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Speaking Fees, Selfies, Sucking Up to Power: How BLM Lost its Mojo

Mint Press

April 17, 2018

By Jon Jetter

 

The Black Panther Party remains beloved in the African-American community 52 years after its founding — revered for its nutrition and health programs, fearless defense of the people, and self-sacrifice. The BLM leadership, on the other hand, poses for fashion magazine photo spreads.

Wearing Christian Siriano, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement Patrisse Cullors attends the 90th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on March 4, 2018 in Hollywood.

 

CINCINNATI, OHIO — In a stinging rebuke of Black Lives Matter (BLM), the organization’s local affiliate here last month announced that it was severing all ties to a movement it characterized as opportunistic, too invested in liberal, electoral politics and the Democratic party, and ultimately ineffective in fighting state-sanctioned violence against African-Americans.

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati (BLMC) explained its decision to change its name to Mass Action for Black Liberation in a tersely-worded letter, published March 30 on its website. With an organizational structure similar to the anarchist-influenced Occupy Movement, BLM and the Movement for Black Lives Matter network is a loose-knit — often unwieldy – confederation of chapters, affiliates, and spinoffs with broad autonomy and varying degrees of collaboration with the national leadership. Despite their initial reservations, activists in Cincinnati decided to adopt the BLM moniker early in 2015 out of a sense of urgency following a series of highly publicized police murders in 2014 — including those of Eric Garner on a Staten Island street, 12-year-old Tamir Rice at a Cleveland playground, and 18-year-old Michael Brown Jr. on a suburban St. Louis street.

The Cincinnati group wrote:

BLM did not create or build this new grassroots movement against police brutality and racism; they capitalized off a nameless groundswell of resistance sweeping the nation, branded it as their own, and profited from the deaths of Black men and women around the country without seriously engaging, as a national formation, in getting justice for fighting families. All the while raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from high-end speaking engagements and donations from foundations that support the Black struggle (or want to co-opt it).

 

They have gained access to high profile associations, including invitations to the White House and celebrity events; have been on magazine covers; are on the way to profiting as authors and subjects of books; and have accepted numerous awards and accolades as so-called founders of the movement — while families struggle, unassisted, to keep their fights going. So many people on the ground have shared a similar experience: when the reporters leave and the bright lights are gone, so are they [BLM].”

Outgoing Planned Parenthood (premiere partner of the 2017 Women’s March campaign) president Cecile Richards attended the Oscars Sunday evening with Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter. Richards arrived at the Oscars with Cullors-Brignac and Bryan Stevenson, initiative director for Equal Justice, and the three posed on the red carpet for photos, reports CNN. [Source]

Cecile Richards with Hillary Clinton. June 10, 2016

A member of the Mass Action for Black Liberation steering committee, Brian Taylor, was even more blunt, characterizing BLM as a “liberal” organization offering solutions that are wholly insufficient to fulfill the ambitions of a radical and restive black working class that is most affected by state terror:

We feel that BLM has not been a champion in any real way in the fight against police brutality. And, by presenting themselves as the creator of something they did not initiate, they have benefitted from the [survivors’] suffering in ways that we feel are inappropriate. Their approach is very reformist, very liberal, and at the end of the day they believe in the institutional structures that are at the heart of our oppression. We see ourselves here as a revolutionary organization.”

Of a campaign to register African American voters at movie theaters showing the popular Black Panther movie based in the mythical African nation of Wakanda, Taylor, 43, told MintPress:

History is not made by the ballot box; it’s made in the streets. With all that’s going on in this country and you want to Wakanda the vote? What?”

Black Lives Matter Cincinnati joins Black Lives Matter New York, which announced in January that it was severing its ties to the Global BLM Network. And, while the letter announcing their departure was not as sharply-worded as the Ohio declaration, New York activists left no doubt that their motivation for withdrawing from BLM was virtually identical to that of their peers in Cincinnati.

The best way for us to move our Black liberation work forward is to be autonomous from the global network. We will take time to build a collective that can realize our power, be accountable to our community, and transformative in our politics. We see this as a continuation of the radical Black liberation and Black power struggle that has spanned centuries around the world.

 

We believe in the right to self-govern and our need to become ungovernable to institutions that do not serve our interest of freedom, autonomy and liberation. We view the struggle for Black liberation as a human rights struggle. Black liberation is necessary and imperative for global liberation and the liberation of all people.”

Representatives for the Global BLM Network did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

Founded by three African-American women — Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Khan-Cullors — BLM is widely-praised for challenging state-sanctioned violence against people of color, and expanding the national discussion about the country’s longstanding racial divide, much like the Occupy movement’s success in raising public consciousness about issues of wealth inequality.

Alicia Garza, from left, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, arrive at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards at NeueHouse Hollywood on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Alicia Garza, from left, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, arrive at the Glamour Women of the Year Awards at NeueHouse Hollywood, Nov. 14, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

 

But the Cincinnati activists’ critique of the organization is remarkably consistent with those leveled by progressives, generally, and the African-American left specifically. Almost since its inception four years ago, the BLM leadership has come under fire for its lack of a class analysis. This lack has been underscored by BLM’s close ties to multinational corporations such as Google, nonprofit donors like the Ford Foundation, and pro-market strategies that are inconsistent with a radical black polity that has been integral, historically, to the maturation of the modern state, from public education to the New Deal to open admissions at the City University of New York.

African-American writers, such as Black Agenda Report’s Managing Editor Bruce A. Dixon, have been critical of BLM’s collaboration with a black-owned California bank to roll out the official BLM debit card, charging low-income depositors exorbitant fees. One of BLM’s most visible activists, DeRay McKesson, is a vocal advocate for school privatization and charter schools, which often produce worse outcomes than standard public schools. And in a 2016 interview, the one-time chairperson of the Black Panthers, Elaine Brown, said that the BLM organization suffers from a “plantation mentality.”

Perhaps unfairly, BLM invites comparisons to the Black Panther Party, which remains beloved in the African-American community 52 years after its founding, revered for its nutrition and health programs, fearless defense of the people, and self-sacrifice. The BLM leadership, on the other hand, poses for fashion magazine photo spreads.

Said one African-American woman who has worked closely with BLM but asked to remain anonymous because she did not want to foreclose on the possibility of organizational change:

They don’t take on hazard. They showed up in St. Louis and took selfies. They credential themselves with the suffering of others. They don’t come out of that revolutionary nationalist tradition and [they] really represent queer cultural nationalism as much as anything. There’s something about BLM that has always felt a bit precious to me.”

The absence of grit, or a deep connection to poor and working-class communities, Taylor and others say, is exacerbated by a top-down organizational structure that is intended to give BLM satellites autonomy in their decision-making, but actually achieves the reverse. Without an automatic or democratic means to distribute money to its network partners, donations — and therefore decision-making — tend to remain in the hands of a select few.

As an example, the Cincinnati group noted that activists in the St. Louis area had already begun organizing to indict the white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown Jr. as he surrendered. But BLM parachuted in, stole the thunder from the grassroots local movement, redirected local fundraising efforts and ultimately derailed the movement. Since prosecutors declined to indict in the Brown case, several local activists in Ferguson have been fatally shot and their bodies burned with high-grade accelerant, and yet BLM has neither called for an investigation nor has it devoted any resources to identifying their killers, Taylor said.

Similarly, Taylor’s cohort accused BLM of hijacking the local effort to get justice for Tamir Rice, which was expertly led by the boy’s mother, Samaria Rice.

