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The Strategy of Malcolm X

Tactical Diversity

June 1, 2015

by Lorenzo Raymond

 

Malcolm X in Smethwick

 

Last month many of us celebrated the 90th birthday of the one of America’s greatest revolutionaries, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, also known as Malcolm X.  That his birthday follows his assassination date (February 21) on the calendar seems appropriate this year, as Malcolm could be said to be resurrected these days:  from condemnations of US racism at the United Nations, to self-defense against cops in NYC, to Black rifle clubs in Texas, to mass rebellion in Baltimore, to a growing disillusionment with the two-party system and doctrinaire nonviolence in America, he has seldom seemed more relevant.

This is all the more remarkable given that the representation of Malcolm in popular media is more distorted than ever.  2015 opened with the Martin Luther King biopic Selma giving us the most forgettable (perhaps the only forgettable) portrayal of Malcolm X in cinema history.  In some ways, the muting of Malcolm was inevitable; an accurate depiction of the Muslim leader presented a danger of upstaging King in the movie the same way that he often upstaged King in real life.  But that isn’t any excuse for the distortion of Malcolm X’s politics and the role he played in the Black freedom struggle.

In the short scene in which he appears, Malcolm comes literally hat in hand to Coretta Scott King begging to address the protesters and be a part of the movement.  He appears to have arrived uninvited, crashing a party he has no real place in.  As he offers to scare the segregationists with an “alternative” to MLK’s nonviolence, he hints that this is actually just a bluff because his “eyes see in a new way.”  Everything about this scene is fundamentally wrong: Malcolm explained himself to Mrs. King after, not before, he gave his speech—a speech which he was invited to give by the director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s Selma Project.1  And when Malcolm spoke of offering an alternative to King’s pacifism, it was anything but a bluff.

Black Revolution, Whitewashed

The lodestar for recent portrayals of Malcolm is Manning Marable’s book Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.  While universally lauded by mainstream white critics, most responses from the Black Left were derisive.  This must be the only historical book of recent years to inspire not one, but two entire anthologies of hostile rebuttal: A Lie of Reinvention, edited by Jared Ball, and By Any Means Necessary, edited by a collective headed by Herb Boyd .  Some academic assessments were skeptical as well.  Joe Street observed in The Journal of American Studies that Marable’s version of Malcolm was “a more centrist, liberal figure” than had ever been depicted before, acting out the “palliative theme” of a Black nationalist who moved “beyond race,” and also beyond militancy.  Street noted that Marable was oddly “content to position Malcolm X as a far less revolutionary figure than his reputation might suggest.” 2

Ever since his death, liberals have attempted portray Malcolm as an ineffectual figure in the Black Freedom Movement.  In his 1965 review of The Autobiography of Malcom X, Bayard Rustin (once a radical, but by that time a Democratic Party operative), wrote that Malcolm was of primary interest as a “tragic victim of the ghetto,” who made for an inspiring study in self-improvement, yet  “had no program for attacking” racism.3  More recently this line manifests with Reverend James Cone who says that while “[Dr.] King was a political revolutionary…Malcolm was a cultural revolutionary. He did not change the social or political structures, but he changed how black people thought about themselves.” 4

As Angela Davis has noted, the ruling class could never hope to completely suppress Black nationalism in America, so it has settled for accepting cultural consciousness while burying revolutionary nationalism.   By the same token, accomodationists will celebrate Shabazz as a purely cultural figure, while marginalizing him as a political one.  In reality, Malcolm X was one of the most influential and effective political activists in US history.  The strategy of “by any means necessary” transcended the crude categories of nonviolence and violence, integration and separatism, pragmatism and revolution.  Considering that this paradigm was subsequently applied by the American Indian Movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the early LGBT movement, it should be acknowledged that Malcolm X popularized the strategy by which most American liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s advanced themselves.

Grassroots to the Messenger

One of the most bizarre charges leveled against Malcolm–repeated yet again in the Selma film–is that he never organized anything.  The Nation of Islam has many faults, but being disorganized isn’t one of them.  Even Marable’s biography of Malcolm acknowledges that he was largely responsible for the unprecedented (“more than tenfold”) growth of the NOI in the 1950s.  Marable also acknowledges that “Malcolm’s career as a national civil rights leader began late on the afternoon of April 26, 1957” when he led thousands of Harlemites to the 28th police precinct house to obtain medical treatment for a member of the NOI who’d been clubbed unconscious by officers.  It had been years since any black organization had the audacity to lead major protests against police brutality, and the Muslim leader immediately captured the imagination of African-Americans throughout the country.  5 He swiftly paid a personal price: less than a year later, while Malcolm was out of town, the NYPD attempted to invade his Queens residence under dubious pretenses.  One of the building’s occupants (it isn’t known who) injured a detective with a thrown bottle, and Betty Shabazz, along with several others, was charged with assaulting an officer.  Malcolm proceeded to coordinate a defiant and publicity-savvy legal defense that lead to the longest trial in Queens history, and saw his wife and neighbors exonerated.  Moments after the acquittal he stood on the courthouse steps and told his followers that “Any policeman who abuses you belongs in the cemetery.” 6

Before the 1960s had even arrived, Malcolm X’s militant stance was beginning to have a profound impact on the civil rights movement.  “King’s philosophy of non-violence in the cause of a largely undefined integrated society was being seriously challenged,” recalled one of MLK’s own advisors, Vincent Harding.  “In the north the deepest, broadest questions seemed to be coming from…the growing Nation of Islam and in its increasingly popular national representative, Malcolm X.  In the south, the message of non-violent resistance was challenged by the action of Robert F. Williams and his armed self-defense group in Monroe, North Carolina in 1959.” 7

In the wake of Selma there’s been a popular trend of praising King as a strategist, a characterization that calls for serious qualification; King consolidated the efforts of a network of activists that ranged from bold direct actionists such as James Bevel, Diane Nash and John Lewis (all recruited from the pacifist wing of SNCC), to cool-headed managers like Bayard Rustin; it was these people who drafted and initiated what is now marketed as Kingian strategy.  Likewise, Malcolm X’s political significance was to consolidate another spectrum of more militant grassroots organizers burning across the country in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  These included Mae Mallory, Robert F. Williams, Albert Cleage, Ethel Azalea Johnson, and a nationwide network of students known as the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).

Even as Marable belittled Malcolm’s strategic contributions in his book, he acknowledged that “[Robert F.] Williams and other militants pushed organizations like the NAACP toward greater activism, pressuring both major political parties to adopt new legislation.”  Marable doesn’t tell us what Rob Williams’ biographer, Timothy Tyson does: Williams was dependent on support provided by Black radicals centered in Harlem, and “the most notable of Williams’ contacts among the Harlem nationalists was Malcolm X.” Malcolm featured the visiting Monroe leader regularly at his mosque, telling his congregation that “our brother here…is the only fighting man that we got and we have to help him.” This wasn’t just moral support:  Malcolm raised “money to buy military carbines, machine guns, and dynamite for the Monroe NAACP.”  8

Another organizer who inspired and collaborated in Malcolm’s strategy was Mae Mallory, a single mother who protested the de facto segregation of New York City public schools.  In 1958, she led Harlemites in a 162-day school boycott involving 10,000 parents, and won an open transfer program. An avowed revolutionary, Mallory visited Monroe to assist Rob Williams in defending a SNCC freedom ride, and wound up involved in an armed conflict with the Ku Klux Klan and local police. Framed on kidnapping charges after this incident, Mallory was in prison during 1964, when another school boycott took place in New York City; Malcolm took up her mantle by acting as a spokesperson for the walk-out (Mallory was later exonerated of the kidnapping). 9

