­da. And else­where, politi­cians and police have start­ed to use the specter of Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more to jus­ti­fy pre­emp­tive police repres­sion and mobi­lize sup­port for cur­fews. Might the­se move­ments and upris­ings pro­voke a right-wing resur­gence? Do you see exam­ples of this hap­pen­ing where you orga­nize? What can we do to rout the­se efforts?

I think many of us were tak­en by sur­prise by the respon­se from the right-wing, as well as the repres­sion from the state. There was this sense that if we exposed white suprema­cy – ini­ti­at­ing the­se tough con­ver­sa­tions and pro­mot­ing the right leg­is­la­tion – the veil of col­or­blind­ness would fall off. We’re learn­ing now how impor­tant it is to not under­es­ti­mate white suprema­cy.

With­in our group, there has already been a huge flux in mem­ber­ship and par­tic­i­pa­tion, in part because of a group split that divid­ed our num­bers after it was dis­cov­ered that our group was sus­cep­ti­ble to sur­veil­lance. There were some ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences from the get go, both in terms of big pic­ture stuff, like how we were imag­in­ing lib­er­a­tion, but also dif­fer­ences in how we should relate to the media. Even though talk­ing with elders from the Mal­colm X Grass­roots Move­ment was essen­tial in work­ing through some of those gaps, the stress­es ampli­fied by repres­sion made the split inevitable. The blow­back from our work on col­lege cam­pus­es and off led to police fol­low­ing many of us, often pulled over with­out a rea­son, with the offi­cer using your first name. With such intense repres­sion tak­ing place, it became dif­fi­cult to come to a con­sen­sus around such diver­gent pol­i­tics.

Repres­sion led to a major recal­i­bra­tion of where peo­ple stood around mil­i­tant action. For many, it was an emo­tion­al­ly drain­ing expe­ri­ence. But when peo­ple step back, it becomes eas­ier to iso­late the remain­ing lead­er­ship. I believe I was tar­get­ed for those rea­sons, kid­napped by police for ten hours when our work was just get­ting start­ed. I’m the co-founder of our orga­ni­za­tion, and for a long time was the only spokesper­son, and that con­cen­tra­tion of author­i­ty ran some obvi­ous risks. We need to move in the direc­tion of group-cen­tered lead­er­ship, to make vis­i­ble the wide array of black iden­ti­ties.  This meant account­ing for ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences, too. 

Beyond col­lec­tiviz­ing lead­er­ship, our best bet is to dou­ble down on com­mit­ments to trans­paren­cy. There’s a lot of mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion between “the move­ment,” between mass media, and dif­fer­ent sec­tors of soci­ety. Black Lives Mat­ter is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a move­ment, an orga­ni­za­tion, and a bat­tle cry on the streets of Fer­gu­son, but that kind of fuzzi­ness caus­es dis­trust, cre­ates frac­tion, divides and sec­tions off our pow­er. And as any orga­niz­er knows, the same kinds of ten­sions and impass­es hap­pen in small, local orga­niz­ing cir­cles, too. The­se kinds of divi­sions are what repres­sion aims to pro­duce, and they make fur­ther repres­sion pos­si­ble. We look at the Black Pan­ther Par­ty and what a point of inspi­ra­tion it is for us today. But even it end­ed with an extreme lev­el of dis­trust.  That’s why it’s crit­i­cal for us to be bru­tal­ly and rad­i­cal­ly hon­est with each oth­er, to make space for dis­agree­ment and debate. It’s sav­ing us in Atlanta. It takes all the guess­work out of orga­niz­ing, and helps min­i­mize the effects of repres­sion and the attacks from the right-wing.

Dur­ing the Mil­lions March in Wash­ing­ton DC, many of the young grass­roots orga­niz­ers who have dri­ven the direct actions again­st police vio­lence were pre­vent­ed from speak­ing by the old­er lead­er­ship. This pat­tern has con­tin­ued. What are the pol­i­tics behind this clash – why is the old­er, local black polit­i­cal and cler­i­cal lead­er­ship try­ing to keep protests con­tained and con­trolled, and what kind of alter­na­tive strate­gies can younger mil­i­tants put for­ward?

As an orga­ni­za­tion, we don’t col­lab­o­rate with the old­er, estab­lished civil rights lead­er­ship, though we work close­ly with those we con­sid­er to be our elders. In Atlanta, there’s a thick lega­cy of the civil rights move­ment, whose vet­er­ans and mem­o­ry that try to dic­tate the actions of this move­ment. We have to be stead­fast in our crit­i­cism, though, and vig­i­lant about how pow­er has afflict­ed our will­ing­ness to sac­ri­fice for lib­er­a­tion work. Many civil rights orga­niz­ers and lead­ers were put into posi­tions of pow­er after after the 1960s, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of nego­ti­a­tion with white suprema­cy is clear­ly seduc­tive. That’s why you see old­er folks pre­scrib­ing accept­able deco­rum for black orga­niz­ers, uphold­ing the pol­i­tics of respectabil­i­ty, and dis­tanc­ing them­selves from actions on the streets. 

This old­er lead­er­ship class is clear­ly invest­ed in the pow­er they’ve obtained for them­selves with a seat at the table, and they mis­take that seat as real lib­er­a­tion for Black peo­ple. So when we’re resist­ing in the streets, that’s jeop­ar­diz­ing their strat­e­gy. We’re risk­ing what that pow­er did for them, rather than what that pow­er actu­al­ly did for the Black com­mu­ni­ty. Since the 1970s, there’s been no account­abil­i­ty of Black lead­er­ship to the com­mu­ni­ty they claim to rep­re­sent, and those lega­cies of protest and move­ment build­ing weren’t passed down, but were for­got­ten.

When they do engage with the move­ment, or try to show sup­port, they ask us to mim­ic their tac­tics. That’s just a sil­ly request that can’t be hon­ored, and our elders and men­tors, apart from that lead­er­ship class, tru­ly under­stand that. Our new move­ment is learn­ing how to jeop­ar­dize com­merce, to threat­en the mutu­al­ly rein­forc­ing sys­tems of cap­i­tal­ism and white suprema­cy. We saw how quick­ly things moved once we start­ed threat­en­ing com­merce. Black Fri­day actions back in the Fall of 2014 con­tribut­ed to a ten per­cent drop in sales from the trends of the last ten years! That’s the kind of pow­er we’re look­ing to build.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

Police bru­tal­i­ty is a per­fect storm in that it is a phys­i­cal­ly appar­ent, emo­tion­al­ly and social­ly con­fronta­tion­al issue root­ed in racism and white suprema­cy. In a world where orga­niz­ers fight again­st the rhetoric that the very idea of racism doesn’t exist, police bru­tal­i­ty offers a clear view into the world of anti-black vio­lence. This paves the way for con­ver­sa­tions, pol­i­cy changes, and leg­is­la­tion shifts. We know that white suprema­cy is an anti-black, vio­lent belief sys­tem that works its way through the many sys­tems that work in tandem with it. Cap­i­tal­ism, patri­archy, and racism each feed off of the mar­gin­al­iza­tion of poor black folks, black work­ing moth­ers, and the black com­mu­ni­ty. The­se sys­tems work alongside mass incar­cer­a­tion, since high pover­ty areas usu­al­ly suf­fer from high­er des­per­a­tion-dri­ven crime (drug sales, theft, assault, etc). So in a way, tar­get­ing one, is tar­get­ing all, so long as it doesn’t stop there.

And our work often doesn’t. Yes, police bru­tal­i­ty is often deployed as a metaphor for all kinds of  racist state vio­lence. When you try to talk about how the state oppress­es black folks, it is most eas­i­ly per­ceived through the videos of police ter­ror. We live in such a sen­sa­tion­al­ized cul­ture, and eco­nom­ic exploita­tion or redlin­ing don’t have the same visu­al expres­sions that the­se videos do. Instead, they’re dif­fi­cult and com­pli­cat­ed issues to talk about. Even mass incar­cer­a­tion and the school to pris­on pipeline can be dif­fi­cult to rep­re­sent and break down in con­ver­sa­tion, since the path­ways to it can be so incre­men­tal. But the phys­i­cal vio­lence of police often hap­pens in a mat­ter of sec­onds. They are aggra­vat­ing and dif­fi­cult to stom­ach, and when you show it to some­one who is doubt­ing the scope of racism in Amer­i­ca, I’ve found that it’s often eas­ier for them to under­stand the scope white suprema­cy through those bru­tal clips. 

I think the suc­cess of this strat­e­gy is what unpins the dra­mat­ic rais­ing of con­scious­ness we’ve seen in the last year. I think that it’s respon­si­ble for the huge leaps we’ve made in the fight for 15 move­ment, the sig­nif­i­cant shifts we’ve seen in cor­po­rate poli­cies around race in work­places, and the siz­able changes with­in the LGBTQ move­ment. The­se effects rip­pled from the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment push­ing this speci­fic bit with the jus­tice sys­tem.

That said, we’ve been exper­i­ment­ing with devel­op­ing coali­tions with oth­er move­ments. Black Fri­day was one oppor­tu­ni­ty for that. The way that black folks are policed in retail envi­ron­ments, with mall cops and secu­ri­ty harass­ing and harm­ing black peo­ple, can link up in a tan­gi­ble way to the fight for bet­ter wages and work­ing con­di­tions being under­tak­en by retain work­ers, many of whom are black. The­se kinds of alliances can ampli­fy and expand efforts to raise the min­i­mum wage, win sup­port for our demands around police vio­lence, and help us think sys­tem­i­cal­ly about how the­se issues relate. It’s our lack of eco­nom­ic secu­ri­ty that often makes police vio­lence pos­si­ble, and the work of the police to demo­nize and harass us also makes it more dif­fi­cult to come up on a liv­ing wage. So, the­se ele­ments work togeth­er to pro­duce high­ly exploit­ed black com­mu­ni­ties. We’ve got to con­front the­se inter­sec­tions inten­tion­al­ly.

Alongside repres­sion, the Black Pan­ther Party’s han­dling of gen­der and sex­u­al­i­ty is often named as one of the cen­tral rea­sons for their decline. In fact, it’s one of the few argu­ments that dif­fer­ent fac­tions of the Pan­thers can agree upon – Elaine Brown and Assa­ta Shakur have made remark­ably sim­i­lar obser­va­tions about patri­archy in the par­ty. Some have even drawn a causal link between the force of repres­sion and the dan­ger­ous prac­tice of patri­archy that was active in some quar­ters, show­ing how “misog­y­nists make great infor­mants.” And yet, recent schol­ar­ship has shown that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary activism car­ried out by so many rank and file wom­en Par­ty mem­bers made the sur­vival pro­grams pos­si­ble. Women’s polit­i­cal work and lead­er­ship around issues of hous­ing rights, health care access, edu­ca­tion, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices trans­port­ed the strug­gle for black lib­er­a­tion onto a much broad­er ter­rain. It’s often not­ed today that Black Lives Mat­ter is large­ly not led by cis men but by black wom­en, trans* wom­en and men and queer orga­niz­ers); if this is the case, what’s the sig­nif­i­cance of this lead­er­ship? Does this lead­er­ship sig­nal a poten­tial change in the con­tent and direc­tion of this move­ment?

Young peo­ple, black lib­er­a­tion orga­niz­ers, have real­ized that a cis-gen­dered male dom­i­nat­ed move­ment crip­ples the impact of work, because it sup­ports (uplifts, even) white suprema­cist, cis-het­ero patri­archy that has enact­ed vio­lence again­st us for cen­turies. Lib­er­a­tion must be inter­sec­tion­al. If we are not cen­ter­ing wom­en, black trans wom­en, and queer folks in our work, we are doomed to build a lega­cy that will sure­ly crum­ble beneath us. The “least of us,” those who have been for­got­ten, neglect­ed, and mar­gin­al­ized, are often the ones most will­ing to put their bod­ies and lives on the line to gain free­dom. Allow­ing them to par­tic­i­pate in that sac­ri­fice, with­out demand­ing their lib­er­a­tion inside of our black strug­gle, cre­ates a cycle of vio­lence and regres­sion that won’t end until we enforce inter­sec­tion­al­i­ty.

The Black Pan­ther Par­ty is often called one of the most misog­y­nis­tic orga­ni­za­tions from their peri­od, but they also boast­ed the lead­er­ship of badass wom­en who weren’t tak­ing no shit. Com­pare that to the South­ern Chris­tian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence (SCLC) or the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion for the Advance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple (NAACP), who upheld patri­ar­chal lead­er­ship in a way that didn’t allow for women’s voic­es, or queer voic­es, to be uplift­ed, sup­port­ed, or ampli­fied. This shift, made pos­si­ble by Pan­ther wom­en, can be seen all over this time around. We also owe a lot to wom­en, queer, and trans peo­ple who have be doing work since the Pan­thers. The peo­ple at South­ern­ers on New Ground have been doing this kind of essen­tial orga­niz­ing for decades, and that’s reflect­ed in the lead­er­ship of much of the move­ment today.

I came out as queer last Novem­ber, three months into our orga­niz­ing with #its­big­gerthany­ou. I came out because I saw how old­er pat­terns of orga­niz­ing and lead­er­ship were exclud­ing voic­es that need­ed to be heard as a part of this move­ment. After all, queer folks come out to every protests, and it’s impor­tant for them to be vis­i­ble and reflect­ed in the work we do. If we don’t active­ly pro­mote that kind of lead­er­ship, we’ll be build­ing a move­ment that will be inef­fec­tu­al to many black peo­ple. If we were just orga­niz­ing for black men, we’d do a dis­ser­vice for all black folks – includ­ing those men – since our move­ment wouldn’t be as strong, or as deep as it would need to be.  Just as the strug­gle again­st anti-black­ness is in the inter­ests of all folks of col­or, our move­ment again­st white suprema­cy must have a stake in con­fronting misog­y­noir, trans­pho­bia, and patri­archy.