First, the open phone conferences organized to plan the #YearWithoutTamir action were shut down. BLM national, through a local leader they assigned, set up a new conference call where no one could speak but the moderator. They alienated churches who planned on sending support from the South. They refused to declare a firm day for a mass action, despite repeated requests from BLMC and numerous other groups. This made it impossible for unions and other organizations to zero in on a key day to bus people in. That single action destroyed union, regional and national support.”

Donna Murch, a history professor at Rutgers University and the author of a book on the Black Panthers, told MintPress that it was unsurprising to see BLM affiliates begin to squabble over resources. Ironically, Huey Newton’s allocation of resources to the legal defense of the New York cadre that included Tupac Shakur’s mother, Afeni, was central to the Panthers dissolution.

But Taylor in Cincinnati balked at any such comparison. He said:

It’s foolish to even mention the Black Panthers and Black Lives Matter in the same breath.”

Top Photo | A man wears a hoodie which reads, “Black Lives Matter” as stands on the lawn of the Capitol building on Capitol Hill in Washington during a rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

 

[Jon Jeter is a published book author and two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist with more than 20 years of journalistic experience. He is a former Washington Post bureau chief and award-winning foreign correspondent on two continents, as well as a former radio and television producer for Chicago Public Media’s “This American Life.”]

BLACK LIVES MATTER RESISTS UHURU MOVEMENT’S MESSAGE OF BLACK POWER

The Burning Spear

July 14, 2016

 

L-R: Kalambayi Andenet, Yashica Clemmons and Gazi Kodzo; members of the Uhuru Movement.

TAMPA––Black Lives Matter held a demonstration and a march at the Lykes Gaslight Park on July 11, 2016. The demonstration was held in response to the murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, LA and Philando Castillo in Chicago by police. The Uhuru Movement made it a point to be at that demonstration.

The Uhuru Movement did not go to fight racism or to remind anyone that we matter. We went to spread the ideas of African Internationalism, the theory of the African (black) working to the masses of Africans who gathered in search of answers to ending the genocide being committed against us in the form of police murders.

The demonstrators noticed the comrades of the Uhuru Movement as soon as we exited our vehicles and got in formation.

Our large red, black, and green flags were held high as comrades organized themselves behind the banner which showed the picture of Pinellas County sheriff who murdered three African girls––Dominique Battle, Ashaunti Bulter and La’Niyah Miller––in St. Petersburg, FL.

Colonial media reporters flocked to the members of our Movement immediately once they saw our flags, the banner and heard shouts of “Uhuru.”

Gazi Kodzo was interviewed by St. Petersburg’s channel 10 news. He explained our purpose for attending the demonstration.

The comrades of the Uhuru Movement approached the crowd silently, but our presence screamed out to the people that we were an organized, disciplined and uncompromising force for liberation.

Evangelizing African Internationalism at the demonstration

Comrades Kalonde and Muteba circled the crowd, passing out fliers with information about our “3 Drowned Black Girls” campaign.

Protestors held signs with the two recent victims’ names, as well as signs that read “stop police terror.” There was an African man wearing a T-shirt with the words “Am I next?”

They had various speakers who addressed the crowd over bullhorn. One such speaker criticized African people and blamed us for the oppression that we face. He stated that Africans “need to clean around our own yard first.”

The next person to speak was a sister who referenced Dr. King’s message of peace and nonviolence. She stated that the police are here “to protect and serve” and ended almost every statement with “in Jesus name.”

The weak, vague and passive messages came to halt once members of our Movement spoke to the crowd.

Yashica Clemmons, mother of Dominique Battle––one of the three girls who drowned at the hands of the sheriff’s deputies of Pinellas County––told her story after being introduced by comrade Gazi.

Mike Reed, a resident of Tampa, broke down in tears as Yashica spoke. He told The Burning Spear that he was crying because “they don’t give a f*ck about us.”

International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM) president Kalambayi Andenet set the crowd on fire after Yashica’s speech.

She delivered a clear, direct message to the demonstrators which educated them on African Internationalism, unlike the speakers before her.

Kalambayi told the crowd, “We [the Uhuru Movement] understand that the system cannot be fixed. We want a new system.”

Her message was so strong and revolutionary that Kelly Benjamin––a white organizer for the Service Employees International Union––attempted to silence her. He attempted to get the African members of his organization to silence her, however they refused.

He then tried to remove Kalambayi himself and take away the megaphone himself. He was met with fierce resistance from our comrades in the Uhuru Movement, as we chanted “let her speak.” The rest of the demonstrators, thoroughly engaged in our revolutionary message, joined into our chanted and demanded that Kalambayi speak.

Benjamin was forced by all the demonstrators to stand down.

Kalambayi continued and encouraged Africans and and white people to join the revolutionary organizations of the Uhuru Movement. “Join a revolutionary organization. That is the only way that Africans will be free,” said President Kalambayi towards the end of her powerful speech.

Benjamin, now red in the face, then attempted once more to silence InpDUM’s President by invading her personal space. He was met with resistance by comrade Aaron, who demanded that Kelly “back up.”

Ultimately, one of the organizers of the march, an African individual, and perhaps one of the members of Kelly’s organization, also aided comrade Aaron in getting the now-enraged Kelly to back down.

Benjamin, left without any other option, then begged our comrade Chimurenga for the Megaphone which Kalambayi spoke into.

The comrades of the Uhuru Movement passed out fliers, received petition signatures and even received new member sign-ups from the Africans in the crowd.

Members of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement––the white people who work under the leadership of the Africans of the Movement––also received new member sign-ups.

The Revolutionary Vanguard of the African Working Class

The crowd’s handlers proceeded to corral the demonstrators into the street to march.

Comrades of Uhuru Movement organized into our march formation under the leadership of African National Women’s Organization(ANWO) President, Yejide Orunmila.

The movement moved with razor sharp precision while staying several paces behind the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.

A number of demonstrators who showed up to the protest, were won to the movement and marched with us towards our end goal, instead of being led blindly by the Black Lives Matter group.

The demonstration moved on to “shut down” the highway. Comrade Yejide made the decision for our comrades to not continue in that direction. We turned off and made our way back to the Gaslight Park.

This was a strategic move for us as we are not struggling to be arrested. We are fighting for our freedom.

The Movement did a summation of the march in a nearby parking lot. The people who left the original march to follow the Uhuru Movement remained present for this as well. They united with our politic and our goals and expressed that they will be joining our Movement.

Kenneth Johnson, told The Burning Spear, “The Movement said what needed to be said.”

The Uhuru Movement is a cohesive unit of Africans united under a single political line.

We are always clear that we want freedom. We understand that the State is designed to oppress the African people through violence and terror.

The State is only here to “protect and serve” the interest of the white ruling class––white power.

Black lives won’t matter until we get Black Power. Africans must come into political organization and join the Uhuru Movement and the African People’s Socialist Party (APSP). We have solutions to the oppression that we face as Africans in the U.S. and worldwide. We must work to overturn colonialism, that is the only way that we can prevent police murders.

We urge every African to come into political life, and join the Vanguard of the African working class. Visit JoinAPSP.org.

Black Power Matters!

Join the African People’s Socialist Party

Join the Uhuru Movement!

We are winning!

 

The Continued Branding and Co-optation of MLK

 

“Martin Luther King Jr. stood for revolutionary transformation; he is used today to support policies that he fought against.” [Source: The Co-opted MLK]

 

DeRay - McKesson-as-Martin-Luther-King-Jr-1024x602

Above image from Style Influencers Group: “Activist, Organizer and Baltimore Mayoral Candidate Deray Mckesson as Martin Luther King, Jr., Nick Graham shirt and tie, Stylist’s own ring.”

