The Movement for Black Lives Platform: A Step Down a Different Path

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By The All-Nite Images [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

August 3, 2016; The Atlantic

As NPQ reported, the Movement for Black Lives made its comprehensive policy platform known this past Monday, what they describe on their website as being a “United Front”. It is an important read.

In August 2015, following the death of Tamir Rice, a “Movement for Black Lives Convening” engaging more than 2,000 people was held in Cleveland,  the first of many meetings and conference calls. This year-long participatory process resulted in the coalition’s far-reaching demands. More than 50 black-led organizations and highly esteemed activists such as Barbara Ransby now present a “Vision 4 Black Lives” that includes six planks and 40 corresponding policy recommendations.

Toolkits are offered on how to conduct long-term advocacy campaigns. Their demands and strategies (including links to bills that can be used as model legislation at the federal and state levels) address issues and root causes, not just police violence. Policy is only one tactic. Protest, direct action, and more engagement at all levels are all essential elements of the movement’s work going forward.

As Vann Newkirk writes in The Atlantic, this is “a movement that is learning and building as it expands. In a political moment crowded by violence, failed political revolutions, and the rise of white populism, Black Lives Matter not only endures, but advances.” The “Black Lives Matter” movement began as a protest meme embracing dozens of organizations. Today, that movement is demanding societal transformation rather than reform and they do so in strident terms.  Here is an excerpt from the movement’s website:

As this platform launches in the context of the Democratic National Convention, we also recognize that neither mainstream political party has our interests at heart. We know all too well that the reforms that have passed at the local and state level do not address the root causes of the killing, dehumanization, and torture of our people. Instead, many increase police budgets and diagnosis the problem as one of “implicit bias” or “bad apples.” At best these are band aids on gaping bullet wounds, and at worse they are interventions that simply increase corporate and state power and make it easier for the state to devalue and destroy our communities.

This language evokes Martin Luther King, Jr.’s lengthy Letter from Birmingham Jail, which includes a similar rebuke to those who mean well but are not willing to go far enough:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

There is nothing lukewarm about the movement’s clearly defined demand for practical forms of reparations, which is just one of the six planks in the movement’s platform. Is the movement going too far, asking for too much too soon? Should the movement stick to protesting police violence?

It would seem that the new Movement for Black Lives is taking up the mission that King bequeathed when he was assassinated. While King is remembered today mostly as a peaceful and unifying figure, his nonviolent resistance generated controversy and was vigorously disruptive. Is the Movement for Black Lives too impatient and uncivil in promoting their agenda? If not, the movement’s web site invites willing visitors to endorse their platform.

Many people today would have welcomed the chance to march into history by joining arms with the protestors who participated in one of the three Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965. Is this the same kind of opportunity only with social media and 50 years of both protest and progress propelling the movement forward? It would be a mistake to assume that the Movement for Black Lives is only concerned about black people. The movement seeks to transform America for everyone. In the movement’s own words:

There can be no liberation for all Black people if we do not center and fight for those who have been marginalized. It is our hope that by working together to create and amplify a shared agenda, we can continue to move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.

“Is the Movement for Black Lives on the right side of history?” Martin Luther King Jr. would likely ask our nation’s people today to either reject or support the movement’s platform, but to not “bewilder” by simply wishing the movement the best of luck.

We would love to hear the thoughts of our readers on this issue.—James Schaffer

  • Third Sector Radio USA

    Many of the “identity” movements of today are little more than complaints of not being part of the system. Here is a movement, particularly if taking the mantle of Dr. King, with the potential to take on the system itself. The system, rooted firmly in capitalism, does not work for most people, and it is working for fewer and fewer. This movement seems to recognize that a new system is needed–for our own (the human race) survival–one based on acknowledgement of the inter-relatedness of all, one based on adaptability to change, not a win-lose mentality.

  • Kebo Drew

    Ruth, I have a few ideas about this particular take on the platform, as well as some issues with how this was framed. Particularly, jumping from MLK Jr to BLM, without seeing the legacy of the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program, which also addressed freedom, health, an end to war, police violence and and the prison industrial complex, as well as “land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, peace and people’s community control of modern technology.” From addressing health disparities (sickle cell anemia being one of the main foci), providing free food, and creating schools, there is a continuum that links the movements mentioned to previous activism from Black people, from the abolitionists to the nascent NAACP.

    What this platform is, and does, is provide broad possibilities for the entire nonprofit field. As one white nonprofit professional noted “this is beautiful,” and it could put nonprofits out of business, in a good way, by eliminating the issues, like homeless, that we fight so hard to address and end.

    We can and should align our missions to this platform, how many of us work on divestment from fossil fuels, opting out of mandatory testing and charter schools, universal healthcare, housing, immigration and education for all? How many of us are concerned about how much money floods into our elections, or the way that our nominations, conventions and elections proceed?

    This vision allows us to move away from a world where a “rising tide lifts all boats,” because it acknowledges that some boats are leaking, without engines, and not made for ocean voyages, and because some of us who cannot swim are in the water without a life vest. (And if this brings up images of Haitian and Cuban migrants to the U.S., to migrants from throughout Africa and Syria coming into Europe, then you understand what I mean.)

    This vision, connects Black people to Native American and Indigenous people in its call for clean land and water – because it is Native people who demonstrate the strongest environmental justice leadership. It connects Black people to other people of color, and to poor white people. This vision lifts up those of us on the outer margins, or under the bottom of the U.S. and global hierarchies.

    This vision, if it were to manifest, would make EVERYONE’s lives better.

    Should I email you all?

  • Cheeseheadslim

    I don’t appreciate the way the repubs ryan, walker, clark can roll out their shedy campaign of black vs white hate mongering, 17th century English arguing over the down trodden,very lives and taxes again

  • staceylh2

    You ask the question, “Is the Movement for Black Lives too impatient and uncivil in promoting their agenda?” Seriously, how can a movement that is desperately trying to save the lives of their people be labeled “too impatient and uncivil?” Shall minorities politely request that the targets come off? I am not Black, but I do support the Black Lives Matter agenda. I am a Cherokee woman, and would also note that Native people are THE most likely to die by violence of any group in the United States of America. It’s hard not to resent the attention paid to one minority while another suffers from a continued pattern of genocide. Perhaps “ALL” lives do matter, but to water down the immediate life threat to those who are dying is both ingenuous and callous. PEOPLE OF COLOR are dying, and there is a distinct and disturbing lack of outrage. There is no need to be civil about that.