The­se sys­tems of pow­er are work­ing in tandem, so we need to be mind­ful of how there are rela­tion­ships of priv­i­lege and pow­er, even with­in our com­mu­ni­ties. Our move­ment will have to con­tin­ue to do work in this areas, to ensure that trans peo­ple are not a cliff note in the black com­mu­ni­ty, but as a cen­tral part of our black­ness. We need space for black folks across the spec­trum of gen­der, and this has been a chal­lenge for us in Atlanta as well as nation­wide. We will need to push our strug­gle into fem­i­nized work­places, or into the fight for repro­duc­tive jus­tice. There are many ele­ments that we need to con­sid­er, many fronts for us to launch, when we con­sid­er all the dif­fer­ent sec­tors of oppressed peo­ple in the US. 

All Black Lives Mat­ter. We sub­scribe to that.
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ORGANIZATION FOR BLACK STRUGGLE
by Way­lon McDon­ald
obs_logo_big
“Our focus is not try­ing to win over the right wing, but focus­ing on build­ing pow­er with­in our com­mu­ni­ties, alongside the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans who are learn­ing that the­se kinds of state poli­cies are not in their inter­ests. So while we’re dis­rupt­ing our ene­mies, we must, at the same time, orga­nize and build sol­i­dar­i­ty among and across black, rad­i­cal, and pro­gres­sive sec­tors of the coun­try, with­out get­ting bogged down in nar­row and reduc­tive iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics.”
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

The Orga­ni­za­tion for Black Strug­gle (OBS) was found­ed in 1980 as a group of vet­er­an activists, stu­dents, union orga­niz­ers, and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers in St. Louis that were seek­ing to address the needs and issues of the Black work­ing-class.

In the 60s and 70s, The FBI’s Coun­ter­In­tel­li­gence Pro­gram, also known as COINTELPRO, wreaked hav­oc on the lead­ers and orga­ni­za­tions of the Black Lib­er­a­tion Move­ment. COINTELPRO involved aggres­sive gov­ern­ment tac­tics that dec­i­mat­ed both nation­al groups, like the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, and local groups such as Zulu 1200. More mod­er­ate groups, like the South­ern Chris­tian Lead­er­ship Con­fer­ence, and non-vio­lent civil rights activists such as Dr. Mar­t­in Luther King Jr. also did not escape the wrath of FBI Direc­tor J. Edgar Hoover. By 1980, the right was begin­ning to con­sol­i­date its pow­er polit­i­cal­ly, with a con­ser­v­a­tive in the White House for the next 12 years. Eco­nom­i­cal­ly, the coun­try was strug­gling to get out of a reces­sion. There was a vac­u­um in black rad­i­cal lead­er­ship that could act unen­cum­bered by gov­ern­ment or cor­po­rate struc­tures. it was out of this abyss that OBS was born. 

Over the years OBS has been involved in an extra­or­di­nary num­ber of local, nation­al and inter­na­tion­al move­ments, cam­paigns and ini­tia­tives includ­ing (but not lim­it­ed to): the Anti-Apartheid Move­ment, the Nation­al Black Polit­i­cal Assem­bly, Jus­tice for Frances Beasley, the Atlanta Miss­ing and Mur­dered Children’s Com­mit­tee, St. Louis Black Unit­ed Front, Nation­al Cam­paign Again­st Racist Geno­cide, Wrightsville March Again­st the Klan, Ellen Rea­sonover Sup­port Com­mit­tee, the Black Rad­i­cal Con­gress (BRC), Free­man Bosley’s May­oral Cam­paign, Nation­al Black Unit­ed Front, Show Me $15 Cam­paign, Coali­tion Again­st Police Crime and Repres­sion (CAPCR), the fight for Local Con­trol of the St. Louis Police Depart­ment and most recent­ly the fight for jus­tice for Mike Brown, the Don’t Shoot Coali­tion, Fer­gu­son Octo­ber and Fer­gu­son Action. In more recent years, we have forged sol­i­dar­i­ties with mil­len­ni­al orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try around issues of police crime and repres­sion, includ­ing the Dream Defend­ers, #Black­Lives­Mat­ter, the Ohio Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion, and the Black Youth Project 100.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of
sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

We’ve con­tin­u­ous­ly linked the demand for police account­abil­i­ty and reform to oth­er strug­gles. Police vio­lence is only an entry point that opens to oth­er issues of state vio­lence. State vio­lence includes pover­ty wages, cor­po­rate wel­fare, the pris­on indus­tri­al com­plex, xeno­pho­bic immi­gra­tion poli­cies, gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, and the wag­ing of unau­tho­rized wars. In the city of St. Louis, local gov­ern­ment spends 55% of its bud­get on pub­lic safe­ty. Schools, hos­pi­tals and all oth­er pub­lic ser­vices split the remain­ing 45%. There’s no greater evi­dence for back­wards pri­or­i­ties and glar­ing state vio­lence than this. It’s clear to us, as we say in Fer­gu­son, “The Whole Damn Sys­tem is Guilty as Hell.” 

Police vio­lence is an entry point to oth­er strug­gles, since it has strong inter­sec­tions with oth­er oppres­sive insti­tu­tions and rela­tion­ships. It ties togeth­er hous­ing, schools, polit­i­cal empow­er­ment, and unem­ploy­ment. Peo­ple that you see in the streets are not only out­raged by the actions of police, but because they are impov­er­ished, unem­ployed per­sons or low wage work­ers. When the state tar­gets a black per­son, it is often because they are work­ing class peo­ple, who lack access to lawyers or a recourse to file a com­plaint again­st them. That’s why we stand in strong sol­i­dar­i­ty with fight for 15 in StL. You can’t advo­cate for black lives, with­out address­ing pover­ty wages and extreme exploita­tion. We were there when the city ordi­nance passed to raise the min­i­mum wage. 

We’ve been apart of link­ing strug­gles togeth­er, with Palestine most notably. We count the Pales­tini­an Sol­i­dar­i­ty Com­mit­tee as one of our clos­est friends in strug­gle, not­ing the sim­i­lar­i­ty between forms of state ter­ror that both com­mu­ni­ties face. Palestine is a point of inspi­ra­tion for us, an exam­ple of how we can build up and sus­tain resis­tance under impos­si­ble con­di­tions. Last year, when the car­a­van from Ayotz­i­na­pa came through, we dis­cussed state vio­lence with them as well. This is only the begin­ning, but inter­na­tion­al con­nec­tions with oth­er move­ments are hap­pen­ing.

More local­ly, the affir­ma­tion that Black Lives Mat­ter has opened the door to orga­niz­ers work­ing on a num­ber of oth­er issues. Activists have spilled over into fights for qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion in schools, for neigh­bor­hoods unblight­ed,  and for fair trans­porta­tion in between all the­se spaces. We’re seen folks div­ing into the fight again­st stark con­trasts in income. It’s about cre­at­ing a democ­ra­cy, from vot­ers rights to new orga­ni­za­tions of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry democ­ra­cy, that allows com­mu­ni­ty to have an account­able rela­tion­ship to the peo­ple that serve them, and their own forms of pow­er at the grass­roots.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

Since August 9th, we have wit­nessed the birth of new orga­ni­za­tions that are orga­niz­ing black work­ers, black queer peo­ple, and stu­dents. We have also wit­nessed oth­er orga­ni­za­tions whose mis­sion is not direct­ly relat­ed to racial jus­tice and anti-Black racism, but have shown strong sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Move­ment for Black Lives. We’ve linked arms with fam­i­lies from Ayotz­i­na­pa, Asian Paci­fic Islanders, Fast Food Work­ers, Pales­tini­ans, Vet­er­ans for Peace, Jew­ish Voic­es for Peace and stu­dents of all races, all of whom have stood up and con­demned police for their con­stant assault on Black lives. 

Still, as an orga­ni­za­tion, we rec­og­nize the need to have black only spaces as a cru­cial point to build com­mu­ni­ty and think strate­gi­cal­ly about issues speci­fic to us. That doesn’t mean that there can­not be coali­tion spaces. We’re in those kind of spaces now, strug­gling for a soci­ety free of all oppres­sions. OBS is the orga­ni­za­tion that put out the call for the coali­tion between tons of groups, many of whom didn’t have a his­to­ry of orga­niz­ing around racial jus­tice. The coali­tion works in fights for bet­ter health­care and to trans­form polic­ing in this coun­try, with atten­tion to how they inter­act with dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties.

This move­ment has shown that there are dynam­ic orga­niz­ers and orga­ni­za­tions doing this work around any and every pro­gres­sive issue you can think of. And that we are at our strongest when we work togeth­er. Sol­i­dar­i­ty has been cru­cial and sol­i­dar­i­ty will be the key mov­ing for­ward! We have to work hard to unite the many, in order to defeat the few.

Since the upris­ing in Fer­gu­son, we’ve seen racist, right-wing ter­ror­ism flare up with the bomb­ing of an NAACP office in Col­orado and the trag­ic and mur­der­ous attack on a his­toric Black Church in South Car­oli­na. The shoot­ing of two police offi­cers in New York seems to have encour­aged NYPD mem­bers to open­ly defy the city’s may­or, ham­string­ing his own agen­da. And else­where, politi­cians and police have start­ed to use the specter of Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more to jus­ti­fy pre­emp­tive police repres­sion and mobi­lize sup­port for cur­fews. Might the­se move­ments and upris­ings pro­voke a right-wing resur­gence? Do you see exam­ples of this hap­pen­ing where you orga­nize? What can we do to rout the­se efforts?

Actu­al­ly the­se move­ments aren’t spark­ing a right-wing resur­gence, as much as they are high­light­ing the con­stant pres­ence of extreme (and not-so extreme) right wing forces, always present in the U.S.. Black peo­ple in this coun­try have nev­er been con­fused about this. The right wing ter­ror­ism and state vio­lence we are wit­ness­ing is not new – it’s old and tied to our ori­gins in Amer­i­ca. What is new or, bet­ter yet, renewed is the pres­sure that right wing forces are under and the ener­gy of bold resis­tance that has emerged. They’re moti­vat­ed by this pres­sure and polar­iza­tion to oper­ate more open and pub­li­cal­ly than they have. 

And for­tu­nate­ly this new ener­gy of resis­tance is also chang­ing the polit­i­cal con­ver­sa­tion in this coun­try. For exam­ple, when a small rag­tag band of neo-Nazi’s came to St. Louis in the wake of Fer­gu­son, it was our white com­rades who con­front­ed them and essen­tial­ly drowned out their small protest action. In Mis­souri (aka Amer­i­ca) the­se groups aren’t new, they’ve been there. They are a con­stant. They head the police unions and main­tain ties with pub­licly elect­ed offi­cials. If we are aware of our own his­to­ry, we know that white nation­al­ism, white vig­i­lante vio­lence & state vio­lence have always worked hand and hand; and all three can be eas­i­ly manip­u­lat­ed and mobi­lized in the inter­ests of cap­i­tal. Here, when it comes to the­se forces, we lean on our white allies to strate­gize and direct­ly con­front the­se orga­ni­za­tions. This is pri­mar­i­ly because we live in a police state, and the optics and polit­i­cal res­o­nance of white folks doing that work is much more pow­er­ful.