Style Influencers Group, Connecting Influencers and Brands: “With a network of the most powerful influencers in the digital space, SIG is the best option to connect dynamic brands with high quality content creators. SIG fosters meaningful relationships between consumers and brands by creating organic awareness, driving consumer engagement, and boosting brand loyalty among a multicultural audience with billions of dollars in spending power.”

 

Style Influencers Group Partners

The “Movement for Black Lives” Unveils Platform Courtesy of $100 million from Parasitic Capitalist Organizations

The Burning Spear

August 23, 2016

By Aaron O’Neal

 

Deray, face of the Black Lives Matter movement, lives in the home owned by a board member of Open Society Foundation.

A coalition of more than 50 black organizations rebranded under the “Movement for Black Lives” (M4BL) released its policy platform on August 1st. Titled “Vision 4 Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice,” it is said to be the outcome of a conference in Cleveland a year prior.

The so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement has faced criticism for its lack of clarity and demands. Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report rightly explained that, “In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. That’s not movement politics.”

This criticism and even other less cogent criticisms forced the M4BL to create a policy platform.

The platform is centered around 6 points: End the war on black people, Reparations, Invest-Divest, Economic Justice, Community Control and Political Power.

The points of the platform are then broken up into demands, then each demand is expounded upon: the background of the problems and solutions as they see the contradictions.

They then articulate national, state and local actions that can be taken towards policy change. They even list resources, organizations working on the specific policy and even model legislations for some of their demands.

Specifically, its “controversial” demands, according to ruling class media sources, to end the war on the black community and reparations have won praises from the black left and disdain from white ruling class. At first glance, this impressive indeed!

What it does not speak to is that the policy changes advanced and organizations involved are a who’s who of black nonprofits, which are funded by the wealthy foundations in an attempt to lead our movement through funding.

While the proverbial high fives were slapped at the unveiling of the platform, it was also revealed that the Ford Foundation will be funding a whopping $100 million dollars to directly support the Movement for Black Lives.

It has created the Black Lives Matter Fund (BLMF). “The BLMF’s strategy is supported by two other components: the first is the Blackprint Strategy, a collaborative process underway to identify movement needs and resource priorities to bring $100 million in new resources to the Movement for Black Lives.

“The Movement Strategy Center’s Blueprint Philanthropies Project is facilitating this effort. The second component is the BLMF Organizational Development Initiative supported by Benedict Consulting and focused on supporting the organizational capacity building needs of a rapidly-growing movement.”(Ford foundation statement)

If we look further, it just so happens that many of the 50 organizations that are leading for movement for black lives already have received funding from this project.

Some of the policy authors listed in the platform proudly claim the title of Soros Justice fellows. George Soros, billionaire philanthropist and parasitic capitalist, through his Open Society Foundation has bragged about his funding of the BLM organizations from the outset of the resistance in Ferguson. It has just been revealed that Deray McKesson, prominent BLM activist, lives in the home owned by a board member of Open Society Foundation.

We do not have to look any further than the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s where the Ford Foundation played an instrumental role in subverting our struggle for liberation and funded nearly every civil rights organization at that time from SCLC, CORE, NAACP and even SNCC.

SNCC, the bridge between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement, is telling. SNCC was funded by the Ford and Rockefeller foundation when their work was centered around establishing voting rights and desegregation.

What these foundations did not expect in funding SNCC was that black activists would be radicalized from the process in organizing the dangerous areas and risking their lives to register to vote.

By 1967, the civil rights movement was becoming more militant, and the “black power” slogan, first used by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, made elites nervous.

The Ford and Rockefeller foundation responded by creating the National Urban Coalition (NUC), to transform “black power” into “black capitalism.” (Roelofs, Foundations and Public Policy p. 95)

Foundations and nonprofits are instruments of the ruling class no matter how “progressive” they may seem. Imperialism has always understood that one way to control a movement is to direct its activities through funding.

To have a vision for black lives and demand black power freedom and justice it must be coupled with political and economic independence. The revolution will not be funded.

DeRay Mckesson

DeRay Mckesson at MCON2016 [Source]

The National Black Agenda For Self-Determination Preparatory Conference, Years in the Making!

The Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations (BIB) held the National Black Agenda For Self Determination Preparatory Conference on August 13 &14, 2016 in Philadelphia, PA.

This conference was to consolidate the Black Agenda for Self-determination and allow the African community an opportunity to shape, mold and discuss this agenda. The agenda is framed with a declaration that explains the political basis of the document in context of the crisis of imperialism and focuses on 19 demands of the black community toward self-determination.

Of the 19 demands, many are eerily similar to those of the Movement for Black Lives. Unlike the MBL platform, the BIB has been shaping this agenda since its inception and through proxy for decades through the organizing and struggles of its member organizations.

Aspen Institute
Above: “From the Aspen Institute Community Dialogue on Healing the Racial Divide”, March, 2015  [Source] [Aspen Institute history]

End War on the Black Community

The BIB was started in a small apartment in Washington, DC in 2009.

When the white antiwar movement had capitulated to newly-elected U.S. president Barack Obama and the African community was seduced to give their unwavering support to the first black imperialist president, it was a small group of brave activists who understood that our people need leadership and permission to critique the Obama Administration.

The BIB not only wanted to lead the black community to be the loudest antiwar forces to critique imperialism regardless of the black president, our coalition also wanted to redefine the definition of war itself. Namely, it called for an end on the war on the black community.

In November 2009, the BIB was the first organization to protest the Obama Administration and in March 2010 held the conference “On the Other Wars” to expand this definition past Iraq and Afghanistan but the war in the U.S. and around the world against black people.

Reparations

Since its inception, reparations has been a core demand of the BIB, that there can be no social justice or genuine peace without reparations. In fact, one of the member organizations of the coalition is responsible for making reparations a household name by holding the world’s first tribunal on reparation which it held in the 1980s.

Also, coalition member organization, the Amos Wilson Institute, under leadership of the Chair of the Reparations Working Group, Kamm Howard, has advanced the Reparation Enforcers campaign. Unlike many reparations activist who make reparations an academic discussion, their work is centered around holding those corporations and entities that profited from slavery pay reparations for their harm to the black community.

Black Community Control of Police

Since the police murder of Mike Brown which sparked the resistance of black people around the country, BIB has led the call for black community control of police (BCCOP). The BIB understood the significance of the murder and rebellion it sparked and our coalition Chairman, Omali Yeshitela, went on the ground with the call for BCCOP.

In fact, just days after the killing of Mike Brown, on August 16 &17, the BIB Annual conference “Resist U.S. Wars and Occupations in the U.S. and Abroad” featured Zaki Baruti, of the Universal African People’s Organization based in the St. Louis Area.

AIPO, now a member organization of the coalition, was on the front lines of the struggle when the rebellion happened.

It was the BIB that held a National Conference in April 2015 on “Black Community Control of Police.” BIB outlined the police as an arm of the state with its origins in slavery and slave catcher and laid out the practical task of building for BCCOP.

To this end, the BIB adopted an action kit that is available on our website that includes a know your rights card, petitions for local government to adopt BCCOP and model resolutions to be given to local elected official calling for BCCOP. To date, BIB has garnered thousands of signatures from Africans throughout the country calling for BCCOP.

In fact, the M4BL owes its resource document on BCCOP to the work of the coalition and its member organizations.

