[News] What Does Black Lives Matter Want?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 17 17:02:12 EDT 2016


  What Does Black Lives Matter Want?

Robin D. G. Kelley - August 17, 2016

On August 1 the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of over 
sixty organizations, rolled out “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy 
Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice,” 
<http://policy.m4bl.org/> an ambitious document described by the press 
as the first signs of what young black activists “really want.” It lays 
out six demands aimed at ending all forms of violence and injustice 
endured by black people; redirecting resources from prisons and the 
military to education, health, and safety; creating a just, 
democratically controlled economy; and securing black political power 
within a genuinely inclusive democracy. Backing the demands are forty 
separate proposals and thirty-four policy briefs, replete with data, 
context, and legislative recommendations.

But the document quickly came under attack for its statement on 
Palestine, which calls Israel an apartheid state and characterizes the 
ongoing war in Gaza and the West Bank as genocide. Dozens of 
publications and media outlets devoted extensive coverage to the 
controversy around this single aspect of the platform, including /The 
the /Washington Post/ 
/The Times of Israel/ 
/Haaretz/ <http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.735412>, and the /St. 
Louis Post-Dispatch/ 
Of course, M4BL is not the first to argue that Israeli policies meet the 
UN definitions of apartheid. (The 1965 International Convention for the 
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the 1975 
International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime 
of Apartheid define <http://legal.un.org/avl/ha/cspca/cspca.html> it as 
“inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining 
domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of 
persons and systematically oppressing them.”) Nor is M4BL the first 
group to use the term “genocide” to describe the plight of Palestinians 
under occupation and settlement. The renowned Israeli historian Ilan 
Pappe, for example, wrote 
<https://electronicintifada.net/content/israels-incremental-genocide-gaza-ghetto/13562> of 
the war on Gaza in 2014 as “incremental genocide.” That Israel’s actions 
in Gaza correspond with the UN definition of genocide to “destroy, in 
whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” by 
causing “serious bodily or mental harm” to group members is a legitimate 
argument to make.

The few mainstream reporters and pundits who considered the full M4BL 
document either reduced it to a laundry list of demands or positioned it 
as an alternative to the platform of the Democratic Party—or else 
focused on their own benighted astonishment that the movement has an 
agenda beyond curbing police violence. But anyone following Black Lives 
Matter from its inception in the aftermath of the George Zimmerman 
verdict should not be surprised by the document’s broad scope. Black 
Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi 
are veteran organizers with a distinguished record of fighting for 
economic justice, immigrant rights, gender equity, and ending mass 
incarceration. “A Vision for Black Lives” was not a response to the U.S. 
presidential election, nor to unfounded criticisms of the movement as 
“rudderless” or merely a hashtag. It was the product of a year of 
collective discussion, research, collaboration, and intense debate, 
beginning with the Movement for Black Lives Convening in Cleveland last 
July, which initially brought together thirty different organizations. 
It was the product of some of the country’s greatest minds representing 
organizations such as the Black Youth Project 100, Million Hoodies, 
Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Dream Defenders, the Organization 
for Black Struggle, and Southerners on New Ground (SONG). As Marbre 
Stahly-Butts, a leader of the M4BL policy table explained, “We formed 
working groups, facilitated multiple convenings, drew on a range of 
expertise, and sought guidance from grassroots organizations, organizers 
and elders. As of today, well over sixty organizations and hundreds of 
people have contributed to the platform.”

“A Vision for Black Lives” is a plan for ending structural racism, 
saving the planet, and transforming the entire nation—not just black lives.

The result is actually more than a platform. It is a remarkable 
blueprint for social transformation that ought to be read and discussed 
by everyone. The demands are not intended as Band-Aids to patch up the 
existing system but achievable goals that will produce deep structural 
changes and improve the lives of all Americans and much of the world. 
Thenjiwe McHarris, an eminent human rights activist and a principle 
coordinator of the M4BL policy table, put it best: “We hope that what 
has been created carries forward the legacy of our elders and our 
ancestors while imagining a world and a country profoundly different 
than what currently exists. For us and for those that will come after 
us.” The document was not drafted with the expectation that it will 
become the basis of a mass movement, or that it will replace the 
Democratic Party’s platform. Rather it is a vision statement for 
long-term, transformative organizing. Indeed, “A Vision for Black Lives” 
is less a political platform than a /plan/ for ending structural racism, 
saving the planet, and transforming the entire nation—not just black lives.

If heeded, the call to “end the war on Black people” would not only 
reduce our vulnerability to poverty, prison, and premature death but 
also generate what I would call a /peace dividend/ of billions of 
dollars. Demilitarizing the police, abolishing bail, decriminalizing 
drugs and sex work, and ending the criminalization of youth, transfolk, 
and gender-nonconforming people would dramatically diminish jail and 
prison populations, reduce police budgets, and make us safer. “A Vision 
for Black Lives” explicitly calls for divesting from prisons, policing, 
a failed war on drugs, fossil fuels, fiscal and trade policies that 
benefit the rich and deepen inequality, and a military budget in which 
two-thirds of the Pentagon’s spending goes to private contractors. The 
savings are to be invested in education, universal healthcare, housing, 
living wage jobs, “community-based drug and mental health treatment,” 
restorative justice, food justice, and green energy.