Our task is to keep the pres­sure on and pro­voke a cri­sis amongst peo­ple who oth­er­wise wouldn’t think twice about police mur­der­ing black peo­ple every 28 hours. The func­tion­ing of the police state is owed not only to police and politi­cians. It’s also white peo­ple who qui­et­ly con­sent to the col­or line. Our focus is not try­ing to win over the right wing, but focus­ing on build­ing pow­er with­in our com­mu­ni­ties, alongside the major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans who are learn­ing that the­se kinds of state poli­cies are not in their inter­ests. So while we’re dis­rupt­ing our ene­mies, we must, at the same time, orga­nize and build sol­i­dar­i­ty among and across black, rad­i­cal, and pro­gres­sive sec­tors of the coun­try, with­out get­ting bogged down in nar­row and reduc­tive iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

It’s impor­tant for com­mu­ni­ties to be involved in their own strug­gles, to build their own pow­er. We are cau­tious of the insis­tence that there is only one strug­gle. But we also remem­ber the lessons of Audre Lorde, who told us that there’s no such thing as a sin­gle issue strug­gle. We remem­ber that police vio­lence is also gen­der vio­lence, as Offi­cer Daniel Holtz­claw made clear. We remem­ber that Mike Brown’s moth­er, Les­ley McSpad­den, was a work­er and a mem­ber of a union. We remem­ber that Amadou Dial­lo was an immi­grant, who migrat­ed from a coun­try reel­ing from IMF debt and struc­tural adjust­ment. We remem­ber that Black lives are queer & trans and straight. We even remem­ber the fact that the major­i­ty of the police in this coun­try are mem­bers of the work­ing class, empow­ered and fool­ish­ly embold­ened to do the bid­ding of the rich, even as those very same rich peo­ple gam­ble off police pen­sions through spec­u­la­tive trad­ing and finance cap­i­tal­ism. If we think this is just about police, we’re miss­ing the mark. We remain con­scious of the fact that St. Louis Metro Police, who tear-gassed Fer­gu­son & St. Louis res­i­dents, got their train­ing from Zion­ists in Israel, who have made a sci­ence out of bru­tal­iz­ing Pales­tini­ans. The­se same police depart­ments acquired hi-tech weapons through Home­land Secu­ri­ty, the Fed­er­al 1033 Pro­gram, and anti-ter­ror­ist pro­grams that wrong­ful­ly incar­cer­at­ed Mus­lims in the wake of 9/11. Their weapons were pro­duced by pri­vate com­pa­nies like Com­bined Sys­tems, Inc. and Safariland’s Defense Tech­nol­o­gy, who have mil­lion-dol­lar con­tracts at the local and fed­er­al lev­els. So yeah, absolute­ly, “Black Lives Mat­ter!” And if we dig beyond the sur­face we’ll see the con­nec­tions. And as we dig and uncov­er the con­nec­tions, we also heed the words of Kwame Toure (aka Stoke­ly Carmichael), “Orga­nize, Orga­nize, ORGANIZE” on every ter­rain we can, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with one anoth­er.
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QILOMBO  

hqdefault“But we also want to be care­ful not to sole­ly focus our energies on protest­ing, ral­ly­ing, and pol­i­cy change. We are work­ing towards build­ing autonomous eco­nom­ic pow­er, as we do not believe in rely­ing on white peo­ple or this gov­ern­ment to do what’s nec­es­sary for Afrikan lib­er­a­tion. That comes from the peo­ple, all pow­er is with the peo­ple and we tru­ly live our lives and run our orga­ni­za­tion with this mot­to.” 
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

The Hold­out, a project which would lat­er become Qilom­bo, was start­ed in 2011 by a group of most­ly white anar­chists as a social space, event space in, book­store and bike work­shop in West Oak­land. This ini­tial project was large­ly unsuc­cess­ful at liv­ing up to its goal of being a true com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter, in that those rep­re­sent­ing the space could not address or engage with the issues plagu­ing the large­ly Black and Brown sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty. The ten­sions between the sur­round­ing com­mu­ni­ty and The Hold­out grew, with many peo­ple of col­or feel­ing unheard and dis­missed by the mem­bers of the space. The­se ten­sions cul­mi­nat­ed in a call­out and com­mu­ni­ty-wide account­abil­i­ty process in which it became clear that the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the space were unable to diver­si­fy their orga­niz­ing struc­ture in ways that could address white priv­i­lege while also address­ing the issues most per­ti­nent and rel­e­vant to the local com­mu­ni­ty.

Through many open dis­cus­sions, a trans­for­ma­tion process occurred in which man­age­ment of the space changed hands from the orig­i­nal orga­niz­ers of the space to a group of rev­o­lu­tion­ary peo­ple of col­or. The­se peo­ple reor­ga­nized, diver­si­fied, and reimag­ined the space, while main­tain­ing prin­ci­ples of non­hier­ar­chi­cal orga­niz­ing and deci­sion mak­ing. Through this process, our orga­ni­za­tion reopened its doors as Qilom­bo. His­tor­i­cal­ly, Qilom­bos were com­mu­ni­ties of Afrikans who escaped slav­ery and formed autonomous set­tle­ments in north­east­ern Brazil. The name rep­re­sents a new vision for the space a place where Afrikan and Indige­nous peo­ple can band togeth­er, build auton­o­my and fight for lib­er­a­tion. Qilom­bo has reor­ga­nized itself to address the need for a true com­mu­ni­ty cen­ter in West Oak­land – one that sees its neigh­bors, pro­vides nour­ish­ment and empow­er­ment, and stands beside them as they face com­pound­ing oppres­sions. Qilom­bo strives to build Afrikan and Indige­nous auton­o­my, to empow­er those whose have been mar­gin­al­ized, and to fight back again­st dis­place­ment, col­o­niza­tion, and exploita­tion.

There are oth­er ten­den­cies that may be in a posi­tion to co-opt the move­ment –it is wide­ly not­ed that non­prof­its play a demo­bi­liz­ing role in social move­ments, medi­at­ing between action in the streets and munic­i­pal city gov­ern­ments whose fund­ing they depend on. Because non­prof­its have resources that grass­roots ini­tia­tives often don’t, they posi­tion them­selves as the lead­er­ship, while con­sti­tut­ing social bases of sup­port in ways that are more dif­fi­cult for rad­i­cals. How can this co-opta­tion be avoid­ed? How can rad­i­cals devel­op the same bases of sup­port that many non­prof­its enjoy?

We know the his­to­ry of non­prof­its and acknowl­edge that struc­tural­ly, they evolved from COINTELPRO. Unlike non-prof­its, we make sure that our orga­ni­za­tion is tri­bunal-cen­tered, mean­ing every­one has a voice. There is no exec­u­tive board, and you can earn the abil­i­ty (through hard work and reli­a­bil­i­ty) to help make deci­sions. It is impor­tant to run our space in this man­ner to make sure the peo­ple know that they are at the cen­ter of our efforts. At the Qilom­bo, your “acco­lades” or deci­sion-mak­ing pow­er, can be earned by any­one. We hold com­mu­ni­ty forums and con­tin­u­ous­ly ask for feed­back from the com­mu­ni­ty con­cern­ing what they would like to see and what we, as a com­mu­ni­ty, can do bet­ter. We believe in the pow­er of the peo­ple and com­mu­ni­ty build­ing as key to lib­er­a­tion, but we also under­stand that we are still exist­ing in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety and need resources in order to be sus­tain­able. We do part­ner with non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions that align with our beliefs, includ­ing Black Lives Mat­ter, to obtain grants, build sup­port and gain aware­ness. It’s impor­tant to respect an array of tac­tics, so we can­not ques­tion how oth­er black and indige­nous folks fight for lib­er­a­tion. As long as we hold the same end goal in mind, nego­ti­a­tions can and need to be made. How­ev­er, we make sure that the mem­bers of our orga­ni­za­tion are uni­fied to avoid infil­tra­tion, and are cur­rent­ly in the process of devel­op­ing small busi­ness to gen­er­ate our own rev­enue.

We believe that rad­i­cals can enjoy safe flour­ish­ing spaces and avoid co-opta­tion by hav­ing a strong tri­bunal-cen­tered com­mu­ni­ty base, that lis­tens to the voic­es of all, and puts the needs of the com­mu­ni­ty before egos, per­son­al gains and per­son­al polit­i­cal agen­das. 

An impor­tant turn­ing point for the black free­dom strug­gle in the 1960s were the urban rebel­lions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of oth­er cities, which involved a great deal of prop­er­ty destruc­tion and loot­ing. Much has changed since then, but the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment is still a cen­tral dynam­ic of racial inequal­i­ty in places like Bal­ti­more, Oak­land and Fer­gu­son. Are riots also still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant, or has their mean­ing changed? And what about those places with sim­i­lar con­di­tions where major riots have not hap­pened, like New York or Philadel­phia? What oth­er met­rics might we use to mea­sure the devel­op­ment of strug­gle beyond street mil­i­tan­cy?

We believe in the pow­er of anger and rage, so yes we do think that riots are still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant. It’s not good to be pas­sive, espe­cial­ly liv­ing in sys­tems of oppres­sion, the sys­tem needs pas­siv­i­ty and com­pli­ance in order to con­tin­ue thriv­ing. So riot­ing is a mes­sage, a way to make it known to the pow­ers that be that “we will fight back.” But it’s also good to turn that rage into pow­er, and begin to mobi­lize the peo­ple. You can’t tear down this sys­tem of white suprema­cy with riot­ing and loot­ing, it’s going to take a vari­ety of tac­tics. With that being said, it is an orga­niz­er, or revolutionary’s job to take great cau­tion to make sure not to police the feel­ings of the peo­ple, but to make sure that they are mobi­lized after­wards.

A use­ful met­ric for strug­gle is being present and vis­i­ble in the com­mu­ni­ty, as Qilom­bo and Afrika­town does, by let­ting the com­mu­ni­ty know that there are resources, ways to get involved, and ways to chan­nel that rage into some­thing strate­gic. They know that the­se doors are always open for Afrikan and Indige­nous peo­ple, they know we feel their pain, we under­stand their rage and we are present in this strug­gle, con­tin­u­ous­ly resist­ing. Build­ing Afrika­town is our long-term vision and is an idea that derived from real­iz­ing that there are places like Chi­na­town, Japan­town and Lit­tle Arme­nia, but no safe and thriv­ing neigh­bor­hood for Afrikans in this coun­try. Qilom­bo resides in Afrika­town (which is cur­rent­ly only a block), but even­tu­al­ly we want to expand it and have a thriv­ing neigh­bor­hood by and for Afrikan peo­ple.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tions – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?  

If there’s any­thing that past strug­gles and orga­ni­za­tions have taught us, is that there are so many dif­fer­ent forms of resis­tance and that every­one has a part to play in this move­ment. We def­i­nite­ly see orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing, includ­ing the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment which is a com­bi­na­tion of a vari­ety of orga­ni­za­tions, that will help bring about change. 

But we also want to be care­ful not to sole­ly focus our energies on protest­ing, ral­ly­ing, and pol­i­cy change. We are work­ing towards build­ing autonomous eco­nom­ic pow­er, as we do not believe in rely­ing on white peo­ple or this gov­ern­ment to do what’s nec­es­sary for Afrikan lib­er­a­tion. That comes from the peo­ple, all pow­er is with the peo­ple and we tru­ly live our lives and run our orga­ni­za­tion with this mot­to. We want to take it past polit­i­cal actions and pol­i­cy change, we want to do some­thing more to ensure the self-deter­mi­na­tion, lib­er­a­tion and eco­nom­ic pow­er of Afrikan peo­ple. We want to pre­serve our cul­ture and remain in our neigh­bor­hoods. That comes from grass­roots resis­tance, con­tin­u­ous­ly, and not just tak­ing to the streets. We study our his­to­ry so that we may learn from past mis­takes, learn tac­tics that work and build from the foun­da­tion of bricks that our ances­tors laid for us. 

Qilom­bo calls itself an Afrikan and Indige­nous space because we real­ize that Afrikan peo­ple were brought by force to Indige­nous land. Specif­i­cal­ly, the land that the Qilom­bo sits upon is Ohlone land. In a way, Afrikan peo­ple can also be referred to as Indige­nous (to the con­ti­nent of Africa), but with­out even push­ing this the­o­ry, we rec­og­nize the com­mon strug­gle of Indige­nous peo­ple and believe in the pow­er of ally­ship to stew­ard col­lec­tive lib­er­a­tion. We also believe that when black peo­ple are free, every­body will be free, as anti-black­ness is the foun­da­tion for both slav­ery and white suprema­cy. Indige­nous folks who risk their lives as allies rec­og­nize that as well.

There is a long his­to­ry of sol­i­dar­i­ty between rad­i­cal black move­ments in the Unit­ed States and anti-impe­ri­al­ist and anti-colo­nial strug­gles abroad, includ­ing Alge­ria, Cuba, Chi­na, and Viet­nam. Mem­bers of the Detroit-based League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers were in con­tact with Pales­tini­an guer­ril­las in the ear­ly 1970s. The Black Pan­ther Par­ty had an inter­na­tion­al office in Alge­ria. How does inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty fig­ure in the move­ment today? Beyond the rhetoric of a shared strug­gle, what could mate­ri­al sup­port across bor­ders between move­ments look like? And most specif­i­cal­ly, how does today’s move­ment con­nect with the strug­gle in Palestine?

The uni­ty and mobi­liza­tion of oppressed black and brown folks across this world is nec­es­sary for true lib­er­a­tion. Beyond rhetoric, black and brown folks are the indige­nous peo­ples of most con­ti­nents, tech­ni­cal­ly are own­ers and keep­ers of resources (as you know, most Afrikan coun­tries are plun­dered because they’re rich in resources) and are not reap­ing any of the ben­e­fits from trade and this glob­al cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem. When we, as oppressed peo­ples, can uni­fy, take back con­trol of our lands, monop­o­lize our resources and take back con­trol of our gov­ern­ments, then you will see true lib­er­a­tion. The strug­gle in Palestine hits home for a ton of peo­ple here, because we see, yet again, Indige­nous peo­ple being forced from their land by colo­nial pow­ers. It’s like watch­ing the geno­cide of Indige­nous peo­ples in real time, in our life­time. We remem­ber the sto­ry of the Indige­nous peo­ples of the Amer­i­c­as and the Afrikans brought across the Atlantic, we see a group of peo­ple being forced, to move, to work, and sen­tenced to death if they don’t com­ply. This res­onates with us and is why we fight to build a place that is black-led, black-cen­tered and a safe haven for Afrikans and Indige­nous peo­ples, because we are the ones that tru­ly have suf­fered, and con­tin­ue to suf­fer, from the con­se­quences of colo­nial­ism, impe­ri­al­ism and war.