Political power

Rising Tides

DeRay Mckesson delivers keynote speech at Rising Tide X, August 29, 2015

One of the reasons that made the BIB declaration and agenda necessary was the issue of political power in our community. Since the defeat of the black revolution in the 1960s our people have been pushed to believe that our freedom and independence can be gained from one political party or candidate over the other.

In 2012, the BIB held a conference, “Obama, the Elections and the Struggle for Justice, Peace, a Better Life and Black Power” and adopted a document that gave coherence to how we find ourselves in the political situation of voting for two parties of imperialism.

It also explained to our people that our community should only use electoral politics as a strategy for our ultimate aims of self-determination. The document came at the heels of the 40 anniversary of the Gary National Black Political Convention and the reelection of Barack Obama.

The BIB recently held a conference, “2016 Elections and the Struggle for Self-Determination.” As articulated in the call, “the white rulers of the U.S. are attempting to frighten or seduce black people to accept the idea that the security, well being and happiness of African people should be determined by the Democratic and Republican parties of Bernie Sanders, Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump!”

This powerful conference pulled the covers from the socialist Bernie Sanders who does not believe in reparations for African people and he, along with Hilary Clinton, supported the Omnibus Crime Bill that lead to the mass incarceration of black people and the thousands of police who occupy our community now.

The BIB has worked on its black political agenda for self-determination through its work. With all the work the coalition has done in its 7-year history, most importantly, the BIB has never taken money from foundations or corporate sponsors and never will.

This expresses the importance of the task before us not to allow outside entities to dictate the direction of our movement. Like Marcus Garvey and the UNIA before us, we have funded ourselves from membership dues and the generous donation from the black community. The BIB has always paid its own way.

This is not to pit the Black is Back Coalition and its work against the Movement for Black Lives; nor is it a bitter criticism because the BIB is not able to kneel at the trough of the Ford Foundation.

The black resistance is at a critical time now where it can no longer be ignored given the constant resistance to police murders from the heroic acts of Micah Xavier Johnson to the recent rebellion in Milwaukee, WI. Black people must lead our struggle not the ruling class and its surrogates through funding of our movements.

Black lives won’t matter until we get black power!

code -conference-dorsey-elzie-gates-gates-mckesson2.0

Above: Code Conference 2016: “Now, it’s time for five more amazing speakers, all dedicated in some way to changing the world for the better, including: Bill and Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey; and activists Johnetta Elzie and DeRay Mckesson.” [Source]

The hashtag #blacklivesmatter was not created in the heat of struggle in Ferguson when the working class community rose up and chanted “kill the police!”

It was created on the internet years before. Black lives matter as a slogan only reinforces the idea that our lives need to matter to white people in order to achieve “equality” when we should be fighting for power.

We want power over our own lives, not for our lives to matter to white people. This is why we understand that, “Black lives won’t matter until we get black power!”

Ironically, 50 years ago it was Stokely Carmichael who popularized the phrase “Black Power.” This has widely been seen as the split that catapulted our movement from the opportunist demands of the Civil Rights Movement to the black power era that that swept the African community with such ferocity.

This movement was militarily defeated by the U.S. government with the killing of MLK 2 years later, Fred Hampton and destruction of our organizations through counterinsurgent attacks like the Black Panther Party.

Private funding sources were part and parcel counterinsurgent attacks on our movement in the 1960s that lead to the defeat of our movement. We cannot relieve the mistakes of the past.

We believe the National Black Agenda for Self-Determination is as critical as the call for “Black Power” a half century ago. This agenda helps separate that those who willing to be lead by Ford, Soros, Gates Foundation and those who want real political independence and self-determination.

The BIB Annual Rally and March on the White House and National Black Political Agenda Conference on Self-Determination November 5 & 6, 2016.

Leading up to the BIB National Conference on the Black Agenda For Black Self-Determination, we will be holding state conferences in New York, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, Florida and Alabama to name a few in order to win our community to the our new black political agenda. From these state conferences we want delegations from throughout the country to come in mass to celebrate our historic agenda.

We are calling on black people to join us on November 5, where we give Barack Obama a proper send off with a Rally and March to the white house to protest against the legacy of the Obama Administration’s war against the black community and push forward our demands in our 19-Point Declaration.

On November 6 at Howard University, we will have our National Conference on the National Black Agenda for Self Determination to celebrate this historic achievement by the African community and to plan on the implementation of these demands.

For more information, please visit www.blackisbackcoalition.org.

Black Power Matters!

Black Lives Won’t Matter until we get Black Power!

 

Why NGOs and Leftish Nonprofits Suck (4 Reasons)

Skewed News

by Stephanie McMillan

October 13, 2015

 

About 20 years ago, in a conversation with a Bangladeshi organizer, the topic of NGOs* came up. He spat in disgust: “I hate NGOs.” At the time, I didn’t really get why he was so vehement about it. I knew NGOs had negative aspects, like siphoning off some revolutionary energy from the masses, but I also still half-believed their claims that their work was more helpful than not. Didn’t you have to be kind of a dogmatic asshole to denounce free health care and anti-poverty programs? But I didn’t yet fully appreciate how terrible they really are.

Since that conversation, NGOs have proliferated like mushrooms all over the world. First deployed in social formations dominated by imperialism, they’ve now taken over the political scene in capital’s base countries as well. They’ve become the hot new form of capital accumulation, with global reach and billions in revenue. So while ostensibly “non-profit,” they serve as a pretty sweet income stream for those at the top, while fattening up large layers of the petite bourgeoisie and draping them like a warm wet blanket over the working class, muffling their demands.

After much observation and experience both direct and indirect, I now understand and share that long-ago organizer’s hatred of NGOs. Just how terrible are they? Let us count the ways:

1) NGOs are one of many weapons of imperialist domination.

Along with military invasions and missionaries, NGOs help crack countries open like ripe nuts, paving the way for intensifying waves of exploitation and extraction such as agribusiness for export, sweatshops, resource mines, and tourist playgrounds.

Haiti is the most extreme example. Referred to by many Haitians as “the republic of NGOs”, the country had already been infested with 10,000 NGOs before the 2010 earthquake, more per capita than anywhere else in the world. 99% of earthquake relief aid was funneled through NGOs and other agencies, who made out like bandits, ripping off most of the money that people had donated in good faith with the expectation that it would actually help the masses affected by the catastrophe.

This shit is not new. Decades ago, USAID and the World Bank were already imposing export-led economies and concomitant “structural adjustment” programs on Haiti and elsewhere. Even 20 years ago, 80% of USAID money wound up back in the pockets of US corporations and “experts.” As the process matured, NGOs evolved into the favored entity of this parasitical form of accumulation, capitalizing and feeding on the misery created by “aid” in the first place.

In many dominated countries, NGO directors have become a fraction of the bureaucratic bourgeoisie, using the state as their source of primary capital accumulation. For the past 20 years or so in Haiti, many of those who initiated and led NGOs also came to occupy political roles from President to Prime Minister to members of Parliament, including Aristide, Préval, and Michèle Pierre-Louis.

Now that capitalism is in a deepening global structural crisis, structural adjustment is being imposed on its core social formations as well. Like imprinted ducklings, NGOs follow in its wake. There are 30 new ones formed in the UK every day, and 1.5 million of them plague the US. They’ve become the survival option du jour for unemployed graduates navigating a global crisis economy.

2) NGOs undermine, divert, and replace autonomous mass organizing.

“What you resist, persists”—the cliché is not without strategic usefulness. Accordingly, instead of fighting the Left head-on as they once did, capitalists have smothered it in their loving arms.