But the point is not simply to reinvest the peace dividend into existing 
social and economic structures. It is to /change/ those structures—which 
is why “A Vision for Black Lives” emphasizes community control, 
self-determination, and “collective ownership” of certain economic 
institutions. It calls for community control over police and schools, 
participatory budgeting, the right to organize, financial and 
institutional support for cooperatives, and “fair development” policies 
based on human needs and community participation rather than market 
principles. Democratizing the institutions that have governed black 
communities for decades without accountability will go a long way toward 
securing a more permanent peace since it will finally end a relationship 
based on subjugation, subordination, and surveillance. And by insisting 
that such institutions be more attentive to the needs of the most 
marginalized and vulnerable—working people and the poor, the homeless, 
the formerly incarcerated, the disabled, women, and the LGBTQ 
community—“A Vision for Black Lives” enriches our practice of democracy.

For example, “A Vision for Black Lives” advocates not only closing tax 
loopholes for the rich but revising a regressive tax policy in which the 
poorest 20 percent of the population pays on average twice as much in 
taxes as the richest 1 percent. M4BL supports a massive jobs program for 
black workers, but the organization’s proposal includes a living wage, 
protection and support for unions and worker centers, and 
anti-discrimination clauses that protect queer and trans employees, the 
disabled, and the formerly incarcerated. Unlike the Democratic Party, 
M4BL does not subscribe to the breadwinner model of jobs as the sole 
source of income. It instead supports a universal basic income (UBI) 
that “would meet basic human needs,” eliminate poverty, and ensure 
“economic security for all.” This is not a new idea; some kind of 
guaranteed annual income has been fundamental to other industrializing 
nations with strong social safety nets and vibrant economies, and the 
National Welfare Rights Organization proposed similar legislation nearly 
a half century ago. The American revolutionary Thomas Paine argued in 
the eighteenth century for the right of citizens to draw a basic income 
from the levying of property tax, as Elizabeth Anderson recently 
Ironically, the idea of a basic income or “negative income tax” also won 
support from neoliberal economists Milton Friedman and Friedrich 
Hayek—although for very different reasons. Because eligibility does not 
require means testing, a UBI would effectively reduce the size of 
government by eliminating the bureaucratic machine of social workers and 
investigators who police the dispensation of entitlements such as food 
stamps and welfare. And by divesting from an unwieldy and unjust 
prison-industrial complex, there would be more than enough revenue to 
create good-paying jobs and provide a basic income for all.

Reducing the military is not just about resources; it is about ending 
war, at home and abroad. “A Vision for Black Lives” includes a 
devastating critique of U.S. foreign policy, including the escalation of 
the war on terror in Africa, machinations in Haiti, the recent coup in 
Honduras, ongoing support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and the 
role of war and free-trade policies in fueling the global refugee 
crisis. M4BL’s critique of U.S. militarism is driven by Love—not the 
uncritical love of flag and nation we saw exhibited at both major party 
conventions, but a love of global humanity. “The movement for Black 
lives,” one policy brief explains, “must be tied to liberation movements 
around the world. The Black community is a global diaspora and our 
political demands must reflect this global reality. As it stands funds 
and resources needed to realize domestic demands are currently used for 
wars and violence destroying communities abroad.”

Finally, a peace dividend can fund M4BL’s most controversial demand: 
reparations. For M4BL, reparations would take the form of massive 
investment in black communities harmed by past and present policies of 
exploitation, theft, and disinvestment; free and open access to lifetime 
education and student debt forgiveness; and mandated changes in the 
school curriculum that acknowledge the impact of slavery, colonialism, 
and Jim Crow in producing wealth and racial inequality. The latter is 
essential, since perhaps the greatest obstacle to reparations is the 
common narrative that American wealth is the product of individual hard 
work and initiative, while poverty results from misfortune, culture, bad 
behavior, or inadequate education. We have for too long had ample 
evidence that this is a lie. From generations of unfree, unpaid labor, 
from taxing black communities to subsidize separate but unequal 
institutions, from land dispossession and federal housing policies and 
corporate practices that conspire to keep housing values in black and 
brown communities significantly lower, resulting in massive loss of 
potential wealth—the evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible. 
Structural racism is to blame for generations of inequality. Restoring 
some of that wealth in the form of education, housing, infrastructure, 
and jobs with living wages would not only begin to repair the 
relationship between black residents and the rest of the country, but 
also strengthen the economy as a whole.

To see how “A Vision for Black Lives” is also a vision for the country 
as a whole requires imagination. But it also requires seeing black 
people as fully human, as producers of wealth, sources of intellect, and 
as victims of crimes—whether the theft of our bodies, our labor, our 
children, our income, our security, or our psychological well-being. If 
we had the capacity to see structural racism and its consequences not as 
a /black/ problem but as an /American /problem we have faced since 
colonial times, we may finally begin to hear what the Black Lives Matter 
movement has been saying all along: when all black lives are valued and 
the structures and practices that do harm to black communities are 
eliminated, we will change our country and possibly the world.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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