 

Malcolm at NYC school boycott, 1964 

The first major Black Christian leader to partner with Malcolm X was the Congregationalist Reverend Albert Cleage. In the aftermath of the Birmingham campaign, Cleage helped organize Detroit’s Great Walk to Freedom—the largest civil rights demonstration prior to the March on Washington. But as historian Thomas Sugrue notes, after the spectacle of such marches was shattered by the massacring of four Black girls in Birmingham in September 1963, “Cleage came out forcefully against what he considered the polite and ultimately ineffective nonviolent tactics of civil rights protest.”  At an October 1963 meeting he denounced moral suasion and called for a “strategy of chaos” which would include acts of retaliation if necessary.  Soon Cleage organized pickets demanding inclusion of Blacks in apprentice training programs, where protesters carried signs reading “SCHOOL FOR ALL OR SCHOOL FOR NONE” and “EQUALITY OR CHAOS.” Cleage also planned a national conference of Black militants for that November and invited Malcolm to give the keynote address—the speech now known as “Message to the Grassroots.” 10

Cleage’s “strategy of chaos” (“We’ll get what we’re after or we’ll tear it up!”) was partly inspired by the escalation of the Birmingham campaign, which in turn was partly inspired by Malcolm X. MLK confidant Vincent Harding recalled that the lifeblood of the spring campaign was

young men and women who had heard the powerful voice and seen the piercing eyes of Malcolm X on their television screens…[Dr. King] realized that now they were at least potentially the children of Malcolm as well…they taunted the police, they broke out of the marching lines when faced with barricades of police and firemen; they did their own speedy end runs downtown…

By mid-May, white repression had “goaded an enraged group of blacks into a burning, car-smashing, police-battling response. In a sense,” Harding tells us, “this was the first of the period’s urban rebellions.” Rather than this deviation from nonviolence being a setback to the movement, it was the greatest breakthrough since the Montgomery Bus Boycott seven years earlier.

Young activists weren’t just listening to Malcolm X in the early sixties; some were also coordinating with him. Max Stanford, a student militant associated with SNCC and SDS, met with Malcolm in 1962 and asked him if he should join the NOI.  The Muslim leader was already privately frustrated with the conservatism of the sect and told Stanford he could do more for Black nationalism by organizing outside the Nation. Stanford joined with fellow students Wanda Marshall and Donald Freeman, as well as veteran organizer Ethel Azalea Johnson (a close comrade of Robert F. Williams) to form the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM).  While the group involved itself in reform movements, Stanford states that “RAM as an organization advocated guerilla warfare, mass rebellion and national black strikes…to create an independent black republic through socialist revolution.”  By the time of the Birmingham breakthrough, RAM had developed a partnership with maverick NAACP leader Cecil Moore and helped organize protests in North Philadelphia for African-American job opportunities. “RAM members circulated throughout the community with leaflets and bull horns, going door to door, talking to street gangs,” Stanford recalled. At a May 1963 protest against racial discrimination in the building trade sponsored by the Philadelphia NAACP, Stanford and RAM leader Stan Daniels organized militant pickets, which

blocked the workers, all whites, from entering the construction site. Within minutes the Philadelphia police formed a flying wedge and attacked the picket line. Singling out Daniels and Stanford, twenty police jumped them and they fought back until [beaten] unconscious.

Arrested for incitement to riot, Stanford called Malcolm for help.  The Muslim leader immediately began mobilizing people down the entire Northeast to support the Philadelphia movement “Within a week, 50,000 to 100,000 people participated in demonstrations that often turned into violent clashes between the masses and the police,” recalled Stanford. 11  On June 22, President Kennedy signed Executive Order 11114 mandating affirmative action in federally-funded construction projects.  White House sources admitted to the press that the president’s initiative was “partly in response to violence in Philadelphia.” Kennedy’s order was the prototype of the “Philadelphia Plan” which in turn became the foundation of all federal affirmative action on employment. 12

Free At Last

In March of 1964, Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam and publicly expressed his solidarity with the general goals of the civil rights movement.  This was a pivotal moment in his life, and arguably, a pivotal moment in the history of the United States.  Discussing this “reinvention,” Manning Marable focuses on Malcolm’s desperation to obtain allies to protect himself from Elijah Muhammed, as well as Malcolm’s yearning to participate in a movement which he was supposedly estranged from. But Marable fails to acknowledge the yearnings which the movement felt for Malcolm X, as well as its increasing disillusionment—even in 1963—with Kingian nonviolence and liberalism.  In July of that year, Martin Luther King was bombarded with eggs in Harlem; King blamed the attack on Malcolm, but it was later revealed to have been organized by Black Christians outraged by King’s sacrifice of children’s safety in Birmingham.13  In November 1963, the rank-and-file of SNCC voted down a proposal to hold a memorial vigil for the assassinated President Kennedy, noting that JFK was not a genuine friend to the movement—a position echoing Malcolm’s argument that Kennedy’s neglect of human rights in the US contributed to an atmosphere of terror that led to his own death.  14  Perhaps most significantly, in February of 1964, Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles, took over the slain leader’s position as field secretary of the Mississippi NAACP, and made some of the most inflammatory declarations ever heard from a mainstream Black leader.  In a speech before an NAACP Freedom Fund banquet in Nashville, Evers went beyond self-defense to retaliatory violence:

I have the greatest respect for Martin Luther King, but non-violence won’t work in Mississippi…we made up our minds…that if a white man shoots at a Negro in Mississippi, we will shoot back…If they bomb a Negro church and kill our children, then we are going to bomb a white church and kill some of their children.  We have served notice in Mississippi…that before we’ll be slaves anymore we’ll die and go to our graves. 15

Journalist Charles Silberman wrote at the time: “the widespread admiration for Dr. King is mixed…with a good deal of resentment.  Lower-class Negroes do not want to be represented to the whites as nonviolent.”  Silberman also noted that Malcolm X’s popularity was growing, yet was ultimately “limited by the cultish restraints of the Black Muslim religion: Many Negroes who agreed with Malcolm’s attacks on whites were unwilling to join the Muslims.”  16 Malik el-Shabazz made his move toward the civil rights mainstream not out of crude desperation, but because he knew that Black America was ready for him. (There is evidence that much of the white Left was ready for him too: In December 1963, Bob Dylan publicly praised the militant wing of SNCC, contrasting them with the “respectable Negroes” who dominated the March on Washington.  Dylan then said—in his own version of Malcolm’s “chickens coming home to roost” remarks—that he could understand why a leftist would want to shoot President Kennedy. 17  Immediately after Malcolm’s death in 1965, another white protest singer, Phil Ochs, wrote the satire “Love Me, I’m a Liberal” where he chided moderates for not recognizing Malcolm’s heroism).  Two weeks after his transition out of the NOI, Malcolm staged his famous handshake with Martin Luther King.  This photo is sometimes presented as evidence of Malcolm capitulating to King’s nonviolent and (at the time) assimilationist path; in reality, it showed King, who had previously spurned the Muslim minister, being forced to accept Malcolm’s growing stature in the movement.

“Strategy of Chaos”

There is, needless to say, much that could be said about Malcolm X’s strategy in the final year of his life—his efforts toward a pan-African network, his proposals for the UN, his embrace of anti-capitalism, his dialogue with white radicals—but here we will focus on the three most misunderstood aspects: his attitude towards electoral politics, his attitude towards collective self-defense (“violence”), and his strategy towards other leaders in the freedom movement.