By abandoning working class struggle, the Left had already set itself up for impotence—when it swings a fist it hits air; it can’t connect with the enemy. This weakened state made it vulnerable, liable to accept when the Rockefeller Foundation or some other capitalist entity hands it a check to “fight for empowerment and social justice and against corporate greed.” Boom: capitalists have neutralized their greatest threat. They’ve bought it, tamed it, pulled its teeth.

They’ve replaced it with a social phenomenon that appears to be (even sometimes declares itself to be) its opposing force, but which has become nothing more than a loyal and useful pet. Instead of going for capital’s throat, it (whatever it is, it should no longer be called “the Left”) nips playfully at its new master’s heels.

Let’s examine what this looks like on the ground.

You’re at a demonstration. How do you even know it’s real? You have a bunch of paid activists all holding pre-printed signs. They’re shouting slogans – but how do we know they even mean what they’re saying, when they’re following a pre-determined script? How can we trust that if their funding was cut, they would they still be there, that they would still care?

Sincere people often believe they will be able to “get paid to do good,” but it doesn’t work that way. Capitalists didn’t take over the world by being fucking stupid. They aren’t going to pay us to undermine them.

How many times have you seen this scenario? Some atrocity happens, outraged people pour into the streets, and once together, someone announces a meeting to follow up and continue the struggle. At this meeting, several experienced organizers seem to be in charge. They say some really radical, bad-ass things that sound fairly awesome. They offer to provide training and a regular meeting space. They seem to already have a plan figured out, whereas no one else has yet had time to think about it. They exude competence, explaining (with diagrams) how to map out potential allies, and whipping out a list of specific politicians to target with protests. They formulate simplistic “asks” to “build confidence with a quick win.”

Anyone who suggests a different approach is passive-aggressively ignored.

Under their guidance, you all occupy some institution or the office of a politician, or you hold a march and rally. Your protest is loud and passionate and seems quite militant.

Next thing you know, you find yourself knocking on a stranger’s door with a clipboard in your hand, hoping to convince them to vote in the next election.

NGOs exist to undermine, divert, and replace mass struggle. They’re doing an excellent job. I recently spoke with a radical from New Jersey, who said that a protest she attended turned out to be the project of a graduate student, no doubt destined to be an NGO director in the near future. Sounding pretty shocked and pissed off, she said that since then, she doesn’t even feel like going to protests anymore because she doesn’t trust that they’re real. That right there is a win for capital.

In Miami, I’ve attended “Fight for $15” demonstrations in which the vast majority of participants were paid activists, employees of NGOs, CBOs (Community Based Organizations), and union staff seeking potential members. Black Lives Matter protests in Miami have been similarly led and largely populated by paid activists, who need to show they’re “organizing the community” in order to win their next grant.

At these types of mobilizations, when a previously unorganized person is spotted, they’re surrounded like fresh meat in a circle of hyenas, instantly devoured by activists looking to meet their recruitment quotas. The next time you see these new conscripts, they’re clad in the purple, red, orange, or lime green t-shirt of whatever org brand they’ve been sold.

These nonprofits pick up and drop campaigns not for reasons of conviction or long-term strategy, but strictly in line with the funding they receive, and confine them to the parameters dictated by foundations. Riding on the grunt work of trusting volunteers hoping to “make a positive difference,” many organizers achieve lucrative careers within the nonprofit bureaucracy, or use the experience as a launching pad to climb into high-level bourgeois politics.

Activism is being thoroughly capitalized and professionalized. Instead of organizing the masses to fight for their interests, these institutions use them for their own benefit. Instead of building a mass movement, they manage public outrage. Instead of developing radical or revolutionary militants, they develop social-worker activists along with passive recipients of assistance.

Not to sound like a cranky oldster, but once upon a time—believe it or not!—it was normal for organizers to not be paid. Revolutionaries took up the fight against The System from the perspective of international working class interests, from our conscience, and with a burning desire to crush the enemy and change the world. We understood it would be extremely difficult and involve hardship and repression, but would not be discouraged. A revolutionary militant gladly dedicates her/his life to this great cause.

Today, organizing without financial compensation seems to many like an alien concept, even a chump move. When I go out leafletting (yeah we still pass out paper leaflets), people often inquire: “How do I get a job doing that?” When I explain that I don’t do it for pay but out of conviction, their faces smush up in disbelief.

Sigh.

No wonder we’re so weak and scattered. The capitalist class, five steps ahead of us as usual, has been extremely effective at eating the Left alive. Until we break the NGO spell, we’re reduced to skeletons lurching around in activist purgatory.

The takeaway (to use nonprofit jargon—my eyes are rolling) is this: If capitalists are keeping us too busy and exhausted to organize our own shit, if we are reduced to being their foot soldiers working on their agenda instead of ours, then we are not going to win the revolution.

3) NGOs replace what the state should be doing.

So-called “aid” agencies funded by large capitalists and imperialist governments have taken over the functions of states in dominated countries that have been forced to cut social benefits as conditions of loans by those same imperialists. Conflict of interest much?

In the imperialist core and the periphery alike, NGOs are taking over state responsibilities to meet social needs. This “withering away” of state-run social programs doesn’t mean that capitalist states have become weak (sorry, anarchists and libertarians). It simply means they can devote more of their resources to conquest, repression and accumulation, and less to worrying about preventing the populace from rising up in mass discontent.

We’ve become conditioned to get our needs met by shuffling from cheap clinic to food bank to a myriad of other “civil society” agencies. Health care, food, water, shelter, childcare, and meaningful employment are basic necessities of human life. They should be provided by any decent society, but we’re being made to feel like humiliated beggars as we wade through red tape and argue with functionaries. This is bullshit. We deserve decent lives. We need to organize and fight for them together.

4) NGOs support capitalism by erasing working class struggle.

The structural placement of nonprofits in the economy (as vehicles of accumulation) make them incapable of challenging capitalism. They offer the struggling petite bourgeoisie (the so-called “middle class”) a way out, an alternative to proletarianization, by giving them jobs. They are Haiti’s largest employer. Everywhere they operate, they inflate the petite bourgeoisie as a buffer to overshadow and substitute themselves and their strivings for the struggles of the working class. NGOs seek to mitigate the most egregious effects of capitalism, but never to eliminate it.

The petite bourgeoisie, underpaid in the circulation of capital rather than exploited in production (as workers are), are dominated by capital but not in a fundamentally antagonistic relation with it (as workers are). Thus the natural tendency for the petite bourgeoisie, in asserting their class interests, is to fight for equality within the capitalist framework. The capitalist class relies on them to dampen working class struggle and divert it into reformism, into burying their struggles in establishment political parties and collaborationist unions.

Historically, whenever the working class opens its mouth to call for revolution, the soft pillow of the petite bourgeoisie has been willing to suffocate it. Capitalists always build up the petite bourgeoisie exactly to act as enforcement agents for capitalist domination of the working class. The challenge for the serious progressive, radical or revolutionary militant who happens to be a member of the petite bourgeoisie is to jump this imposed track, to consciously reject this role, and prevent being used (inadvertently or otherwise) for reactionary purposes.

The horrific effects of capitalism—oppression, ecocide, wars of conquest, exploitation, poverty—can’t be eliminated without eliminating their cause. If we really want to make the changes we say we want to make, we need to strip ourselves of any residual petit bourgeois loyalty to capitalism, and fight under the leadership of capitalism’s fundamental enemy: the working class.