By build­ing a cen­ter for Afrikan resis­tance we will be able to edu­cate the com­mu­ni­ty about anti-black­ness on a glob­al scale and begin to mate­ri­al­ly sup­port the strug­gle in Palestine. Cur­rent­ly, most of our com­mu­ni­ties are brought down by pover­ty, men­tal ill­ness and mass incar­cer­a­tion. It’s dif­fi­cult to ral­ly sick, bro­ken and hope­less peo­ple. By build­ing Qilom­bo and Afrika­town, we can provide a space that gives peo­ple resources and hope. When peo­ple have the­se things it’s much eas­ier to mobi­lize with them, and begin to fos­ter a net­work of black and brown folks ded­i­cat­ed to dis­man­tling cap­i­tal­ism and anti-black­ness.
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TRAYVON MARTIN ORGANIZING COMMITTEE/ACTION AGAINST BLACK GENOCIDE

by George Cic­cariel­lo-Maher  

unnamed

“Build­ing the­se inter­na­tion­al rela­tion­ships will take many forms: reviv­ing and trans­form­ing a stale sol­i­dar­i­ty mod­el inherit­ed from Stal­in­ism; insist­ing on build­ing direct rela­tions between move­ments, not state-medi­at­ed anti-impe­ri­al­ism; and refus­ing the rad­i­cal pos­tur­ing so preva­lent today in favor of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary humil­i­ty.”
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What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

As the ener­gy sparked nation­wide by the Fer­gu­son rebel­lion wound down, Trayvon Mar­t­in Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee / Action Again­st Black Geno­cide (TMOC/AABG) coa­lesced as a rad­i­cal pole orga­niz­ing again­st the police, and in par­tic­u­lar around the mur­der of Bran­don Tate-Brown by Philadel­phia Police in Decem­ber 2014. Since then, the group has repeat­ed­ly antag­o­nized Police Com­mis­sion­er Charles Ram­sey and helped spear­head a mil­i­tant march in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Bal­ti­more Rebel­lion (two of our com­rades had been arrest­ed in Bal­ti­more, and one is still fac­ing charges). 

Despite Police Com­mis­sion­er Ramsey’s efforts to paint him­self as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a gen­tler form of hands-off, “21st-Cen­tu­ry polic­ing” to cur­ry favor with Oba­ma, we have used direct actions to shat­ter that image and reveal just the same old bru­tal, white suprema­cist polic­ing in Philadel­phia. When our com­rades got in Ramsey’s face at a town hall in the Lawn­crest neigh­bor­hood, his thugs arrest­ed ten but we even­tu­al­ly beat the charges in court. At this point, we’re like a bad dream Ram­sey can’t wake up from: he can’t hold a pub­lic event with­out us putting him on blast. As a result, he has repeat­ed­ly caved to our demands, albeit with­out ever giv­ing us cred­it: he released the names of the mur­der­ous cops who killed Bran­don Tate-Brown, he released the video of the mur­der, and he promised that the names of police who kill will be released with­in 48 hours. 

Momen­tary con­fronta­tions and direct actions are only one part of the equa­tion, how­ev­er, and we are also begin­ning to lay the ground­work for a text-based police bru­tal­i­ty rapid respon­se net­work in the city that we hope will provide a more durable form of par­tic­i­pa­to­ry com­mu­ni­ty self-defense think a more gen­er­al­ized form of Cop­watch with­out the spe­cial­ized teams of observers and even­tu­al­ly even an alter­na­tive to call­ing the police in the first place.

Dur­ing the Mil­lions March in Wash­ing­ton DC, many of the young grass­roots orga­niz­ers who have dri­ven the direct actions again­st police vio­lence were
pre­vent­ed from speak­ing by the old­er lead­er­ship. This pat­tern has con­tin­ued. What are the pol­i­tics behind this clash – why is the old­er, local black polit­i­cal and cler­i­cal lead­er­ship try­ing to keep protests con­tained and con­trolled, and what kind of alter­na­tive strate­gies can younger mil­i­tants put for­ward?

While clash­es like the one that occurred at the Mil­lions March indeed look like gen­er­a­tional clash­es, they are in fact polit­i­cal clash­es. After all, there are many old­er mil­i­tants from the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black free­dom strug­gle around, and their age doesn’t negate their mil­i­tan­cy in the least. What we are instead con­fronting today is the incor­po­ra­tion of cer­tain sec­tors of the Civil Rights Move­ment of the 1950s and 60s into the polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions of the Unit­ed States, and the­se sec­tors are tasked with con­trol­ling the mil­i­tan­cy of the grass­roots and uphold­ing a false nar­ra­tive of social change. The his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive and con­tain­ment func­tion are tight­ly inter­twined.

The his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the civil rights move­ment is often a san­i­tized and white­washed car­i­ca­ture of the Black free­dom strug­gle, which is cast as a polite affair car­ried out by well-behaved lead­ers often reli­gious and almost always men who ask nice­ly, make ratio­nal argu­ments, and patient­ly await the (white) nation’s con­science from with­in. The real­i­ty was far dif­fer­ent: messy, vio­lent, impo­lite, often sus­tained by wom­en and those unrec­og­nized orga­niz­ers that Mal­colm X called the “small peo­ple” who “haven’t got any­thing to lose.” 

It was not only or even most­ly a move­ment of lead­ers but one of mass­es in the streets: riot­ing, rebelling, and orga­niz­ing. It was ground­ed not in ratio­nal argu­men­ta­tion the idea that some­how you could con­vince white suprema­cy of its own illog­ic but instead found sus­te­nance in Fred­er­ick Dou­glass’ insis­tence that “it is not light that is need­ed, but fire; it is not the gen­tle show­er, but thun­der. We need the storm, the whirl­wind, and the earth­quake.” You can’t argue with white suprema­cy, just as you can’t guilt it into sub­mis­sion, and so the Black free­dom strug­gle was not cen­tral­ly an appeal to the guilty con­science of white Amer­i­ca. This explains too why it was not strict­ly non­vi­o­lent: as Stoke­ly Carmichael insist­ed, “in order for non­vi­o­lence to work, your oppo­nent must have a con­science the Unit­ed States has none.”

This san­i­tized his­to­ry served not only to save the wound­ed pride of a white suprema­cist nation, but worse, to under­cut the rev­o­lu­tion­ary impulse and demands of the con­crete strug­gles in the streets. The same Mar­t­in Luther King Jr. who had been denounced by the FBI as a com­mu­nist was in light of the grow­ing threat of Black rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies quick­ly embraced and exalt­ed. And when he took more open­ly rad­i­cal posi­tions, he was exe­cut­ed by the same sys­tem that would then chris­ten him a nation­al hero.

What did those strug­gling in the streets want? To ful­fill the pro­gram of Rad­i­cal Recon­struc­tion, then already a cen­tu­ry over­due, with­out which no sub­stan­tive free­dom would be pos­si­ble. For W.E.B. Du Bois, this meant far more than polit­i­cal equal­i­ty, which after all had been briefly grant­ed after the Civil War. It meant some­thing fuller and more com­plete that he writ­ing at the height of Jim Crow was pes­simistic would ever be accom­plished: “the rebuild­ing, whether it comes now or a cen­tu­ry lat­er, will and must go back to the basic prin­ci­ples of Recon­struc­tion in the Unit­ed States dur­ing 1867-1876 Land, Light and Lead­ing for slaves black, brown, yel­low and white, under a dic­ta­tor­ship of the pro­le­tari­at.”

Here we are, near­ly a cen­tu­ry and a half lat­er, and Du Bois’ words ring truer than true: for­mal polit­i­cal equal­i­ty (Lead­ing) is noth­ing with­out eco­nom­ic equal­i­ty (Land) and edu­ca­tion (Light). More­over, both the for­mal polit­i­cal equal­i­ty of the Vot­ing Rights Act (1965) and the for­mal school deseg­re­ga­tion promised in Brown v. Board (1954) have since been gut­ted and reversed by a string of judi­cial deci­sions. “Mate­ri­al force must be over­thrown by mate­ri­al force,” and just as Rad­i­cal Recon­struc­tion itself only exist­ed under the dic­ta­tor­ship of Fed­er­al armies, with­out which it was beat­en back by white ter­ror, so too with many advances of the 1960s.

In light of the­se rever­sals, what was once a shield for bruised white egos has since come to uphold the mis­lead­ing idea of a “civil rights gen­er­a­tion,” and a cov­er for new forms of dom­i­na­tion. This is a spec­trum: on the one hand are well-mean­ing par­tic­i­pants in the Civil Rights Move­ment who wrong­ly believed for­mal polit­i­cal rights would be enough. For some, the strug­gle came to an end in 1965, and those who con­tin­ue to com­plain are ungrate­ful for sac­ri­fices past. On the oth­er extreme are those who have assumed pow­er direct­ly over the mech­a­nisms for oppress­ing the Black com­mu­ni­ty. If Fer­gu­son looked a lot like old-school, pre-1965 white suprema­cy, Bal­ti­more with its Black may­or and for­mer Black police com­mis­sion­er rep­re­sents this new­er, post-1965 form. 

But despite the efforts of some more con­ser­v­a­tive sec­tors of Black elites to uphold a clean his­tor­i­cal divi­sion at 1965, it’s also worth remem­ber­ing that the con­tem­po­rary strug­gle between the youth in the streets and the entrenched lead­er­ship is itself a rep­e­ti­tion of the very con­flict that Mal­colm X iden­ti­fied in 1964. When Black youth of a pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion slipped the yoke of the estab­lished, non­vi­o­lent polit­i­cal lead­er­ship, they set into motion the com­bat­ive dialec­tic that forced for­mal equal­i­ty into the law, and there­in lay the hope for today as well.

On Sep­tem­ber 25, 2013, a 12 year old black girl named Lapor­shia Massey died of asth­ma in a Philadel­phia school, since there was no nurse there to treat her. She died say­ing “I can’t breathe.” She was only one of sev­er­al chil­dren in Philadel­phia who have died as a result of sys­tem­at­ic, racial­ized pover­ty and the city bud­get cuts that have recent­ly deep­ened it. This is a kind of mur­der by pover­ty and urban seg­re­ga­tion; it hasn’t received as much atten­tion in the nation­al media as the recent police mur­ders, but it’s a fun­da­men­tal and ongo­ing ele­ment of Amer­i­can racism. What is the strate­gic val­ue of cen­ter­ing antag­o­nism towards the police? How have you been able to link up this move­ment again­st the police to oth­er relat­ed strug­gles, such as the Fight for $15, anti-gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, anti-aus­ter­i­ty, and pris­on abo­li­tion work?

Polic­ing is and has been the cen­tral mech­a­nism for uphold­ing white suprema­cy in the Unit­ed States since before the Civil War. But this is only because, as a process, polic­ing has nev­er been car­ried out sole­ly by “our ene­mies in blue,” to bor­row a phrase from Kris­tian Williams. Instead, white suprema­cy and polic­ing have been near­ly indis­tin­guish­able since slav­ery.

In the Unit­ed States, police were basi­cal­ly invent­ed to patrol Black peo­ple, and their cen­tral­i­ty increased after slav­ery was for­mal­ly abol­ished, because they took on the task of dis­arm­ing and con­trol­ling the move­ment of the osten­si­bly free for­mer slaves by enforc­ing vagrancy laws. Every white per­son, accord­ing to Du Bois, was effec­tive­ly a mem­ber of the police, mak­ing the South “an armed camp for intim­i­dat­ing black folk.” Inverse­ly, to police was to be white, since polic­ing was a con­crete mech­a­nism in both the mate­ri­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal “wages of white­ness,” pro­vid­ing and income to some poor whites, but a feel­ing of supe­ri­or­i­ty to all.

As a result, to strug­gle again­st white suprema­cy is to strug­gle again­st the police, and vice ver­sa. This is not an abstract tru­ism, as recent years have remind­ed us: near­ly every major insur­rec­tion in the Unit­ed States has been a respon­se to police vio­lence again­st Black peo­ple. More­over, given the unful­filled aspi­ra­tions of Rad­i­cal Recon­struc­tion, the­se strug­gles are always con­crete­ly uni­fied as well: labor strug­gles are noth­ing if they neglect those who are mas­sive­ly unem­ployed and ware­housed in the pris­ons, and strug­gles for edu­ca­tion can­not con­front a mil­i­ta­riza­tion of schools that seeks to cut the “schools” out of the “school-to-pris­on pipeline.” Strug­gles again­st gen­tri­fi­ca­tion, more­over, are but the Janus face of strug­gles again­st mass incar­cer­a­tion: each con­fronting a com­plic­it ele­ment in the simul­ta­ne­ous con­tain­ment-dis­place­ment of Black Amer­i­cans.

The nec­es­sary uni­ty of the­se strug­gles is eas­ier to express in the­o­ry than to build in prac­tice, how­ev­er. Inmate orga­niz­ing faces near­ly insur­mount­able bar­ri­ers, although con­nec­tions are slow­ly devel­op­ing. From the Cal­i­for­nia hunger strikes orig­i­nat­ing in Pel­i­can Bay to more appar­ent­ly spon­ta­neous out­breaks from Geor­gia to Penn­syl­va­nia, the pris­on is impos­ing itself as a locus of strug­gle. It would be an error to insist that uni­ty is an addi­tive rela­tion, how­ev­er: while it’s impor­tant to do as much as pos­si­ble to link con­crete strug­gles around, for exam­ple, labor and pris­ons and schools, it is arguably more impor­tant to rec­og­nize that strug­gles again­st pris­ons and police are labor strug­gles and are edu­ca­tion strug­gles.

An impor­tant turn­ing point for the black free­dom strug­gle in the 1960s were the urban rebel­lions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of oth­er cities, which involved a great deal of prop­er­ty destruc­tion and loot­ing. Much has changed since then, but the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment is still a cen­tral dynam­ic of racial inequal­i­ty in places like Bal­ti­more, Oak­land and Fer­gu­son. Are riots also still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant, or has their mean­ing changed? And what about those places with sim­i­lar con­di­tions where major riots have not hap­pened, like New York or Philadel­phia? What oth­er met­rics might we use to mea­sure the devel­op­ment of strug­gle beyond street mil­i­tan­cy?