Marable’s book repeatedly claimed that “Malcolm came to believe that blacks could work within the system to improve their lives” He based this argument upon the way in which the older Malcolm would closely observe government events, as well as the support he lent to the struggle for the vote in the South.  But the younger Malcolm, who edited the NOI’s newspaper, had also closely observed American political events for years, and had been friendly with select Black politicians—even as he was advocating that Blacks permanently separate from the United States.  On the matter of voting rights, Malcolm made clear that this was a strategy of involving himself in reform only in order to raise Black people’s awareness of the system’s failures—not because he thought the system was particularly redeemable.  Indeed, Malcolm stated in March 1964 that he only supported reform because “every campaign for specific objectives can only heighten the political consciousness of the Negroes and intensify their identification against white society.” [emphasis added]  18  Supporting people’s right to vote is similar to supporting people’s right to eat greasy lunch counter food—it doesn’t mean you think it’s a good idea, much less the path to liberation.   Just as Ella Baker noted that her support of luncheonette sit-ins was about “more than a hamburger,” Malcolm’s support of ballot access was about much more than elections.  “Your dumb vote, your ignorant vote, your wasted vote,” Malcolm seethed in “The Ballot or the Bullet,” (the very speech Marable and co. claim shows el-Shabazz as an electioneer) –

Don’t be throwing out any ballots…keep your ballot in your pocket…always remember, if it doesn’t take senators and congressmen and presidential proclamations to give freedom to the white man, it is not necessary for legislation or proclamation or Supreme Court decisions to give freedom to the Black man.

Malcolm’s heart never changed on that issue; he wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that two years after his death, his one friend in the federal system, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., would be unconstitutionally stripped of his Congressional seat just at the point when he was in a position to initiate radical reform.  And though LBJ helped push the Civil Rights Act through three months after “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm still declined to encourage Blacks to vote in 1964 because he didn’t see any consistent enforcement of the new law. 19 While Malcolm saw symbolic and contingent value in the franchise, he had no illusions that there was anything worth voting for.  Indeed, this is the major point about the ballot made in the speech—which left the bullet, by default, as the primary tactic.  (Harold Cruse, writing in The New York Review of Books in 1969, noted that the true heir to Malcolm’s finalized strategy was Eldridge Cleaver, who was then openly supporting armed insurrection yet also keeping one foot in independent electoral politics, running as a protest candidate with the Peace and Freedom Party). 20

 

Malcolm’s agenda for 1964

Similar games are played when Marable and other liberals talk of Malcolm’s changing attitude toward armed resistance.  Once again, a selective reading of “The Ballot and the Bullet” is used, noting that Shabazz backs away from earlier remarks which seemed to imply that Blacks should form rifle clubs to seek retaliation against random whites.  But in the same speech, Malcolm also gives Blacks “a little briefing on guerrilla warfare because, before you know it” that strategy may have to be exercised against the government.  Malcolm believed the Black rebellions of 1964 might foreshadow such a war:

There’s new strategy coming in. It’ll be Molotov cocktails this month, hand grenades next month, and something else next month. It’ll be ballots, or it’ll be bullets. It’ll be liberty, or it will be death.

This wasn’t mere sound and fury, it was conscious political pressure.  In this passage, Malcolm is referring specifically to a Black riot in Jacksonville, Florida which erupted out of the violent white repression of a sit-in campaign in March 1964.  That uprising, where the freedom movement did indeed first use Molotov cocktails, is known to have captured the White House’s attention at a time when the civil rights bill was facing the largest filibuster in US history.  Malcolm concludes the speech with an armed demand for reform:

You talk about a march on Washington in 1963, you haven’t seen anything. There’s some more going down in ’64. And this time they’re not going like they went last year…They’re not going with round-trip tickets. They’re going with one way tickets. And if they don’t want that non-nonviolent army going down there, tell them to bring the filibuster to a halt.

Tellingly, Martin Luther King began to faintly echo Malcolm’s rhetoric that spring.  Visions of violence now arose whenever King spoke of failure to enact the civil rights bill; If the legislation did not pass, King said in a Detroit speech, “I’m afraid our many pleas of nonviolence in fighting segregation will fall on deaf ears.”  Speaking during the filibuster, King warned that should the bill die, America would see a “dark night of social disruption.”  21

Mainstream scholars often try to paint Malcolm as a paper tiger in regards to the guerilla warfare proposal—a general without an army.  But in 1964 Malcolm quietly accepted the position of International Spokesperson in the Revolutionary Action Movement.  Robin DG Kelly notes that in this same year RAM established its definitive militant program:

The twelve-point program created by RAM called for the development of freedom schools…rifle clubs, black farmer cooperatives (not just for economic development but to keep “community and guerrilla forces going for a while”), and a liberation guerrilla army made up of youth and the unemployed. 22

RAM began implementing its program by actively promoting armed resistance within the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  As Malcolm was delivering “The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Northern cities, Max Stanford and others in RAM headed to Greenwood, Mississippi to join the preparations for Freedom Summer.  RAM members taught African history in freedom schools and helped organize voter registration, but their main goal was, in the words of Georgia State University historian Akinyele Umoja, “to wage ideological struggle within the ranks of the SNCC field staff.”  In this mission, they were essentially coming to support working-class Southern Blacks of SNCC’s rank-and-file who were already beginning to organize an armed self-defense system for the Freedom Houses.  As Mississippi-born SNCC activist MacArthur Cotton recalled, ‘‘the majority of the local SNCC people didn’t have a problem with RAM,” adding that most of them believed ‘‘that other philosophy [nonviolence] was foreign.’’

Pacifists in SNCC eventually succeeded in purging the Malcolmites from the Mississippi project before the summer began, but the damage was done: the seeds of revolutionary armed defense and Black nationalism were planted in the organization.  In the face of right-wing terror and liberal inaction, the pragmatism of Malcolm and RAM’s strategy grew increasingly clear and kept many armed activists alive during Freedom Summer (in contrast to the murdered pacifists James Chaney, Andrew Goodwin, Michael Schwermer). 23 When the campaign ended and the Democratic National Convention continued to appease the Jim Crow delegation from Mississippi, making a mockery of the progressive SNCC delegates, few field workers saw any value in nonviolent martyrdom and liberal compromise at all.  By the fall, SNCC leaders were collaborating with Malcolm X on fundraising events, and cheering as he called for an American equivalent to the fearsome “Mau Mau” guerilla fighters of Kenya.24

 

Malcolm X addressing SNCC and the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party- December 24, 1964

Meanwhile, RAM continued to quietly work with street gangs across the country.  Years before the Black Panther Party emerged, RAM promoted the idea of Black youth as the “potential warriors of Black America.”  Working from a detailed strategy by Robert F. Williams, RAM considered the cities “ripe for sabotage.”  Max Stanford (known today as Muhammed Ahmed) recounted:

While Malcolm was in Africa, Harlem exploded. The para-military in Malcolm’s organization decided to join the rebellion and participated in armed self-defense actions against racist oppressive forces.  Masses of our people exploded in Rochester, New York.  The revolutionary Muslims (Malcolmites) engaged in armed struggle against the repressive forces there. Brooklyn CORE held a demonstration to protest police brutality. The demonstration precipitated a mass rebellion.  The Brooklyn RAM cadre went into revolutionary action.