A Note to NGO Employees:

I’m not questioning your sincerity. Many good young people genuinely want to make a difference. Jobs are scarce, and you need to make a living. It is supremely tempting to believe that these two imperatives can be combined into one neat package, allowing you to serve humanity while ensuring your own survival.

It’s a nice idea. It just happens to be untrue. An established structure will change you before you can change it. “The unity of the chicken and the roach happens in the belly of the chicken.”

Quitting isn’t the answer. We’re all trapped in the enemy’s economy. They’ve created these circumstances, compelling us to work in their industrial sector, their service sector, or their nonprofit sector. All of it is to extract value from us and reproduce their domination over us. We can’t simply decide to exit on an individual basis. The only way out is to organize with the aim of rising up together in revolution, and rupture the whole framework. Either we all get free, or none of us will.

What we must avoid in the meantime, though, is confusing NGO (or collaborationist union) employment with real autonomous organizing. Understand its nature: your job at an NGO is not to organize the masses, but to disorganize them, pacify them, lead them into political dead ends. So do your real organizing elsewhere.

Capitalism doesn’t assist us in destroying itself. Should we actually become effective in building an anti-capitalist mass movement, they won’t issue us a paycheck. Instead, they will do everything possible to discredit, neutralize, imprison and kill us.

Real revolutionary organizers don’t get paid.

—————————–

 

* NGOs: Non-Governmental Organizations, or “non-profits,” usually in fact funded by governments and/or corporate foundations.

[Note: This article was initially solicited by Jacobin magazine, went through several versions of editing before being finally rejected by them. This is very close to my original version. Another version exists, which is co-authored—Vincent Kelley of Grinnell College joined the project to add his perspective and to help revise it according to the Jacobin editor’s requests. We attempted to do so without diluting the content. Their requests included making the language less informal and more “academic,” and culminated in what we both interpret as blatant attempts to erase the working class from its content (the Jacobin editor disagrees). When we refused to remove what we felt was our central point, Jacobin decided not to run the piece. The co-authored version is at http://www.counterpunch.org/2015/10/20/the-useful-altruists-how-ngos-serve-capitalism-and-imperialism/]

 

[Stephanie McMillan’s daily comic strip “Minimum Security” is syndicated online at Universal Uclick’s gocomics.com. She also draws and self-syndicates a weekly editorial cartoon, “Code Green.” Her website is minimumsecurity.net.]

The Fight For The Soul Of The Black Lives Matter Movement

Gothamist

April 7, 2015

by Aaron Miguel Cantú and Raven Rakia 

 

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(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

At a march in mid-December organized by Al Sharpton’s National Action Network in Washington D.C., organizers rushed the stage and claimed that the old guard was attempting to hijack the nascent Black Lives Matter movement away from its founders.

“This movement was started by the young people,” Johnetta Elzie, a key organizer from St. Louis, said to the raucous crowd. “There should be young people all over this stage.”

It was one of the most visible examples of the clash between the old, signified by Sharpton, and the new, represented by grassroots groups who emerged from Ferguson and New York after the Michael Brown and Eric Garner grand jury decisions.

Sharpton has been extremely sensitive to this criticism. “Oh, you young and hip, you’re full of fire. You’re the new face,” he sneered at a recent gathering at the headquarters of NAN in Harlem. “All that the stuff that they know will titillate your ears. That’s what a pimp says to a ho.”

At an MLK Day march in Harlem, the division between the old and the new was quieter but no less pronounced.

On Luxembourg Street, three cops stood behind a barricade, just a few feet away from a thousand protesters. One of the two female officers, brown skinned with accentuated eyebrows, plucked lint from the uniform of her stocky, white male colleague; they all laughed.

Meanwhile, a dozen or so protesters began to veer from a universal chant—one about justice being lost until it is found—to a more abrasive one: “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D.” It’s the same kind of chant Mayor Bill de Blasio called “hateful” and an “attempt to divide this city in a time when we need to come together” a week after two detectives were fatally shot in their squad car in Brooklyn. Immediately the three officers stiffened their backs and softened their smiles.

Minutes later, dozens of members of a group called Justice League NYC stormed past the officers on the sidewalk, led by some of its key staffers, with Councilmember Jumaane Williams at their side.

Seeing the group of well-groomed activists and politicians stroll by, the three officers relaxed and dropped their hands from their waists. The police seemed to know that for all the demonstrators’ bluster, it was going to be an uneventful day.

The Justice League had convened the MLK demonstration, a shift in a strategy that has prioritized closed door meetings with police officials and politicians—including Governor Cuomo—over action in the streets and grassroots organizing. It’s the sort of insider-activist strategy that Sharpton has mastered.

While Sharpton’s influence has grown within the establishment, his tactics have become less palatable among young people. That’s what makes the Justice League a new sort of political animal: It has all of Sharpton’s trademarks—compromise politics, access to power and media, rebel aesthetics, calculated outrage campaigns—but doesn’t feature the MSNBC talk show host himself. This approach has allowed Justice League to confidently assume the reigns of New York’s anti-police brutality movement in recent months.

But some grassroots activists who began organizing out of anger towards the grand jury decisions, as well as the fatal police shooting of Akai Gurley, many of them working class and politically unconnected, fear that the establishment-friendly reformism championed by the Justice League threatens to water down the struggle against state violence. They worry that the group’s ties to city government and wealthy celebrities make it nearly indistinguishable from the power it’s trying to change. The result has been a quiet struggle for the future of the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City.

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(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

“The way [the Justice League is] moving, it’s like it would appear to outside forces that they are the face of the movement, and it’s so not true,” said Ty Black, a 26-year-old activist and artist.

After the killing of the unarmed Gurley by an NYPD officer in a stairwell of East New York’s Pink Houses, Black and a small group of young activists from East New York and Crown Heights, along with Gurley’s aunt, came together to form Justice for Akai Gurley. The group has organized multiple protests at the Pink Houses, marching through different public housing complexes in East New York before stopping at the 75th Precinct.

According to Black, the group aims to build community power and reclaim control of their own streets, while also “eliminating police presence in our neighborhood through things like copwatch,” the tactic of vigilantly documenting routine police interactions with civilians. In February, copwatch footage exonerated Jonathan Danza, a Sunset Park street vendor who was accused to assaulting the police; video showed that in fact it was Daza who had been violently assaulted by his arresting officers.

“Police are the paramilitary arm of New York City development,” says Asere Bello, another member of JFAG. He pointed to the broken elevator in Gurley’s NYCHA building and the burnt-out light in the stairwell where he was fatally shot as a part of the disenfranchisement that played a role in his death.

JFAG plans to ask NYCHA residents about the repairs needed in their buildings and recruit handymen to fix them. After surveying residents in East New York who expressed a need for ways to deal with interpersonal violence—the police receive more than 700 domestic violence calls each day—JFAG’s second march was led by women, and focused on the connections of state and gender violence.

The point, representatives of the group say, is to reclaim their own power and reduce dependence on state institutions, and show the connections between Broken Windows policing, displacement, gentrification, and police brutality.

“For us it’s a matter of getting the skills to navigate our own relationships or our own conflicts…in a way that lessens the dependency and completely eliminates the dependency on the state to resolve our conflicts,” Bello said.

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Ty Black (courtesy Kelly Stuart)

Like Justice for Akai Gurley, nearly a dozen grassroots groups in the Bronx are organizing against police brutality as well as interrelated social problems like gentrification, and the school-to-prison pipeline. At a protest in December, Ephraim Cruz, a former agent with the Department of Homeland Security who now leads the group Bronxites for NYPD Accountability, said the NYPD were committing “operational terrorism,” not only through overt violence against people of color but by enforcing a system that inflicts trauma on the poor every day.