Riots are more rel­e­vant than ever, and not only here: from hous­ing estates in Lon­don to the Parisian ban­lieues, from Oak­land to Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more, to Turkey, Venezue­la and beyond. Struc­tural con­di­tions pre­vi­ous­ly reserved for col­o­nized and racial­ized peo­ple are in some ways com­ing to dom­i­nate the land­scape as sur­plus pop­u­la­tions expand, geog­ra­phy is carved up in new ways, and our world moves increas­ing­ly toward Mike Davis’ apt descrip­tion: a “plan­et of slums,” in which the streetnot the point of pro­duc­tiontends to serve as the pre­ferred locus of rad­i­cal action. But alongside the­se objec­tive con­di­tions, sub­jec­tive con­di­tions lope for­ward unpre­dictably pro­pelled by and pro­pelling in turn polit­i­cal events: just as rebel­lions grow out of exist­ing con­di­tions, they trans­form what we see as the hori­zon of the pos­si­ble.

Riots have come to dom­i­nate our the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal land­scape and recent U.S. his­to­ry has proven this beyond a doubt: the Oscar Grant rebel­lions in Oak­land in Jan­u­ary of 2009 rad­i­cal­ly trans­formed the city and con­sti­tut­ed an open­ing salvo again­st the pos­tra­cial myth fos­tered by Obama’s inau­gu­ra­tion that same mon­th. We don’t know the name Fer­gu­son because Mike Brown was mur­dered there we know it because peo­ple said enough is enough and stood up. And just when it seemed that Fer­gu­son would be the cen­tral ref­er­ence-point of our moment, Bal­ti­more fol­lowed suit and even upped the ante: a rebel­lion not again­st old-style white suprema­cy but again­st a more per­ni­cious form of dis­guised white suprema­cy over­seen by a Black may­or and Black police com­mis­sion­er. Those who mourn the effec­tive­ness of riots in fre­quent pro­nounce­ments that it’s only the “neg­a­tive” and destruc­tive ele­ments that get atten­tion tac­it­ly attest to this effec­tive­ness, sug­gest­ing that pop­u­lar rebel­lions are in them­selves cre­ative forces, or at the very least a nec­es­sary pre­con­di­tion. As I have put it else­where, riots work.

Much could be said about where riots have not hap­pened but this says more about our out­dat­ed expec­ta­tions than any­thing else. Phil Neel has right­ly argued that the Fer­gu­son rebel­lion reflect­ed a new racial geog­ra­phy and a sub­ur­ban­iza­tion of pover­ty that has effec­tive­ly decen­tered large cities as sites of unrest. As gen­tri­fi­ca­tion reclaimed city cen­ters, the poor espe­cial­ly non-white have been expelled beyond the city lim­its, cre­at­ing new tac­ti­cal and strate­gic sit­u­a­tions. Tac­ti­cal­ly, poor sub­urbs like Fer­gu­son are a very dif­fer­ent space than Brook­lyn or the Bronx, but more inter­est­ing is the strate­gic impli­ca­tion: the very polit­i­cal insti­tu­tions and Black lead­er­ship and reli­gious struc­tures that emerged strength­ened from the 1960s to con­tain Black rebel­lious­ness tend to be cen­tered in the cities, leav­ing oth­er geo­graph­i­cal spaces more sus­cep­ti­ble to rebel­lion out­side the appa­ra­tus of hege­mon­ic con­tain­ment.

While the sub­se­quent riots and rebel­lions in Bal­ti­more could be seen to dis­prove Neel’s analy­sis, I don’t think this is the case: after all, Bal­ti­more isn’t New York or Chicago, West Bal­ti­more is noth­ing like its gen­tri­fy­ing core, and the utter dis­re­gard shown by city lead­er­ship under­cut even con­tain­ment efforts. The point is to be aware of a geo­graph­i­cal uneven­ness that points toward future sites of rebel­lionto cities like Bal­ti­more, Philadel­phia, Oak­land, and St. Louis, and more­over to their respec­tive sub­ur­ban periph­eries, deep West Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hoods like Mon­dawmin, Cam­den, NJ and Delaware Coun­ty, East Oak­land and Rich­mond, and Fer­gu­son itself.

While polit­i­cal and reli­gious lead­ers and non­prof­its were quick to rush to Fer­gu­son and Bal­ti­more (one Bal­ti­more Sun head­line is telling: “City’s non­prof­it sec­tor springs into action after riot­ing”), the polit­i­cal ter­rain was both resis­tant (in the well-deserved treat­ment met­ed out to Al Sharp­ton and Jesse Jack­son in Fer­gu­son) and too exten­sive to pos­si­bly con­trol pre­emp­tive­ly. Hege­mon­ic con­trol is an expen­sive endeav­or, and as pover­ty increas­es and state and non­prof­it rev­enues decline, the fore­cast will call for ever more explo­sive respons­es in the streets. Fleet­ing and explo­sive moments are not enough, how­ev­er: we need to press cre­ative­ly toward durable forms that can out­live the riot, but with­out falling as left­ist ortho­doxy too often does into the pris­on of pre­ex­ist­ing forms.

There is a long his­to­ry of sol­i­dar­i­ty between rad­i­cal black move­ments in the Unit­ed States and anti-impe­ri­al­ist and anti-colo­nial strug­gles abroad, includ­ing Alge­ria, Cuba, Chi­na, and Viet­nam. Mem­bers of the Detroit-based League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers were in con­tact with Pales­tini­an guer­ril­las in the ear­ly 1970s. The Black Pan­ther Par­ty had an inter­na­tion­al office in Alge­ria. How does inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty fig­ure in the move­ment today? Beyond the rhetoric of a shared strug­gle, what could mate­ri­al sup­port across bor­ders between move­ments look like? And most specif­i­cal­ly, how does today’s move­ment con­nect with the strug­gle in Palestine?

At first glance, our cur­rent moment shares lit­tle with pre­vi­ous waves of rev­o­lu­tion­ary strug­gle: the Black Pow­er move­ment coin­cid­ed with a glob­al wave of anti-colo­nial resis­tance, with domes­tic move­ments simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inspired by and inspir­ing to rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ments else­where. Our present is appar­ent­ly very dif­fer­ent, pos­ing both inter­nal and exter­nal bar­ri­ers to build­ing rela­tion­ships of inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty between Black strug­gles today and decolo­nial (not post­colo­nial) strug­gles else­where.

Exter­nal­ly, it seems dif­fi­cult to find a rev­o­lu­tion­ary process to iden­ti­fy with: some latch onto affir­ma­tive strug­gles in Nepal, Kur­dis­tan, or Venezue­la, while oth­ers part­ly due to the hard lessons of the past are skep­ti­cal of a too-easy sol­i­dar­i­ty mod­el. While there seems to be a uni­ver­sal sym­pa­thy with the eter­nal vic­tims of our time the Pales­tini­ans most who oppose Israeli geno­cide can’t seem to stom­ach active resis­tance by the wretched of the earth in Gaza or the West Bank. Here, too, the inter­nal bar­ri­ers rear their head: while many strug­gling again­st U.S. white suprema­cy have built impor­tant bridges with the strug­gle again­st Israeli apartheid, some, like Frank Wilder­son, insist on the speci­fici­ty of the U.S. Black expe­ri­ence in a way that sets it apart from glob­al decolo­nial strug­gles (this argu­ment has tak­en an even more car­i­ca­tured form on Twit­ter).

In terms of the con­texts and sub­jec­tiv­i­ties of the move­ments involved, more­over, the par­al­lels are impor­tant: where Black Amer­i­cans con­front the lim­i­ta­tions of a mere­ly for­mal eman­ci­pa­tion, those that Du Bois called the glob­al “dark pro­le­tari­at” today con­front the lim­i­ta­tions of a mere­ly for­mal decol­o­niza­tion. In both cas­es, the promise of change was betrayed and ampu­tat­ed, a sit­u­a­tion that Fanon fore­saw on the hori­zon in 1961: “a few reforms at the top, a flag, and down at the bot­tom a shape­less, writhing mass, still mired in the Dark Ages.” (As impor­tant strug­gles break out today around the Con­fed­er­ate Flag, the­se words are worth recall­inga peren­ni­al warn­ing about focus­ing only on the flag, at the expense of the emer­gence of move­ments and press­ing of oth­er demands).

But both inter­nal­ly and exter­nal­ly, I would argue that the grounds for build­ing inter­na­tion­al sol­i­dar­i­ty are as strong as ever. Like the pre­vi­ous moment of upsurge, we are liv­ing through a frac­tur­ing of the unipo­lar hege­mony of U.S. neolib­er­al­ism, and this frac­tur­ing of pow­er has opened up a space for pop­u­lar strug­gles that have cir­cu­lat­ed from Lat­in Amer­i­ca through the Arab Spring, before crash land­ing back in the glob­al core with the riots in Lon­don and Paris, the Span­ish indig­na­dos, Occu­py, and the Greek cri­sis. Build­ing the­se rela­tion­ships will take many forms: reviv­ing and trans­form­ing a stale sol­i­dar­i­ty mod­el inherit­ed from Stal­in­ism; insist­ing on build­ing direct rela­tions between move­ments, not state-medi­at­ed anti-impe­ri­al­ism; and refus­ing the rad­i­cal pos­tur­ing so preva­lent today in favor of a rev­o­lu­tion­ary humil­i­ty.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

The ques­tion of Palestine rais­es this ques­tion pre­cise­ly, because anti-Black racism does have a pow­er­ful speci­fici­ty, espe­cial­ly in the U.S. con­text, where chat­tel slav­ery and the one-drop rule seized upon the anti-Black­ness forged in colo­nial Lat­in Amer­i­ca but took it to rad­i­cal­ly new lev­els of absolute­ness and Manichaeism. It’s out of this very real his­to­ry that the per­ma­nence of anti-Black racism in the U.S. and the sta­tus of Black Amer­i­cans as the “ulti­mate exploit­ed” grows. And it is this speci­fici­ty that must be main­tained if this move­ment and those that come after it are to avoid being effec­tive­ly drained of their his­toric con­tent and watered-down into obliv­ion.

This of course rais­es the specter of #All­Lives­Mat­ter, but this is too easy an ene­my to waste time on. More com­pli­cat­ed are ques­tions his­tor­i­cal­ly sur­round­ing the fraught cat­e­go­ry of “peo­ple of col­or,” which can func­tion to erase that speci­fici­ty under the head­ing of uni­fy­ing the oppressed (and which has led some to for­mu­late the con­cept of non-Black peo­ple of col­or, NBPOC, in respon­se). And what do we do about the accounts from Oak­land of white men in “Black Lives Mat­ter” t-shirts pre­vent­ing a young Black per­son in need of med­ical atten­tion from tak­ing refuge in a store because they were afraid of loot­ing?

In some ways it’s cor­rect to see Black Lives Mat­ter as a respon­se to or a mat­u­ra­tion of ques­tions and strate­gies that emerged in the Occu­py Move­ment. One of the cen­tral ques­tions swirling around Occu­py was whether or not it had a built-in lim­i­ta­tion when it came to the inter­sec­tion of race and class, whether it was tru­ly as uni­ver­sal as its rhetoric pro­claimed or sim­ply a move­ment mourn­ing the lost priv­i­leges of the down­ward­ly-mobile mid­dle class. In prac­tice, Occu­py failed mis­er­ably albeit uneven­ly in dif­fer­ent places to grasp the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism as the foun­da­tion of U.S. cap­i­tal­ism, often react­ing with hos­til­i­ty to any claims at all that were seen as par­tic­u­lar rather than uni­ver­sal (for exam­ple, the estab­lish­ment if POC cau­cus­es). BLM responds to this emp­ty uni­ver­sal­ism by reassert­ing the par­tic­u­lar as uni­ver­sal: the only way we will all be free is if Black peo­ple are free, and we are a long fuck­ing way from Black peo­ple being free in this coun­try.

This reverse swing again­st the uni­ver­sal is not with­out its own set of risks, how­ev­er: in par­tic­u­lar, the dan­ger that this par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of Black exis­tence can be eas­i­ly cap­tured by pre­cise­ly those forces that today crit­i­cize it, that it can be co-opt­ed as a sim­ple demand for recog­ni­tion as opposed to a rad­i­cal demand for rev­o­lu­tion­ary trans­for­ma­tion (thus the dan­ger of recent meet­ings between BLM “lead­ers” and pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates). Here the dan­ger is built into the name: in a sys­tem for which Black lives sim­ply don’t mat­ter, there is a risk that the name could assume the role of com­fort­ing incan­ta­tion for the nation’s guilty con­science instead of sym­bol of con­tin­ued strug­gle.

With the 2016 elec­tions already in swing, the debates around the incor­po­ra­tion of BLM into the polit­i­cal sta­tus quo are sharp­en­ing. But while we debate whether or not BLM will endorse a can­di­date, or even who is autho­rized to speak for so broad a move­ment in the first place, foun­da­tions are pledg­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands soon to be mil­lions to under­cut the dan­ger­ous poten­tial this move­ment con­tains. If they suc­ceed, divorc­ing move­ment lead­er­ship from the rad­i­cal demands of the base and reduc­ing #Black­Lives­Mat­ter to a self-right­eous hash­tag becom­ing in the process yet anoth­er trag­ic rep­e­ti­tion, anoth­er con­tain­ment appa­ra­tus rather than a mech­a­nism of lib­er­a­tionthen the real move­ment for the abo­li­tion of white suprema­cy may well go under­ground only to resur­face inevitably at some future point.
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WYLDFIRE! COLLECTIVE
by Abdul, Baa­seiah, and Nayef

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“I often hear and rec­og­nize some­one on the metro from the­se var­i­ous events, and we will exchange a look or smile. I think that in a way, I can see how the­se kind of rela­tion­ships are a kind of hid­den orga­ni­za­tion. So we’re not anti-orga­ni­za­tion­al, we’re just not in the busi­ness of recruit­ment.”[tog­gle title=“Read More”]

What is the his­to­ry of your group? What actions have you orga­nized, how has your group changed, and what are your plans for the future?