Stanford wrote that by the time of the Watts Rebellion, “the theory of Robert F. Williams and Malcolm X had become materialist reality.” Malcolm was the spokesperson for a very real force of insurrection, not a paper tiger.  Indeed, its momentum was so unstoppable that even his assassination couldn’t slow it down. 25

No Sell Out

Finally, the relationships Malcolm sought with moderate civil rights organizations at the end of his life need to be clarified.  While Malcolm backed away from his previous habit of naming King and other mainstream leaders personally as Uncle Toms, tempering his critique with diplomacy, he still drew sharp lines between them and himself.  “[Martin Luther King, Jr.] is the foremost exponent of love who gets his head bashed in while he is preaching brotherhood,” he said in his last speech, “I go for that retaliation type of brotherhood.” 26  Sometimes if pushed a bit he would lose his decorum:  heckled by a pacifist in 1965, Malcolm at first said, “I’m not criticizing you or condemning you, but I’m questioning your tactics.”  But as the heckler turned nasty, Malcolm said what he really thought: “I think people who tell our people to be nonviolent are almost agents of the Ku Klux Klan.” 27 

Whenever Malcolm engaged with moderates, he let it be understood that his militancy was non-negotiable.  Contrary to Manning Marable’s characterization, Malcolm did not praise nonviolence in his speech at Selma, but instead ridiculed passive “house negroes” who were bought off by white favors.  In a contemporaneous interview, the Muslim leader elaborated “I don’t go for any organization — be it civil-rights or any other kind — that has to compromise with the power structure and has to rely on certain elements within the power structure for their financing, which puts them in a position to be influenced and controlled all over again by the power structure itself.”  28 This seemed to be a stab at, among others, Dr. King’s organizations, which were financed by foundations overseen by the Rockefeller, Ford, and RJ Reynolds families.   29

 

Malcolm in Selma, Feb 4, 1964

Malcolm’s call for a “Black united front” was a call for militants to unite together on militant terms, not to compromise unconditionally with moderates.  It was also an effort to establish a permanent peace among armed Black groups, and thereby prevent the kind of fratricidal warfare which, with the help of the FBI, contributed to his assassination (as well as to the ultimate dissolution of the Black Power movement in the early 1970s).  Manning Marable’s book wove a bizarre and Orientalist theory that Malcolm told his guards to stand down on the day of his murder because he had a death wish inspired by the martyrdom of the Shi’ite imam, Husayn ibn Ali, in 680. 30 But Malcolm’s aide Earl Grant spelled out years ago that the minister disarmed his bodyguards because he did not want “Black people killing Black people.”  31 Black people criticizing certain Black people, however, along with anyone else who held them back, was always a key part of Malcolm X’s strategy.

 

Malcolm X, c. 1964 “Anyone who stands in the way of your freedom is your enemy”

 

Notes:

  1. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years 1963-1965, p. 578-579
  2. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  3. George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X, p. 83-91
  4. Chris Hedges “Turning King’s Dream Into a Nightmare” – http://www.truthdig.com/report/page2/turning_kings_dream_into_a_nightmare_20100117
  5. Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, p. 123-128
  6. Marable, A Life of Reinvention, p. 150-153
  7. Vincent Harding, “So Much History, So Much Future: Martin Luther King and the Second Coming of America” – https://is.cuni.cz/studium/predmety/index.php?do=download&did=77732&kod=JMM606
  8. Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie, p. 145 – https://books.google.com/books?id=kg_DEcj04ycC&q=malcolm+x#v=snippet&q=malcolm%20x&f=false
  9. Melissa F. Weiner, Power, Protest, and the Public Schools: Jewish and African American Struggles in New York City (Rutgers University Press, 2010) p. 51-66
  10. Thomas Sugrue, Sweet Land of Liberty: The Civil Rights Movement in the North, p. 299-302
  11. Maxell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  12. Thomas J. Sugrue “Affirmative Action from Below: Civil Rights, the Building Trades, and the Politics of Inequality in the Urban North 1945-1969” Journal of American History, Vol. 91, No. 1, Jun., 2004 – http://africanamericanhistorysp2014.voices.wooster.edu/files/2014/03/Thomas_Sugrue_Affirmative_Action_from_Below.pdf
  13. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 115
  14. Taylor Branch, Pillar of Fire, p. 179
  15. Akinyele Umoja, We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement (NYU Press, 2013), 126
  16. Charles E. Silberman, Crisis in Black and White (Random House, 1964), p. 160
  17. http://folkmusic.about.com/od/bobdylan/a/Bob-Dylan-Quits-Politics.htm
  18. William W. Sale, From Civil Rights to Black Liberation (South End Press, 1994), p. 81
  19. http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/malcolm_x_ballot.html
  20. Harold Cruse, “The Fire This Time?” NYRB, May 8, 1969
  21. Nick Kotz, Judgment Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., And the Laws That Changed America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), 126-130
  22. Robin DG Kelly and Betsy Esche, “Black Like Mao: Red China and Black Revolution” Souls Vol. 1 #4 – http://www.columbia.edu/cu/ccbh/souls/vol1no4/vol1num4art1.pdf
  23. Akinyele Umoja, “From One Generation to the Next: Armed Self-Defense, Revolutionary Nationalism, and the Southern Black Freedom Struggle” Souls, Volume 15, Issue 3, 2013 – http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10999949.2013.838857#.VVtNZvlViko
  24. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 107.
  25. Maxwell C. Stanford, “Revolutionary Action Movement: A Case Study of an Urban Revolutionary Movement in Western Capitalist Society” (A Thesis Submitted to the Faculty of Atlanta University, May, 1986) – http://www.ulib.csuohio.edu/research/portals/blackpower/stanford.pdf
  26. Barnard Bulletin, Feb 25, 1965 – https://digitalcollections.barnard.edu/object/bulletin-19650225/barnard-bulletin-february-25-1965
  27. George Breitman, ed., Malcolm X Speaks; Selected Speeches and Statements, p. 209
  28. Breitman, Malcolm X Speaks, p. 222
  29.  MLK was friends not only with Rockefeller, but with Libby Holman, heiress to the RJ Reynolds fortune.  Holman financed King’s first trip to India to study nonviolence in 1959 – https://swap.stanford.edu/20141218225538/http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/primarydocuments/Vol5/10Mar1959_JamesE.BristolToCorinneB.Johnson.pdf
  30. “Roundtable: Manning Marable, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention” Journal of American Studies / Volume 47 / Issue 01 / February 2013, pp 23-47 (Cambridge University Press 2013) – http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0021875812002605
  31. “The Covert War on Malcolm X” An episode of Like It Is with Gil Noble – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExQjM82uMiU

Misunderstanding the Civil Rights Movement and Diversity of Tactics

The Hampton Institute

June 13, 2015

By Lorenzo St. Dubois

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s gotten to be a pattern on the Left. When Black protest erupts into insurrection, as it did in Ferguson and Baltimore, most liberals and white radicals express empathy for the cathartic release of anger, but urge the oppressed that this is not the way. This is “not strategic,” says the leftist concern-troll. This is “what the police want.” Most of the time they manage to stop short of asking “why are they burning down their own neighborhood?” -if only to be mindful of clichés-but some can’t even help themselves there. In the aftermath, Amy Goodman (seemingly channeling Alex Jones) will spread conspiracy theories on how the government “orchestrated” the rioting.[1] The respectability politics of nonviolence will return.

It’s hard to believe that anyone who has paid attention to Black Lives Matter takes these positions in good faith because, of course, the riots in Ferguson were objectively the best thing that happened to a movement that was already more than a year old. In August 2014, Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had been almost completely forgotten by white America except as grim punchlines, while national civil rights leaders were more concerned with Chicago’s gang killings than with the national wave of police terror. Yet by December, in the wake of recurring rioting in both Ferguson and the Bay Area, the Ferguson PD was under investigation by Amnesty International, the Justice Department and the United Nations ( and #BlackLivesMatter had been named Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society ).