“We are at the very tip of the brunt of officer abuse impact,” he said. “We’re being pushed off streets because cops tell us to clear the corners, they tell us that we can’t interact in public. And we’re being pushed out by gentrification, we’re being pushed out of public schools by charter schools. We’re here to say the jig is up.”

At a different gathering, which was formally closed to press, a member of the group Take Back the Bronx discussed their group’s efforts to establish “no cop zones,” or places where community members actively but nonviolently repel police presence block-by-block. “We explore alternatives to policing,” the representative said, adding that non-profits tied to formal funding sources attempt to “pacify us and channel the anger.”

Regarding Justice League NYC, Black and Bello did not see the League as being as prominent as Sharpton’s NAN, but acknowledged celebrity culture and representative politics as things to be wary of.

“Ella Baker said it best: ‘Strong people do not need strong leaders,'” Bello noted.

With respect to Al Sharpton and NAN, Black said, “I have different views on how the movement should go. Anybody or any organization that’s embracing the National Action Network, I feel it’s important for the grassroots to stay away from that.”

Founded in early 2014 by Carmen Perez, a former parole officer, the Justice League is considered an initiative of the non-profit Gathering for Justice. Many members of the Justice League, including Tamika Mallory, former executive director of Sharpton’s NAN, and Michael Skolnik, political advisor to hip hop mogul Russell Simmons, also work within the city’s nonprofit sector, which has maintained the legacy of reformism championed by middle and upper class Blacks since the NAACP was founded in New York City a century ago.Their approach generally embraces a neoliberal concept of opportunity—a world where everybody can have an equal shot at economic success—while keeping the overall economic structure more or less intact.

In the middle of the last century, an increasingly radical campaign for racial justice taking aim at international capitalism also gained prominence. This approach seeks to undermine economic exploitation by encouraging self-sufficient communities independent from the mainstream economy. In practice, it looks like the Black Panthers’ numerous community initiatives, and the sort of organizing JFAG is pursuing in East New York.

The last serious challenge to reformism arose during the 1960s and 70s, when Black working class activists affiliated with the Black Power movement, led by the Black Panthers, tussled with more moderate and affluent Blacks who aligned with groups like the NAACP. At one point, in 1967, two members of a cell called the Revolutionary Action Movement were charged with conspiracy to murder civil rights leaders working for the NAACP and another moderate group. But the fight for influence rarely got that violent, and after a while it wasn’t even much of a contest.

In the 1980s, after the Panthers and similar liberation groups mostly withered away (thanks in part to coordinated infiltration by the police and FBI) the nonprofit sector grew in size and influence due to Reagan-era budget cuts to social services. Because they rely on a mix of private funding and government contracts, nonprofits generally have to maintain cordial relationships with powerful members of the public and private spheres. That closeness can be seen in how Bill de Blasio was able to transition from his job at a nonprofit focused on improving health care in Central America to low-level aid in City Hall, the move that jump-started his political career.

In The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America, Naomi Murakawa argues that liberal reforms, Democratic politicians, and the NAACP are partially to blame for today’s policing practices. She argues that “liberal law and order” laid the foundation for mass incarceration in the 21st century.

Some who are critical of the Justice League see the group as part of this pattern.

“I see this movement being empowered off the idea of ‘better police,’ ‘better laws,'” says Timothy DuWhite, a Black Lives Matter activist. “I see the overwhelming assertion for officer indictment as a direct reflection of our society’s dependence on the prison industrial complex.”

“The names we hear being chanted and lifted up in the streets are not black trans-women, are not cis black women, and are not queer identified men, these are just not the stories being told,” DuWhite said.

“We must push the movement forward past the simplicity of physical harm and murder committed by the police, and begin to talk about how poverty is a form of state-sanctioned violence. How reduced access to health care is a form of state-sanctioned violence. How reduced access to proper education is a form of state-sanctioned violence.”

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(Getty Images)

After leaderless masses of protesters poured into the streets to block traffic on highways and bridges in the aftermath of the Garner and Brown grand jury decisions, the Justice League NYC began organizing actions, giving order to the spontaneity that had captured the world’s attention. The group’s first major event was a die-in and rally outside of Barclays Center during a Nets basketball game, and it continued holding similar actions in major shopping centers, as well as press conferences with councilmembers and celebrities like Nas and Russell Simmons, hours after Simmons and Jay Z met with Governor Cuomo.

Soon Justice League moved to the front of the protest line. The mix of celebrity and media exposure compounded the number of people at their events, reinforcing their growing influence in the movement.

After organizing a few events, the Justice League issued a set of 10 demands in early December. They ranged from calling for meetings with Mayor de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, to passing a law prohibiting chokeholds and a transparency-enforcing Right To Know Act.

Mallory, the executive director at NAN for four of her 14 years there before stepping down in late 2013, describes Justice League, along with its parent non-profit, Gathering for Justice, as “exist[ing] on the same principals of National Action Network.”

“There are many people in the Justice League who have connections to City Hall. I’m one of them,” Mallory told Gothamist. Harry Belafonte, who sits on the Justice League’s board, spoke at de Blasio’s inauguration, and the mayor selected Mallory to join his transition committee.

“There are perhaps maybe some folks who don’t necessarily feel that that is the right strategy,” Mallory said of working with the government. “But the bottom line is that we can protest, which we do all day, but if we don’t move legislation and actual rules and regulations, then we’ve accomplished nothing.”

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The Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee led a march into Bed-Stuy in late November (Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

One long-time New York City activist who works at a non-profit in the city and asked to remain anonymous because they feared reprisal within the community, sees serious flaws in this strategy.

“We’re concerned that the group’s liberal politics and their ties to the mayor’s office, and for instance, someone like Linda Sarsour, with political aspirations, will prioritize being conciliatory at a time when liberal gatekeepers must be challenged and held accountable,” the activist said. “Despite their rhetoric, their actions are already interpreted as watering down progressive and human rights work in the city.”

Sarsour is a member of the Justice League and the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York.

“It’s very disingenuous to say, ‘Oh the Justice League just showed up yesterday,'” Sarsour told Gothamist. “They’re making it sound like people just woke up one morning, never set foot in the movement, don’t know anyone in the movement, and all of the sudden now we’re doing work. We’ve been in the movement, we just didn’t have a name! Now we have a name.”

Sarsour pointed to the Justice League’s affiliations with the NYC Revolution Club and the Zulu Nation as proof of the group’s willingness to work with more radical elements. She also defended their use of star power.

“The way you raise the profile of an issue, is by making the issue cool and relevant in pop culture. And if people are seeing it on Twitter, if they’re seeing Russell Simmons tweeting about police brutality, and getting people involved, at the end of the day young people are going to come out for that,” Sarsour said.

“I wish that more of the celebrities, who are multi-millionaires, probably, are able to say to themselves: Wow, my communities are under attack, and I need to give back to my community. And when they come to us, and they want to be a part of something, we absolutely include them. We wish more people would come and be part of the movement.”

Mallory stressed that her group’s political connections wouldn’t compromise their willingness to challenge the status quo: “I know that the leadership of Justice League and the leadership of the Gathering for Justice are certainly of the mind set [that] we must work—not only work with City Hall, but challenge City Hall when need be about what they are or are not doing.”

Sarsour asserts that lawmakers “wouldn’t give us the time of day if they didn’t see the influence we had in our communities.”