The fol­low­ing is a dia­logue between “Abdul,” “Baa­seiah,” and “Nayef,” all mid-20/30-something, African American/Middle East­ern descent/mixed-race, well-trav­elled artists and expe­ri­enced activists in/around the Saint Louis City/County area (Fer­gu­son is part of Saint Louis Coun­ty). This dia­logue is a con­densed ver­sion of a broad­er dis­cus­sion between par­tic­i­pants in the Saint Louis-area Wyld­Fire! Col­lec­tive of the questions/prompts pro­vid­ed by Viewpoint’s inquiry. Names have been changed to pro­tect our friends.

A: I’m not quite sure how to answer this…

B: Well, “we” are not real­ly a group, exact­ly.

A: Right. I think of us and our friends as a group of Mid­west rad­i­cals who start­ed work­ing togeth­er in the streets of Fer­gu­son after Mike Brown got shot. And when we work togeth­er, it’s because we have sim­i­lar feel­ings toward what’s hap­pen­ing in the world around us and in our lives.

B: I guess we out­ta admit a few of us already knew each oth­er before Mike Brown was mur­dered.

A: Right, some of us met at the ral­ly and pissed off street demo in StL that turned into a small riot when the George Zim­mer­man ver­dict came back “not guilty.”

B: Those were good times. Also some of our friends did Food Not Bombs stuff. They met back at Saint Louis’ Occu­py. Some of us also just knew each oth­er from around town. Saint Louis real­ly is a small town pre­tend­ing to be a big city.

A: I feel like what our friends had in com­mon when we came togeth­er wasn’t so much polit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal, not in an orga­nized or a the­o­ret­i­cal way, so much as we had some com­mon feel­ings toward what we were expe­ri­enc­ing, in life and in those moments in the streets. 

B: Right, we came togeth­er basi­cal­ly because we rec­og­nized each oth­er in the streets from past stuff, and we were doing a lot of the same sort of stuff out there – tag­ging slo­gans on the walls, hand­ing out ban­danas and advis­ing some of the folks out there at night to mask-up or take out the cam­eras, or treat­ing peo­ple who’d been tear­gassed, stuff like that. Yeah, it was less polit­i­cal, and more emo­tion­al and prac­ti­cal; about keep­ing safe togeth­er and about how we felt.

A: Well, what about the sec­ond part of that ques­tion?

B: About the actions we orga­nized? Well, aside from what we already talked about, we did some cook­ing and food dis­tro with some of our friends in a local Food Not Bombs group under the burnt-out Quick­Trip over­hang a few nights after Mike Brown got shot. They were there two nights in a row, but the sec­ond night we had a table on one side hand­ing out fresh food, and they were bar­be­cu­ing on the oth­er side and we shared food and war sto­ries and cel­e­brat­ed till the QT park­ing lot got tear­gassed lat­er that night.

A: Yeah, that was fun. It was like, some sort of cel­e­bra­tion that evening; like a parade of resis­tance.

B: There were floats, lit­er­al­ly, small floats built out of paper mache and what­ev­er else peo­ple could get ahold of, mount­ed on top of cars and in truck beds.

A: And that Thomas the Train thing…

B: “The Peace Train,” that was great!

A: Our actions, aside from the one we coor­di­nat­ed with Food Not Bombs that evening, were not so much “orga­nized” as they were spon­ta­neous con­ver­gences of oppor­tu­ni­ty, need, prox­im­i­ty and hap­pen­stance.

B: That’s an over­ly-com­pli­cat­ed way of say­ing we flash-mobbed. Mass texts to a few dozen friends when the shit goes down!

A: What about “our” future?

B: Do “we” have a future, exact­ly? I mean, we’re prob­a­bly gonna keep on doing what we gonna do, just like each of us did before we came togeth­er around Mike Brown’s mur­der.

There are oth­er ten­den­cies that may be in a posi­tion to co-opt the move­ment –it is wide­ly not­ed that non­prof­its play a demo­bi­liz­ing role in social move­ments, medi­at­ing between action in the streets and munic­i­pal city gov­ern­ments whose fund­ing they depend on. Because non­prof­its have resources that grass­roots ini­tia­tives often don’t, they posi­tion them­selves as the lead­er­ship, while con­sti­tut­ing social bases of sup­port in ways that are more dif­fi­cult for rad­i­cals. How can this co-opt­ing be avoid­ed? How can rad­i­cals devel­op the same bases of sup­port that many non­prof­its enjoy?

B: I don’t know if we should be look­ing to get a “sup­port base” like the non­prof­its have, act­ing like them or try­ing to become them or become like them; I’m very uncom­fort­able with that. 

A: I feel like try­ing to imi­tate the non­prof­its, or try­ing to repli­cate their suc­cess­es, basi­cal­ly risks becom­ing them, per­pet­u­at­ing a sort of cycle of recu­per­a­tion, set­tling in, pro­fes­sion­al­ism, sell­ing out and treat­ing oth­er peo­ple in the strug­gle as instru­men­tal – like tools to be used by a van­guard who pre­sume they know bet­ter.

B: Yeah, and I’m not sure that the bases of sup­port those non­prof­it types have even is social, so much as it’s polit­i­cal; it’s pro­fes­sion­al, like, a ser­vice-provider sort of rela­tion­ship, out­sourcing our agen­cy and sub­mit­ting it to their lead­er­ship, and sub­sti­tut­ing gen­uine social rela­tions between human beings with orga­ni­za­tion­al, almost mil­i­tary com­mand cul­ture.

A: So the solu­tion lies some­where in escap­ing that cycle of insti­tu­tion­al vio­lence and focus­ing on actu­al social rela­tions between indi­vid­u­als in the con­text of their com­mu­ni­ties?

B: That, and more. I think a solu­tion might be some­thing like focus­ing on the social rela­tions between peo­ple as we are now, and on our aspi­ra­tions, our dreams; how we wish to be. We need to do the long, hard work of find­ing new ways to resist the vio­lence of rep­re­sen­ta­tion and carve out spaces for our­selves and each oth­er to take direct, effec­tive action in our own lives and social space.

A: When we are talk­ing about move­ment, though, does that mean blow­ing up what you just described to a larg­er scale?

B: I think it means not being afraid to call out those who would destroy our upris­ings by their attempts to con­trol them. There’s noth­ing to be gained from arbi­trary “uni­ty” with those who’ll destroy us if they’re allowed to. They’re as much an ene­my as the police, the insti­tu­tions they serve (often the same insti­tu­tions the NGO types get their mon­ey from), and the ide­olo­gies of those indi­vid­u­als and insti­tu­tions, like racism and misog­y­ny.

N: We don’t play the num­bers game, or sub­scribe to a the­o­ry where­by you need a “mass move­ment,” that with enough num­bers, will shift soci­ety in a mean­ing­ful way. We’re not anti-orga­ni­za­tion­al, we’re just not in the busi­ness of recruit­ment. Our efforts are instead direct­ed towards the cre­ation of spaces or sit­u­a­tions, with­in insur­rec­tions, upris­ings, or the qui­et that some­times comes after, to expand the pos­si­bil­i­ties that peo­ple con­sid­er legit­i­mate forms of resis­tance, and to let peo­ple know that there are oth­ers who think dif­fer­ent­ly than the NGOs. We don’t have too much of a desire to live out­side the­se moments of neces­si­ty.

A: We do have our own pro­grams, not under this col­lec­tive name, but through var­i­ous oth­er groups. Food Not Bombs col­lec­tive and Saint Louis Sol­i­dar­i­ty Net­work are both impor­tant, and though they have lit­tle dig­i­tal pres­ence, they are a strong, famil­iar pres­ence on the ground for work­ing class peo­ple. Some­times we show up to big demon­stra­tions and give away food, water, and polit­i­cal lit­er­a­ture. The­se efforts can be easy to set up, but they can keep peo­ple ener­gized for a demon­stra­tion as it runs late into the evening. Scal­ing up, the­se groups run month­ly mutu­al aid event, col­lect­ing spoilage dona­tions and sea­son­al clothes. Togeth­er, the­se pro­grams ful­fill people’s imme­di­ate needs, while also using the space to share ideas and pol­i­tics. At the dis­tri­b­u­tion, we often try to have talks – about rape cul­ture, the protests, what­ev­er. The empha­sis for the­se events is not so much gain­ing num­bers around our ban­ner or ide­ol­o­gy, but using the­se as oppor­tu­ni­ties to meet co-con­spir­a­tors, and to change ideas about what accept­able resis­tance looks like, and the scope of what we’re fight­ing again­st.

An impor­tant turn­ing point for the black free­dom strug­gle in the 1960s were the urban rebel­lions in Watts, Detroit, Newark, and dozens of oth­er cities, which involved a great deal of prop­er­ty destruc­tion and loot­ing. Much has changed since then, but the polit­i­cal econ­o­my of urban devel­op­ment is still a cen­tral dynam­ic of racial inequal­i­ty in places like Bal­ti­more, Oak­land and Fer­gu­son. Are riots also still polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant, or has their mean­ing changed? And what about those places with sim­i­lar con­di­tions where major riots have not hap­pened, like New York or Philadel­phia? What oth­er met­rics might we use to mea­sure the devel­op­ment of strug­gle beyond street mil­i­tan­cy?

B: Yes, riots do work – as his­to­ry shows – and are absolute­ly nec­es­sary if we’re to move past tired old tac­tics that nev­er worked. Rather than ask­ing whether or not riot­ing works, I think the real ques­tion needs to be why it is that we get herd­ed into worth­less peace-policed and per­mit­ted protests on the side­walks? The point of protest outa be to threat­en, a last warn­ing to those in author­i­ty before we end them. If we’ve got no teeth and no back­bone, I don’t see the point. Street mil­i­tan­cy shows we’ve got back­bone, and riots show we’ve got teeth.

A: Yeah, mil­i­tan­cy is effec­tive. I look at it in terms of the QT that was burned to the ground. Before that hap­pened, Mike Brown was any oth­er Black teen slain by the police. But peo­ple did some­thing that the media, police, and many local peo­ple didn’t expect, and I’ve met some young peo­ple who car­ried out those actions who seemed sur­prised by their own actions. It gen­er­at­ed a lot of media atten­tion, and changed the way peo­ple respond to the­se mur­ders.

N: Right, but how do we mea­sure effec­tive­ness? I’ve been won­der­ing if some­thing that was effec­tive ear­lier will always be effec­tive lat­er. Cap­i­tal­ism and the state shift and change as we throw our­selves again­st it, respond­ing to us. It’s a many head­ed hydra, with each head look­ing dif­fer­ent from the last. It seems that after awhile it becomes inoc­u­lat­ed again­st cer­tain tac­tics and strate­gies. I mean, as pow­er­ful as the riots were, they’re worth think­ing about this way, too. They beat us and fired tear gas at us, though we gave them a good run, as well. But the next day, our mus­cles hurt, we’re sore, and some friends are behind bars, but the insti­tu­tions are still in place. And in four weeks, our efforts are com­plete­ly exhaust­ed, and those insti­tu­tions show no signs of dis­si­pat­ing. In the long run, we’re not sure what’s going to work. 

B: One con­cept that some of us were toy­ing with before all of this kicked off in Fer­gu­son was “com­mu­ni­ty union­ism.” We were kind of grasp­ing for straws, but thought that may­be an answer to the increas­ing pre­car­i­ty of work­ers, and the epic fail­ure of trade or labor union­ism to revi­tal­ize itself, would be a kind of com­mu­ni­ty based orga­ni­za­tion. We had this idea that, instead of going to work­ers at the point of pro­duc­tion, we could go to where they live. By orga­niz­ing at the neigh­bor­hood lev­el, peo­ple can choose to focus on issues of racism, of cul­tur­al prob­lems, and have an explic­it focus on what’s left out­side of main­stream pol­i­tics. The goal wouldn’t be to pass some new kind of laws, but to bring peo­ple togeth­er, to change our own hearts. As the pitched street bat­tles fade, we are think­ing of turn­ing back to com­mu­ni­ty union­ism.

The move­ments of the 1960s and 1970s again­st racism and police vio­lence led to the emer­gence of new kinds of orga­ni­za­tion – includ­ing, just to name a few, the Stu­dent Non­vi­o­lent Coor­di­nat­ing Com­mit­tee, the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Action Move­ment, the Black Pan­ther Par­ty, the League of Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Black Work­ers, the Third World Women’s Alliance, and, for white rad­i­cals, the Stu­dents for a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Soci­ety. In the 1970s the­se groups trans­formed into new rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions, which were often mul­ti-racial alliances between black, Chican@, Puer­to Rican, and Asian groups. Do you see new orga­ni­za­tions emerg­ing today, and if so, what is their rela­tion­ship to the broad­er Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment?