This month the pushback comes with Jonathan Chait’s promotion of a scholarly paper on the effects of rioting on Black liberation in the 1960s. Chait’s argument can be critiqued on just about every level: the paper has a distorted idea of what liberation is (apparently, it means electing Democrats), an undefined idea of what rioting is, and on top of that the paper isn’t even accredited scholarship, in the sense that it hasn’t been peer-reviewed by anyone (except of course by Jonathan Chait).

Chait first got uptight about this subject last year, when he and Ta-Nehesi Coates had an indirect back-and-forth over the efficacy of Black insurrection. Chait wrote regarding Ferguson that “Property damage and looting impede social progress.” Coates replied with a concise historical sketch of militancy in the civil rights era:

The Civil Rights Bill of 1964 is inseparable from the threat of riots. The housing bill of 1968-the most proactive civil-rights legislation on the books-is a direct response to the riots that swept American cities after King was killed. Violence, lingering on the outside, often backed nonviolence during the civil-rights movement. “We could go into meetings and say, ‘Well, either deal with us or you will have Malcolm X coming into here,'” said SNCC organizer Gloria Richardson. “They would get just hysterical. The police chief would say, ‘Oh no!”

But now Chait claims that a draft research paper by Omar Wasow, an assistant professor at the department of politics at Princeton, fills in the blanks left within the broad strokes of that sketch. “And his answer is clear,” Chait announces. “Riots on the whole provoke a hostile right-wing response. They generate attention, all right, but the wrong kind.”

Chait and Wasow’s position is a restatement of the timeworn “backlash thesis.” Over the years, this thesis has been largely discredited by various studies (studies which, unlike Wasow’s, were peer-reviewed). The weakness with the thesis is not that there was no serious white backlash to the anti-racist movement, but that the backlash started as soon as the civil rights struggle began in the mid-1950s, not suddenly after the mid-60s Northern rebellions.

The Limits of Nonviolence

Take for instance Michael Klarman’s book From Jim Crow to Civil Rights (which one reviewer calls “the first great and indispensable work of American constitutional history in the twenty-first century”). Klarman demonstrates that Brown vs. Board of Education didn’t inspire an unambiguously effective civil rights movement; it inspired an uncertain experiment in passive resistance which in turn provoked the segregationist “massive resistance” movement. And just as Brown didn’t lead to widespread desegregated schools, the Supreme Court decision that emerged from the Montgomery bus boycott didn’t lead to widespread desegregated buses-most Southern municipalities simply ignored it, and launched highly effective repression against Black activism and liberalism generally. Montgomery itself enacted new segregation laws after the boycott victory, and terrorized both moderate and radical political figures (Rosa Parks fled the city after the campaign, both because she was blacklisted from work and because of credible death threats). On the rare instances where the federal government stood up for school desegregation, like in Little Rock in 1958, the conservatives were strong enough to wait out the withdrawal of troops, or else simply shut down the schools rather than comply.

A new hope seemed to emerge in the early 1960s with the lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, and the Mississippi voter registration drives. But the sit-in movement only led to the desegregation of Woolworth’s luncheonettes-most Southern eateries remained Jim Crow. The Freedom Rides were actually unpopular with the American public, most of whom thought Blacks were moving too fast. And the Freedom Rides led to yet another federal decision that was seldom honored in the South. The Mississippi movement provoked a wave of lynchings that the Kennedy administration did nothing to prevent. Klarman noted that the early civil rights movement had a “backlash-counterbacklash” dynamic.

Klarman’s work builds on that of scholar Gerald Rosenberg who demonstrated that no dramatic change for Black liberation occurred until the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The direct impetus for that law was rioting in Birmingham in May of 1963: thousands of local blacks defied Martin Luther King’s exhortations to nonviolence, set fire to nine square blocks of downtown, and sent a police officer to the operating room. The author of the most comprehensive study of President Kennedy’s civil rights policy, Nicholas Bryant, noted that

It was the black-on-white violence of May 11 – not [the nonviolence of the previous weeks] – that represented the real watershed in Kennedy’s thinking…Kennedy had grown used to segregationist attacks against civil rights protesters. But he – along with his brother and other administration officials – was far more troubled by black mobs running amok.[2]

Birmingham wasn’t an isolated episode; Black insurrection flared across the country for the rest of 1963 and into 1964. Sometimes it was milder than Birmingham and sometimes it was more explosive. SNCC leader Gloria Richardson recalls that in her campaign in Cambridge, Maryland, activists exchanged gunfire with National Guardsmen just a few months prior to the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

“Burning in Every City, North and South”

President Kennedy’s response to Birmingham is the key historical moment of the movement. According to White House tapes, the president initially thought about sending federal troops to Alabama in May 1963 with the idea of acting against Blacks if the rioting continued-not against Bull Connor. He ultimately kept the troops on stand-by. As the month wore on and Kennedy saw Black rebellion spread to Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York, he eventually concluded he would have to make a major gesture of support for African-Americans. On June 11, he gave his landmark Civil Rights Address, in which he first proposed the Civil Rights Act. The Address acknowledged the role of riots:

This is not a sectional issue. Difficulties over segregation and discrimination exist in every city, in every State of the Union, producing in many cities a rising tide of discontent that threatens the public safety… The fires of frustration and discord are burning in every city, North and South, where legal remedies are not at hand. Redress is sought in the streets, in demonstrations, parades, and protests which create tensions and threaten violence and threaten lives.

Kennedy’s speech is the first time the federal government even acknowledged it had a major racial problem in the North. The post-Birmingham uprisings were indeed the root of the nationwide white backlash, but they were also the beginning of a truly nationwide civil rights movement. And they proved to be the first real federal breakthrough in either the North or South.

Some of Professor Wasow’s charts actually illustrate my points better than they illustrate his:

2015 0611satmis ch

We can see in this chart that there was little violent activity in the early sixties movement-but we can also see that there was very little nonviolent activity in the movement either. The marked decline of nonviolent protest shown in 1962 confirms Malcolm X’s characterization in his “Message to the Grassroots” speech that the movement seemed to be on its last legs that year. Then, in 1963, we see violent and nonviolent activity spike in unison – if anything violent protest leads the trend. The riotous tendency in that year helped to stimulate nonviolent protest (including preparations for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom). And as we’ve already seen, it directly inspired Kennedy’s Civil Rights Address and proposal of his civil rights bill.

The chart also shows a smaller but still significant curve towards violence in 1964. The peak of this curve appears to be June 1964- the month the Civil Rights Act was finally passed. And once again, riots and peaceful protests rose and fell together in similar timeframes. Also note that the Watts rebellion doesn’t spring out of nowhere in August 1965; it’s part of a general increase in militancy that begins in the first half of the year, which means that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is also inseparable from the threat of riots (Note too that the overall rates of violent protest in 1965 and 1963 are nearly the same).

Wasow doesn’t mention the Birmingham riot, or the Cambridge riot, or the “fires of frustration and discord…burning in every city, North and South,” in 1963. They don’t help his case. But they do prove the case of the anarchist writer Peter Gelderloos, who’s noted for years that the civil rights movement at its strongest was a model of diversity of tactics.

The underlying premise of Wasow and Chait seems to be that since it’s dangerous to win (there’s a backlash) it’s much better to lose. In his study of the struggle for the Civil Rights Act, legal historian Gerald Rosenberg has a more heartening message:

“Overcoming discrimination is a good news/bad news story.The bad news is that discrimination is deeply enmeshed in the fabric of American life; it is hard to change. But there is good news. The good news is that change is possible.”

Notes:

1. Democracy Now! uncritically publicized the idea that the National Guard stood down in Ferguson in order to encourage rioting. However, it was documented later that the officials’ motivation was concern about the public image of militarized policing.

