Strategy After Ferguson

A 2016 collection of interviews with groups that make up "part of what may be an emerging radical pole in the struggle for black liberation". This collection first appeared in Viewpoint Magazine.

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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 AT viewpointmag DOT 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 AT viewpointmag DOT com.

- Ben Mabie

Interview with Unity & Struggle

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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 context – say, 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 unity – depending 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, [email protected], 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.

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 struggles – not 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.

Interview with Ann Arbor Movement for Black Lives

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], and [email protected] 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.

Interview with Baltimore Bloc

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], 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.

Interview with Chicago Alliance Against Racist & Political Repression

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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 [email protected] 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, [email protected], 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 [email protected] 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.

Interview with Cooperation Jackson

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], 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 [email protected] 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.

Interview with #ItsBiggerThanYou

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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.

Interview with Organization for Black Struggle

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], 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.

Interview with Qilombo

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], 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.

Interview with Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee/Action Against Black Genocide

Interview with George Ciccariello-Maher, of the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee/Action Against Black Genocide, from Viewpoint Magazine's "Strategy After Ferguson" feature.

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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 street– not the point of production– tends 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 rebellion– to 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 recalling – a 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 liberation – then the real movement for the abolition of white supremacy may well go underground only to resurface inevitably at some future point.

Interview with Wyldfire! Collective

Interview with Abdul, Baaseiah, and Nayef of the Wyldfire! Collective, from Viewpoint Magazine's "Strategy After Ferguson" feature.

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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, [email protected], 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!’

Contribution from Advance the Struggle

A report by Advance the Struggle on the movement in Oakland's school system following the Ferguson Uprising, from Viewpoint Magazine's "Strategy After Ferguson" collection.

Submitted by R Totale on February 24, 2018

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.