A: I do see new orga­ni­za­tions form­ing, all across the board, though I don’t know if the orga­ni­za­tions are the best place to look to under­stand the chang­ing dynam­ics of resis­tance cul­ture.

B: We’re bet­ter off look­ing to the spon­ta­neous out­bursts in the absence of orga­ni­za­tion­al influ­ence or con­trol, and I don’t just mean acts of vio­lence. Like the night after Mike Brown got shot, Fer­gu­son PD came down into the neigh­bor­hood and broke up a can­dle­light vig­il using dogs, tear gas, flash­bang grenades and riot gear. There was a very diverse crowd present at the can­dle­light vig­il, and in respon­se many very enraged peo­ple surged up the street into the Quick­trip and burned it to the ground.

But what was real­ly amaz­ing was see­ing what peo­ple did in the after­math, as QT burned. We saw teenagers hand­ing out food and med­i­cine and hygiene sup­plies to folks in need in the neigh­bor­hood, offer­ing loot­ed cig­a­rettes, booze and gum to strangers, spon­ta­neous­ly danc­ing and embrac­ing in the streets. Back then that’s where we met some of the folks who became the dear­est of friends, and a lot of peo­ple bond­ed over that.

A: I don’t know any­one who’s ever told me they bond­ed over long, ardu­ous meet­ings or micro­man­aged protests man­aged by NGO types.

N: As a result of the­se expe­ri­ences, I think we tend to asso­ciate orga­ni­za­tion with the dis-orga­niz­ing imper­a­tive of the NGOs, the cler­gy, or even the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mu­nist Par­ty, Spar­ta­cus League, and the Pro­gres­sive Labor Par­ty. When­ev­er there’s a hint of activ­i­ty in Fer­gu­son, they’re bused in from Chicago, Mil­wau­kee, Boston, or who knows where, and they arrive to bick­er with each oth­er and local mil­i­tant youth. 

I often hear and rec­og­nize some­one on the metro from the­se var­i­ous events, and we will exchange a look or smile. I think that in a way, I can see how the­se kind of rela­tion­ships are a kind of hid­den orga­ni­za­tion, which is dif­fer­ent from those who demand that you do work under their own ban­ner before they take you and your ideas seri­ous­ly.

Last May, we pub­lished an analy­sis of the upris­ing in Bal­ti­more, focus­ing in on the dynam­ics of white sol­i­dar­i­ty. The essay con­front­ed a ten­sion per­va­sive through­out the move­ment, on the simul­ta­ne­ous neces­si­ty of strate­gic alliances between dif­fer­ent strug­gles of oppressed and exploit­ed peo­ples, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that includ­ing oth­er groups might obvi­ate the speci­fici­ty of anti-Black racism. As the move­ment has devel­oped, it’s proven to have strong res­o­nances with non-black peo­ple, draw­ing in par­tic­i­pa­tion and sup­port from a range of dif­fer­ent sec­tors and strug­gles and some­times offer­ing mod­els for oth­ers. How do we main­tain the res­o­nance between dif­fer­ent strug­gles with shared antag­o­nisms, with­out effac­ing what is speci­fic to this move­ment?

A: For starters, I don’t think there’s any future for strug­gle in the ally politic mod­el.

B: Right. That mod­el only rein­forces rad­i­cal oth­er-ing and white lib­er­al guilt/savior com­plex­es. When I think about the future of move­ment, I think a lot about the accom­plices mod­el, where what brings us togeth­er is our com­mon inter­est in resis­tance, our com­mon insis­tence on tak­ing direct action toward lib­er­a­tion, our­selves, and the com­mon risk we take as indi­vid­u­als togeth­er in our pur­suit of lib­er­a­tion.

N: This can be tricky when you’re stand­ing next to some­one who might be a lib­er­al or a Gar­veyite, and they begin to chant some­thing that indi­cates that they’re not in the same strug­gle as you are. But when your shoul­der to shoul­der and up again­st the wall, it’s hard to refuse their com­rade­ship in that moment. We’ve had to learn a cer­tain kind of ide­o­log­i­cal flu­id­i­ty, where we can work with peo­ple in some con­texts, and have to chal­lenge them or sep­a­rate our­selves from them in oth­er ones. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, while there’s a real need for debate with­in the move­ment about tac­tics, strat­e­gy, and larg­er ori­en­ta­tion, the­se debates unfold in real­ly dis­rup­tive ways. The­se con­ver­sa­tions between par­tic­i­pants in the move­ment have been real­ly dif­fi­cult to have. 

A: Some of the­se prob­lems come from reduc­tion­ism sur­round­ing “white priv­i­lege” analy­sis. It’s an impor­tant dynam­ic for us to rec­og­nize, but line that every­one needs to shut up and fol­low Black lead­er­ship, which has in prac­tice meant fol­low an estab­lished lib­er­al lead­er­ship, has its own prob­lems.

N: As an immi­grant with brown skin, as a Pales­tini­an, the kind of oppres­sion olympics built into the mod­el of ally pol­i­tics dis­turbs me polit­i­cal­ly. To have a col­lege edu­cat­ed white per­son shout­ing at me and my friends because we’re not per­ceived to be as Black as oth­er peo­ple, has meant sur­ren­der­ing all the momen­tum to lib­er­als. It’s dis­heart­en­ing, because a lot of peo­ple are becom­ing invest­ed in it, includ­ing the extreme black-white dichotomies as a way to under­stand race. 

A: Like some of the mean­ings attached to the old word “com­rade,” I think the con­cept of the accom­plice gives us the space we all need for dif­fer­ence, the auton­o­my to take indi­vid­u­al action, and a uni­ty based on the actions we have and will take, not on some arbi­trary abstrac­tion or on iden­ti­ty cat­e­gories – which are far from homoge­nous or uni­fied in their inter­ests and pur­suit of those inter­ests.

B: I remem­ber when Nel­ly, a rap­per who is actu­al­ly from Saint Louis, came out to speak last fall in Fer­gu­son, at the Cam­field apart­ment com­plex. He was say­ing how impor­tant it is to go to col­lege, to get a job, to become entre­pre­neurs, and to infil­trate the police forces by becom­ing police them­selves. As if that’s ever changed their core func­tion! And every­one there was just jeer­ing at him, and so he respond­ed with some­thing like: “you have options.” I remem­ber a wom­an in the crowd fired back say­ing, “no, you’re rich, you have options.” I think that kind of exchange was emblem­at­ic for what we’ve been deal­ing with out here; we run up again­st mis­lead­ers and celebri­ty activists that are brought out to val­i­date the aspir­ing lead­er­ship of locals. Link­ing up with mar­gin­al­ized and work­ing class peo­ple is the best way to fight that dynam­ic, because it’s those peo­ple who are them­selves say­ing ‘to hell with that lead­er­ship!’
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ADVANCE THE STRUGGLE

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“We pro­pose that we con­sid­er insti­tu­tions such as schools, hos­pi­tals and pub­lic trans­porta­tion as social choke­points, insti­tu­tion­al spaces where a diverse range of pro­le­tar­i­ans come togeth­er on a dai­ly basis. Mil­i­tants should strong­ly con­sid­er the impor­tance of orga­niz­ing with­in the­se spaces.”
[tog­gle title=“Read More”]

Advance the Strug­gle is a com­mu­nist col­lec­tive that has par­tic­i­pat­ed in a vari­ety of social move­ment and work­place orga­niz­ing ini­tia­tives.  From anti-aus­ter­i­ty stu­dent move­ment on uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es to anti-police bru­tal­i­ty move­ments, we have focused on bridg­ing social move­ments and work­place orga­niz­ing, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Oakland’s pub­lic schools. 

Novem­ber and Decem­ber in Oak­land

Oak­land was an excit­ing place to be, again, dur­ing the hot win­ter weeks of late Novem­ber and ear­ly Decem­ber 2014.  Protests raged night­ly, and so many of us found our­selves march­ing togeth­er through the streets, evad­ing cops, and block­ing free­ways and BART sta­tions wherever was pos­si­ble.  Walk­ing down Broad­way, turn­ing right on 7th street and head­ing toward the West Oak­land BART sta­tion.  Stop­ping mid­way and hav­ing debates about which direc­tion to go - toward 980?  Back toward the 880?  Pied­mont?  The chaotic dis­cus­sions we had brought that famil­iar feel­ing of ungovern­abil­i­ty back to our lives.  Our mil­i­tant and dis­or­der­ly activ­i­ties were cre­ative and gen­er­a­tive to the extent that we got prac­tice in chal­leng­ing the infra­struc­ture of Bay Area cap­i­tal­ism, attempt­ing to block flows of traf­fic in ways that at least felt like we were dis­rupt­ing flows of cap­i­tal.  Cel­e­brat­ing mil­i­tan­cy is impor­tant, but per­haps more impor­tant is point­ing out some of the lim­i­ta­tions of our coura­geous actions. 

There are three key lim­its that we want to high­light here. 

First, the series of protest march­es and traf­fic dis­rup­tions that so many of us par­tic­i­pat­ed in dur­ing those weeks last year were absent any pub­lic spaces of polit­i­cal dis­cus­sion.  We were cer­tain­ly dis­cussing tac­tics, strate­gies, and pol­i­tics in our col­lec­tives, affin­i­ty groups, and infor­mal orga­niz­ing spaces. But where did this leave all the peo­ple who were par­tic­i­pat­ing in the­se actions for the first time? Where did it leave all those peo­ple who were watch­ing from their tele­vi­sions and phones? The lack of a pub­lic space for polit­i­cal and strate­gic dis­cus­sion meant that whole lay­ers of peo­ple who were on the verge of par­tic­i­pat­ing in this polit­i­cal moment were inad­ver­tent­ly side­lined, left as spec­ta­tors rather than incor­po­rat­ed into the plan­ning process. 

Sec­ond, the major­i­ty of the night­time protests that we par­tic­i­pat­ed in felt strange­ly silent much of the time. We were mil­i­tant and coura­geous in the face of the direct police in front of us, as well as in the face of the gen­er­al anti-black police state that was increas­ing­ly exposed on a nation­al scale, but this courage and deter­mi­na­tion lacked explic­it expres­sion, we didn’t have speci­fic demands that we want­ed to win, nor did we even have polit­i­cal slo­gans and mes­sages that we were attempt­ing to spread. Our lack of demands and slo­gans, beyond the impor­tant, pow­er­ful and gen­er­al Black Lives Mat­ter, rep­re­sents a lack in speci­fic focus that might help us win con­ces­sions from the state. And yes, we do think that win­ning con­ces­sions on the basis of mil­i­tan­cy and rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas is impor­tant in this time peri­od.

Third, the shut­down tac­tics that we car­ried out – at inter­sec­tions, BART sta­tions, and free­ways – brought us togeth­er as peo­ple from var­i­ous walks of life. Many of our friends have point­ed out that the fact that we don’t work in large fac­to­ries or work­places that bring us togeth­er as work­ing class peo­ple – rather, we find our­selves dis­persed in small work­places that we stick around at until we find a bet­ter gig to take some­where else. This can lead us to con­clude that it’s more strate­gic to come togeth­er to fight cap­i­tal­ism in the streets, rather than focus on fight­ing cap­i­tal in our work­places. We agree that this is a sign of our times: many, many more of us are exclud­ed from the types of jobs that would allow us to see our work­places as strate­gic sites of strug­gle. How­ev­er, we’d be going too far if we drew the con­clu­sion that the streets are the only place where we can make our social pow­er felt, where our col­lec­tive agen­cy can find a pro­duc­tive and anti-sys­temic expres­sion. Instead, we pro­pose that we con­sid­er the sites of social repro­duc­tion that still exist, still bring many of us togeth­er, and still hold the poten­tial to become bases of rev­o­lu­tion­ary dis­cus­sion, activ­i­ty and cre­ative dis­rup­tion.

Cre­at­ing a space for plan­ning and pol­i­tics

On the evening of Decem­ber 10th, 75 of us gath­ered in a large meet­ing room in down­town Oak­land. 50 of those present were high school stu­dents from both pub­lic and char­ter high schools through­out the city, while the oth­er 25 of us were adults, edu­ca­tors of some sort whether teach­ers, after-school work­ers, or non-prof­it work­ers employed in schools. Not one of the many, many youth activist orga­ni­za­tions called for the meet­ing; rather, it was called for by a group of us who had been orga­niz­ing again­st aus­ter­i­ty and pri­va­ti­za­tion in the Oak­land Uni­fied School Dis­trict for the past few years. Net­works of edu­ca­tors and stu­dents that we cul­ti­vat­ed through­out mul­ti­ple rounds of bat­tle again­st the OUSD’s admin­is­tra­tive bureau­cra­cy brought us togeth­er numer­ous times before, so a lev­el of under­stand­ing and trust was present.  How­ev­er, despite the fact that some of us knew one anoth­er, the major­i­ty of the peo­ple present at the meet­ing were gath­er­ing togeth­er for the first time, com­ing togeth­er as a result of the desire to par­tic­i­pate direct­ly in the emerg­ing move­ment again­st police ter­ror and anti-black racism. 

The vast major­i­ty of stu­dents who were present at this orga­niz­ing meet­ing had nev­er attend­ed any of the night­time demon­stra­tions that were hap­pen­ing through­out the city. Despite the fact that they were pay­ing atten­tion to what was erupt­ing on a nation­al scale, they were not able to par­tic­i­pate in the demon­stra­tions due to lack of trans­porta­tion, fear on the part of their par­ents, or lack of con­nec­tion to peo­ple out in the streets.  As a result, con­ver­sa­tions between stu­dents and edu­ca­tors in schools across the city cre­at­ed the basis for this orga­niz­ing meet­ing to be an entry­point for young peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate in mil­i­tant polit­i­cal activ­i­ty.  