2. Nicholas Andrew Bryant, The Bystander: John F. Kennedy And the Struggle for Black Equality (Basic Books, 2006), p. 393

Originally posted at Lorenzo’s blog, Diversity of Tactics.

Why Rejecting the Pitifully Small Police Brutality Settlement of #J28 Helps #BlackLivesMatter

Ergoat

January 28, 2015

 

fUgasmask

Here I am, defiantly saying “Fuck you!” to the Berkeley Police Department, after being tear gassed and shot with a rubber bullet at a #BlackLivesMatter protest on Dec 6th 2014.  Since this image went out internationally on the AP wire under the headline “Berkeley Protests Turn Violent”, and apparently I was the SnapChat Hero of the Day at Berkeley High School, yeah, 50+ days later I’ll fucking own it.

January 28th 2012 (#J28) over 2000 people gathered in downtown Oakland to support #OccupyOakland’s “Move-In Day”: an explicitly radical action designed to take over a dormant, vacant building and transform it into a community activist/houseless-outreach center. To prevent this from happening, the Oakland Police Department and many agencies from all around the Bay Area showed up like Roman Legionnaires to violently suppress us, breaking every Federally-mandated court order regarding crowd-control policy to eventually mass arrest over 400 hundred of us. Although there is hundreds of hours of video footage from the dozens of reporters and independent livestreamers documenting the police agencies breaking their own laws hundreds of times throughout the day, it took our “Civil Rights” lawyers three years to reach a terrible pittance of a settlement with the City of Oakland: A $1.3 million dollar settlement in which the lawyers keep the lion’s share; we the plaintiffs are to receive ~$2.6k each (before taxes), and no official from the City of Oakland, Alameda County, or the OPD receives any charges levied against them from their brutal illegalities of that day and the following days when we were tortured and abused inside the notorious Santa Rita jail.

I believe it is extremely important to reject this insultingly low monetary settlement, the secretive lawyering practices that led up to it, and reject and replace our “radical” movements’ laissez-faire attitude towards those volunteer protesters afflicted by police brutality and/or arrest: “Don’t worry! Let the ACLU/NLG/the ‘Civil Rights’ lawyers take care of it,” since it should be shockingly obvious that these lawyers have failed to do their job at even creating the meanest modicum of justice, over and over again in the modern Bay Area populist/radical movements, stemming from at least the Oscar Grant uprisings to present day.

This is an exceedingly imperative conversation to have RIGHT NOW, as we are several months into the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police-brutality in the Bay Area. Police have been the most violent they’ve been since #J28 2012, with more illegal baton strikes; tear gas, concussion grenades, less lethal munitions fired into crowds of peaceful protesters, and more mass-arrests without giving people a chance to disperse. Yet, astonishingly, we the protesters of late-2014 to today have learned little to zero of the stark lessons about movement sustainability since the days of Occupy. We paid for those lessons in our literal blood, and they shouldn’t be abandoned because of some unexamined kneejerk squeamishness in confronting our Sacred Cow “allies” of the “left” like the civil rights lawyers’ guilds. This is something that needs to be rectified IMMEDIATELY if we are to continue our cause to en masse challenge and overcome the police state.

Since the events of #J28 have been rather well document by others, I’m going to recount my memories of what went down around the time of this iconic photo, and the resulting aftermath:

ooj28fencedown

I remember us marching rather blindly into the kettle trap at 19th & Telegraph, and the police firing tear gas without warning ten feet away from me, rather ironically in front of the statue commemorating Gandhi, MLK and others.

I remember two members of Occupy Cal, young UC Berkeley students, who fearlessly stood in front of said statue in a cloud of tear gas, facing down the riot cops with peace signs held high. I went back for them, as they were the last ones left there, and suggested now was a good time to go. (Later, the very-nonviolent female student who was all of 5-foot nothing was clubbed on the back of the head: concussed & bleeding, she was arrested and soon cited-and-released by OPD and left to wander aimlessly in a daze through the streets of Oakland in the middle of the night [only to be randomly rescued by another member of Occupy Cal who was doing jail support].) (Tear gas is banned in war = Torture/War Crime)

I remember the adrenaline rush of the fence being torn down and us escaping the kettle, only to realize we were still marked pilgrims in an unholy land; surrounded by riot cops in white vans on every street with no clear place to march.

I remember us unstrategically marching back south down Broadway into another kettle trap of phalanx of riot cops. I had all of one second to decide: I saw some of the crowd trying to run into the YMCA on the left; others I saw climbing a fence to the right. The one second I spend on deciding was one second too long as WHACK— a baton struck me from behind. (Illegal crowd control)

I remember the ~400 of us being herded into the alcove at the Y, trying frantically to calm the riot cops down who had a crazed look in their eyes like they wanted nothing more than an excuse to charge into us and start cracking skulls. To that end, they “randomly” selected a black man out of the front lines who was doing nothing wrong, threw him to the pavement and put the boots and batons to him Rodney King style. (Illegal crowd control)

I remember the mass arrest for “failure to disperse” after illegally never saying it on a loudspeaker, and illegally, not letting us disperse after kittling us at the YMCA. (Illegal crowd control)

I remember being put in ziptie handcuffs at around 7pm. Those zipties didn’t come off until 5AM at Santa Rita.

I remember being loaded on a full prison bus with no ventilation: meaning all of us who had been tear gassed all day in the open air were now boxed in with each other, making a poisonous box full of people coughing, choking and vomiting. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember an older black man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was arrested with the rest of us: he had kidney problems and begged the officers for use of a bathroom. The officers laughed at him while he pissed in his pants.

I remember the officers saying we were going to all be collectively punished for people urinating and vomiting on the bus, even though we hadn’t had access to a bathroom in over 10 hours. We were forced to wait an extra 30 minutes outside the bus with our faces against the concrete wall for our “crimes” before being led into Santa Rita. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember being aggressively patted down: I remember those males identifying as queer or trans being extra-aggressively being patted down, groped, molested, assaulted and taunted by the prison guards.

I remember 24 of us being crowded into a holding cell that wasn’t mean for more than five. We’d be there for the next ~20 hours. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember that although 80%+ of us were vegetarian, we were denied vegetarian food out of spite and given slimy baloney sandwiches instead.

I remember 2-3 times that night/morning after we managed to all more or less fall asleep in the extremely overcrowded cell, some sort of chemical agent was pumped/vented in causing us all to wake up, choking and coughing. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember over the next 38 hours or so, the prison guards would strategically wait until most of us were asleep in our cells, and call a cell check for some random name that belonged to none of us: they did this for deliberate sleep deprivation. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember everyone involved being denied their necessary medication, including HIV/AIDS meds and others. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember being moved to a bigger cell that was slightly less overcrowded, but the drinking water was scalding hot IE not potable. (Torture/War Crime)

I remember in the 48 hours I was arrested and then finally released, I was never given access to a phone or a lawyer. (Constitutional Violation)

I remember the sickening feeling that if I resisted this torture in any way, I’d be beaten, thrown into a hole and forgotten about. This may have been the worst psychological torture: to let the pigs have their way and feel that there was nothing I could do about it…

It’s hard/impossible to put a dollar amount to the tortures I, we, endured. But surely $2600 does seem ridiculously, insultingly fucking low, doesn’t it?

Well, this whole recounting has been rather fucking draining. But I must continue with the aftermath.

I remember being arrested Saturday night and being released on a Monday night. Immediately upon my release I contacted every media outlet because I wanted to give testimony/bear witness/go on record about the tortures I witnesses and endured.

I remember Tuesday morning calling up the Thom Hartmann Show and detailing my experience (with my voice raspy as I was still affected by tear gas and lack of water), and getting Thom to on the air, live, apologizing for criticizing Occupy Oakland and offering a call for solidarity.