“This is civic organizing that I’ve been doing for the past fourteen years of my life. Building civic participation of immigrant communities across the city, getting people to the polls. People watch that. Elected officials know that that’s important, and there’s some people that won’t win elections without communities of color at the polls.”

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(Scott Lynch / Gothamist)

After two NYPD Legal Affairs Bureau officers were assaulted on the Brooklyn Bridge in December after a large demonstration, Mayor de Blasio met with members of the Justice League, who, the mayor said, agreed to identify anybody who “seeks to harm the police or harm anyone and undermine their non-violent peaceful progressive movement.” The mayor seemed to be positioning the Justice League as a wedge between him and more radical elements of the movement.

The Justice League issued a press release right after the meeting that did not address this assertion. Still, some members of the group began to vehemently deny the mayor’s claim on Twitter. Sarsour blamed the “corporate media,” not de Blasio, for trying to discredit and spread division between protesters. The next day, the group tweeted a statement saying they would not work with the NYPD to identify protesters.

Some have questioned why the Justice League didn’t specifically denounce the mayor after he alluded to their possible work as informants.

“If the mayor is the one that’s lying…Why don’t they call the mayor out?” said Dennis Flores, an activist with El Grito de Sunset Park. “If they don’t, it shows that they’re really trying to protect their relationship with the mayor as opposed to calling him out on lying.”

Asked to speak to this controversy, Carmen Perez told Gothamist, “We did not, and do not, get distracted from the important work we are doing, by sensationalized media reporting.”

Linda Sarsour added, “Just because we get a meeting with the mayor—excuse us! Excuse me that I got a meeting with the mayor. I apologize. I’ve built those connections. I didn’t wake up one morning and become some important person.”

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(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

After two detectives in Brooklyn were killed on December 20 by a lone gunman from Baltimore, the Justice League adopted a more conciliatory and solemn tone, holding a vigil in Harlem the day after the shootings.

In the following weeks, activists in Take Back the Bronx and related groups—including the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, which was vilified in the press for its chants about “dead cops”—say they were the targets of coordinated police raids.

A liaison for the protesters, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation by the NYPD, told Gothamist that one activist’s relative was “roughed up” after more than a dozen police officers entered his home. Another activist said police threatened them with deportation. At least one videographer has been subpoenaed.

With the streets largely empty today, and an uneasy peace between City Hall and the police—who turned their backs to the mayor and stopped enforcing petty crimes after the assassination of the two detectives—the mayor says his biggest regret through the whole affair was “not moving quickly enough to repudiate the harsh rhetoric of protesters.”

The Justice League has continued their dialogue with high-level public officials, including a meeting with Governor Cuomo on January 20 and a closed door meeting with NYPD Police Chief James O’Neill at NAN’s headquarters on February 11.

“We are encouraged that the Governor has publicly stated his commitment to advance criminal justice reform legislation addressing urgent concerns that have been rightfully raised by communities across the country impacted by our biased justice system,” Carmen Perez said in a statement after meeting with Cuomo.

The governor later tabled the juvenile justice reforms he initially championed in order to pass an on-time budget.

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(Tod Seelie / Gothamist)

“One conclusion I have made out of this whole thing is that the only person and group that seems to have emerged from this situation in better than they were before is William Bratton,” says Harry Levine, a sociologist at CUNY Queens who has written extensively on the NYPD’s racially-biased marijuana arrests. “He’s a smart cookie.”

When the rift between the mayor and the police unions was deepest, de Blasio leaned heavily on Commissioner Bratton to shore up his waning support within the NYPD. And he was careful to condemn the rank-and-file for showing their backsides to the mayor without meting out any real consequences for their insolence, keeping him mostly in the favor of officers.

Bratton has also held the tacit approval of the Justice League. Perez told the New York Review of Books that she “looked favorably upon some of Bratton’s statements about improving community relations.” And although there is no indication that Justice League has personally met with the commissioner, Chief O’Neil is the second highest ranking official within the NYPD, and has been a close ally of Bratton’s since the early 1990s.

So intact is the commissioner’s political standing despite weeks of demonstrations, he casually announced that the NYPD had a new machine gun-toting unit to deal “with events like our recent protests” (the NYPD clarified that protests would be handled by officers without automatic weapons). More recently, Bratton visited lawmakers in Albany to request a bill that would make resisting arrest a felony, an alarming proposal, considering that 72 percent of all resisting arrest charges are brought by 15 percent of all uniformed officers.

Like other groups, Justice League supports an end to Broken Windows policing, the strategy of cracking down on minor offenses that many say contributed to Eric Garner’s death. Tamika Mallory, the Justice League boardmember, told Gothamist that she personally opposes Bratton, the staunchest defender of Broken Windows.

“Being in the position that he’s in, as the top cop in New York City, tells us that [Bratton] is not the right choice for police commissioner. The mayor ought to reconsider having Commissioner Bratton in position.” Still, the recommendation to remove Bratton as NYPD commissioner didn’t make it on to the group’s 10 demands in December.

Asked about the group’s stance on Bratton, Perez said Justice League is “not interested in human resources,” but added, “Broken Windows is just stop and frisk with another name.”

To Nicholas Heyward, who has organized against NYPD violence over the last 20 years since his 13-year-old son was shot and killed by a police officer in 1994, the man is inseparable from the theory, a sentiment shared widely by activists and protesters. “I think Bratton’s a racist, and his Broken Windows theory targets minority people,” he told Gothamist. “Bratton has to go.”

Josmar Trujillo of New Yorkers Against Bratton began protesting the commissioner before he was even appointed. When Bratton showed up at a City Council hearing last month to ask for 1,000 more officers, Trujillo’s group shouted down the testimony; one woman was arrested, and the chambers were cleared.

“We learned a lot in the last year about the non-profit industrial complex in this fight with Bratton and de Blasio,” Trujillo says. “Ferguson…showed they didn’t need the celebrities or academics to fuel a movement. Somehow, though, that message hasn’t gotten through here in New York just yet. What can the Russell Simmons of the world, all buddy-buddy with the Democrats selling us out, provide other than another token seat at the table?”

Trujillo added, “If people are serious about liberation then tables of power need to be flipped this time around.”

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(Jessica Lehrman / Gothamist)

On April 13, Justice League plans to march 250 miles from New York to Washington D.C., with stops in Newark, Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore.

Their stated goal is to urge Congress to act on legislation regarding racial profiling and police demilitarization.

“I’m not going to show up to Washington, D.C. and mobilize thousands of people to meet us there after marching 250 miles and then just scream on the lawn and talk about our pain,” Linda Sarsour says. “We know what the problem is. We need to make sure that the people in power, who have the influence and the authority to change the things we want to be changed, they need to know what’s coming.”

Sarsour said that for politicians, the choice is simple: “You’re either going to welcome us, and welcome our movement, or you’re going to become the opposition.”

If the Justice League is operating by representative politics, some people haven’t asked to be represented. Zora, 23, performs anti-repression organizing with Can’t Touch This NYC. She accused the group of “shucking and jiving for these politicians.”

None of the smaller organizations interviewed for this article have plans to participate in the march, nor does Zora.

“They’re trying to establish themselves as leaders for a movement when the movement doesn’t need leaders.”

 

 

[Raven Rakia is a journalist & writer. She has bylines in The Nation, Ebony.com, Truth-Out, VICE/VICE News, Dazed Digital, and more. Aaron Miguel Cantú is an investigative journalist and researcher in Brooklyn.]

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