There was a cer­tain amount of trust need­ed, how­ev­er ini­tial it was in its devel­op­ment, for the edu­ca­tors involved to bring stu­dents togeth­er.  Risk to their jobs and rela­tion­ships with par­ents was cer­tain­ly present given that the sole pur­pose of the meet­ing was to orga­nize polit­i­cal action using the strength of our social rela­tion­ships cen­tered around our schools. The spec­tre of fear was rein­forced by a small minor­i­ty at the meet­ing – some employed by the school dis­trict – who made state­ments such as, “I notice that there are no orga­niz­ers here … may­be it will be bet­ter to do a teach-in rather than a dis­or­ga­nized action?”  Inter­est­ing­ly enough, those who made the­se com­ments were par­tic­i­pants in the direct action at the BART sta­tion on Black Fri­day and lat­er at the Oak­land fed­er­al build­ing on MLK Jr. day. Still, despite the­se com­ments, or per­haps again­st them, the stu­dents demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly vot­ed to car­ry out an action the fol­low­ing week in order to build on the momen­tum of the nation­al protests rather than delay action into the new year. The process of delib­er­a­tion, debate and dis­cus­sion need­ed to arrive at this con­clu­sion was use­ful for both the stu­dents and the edu­ca­tors in the room, as many had nev­er before par­tic­i­pat­ed in this type of polit­i­cal plan­ning.

Once the deci­sion was made to car­ry out an action, the con­ver­sa­tion phased into a dis­cus­sion of demands. Three demands were dis­cussed and agreed on: the fir­ing of Offi­cer Bhatt, who had mur­dered 19 year old Raheim Brown some years ear­lier, the dis­arm­ing and dis­band­ing of the Oak­land Uni­fied School Dis­trict Police Depart­ment, and the rejec­tion of the armored tac­ti­cal vehi­cle that the Depart­ment of Defense had donat­ed to the OUSD. Given that the major­i­ty of peo­ple in the room, stu­dents and edu­ca­tors alike, had no idea about the exis­tence of the armored vehi­cle, nor the fact that Offi­cer Bhatt was still on OUSD pay­roll, sim­ply dis­cussing the­se demands played a use­ful role in polit­i­cal­ly edu­cat­ing the par­tic­i­pants in the meet­ing.  Fol­low­ing the dis­cus­sion, the stu­dents and edu­ca­tors decid­ed to make the­se demands a part of the action. 

The fol­low­ing days were spent hav­ing orga­niz­ing meet­ings on school cam­pus­es to dis­cuss the demands, plan march routes and actions, cre­ate signs, and spread the call for the action on Insta­gram. The­se meet­ings were held in class­rooms across the city on Fri­day, Decem­ber 12th, pro­vid­ing a space, with­in the insti­tu­tion that stu­dents and edu­ca­tors attend on a dai­ly basis, for ongo­ing polit­i­cal edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion of tac­tics.

Decem­ber 15th walk­out

Once Mon­day, Decem­ber 15th came, folks were ready to dis­rupt busi­ness as usu­al.  Demon­stra­tors poured into the Fruit­vale BART sta­tion plaza one school at a time until there was a crowd of about 300 pro­test­ers gath­ered around a group stand­ing on top of a planter ledge with a bull­horn. Walk­outs hap­pened at mul­ti­ple high schools, and one group who walked out of Oak­land Tech even report­ed that the Macarthur BART sta­tion tem­porar­i­ly shut­down in order to dis­rupt their abil­i­ty to get onto the plat­form. Oth­er stu­dents report­ed fac­ing intim­i­da­tion and harass­ment from school dis­trict offi­cials and police as they walked out of their schools, but in the end all of the orga­nized cam­pus­es were able to join in the action.

The ral­ly fea­tured speech­es and facil­i­ta­tion which was 100% youth led. In addi­tion to pro­vid­ing an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the young peo­ple to take lead­er­ship of the facil­i­ta­tion, the ral­ly also pro­vid­ed an oppor­tu­ni­ty for explic­it polit­i­cal points to be made by all who want­ed to speak out. The demands were read by the facil­i­ta­tors, pre­pared speech­es were deliv­ered by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from each of the schools, and spon­ta­neous words were shared by young folks moved by the ener­gy of the crowd.

Once the ral­ly was over, an unan­nounced but well coor­di­nat­ed die-in hap­pened in front of the entrance of the BART sta­tion where the var­i­ous AC Tran­sit busses come to pick up pas­sen­gers.  As the die-in occurred, three poets from a near­by high school deliv­ered a poem that they had writ­ten ear­lier that mon­th in prepa­ra­tion for a pub­lic per­for­mance. The pow­er of the die-in and the poet­ry went hand in hand with the pow­er of tem­porar­i­ly shut­ting down not only the AC Tran­sit bus route, but also the Fruit­vale BART sta­tion as a whole as trains were blocked from stop­ping while the die-in occurred.

At the end of the die-in, the demon­stra­tors gath­ered and marched up Fruit­vale Ave, tak­ing a left on Foothill Blvd. and march­ing through East Oak­land toward Lake Mer­ritt where they would con­nect with a vig­il that was hap­pen­ing around the lake.  The entire march was unper­mit­ted, and the ener­gy of the crowd was deter­mined, mil­i­tant, and dis­ci­plined as it shut down streets and high-fived with cars which had to pull over in order to make way for the protest to move through.  The entire expe­ri­ence was the first that the major­i­ty of par­tic­i­pants had had with such a mil­i­tant and orga­nized demon­stra­tion, and there was a feel­ing among the crowd that this was the begin­ning of some­thing that would con­tin­ue unfold­ing.  

Ric­o­chet­ing polit­i­cal agen­cy

What unfold­ed after the Decem­ber 15th walk­out wasn’t exact­ly expect­ed.  Dur­ing the hol­i­day break, stu­dent orga­niz­ers from the walk­out met with edu­ca­tor mil­i­tants to pull back the lens and dis­cuss the role of stu­dents and work­ers in strug­gle on a broad­er scale. We met to study the stu­dent and edu­ca­tion move­ments in Mex­i­co, specif­i­cal­ly the UNAM strike of ‘99-00, #YoSoy132, and the move­ment com­ing out of the dis­ap­pear­ance of 43 stu­dents from Ayotz­i­na­pa. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary stu­dents from Mex­i­co City skyped with active stu­dents from Oak­land to dis­cuss the way in which school assem­blies allowed stu­dents from dif­fer­ent cam­pus­es to con­nect with one anoth­er and orga­nize joint actions.  Con­ver­sa­tions between our­selves and our com­rades in Mex­i­co allowed us to think of our own sit­u­a­tion in Oak­land in new ways.

At the same time that we were meet­ing to dis­cuss the con­nec­tion between the Decem­ber 15th walk­out and the Mex­i­can stu­dent move­ment, we heard about the plans that the OUSD was putting for­ward to poten­tial­ly pri­va­tize five pub­lic schools.  One of the stu­dents that was meet­ing to study with us was a stu­dent from Fre­mont High School, one of the schools slat­ed for poten­tial pri­va­ti­za­tion and char­ter­i­za­tion.  We dis­cussed the need to con­nect stu­dents and teach­ers from all of the five schools togeth­er much the same way that the Mex­i­can com­rade has explained to us. 

As soon as school came back into ses­sion in ear­ly Jan­u­ary, we made con­nec­tions across some of the key schools on the chop­ping block.  Stu­dents who orga­nized the Decem­ber 15th walk­out con­nect­ed with oth­er stu­dents who had either par­tic­i­pat­ed in the action, or had at least heard about it, from the five schools threat­ened with clo­sure and pri­va­ti­za­tion.  The­se stu­dents planned an action at Fre­mont High School on the day that the OUSD admin­is­tra­tion set up a “com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment” meet­ing to sell their plans to the com­mu­ni­ty.  What hap­pened was incred­i­ble.  Stu­dents read their cri­tique of the entire OUSD pri­va­ti­za­tion process, and then pro­ceed­ed to takeover the entire OUSD orches­trat­ed event, hold­ing the micro­phone for extend­ed peri­ods of time and com­plete­ly dis­rupt­ing the whole of the offi­cial event. 

This orga­niz­ing con­tin­ued in var­i­ous forms through­out the rest of the spring semes­ter.  But what is inter­est­ing for the sake of the sto­ry of the orga­niz­ers of the Decem­ber 15th walk­out is that lat­er that spring some of the core orga­niz­ers par­tic­i­pat­ed in anoth­er series of inde­pen­dent polit­i­cal actions.  Dur­ing the ini­tial roll out of the new stan­dard­ized test in Cal­i­for­nia - the Smarter Bal­anced Assess­ment, referred to as the SBAC - stu­dents at one of the key schools to orches­trate the walk­out ini­ti­at­ed a boy­cott of the stan­dard­ized test.  This crew of stu­dents inde­pen­dent­ly spread an opt-out form among them­selves and their par­ents in order to get near­ly the entire 11th grade class from their school to stand again­st the impo­si­tion of this new, com­put­er­ized stan­dard­ized assess­ment.  While they did not pro­duce lit­er­a­ture that was cir­cu­lat­ed pub­licly, they did do what almost no oth­er group of young peo­ple in Oak­land did.  In speak­ing to them about the moti­va­tions for their action, they told us that they were empow­ered by the var­i­ous protests they had not only par­tic­i­pat­ed in attend­ing but had planned them­selves, and that they took this empow­er­ment and applied it toward orga­niz­ing again­st what seemed to them to be a waste of their edu­ca­tion­al time.  School dis­trict offi­cials came down on the school in ques­tion, threat­en­ing loss of fund­ing for the entire dis­trict if there were not enough test tak­en.  How­ev­er, the stu­dents stood strong and opened up con­ver­sa­tions with their teach­ers and par­ents about why they refused to take the test. 

Where to, now?

The polit­i­cal agen­cy that expressed itself through the actions of stu­dents and edu­ca­tors in Oak­land was unprece­dent­ed in recent times.  What made this even more inter­est­ing was the fact that all of the activ­i­ty was ini­ti­at­ed and sus­tained through the inde­pen­dent orga­ni­za­tion of rank and file stu­dents and edu­ca­tors.  The exist­ing non­prof­it and school dis­trict machin­ery ded­i­cat­ed toward co-opt­ing stu­dent and edu­ca­tor ener­gy was pushed aside through the Decem­ber 15th walk­out, the anti-pri­va­ti­za­tion activ­i­ty, and the stan­dard­ized test boy­cott.  All of the ground­work was car­ried out by mil­i­tants that had implant­ed them­selves in a social insti­tu­tion – in this case, the OUSD, the largest employ­er in Oak­land – and cre­at­ed net­works through con­sis­tent orga­niz­ing that estab­lished a basis for seiz­ing upon the polit­i­cal open­ing in Novem­ber and Decem­ber of 2014. 

While all of this rep­re­sents the par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence of speci­fic sec­tors of the work­ing class – stu­dents and teach­ers – in a speci­fic city at a par­tic­u­lar time, it pro­vides us with a basis to sug­gest a few things for con­sid­er­a­tion.  

We agree with our friends who point out that there is pow­er in atom­ized pro­le­tar­i­ans com­ing togeth­er to dis­rupt the flow of cap­i­tal at speci­fic nodes in sup­ply chains – ports, high­ways, etc – that is, that there is an impor­tance in pro­le­tar­i­an activ­i­ty not being sole­ly root­ed in work­places, but rather at speci­fic choke­points in the sup­ply chain of com­modi­ties.  This has proved to be a pow­er­ful tac­tic in var­i­ous strug­gles, par­tic­u­lar­ly here in Oak­land, and it has a basis in the mate­ri­al real­i­ty of the cap­i­tal­ist econ­o­my and work­ing class life. 

How­ev­er, despite the pro­lif­er­a­tion of casu­al­ized labor con­di­tions, small shops and large scale unem­ploy­ment among the US pro­le­tari­at, there is still a basis for focus­ing on the cen­tral­iz­ing pow­er of cer­tain social insti­tu­tions.  We pro­pose that we con­sid­er insti­tu­tions such as schools, hos­pi­tals and pub­lic trans­porta­tion as social choke­points, insti­tu­tion­al spaces where a diverse range of pro­le­tar­i­ans come togeth­er on a dai­ly basis.  Mil­i­tants should strong­ly con­sid­er the impor­tance of orga­niz­ing with­in the­se spaces.  This type of orga­niz­ing has the poten­tial to reach sec­tors of the pro­le­tari­at which might not oth­er­wise par­tic­i­pate in the street protests and block­ades that are coor­di­nat­ed out­side of any par­tic­u­lar work­place or insti­tu­tion­al space.  Orga­niz­ing where peo­ple are at – and where peo­ple will con­tin­ue to be at for the fore­see­able future, in the not-so-eas­i­ly out­source­able cen­ters of labor and social repro­duc­tion – can provide the basis to orga­nize a pro­le­tar­i­an insur­gen­cy that can fight mul­ti­ple fronts, and provide a con­tri­bu­tion toward devel­op­ing a more orga­nized and expe­ri­enced assault on cap­i­tal­ism from with­in its own insti­tu­tions.
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Authors of the article

is managing editor at Viewpoint.

is a poet, feminist, and anti-capitalist. She writes in the militant research collective Praxis Research. Her chapbook Rhizomes is out with Birds of Lace.