I remember 90% of the independent media journalists, if they got back to me at all, say a version of “Oh yeah, I already filed my #J28 story on Sunday/Monday: no new news here.” As if the largest mass arrest in Oakland in 30 years warranted no follow-ups. INDY MEDIA FAILED US.

I remember “indy-journalists” who used Occupy Oakland social media channels to solicit donations for their personal careers, refusing to do any follow-ups RE #J28— it’s worth reiterating: INDY MEDIA FAILED US.

I remember still coughing tear gas out of my lungs when Chris Hedges published his infamous “The Cancer of Occupy” article RE #J28 that was republished on countless “left” “progressive” independent media news sites. More words were written about how we were “violent counterrevolutionaries” for wearing helmets and carrying shields than were written about the violent, torturous police and prison guards of Alameda County. CommonDreams dot Org has me banned to this day for commenting “Fuck Chris Hedges”. AGAIN: INDY MEDIA FAILED US. (#OpChrisHedges)

I remember the Leaders-Not-Leaders of Occupy Oakland/#J28 calling a special GA to talk about Move-In Day. Hundreds of people showed up voicing many direct, to the point questions about the egregious tactics that failed us over and over again that day that left many of us fucked up by police brutality (yet the Leaders-Not-Leaders [mostly] got away unarrested and unscathed). One after another these people were dismissed with variations of “Oh, we can’t talk about it since there is now an ongoing court case going on RE #J28” IE, variations of the bullshit sophist “Loose Lips Sink Ships” propaganda to silence extreme pertinent criticism. I cannot stress enough it was because of this there has been no major sustained radical movement in Oakland to this day (with just wisps of ad hoc #BlackLivesMatter rallies now, three years later— more on this later). Unaccountable leadership. The buck stops nowhere.

I remember the NLG (National Lawyers Guild) calling us to two mass meetings of those arrested on #J28, that was meant to placate us. The meeting boiled down to “Don’t worry, we have everything under control: don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

I remember the NLG never calling us back RE our initial court hearings, having us rely on varying degrees of accuracy social media reports to see if charges were filed against us or not.

I remember NLG making a social media announcement/email “Whoops, we don’t have everything under control- we are going to fob you all off to independent civil rights lawyers Yolanda Huang and Dan Siegel (the latter of whom is totally going to put his best foot forward fighting this case and not at all be distracted by running an ill-conceived Mayoral campaign).”

I remember trying to call the Law Offices of Ms. Huang sporadically over the next ~3 years and very rarely even getting this response/callback: “Don’t worry, everything is under control; Stop calling me: I’ll call you.”

I remember being extremely concerned circa summer of 2013 when the ACLU announced a pitiful $1 million dollar settlement regarding the most infamous case of obscene police brutality in all of Occupy: the pepper-spraying of Occupy UC Davis by Lt. Pike. A case that was so ridiculously clear cut, the ACLU could have hit multiple grand slams charging the University of California, the UCPD, and made fundamental systemic changes to how colleges handle student protests from now on: this ACLU chose to bunt instead, holding no one accountable, and those student activists chemicallytortured receiving less than Lt Pike did with his paid suspension and workerscomp by a factor of ~6X. I tried to write about this, but I was censored.

I remember being extremely concerned when the NLG announced their settlement with the city of Oakland regarding the Oscar Grant protest mass-arrests of 2010 (of which I barely escaped the net). The NLG got the lion’s share and for their 24 hrs of being thrust into overcrowded jail cells after being illegally arrested (24-48 hours less than most #J28 arrestees) got around $3k each. This seemed insulting low to me (little did I know…) at the time, and I did my best to try and rally people around the idea that if this is acceptable, we are going to get fucked over when our #J28 settlement comes to fruition. How fun it is to have the Cassandra Complex!

I remember being somewhat optimistic after hearing about the first few rounds of settlements coming out of Occupy Oakland in the past year, and #J28 cases that had individual counsel (and not a class action suit like the one I was involved in). One woman got a $40k settlement for being pushed to the pavement by OPD on #J28 and not even arrested. This set the bar at a reasonable place for the rest of us who endured so much more brutality.

And then… the announcement of a settlement of $2.6k each for #J28 happened.

Look: I’m not going to lie to you. I’m fucking poor, and I’ve been fucking poor my entire life. $2600 would help me a lot. But that’s not a settlement: you might as well offer me 30 pieces of silver, because that’s fucking Judas money. I haven’t been an activist in the Bay Area these past 6+ years for the money, but this scene has taken from me so much fucking more from me than I’ve put into it, and I’m not just talking about fiduciary concerns. So if I’m ever going to cash in my chips, I’m not fucking doing it for $2600.

But let’s be really fucking clear: this isn’t about haggling over a fairer price for me. If we accept this we are dooming the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Here is me, in the middle of No Man’s Land, in a cloud of tear gas, during a #BlackLivesMatter protest in Berkeley on December 6th 2014.

teargas

Out of the hundreds of protesters gathered, I alone didn’t retreat back a block but advanced towards the line of riot cops to rescue a stranger who had fallen because a concussion grenade exploded inches from his face and he collapsed to the street. Risking my health and safety I helped him up and got him back to the protesters. For this, even though I never through a thing at the police (except my middle finger), I was shot at and hit by rubber bullets. I did this because I have fucking courage, and I believe in the movement #BlackLivesMatter against police brutality and the police state: even to the point of risking my life.

But I won’t be a sucker. Never again. I won’t be used by people who exploit the movement(s) for their personal gains. Never again. I won’t sit silently while this movement goes on unstrategically, while more people get brutalized, burned-out and then gladhanded by the lawyers who are supposed to protect our rights, but sell us out, over and over and over again. How many more examples do you need before you too shout “NEVER AGAIN!”?

What then, is to be done?

The fuck if I know. I’m just one person, sometimes bolstered by allies and friends; other times not so much. I’m in a movement that pretends to be all about community, but will jettison your ass to the curb the SECOND you become an inconvenience and do something like ask the wrong question about the Sacred Cows of the “Radical” “Left” (the knife in the back: no extra charge).

But here are my “Calls to Action” all the same:

1st: I think we need a public meeting regarding the #J28 settlement and I think we need to pressure the lawyers involved to show up and publicly state why they mishandled the case (Let’s not mince words). And then we need to public reject this settlement and go back to the negotiating table.

2nd: I think we need a larger conversation locally and nationally about the goals and demands of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and the construction of a sustainable movement. While I have been inspired by the series of ad hoc protests around the country these past months, shutting down a freeway or mass transit for a few hours, and then being brutalized and arrested by police only to have a shitty settlement three years later isn’t sustainable, therefore it won’t win as currently structured. I want to win. I believe we can win. We MUST adjust our tactics accordingly.

3rd: To that end, I’ve been remarkably consistent in what would be the biggest revolutionary demand to end the police state: #EndTheDrugWar. I’ve been saying this since the Oscar Grant movement at public and private organizational assemblies. Usually to crickets and tumbleweeds.

 

Yet the logic is simple: We are outraged at police brutality, and how it disproportionately affects black and brown and poor communities. We are outraged at the mass incarceration of these communities. What is the lead cause of this brutality? The Drug War. #Every45Seconds someone in this country (overwhelmingly black, brown and/or poor) someone is put in chains and a cage for possessing cannabis. More than ever before, a vast majority of people in this country support ending the drug war: tying #EndTheDrugWar to #BlackLivesMatter would make an overwhelming populist movement with a clear goal, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the USA since the anti-Vietnam War protests over 40 years ago. (And no, the endgame here isn’t “Yippie! I can buy weed at WalMart now!” but #DrugWarReparations— but that is a another conversation for now.)

That’s the best I could come up with on short notice, on this, the 3rd anniversary of #J28 2012. Here’s to many more justices and victories for us, the good guys and gals, before the next anniversary.

Lemme know what you think = @Ergoat

Movement Ferguson, Beware the Nonprofit Industrial Complex

Black Agenda Report (Image & Video courtesy of Libya360)

January 21, 2015

by

Reuters/Stephen Lam

“As our movement evolves and we remain dependent on major donors and foundations instead of building grassroots funding, we will always be hindered and misdirected away from the trek toward fundamental systemic change.”

An article in London’s DailyMail.com about the funding that Billionaire George Soros and his Open Society Foundation is giving to organizations in the Ferguson and #BlackLivesMatter movement has sparked defense of Soros on social media and speculation that the article is part of an extreme right agenda or mentality to belittle the movement and discredit “funders committed to racial justice.” For sure, a quick web search shows there is hardly a shortage of rightwing extremists disparaging Soros’ bankrolling of liberally progressive organizations and programs.

But applying a more left than liberal analysis to the article and to Soros reveals there is a deeper, dare one say, warning for the left. The DailyMail.com isn’t right wing by any U.S. corporate press standard. More revealing and to the point is that the history of his Open Society funding in all sorts of social justice efforts nationally and internationally (not just Ferguson) can be compared to the strategy used by formations like Stephen Currier’s Council for United Civil Rights Leadership that sterilized the Civil Rights Movement of its Black Power and other more radical elements that were legitimately elevating the struggle for civil rights to a struggle for human rights.

In Malcolm X’s eloquent fashion, he described how white philanthropy and white leadership influenced civil rights organizations at the time of the March on Washington:

“They had a meeting at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. The Carlyle Hotel is owned by the Kennedy family; that’s the hotel Kennedy spent the night at, two nights ago; it belongs to his family. A philanthropic society headed by a white man named Stephen Currier called all the top civil-rights leaders together at the Carlyle Hotel. And he told them, ‘By you all fighting each other, you are destroying the civil-rights movement. And since you’re fighting over money from white liberals, let us set up what is known as the Council for United Civil Rights Leadership. Let’s form this council, and all the civil-rights organizations will belong to it, and we’ll use it for fund-raising purposes.’ Let me show you how tricky the white man is. As soon as they got it formed, they elected Whitney Young as its chairman, and who do you think became the co-chairman? Stephen Currier, the white man, a millionaire. Powell was talking about it down at Cobo Hall today. This is what he was talking about. Powell knows it happened. Randolph knows it happened. Wilkins knows it happened. King knows it happened. Every one of that so-called Big Six–they know what happened!

“Once they formed it, with the white man over it, he promised them and gave them $800,000 to split up between the Big Six; and told them that after the march was over they’d give them $700,000 more. A million and a half dollars–split up between leaders that you have been following, going to jail for, crying crocodile tears for. And they’re nothing but Frank James and Jesse James and the what-do-you-call-’em brothers.”

“We know in our organizations we have conversations and make decisions about the best ways to make ourselves more ‘attractive’ to funders.”

The Council for United Civil Rights Leadership also advanced the confining and prohibitive nature of to the Non-profit Industrial Complex as we know it today by centralizing donations and then discouraging tendencies toward building independent grassroots funding bases. The Counsel worked to oppose tactics like civil disobedience and boycotts by controlling distribution of funds and using connections to corporate media establishment.

Out of necessity Soros has obviously taken this strategy to a new level to be make it commensurate with today’s evolved political and ideological movement. While, of course, few if anyone may be “getting rich,” no one – particularly those of us working in the non-profit industry – can deny the influence funders have on what not-for-profit formations do or won’t do, what political positions they take or don’t take, etc. Even if, as the director of Soros’s fund disclaims “they have no ‘direct’ control over the groups they give to, and said they are all trying to improve accountability.” “Direct” is the operative word.

If we think of this as funders literally dictating to organizations we will miss how this works. An organization or individual doesn’t have to be told anything directly. Those who do foundation fundraising know the first level of control is “fitting” within funders’ guidelines just to apply. The next level is how radical an organization will dare go after receiving money when they know (no matter if it’s a person who is a major donor or a foundation) funders are generally more politically conservative than those applying for funds and that they will invariably need refunding. We know in our organizations we have conversations and make decisions about the best ways to make ourselves more “attractive” to funders. These are just two ways funders can control social movements.

There is a radical element to the Ferguson movement that realizes the police and the whole judicial system are agents of the state and the power elite, corporate class. They realize this is not merely an issue of “accountability,” as framed by the Open Society Director in the DailyMail.com article. These radical and more politically clear elements see that this is about more than isolated incidents like that of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin. They are calling and working for human rights, peoples’ empowerment which would ultimately threaten the status quo to which funders like Soros belong.

“This is not merely an issue of “accountability.”

Together with historical and political context, the DailyMail.com article affords us an opportunity to more critically analyze the role and influences of the non-profit industrial complex. For example, the article reports that, “One recipient of his funding is the Organization for Black Struggle, which in turned established a group called the Hands Up Coalition, that has helped make ubiquitous the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ slogan.” However, without disapproving of the slogan, the tactic of non-violent civil disobedience, or the Hands Up Coalition, there are also those in this national movement looking at the legitimacy of self-defense as was done in the 50s and 60s. They’ve questioned the “hands up, don’t shoot” slogan and offered an alternative, “fists up, fight back.” While the politically faint of heart may want to reduce such a slogan as foolhardy and irresponsible, they would be reminiscent of those during the Civil Rights movement who denounced, criticized, and mischaracterized armed self-defense as well as the Black Power movement; of those who misrepresented or misunderstood the essence of what was at stake. Many of them today attempt to rewrite that history and sterilize it of its progressive examples and effectiveness of armed self-defense.

It would be naive to think the likes of Soros and his Open Society Foundation/Institute would ever fund an organization like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement that pulled the covers off of the national epidemic of impunity for police murders with its 2012 report, “Trayvon Martin is All of Us,” showing that every 28 hours a Black person is murdered in the U.S. by agents of the corporate controlled U.S. government and those agents given impunity. We should likewise doubt Soros’ OS would support their follow up resource, “Let Your Motto Be Resistance: A Handbook on Organizing New Afrikan and Oppressed Communities for Self-Defense.

The big picture to see are the broad and long term effects of rich people and all those with vested interest in the nonprofit industrial complex controlling the purse strings of our movement. As our movement evolves and we remain dependent on major donors and foundations instead of building grassroots funding, we will always be hindered and misdirected away from the trek toward fundamental systemic change.

Many of us recognize the easier said than done lessons from the Church about building a grassroots funding base. For centuries the Church has done this very well.

The difficult part of creating a grassroots funding base for politically radical action is raising the level of political consciousness among the Black masses such that we embrace the indispensability of funding our own work to realize true empowerment and self-reliance. Too many Black organizers think we need the Black elite but the masses outnumber the elite class by so much that it’s not unreasonable to envision 200 thousand people contributing and average of 5 dollars a year with which we could fund some independent and radical programs to the tune of millions.

This will require revolutionary organization and revolutionary consciousness. Sekou Ture of Guinea taught us, “Without revolutionary consciousness there can be no revolution. Without political education and revolutionary practice there can be no revolutionary consciousness.”

Dependence on the philanthropy of capitalists can never be revolutionary.

 

[Netfa Freeman is a long time Pan-Africanist, human rights activists based in DC and a co-host/producer for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM.]

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