Black Lives Matter : A path to Black Power
Sitting in this swank coffee shop in East Atlanta village with a crowd of mostly white twenty somethings that I have never met. I am wearing a BYP100 hoodie that demands racial justice along with economic justice as a pathway to FUND BLACK FUTURES. Underneath is a Black Panther Party shirt with the slogan “Seize the Time”. My computer has a plethora of pro Black stickers. So basically, I am feeling super Black right now. I have a number of deadlines that I need to meet and should be using this time to lighten that load. But alas, I am writing to you instead.
Two years ago today, I was arrested for the first time in my life. I participated in an action that led to arrest. Black people, some my dear friends, participated in similar actions across the country on this National Day of action against Police Brutality. The organization that I was a member of then, Concerned Citizens for Justice, always participated in the Day of Action, but that year was different. Earlier that year in August, Mike Brown had been brutally murdered in Ferguson. Me and my best friend joined the hundreds of young Black organizers who made their way to St. Louis that Labor Day weekend and again for Ferguson October.
My life changed that first weekend. I had been organizing in Black liberation circles for a while. I had had the opportunity to work with many revolutionaries who had been doing this work for decades. Including working on a campaign to get my favorite Black nationalist Chokwe Lumumba elected as mayor of Jackson, MS. I had been in plenty spaces where my Black queer body was accepted and loved in spite of. But in that church that weekend there were Black folks who were seemingly equally committed to Black liberation as I was. And they looked like me. Not just Black, but also queer, trans and proud of it. Not only was our queerness accepted, but the folks leading the conversations were queer and they were very clear that we would all be welcome and that we would be treated with respect. Even inside a church. The ministers we came in contact with were affirming of us and I still have great relationships with to this day. They spoke of a revolutionary Jesus, who loved all of us. Told us that social justice was the work of Jesus.
We created a container that was safe to grieve the Black death that we were conscious was happening at least every 28 hours. It was safe to be Black, and queer and Christian. Or not. Because that was clear, we were able to jump into doing work. We made all kinds of plans and connections with each other. We marched, we encouraged folks who had been on the ground for weeks. We hugged, we cried, we ate together, danced, laughed and plotted and schemed.
Back in Chattanooga we had been talking about ways to connect the resistance in Ferguson to the struggle happening locally. The corrupt Chattanooga Police Department was still killing and brutalizing Black, brown and poor members of our community with impunity. They kept trying to sell us a story that in these two parts of town that the gangs in the Southside and the Westside were extremely violent and unpredictable. They put 30 or so Black men on the front of the Sunday newspaper and called them the most dangerous criminals in the city. They tried to use this as a way to justify an increased police presence in our neighborhoods. The night we were arrested, it was because we had a unity march with members from both neighborhoods using the same chants we had learned in Ferguson earlier that year. We ALL came together to say that actually the most dangerous folks in our city was the police.
While I was in the first holding cell, we were talking to the women in there about why we got arrested and what we were doing in the city to fight police brutality and mass incarceration. One of the ladies in there said something to me that I will never forget. After hearing about the action and arrest she said “So, you got arrested….on purpose?” We had a longer conversation about it, but the point that stuck for me is that if I was going to do this work, it’d better be a part of a strategy. If I was going to be giving up my freedom, even temporarily we needed to be building power that was effecting change that could be seen by those directly impacted. Otherwise, it was pointless.
I moved to Atlanta shortly after that and eventually crewed up with Black Lives Matter Atlanta. These folks had been organizing in the name of Black lives for years but when BLM came along, all of the organizations basically just moved under that umbrella (as far as rapid response to police brutality against Black folks). In January of 2016 we became an official member of the BLM network.
Over these last few months there have been so many folks dying to expose all of the evils, fraud, non-strategic and any other negative thing that they can say about Black Lives Matter. BLM is not above criticism. None of us are. But there is a difference between constructive criticism and just being negative. A great way to know the difference is to think about what your goals are in the action. Is your goal to see what is clearly a growing movement with lots of potential grow? Or is it something else?
I was organizing before BLM. But BLM gave me an avenue to practice the theory that I had been studying. BLM helped me develop the skill of talking to Black people about building power. BLM has given me a place to help with the political education of me and other Black folks in my periphery. I have built relationships with some of my best friends directly through working with BLM locally and nationally. I am hopeful about the growth that we will continue to see over the years. A lot of us are in healthy, sustainable relationships with myriad of elders who are intimately connected to this movement. One of the most consistent lessons I have learned over the years is that it is impossible to please everyone.
It is easy to stand on the sidelines or in the audience at the rally or mass meeting and complain about what has been put together by other people. Everyone that rededicated their lives to movement that summer in 2014, didn’t go on to join or build BLM. Lots of organizations that were working in the name of Black Liberation kept existing or either were created separate from BLM. A racist media combined with basic ass haters are the result of everyone’s work getting swept under the BLM umbrella. The people who seem the most confused about what BLM is doing, seem to be the people who are not members. If you are not a part of a directly impacted community or a member of the group, how important is it that you know our whole strategy? Would you criticize anyone else for not sharing all of their strategies with non-members?
There is a way to give criticism. There is a way to engage in principled struggle when things happen that we don’t agree with. If we could put as much energy into implementing a practice of “unity, struggle, unity”, as we do calling out our comrades or shutting down something that our own people put together, we might actually see liberation in our lifetimes. There is no way to be Black in America and not have experienced some type of trauma. We are hurt people. It is inevitable that we will hurt each other. We may not always tell the truth. Some of that will be because of our own issues. Some of it will be based on a concrete analysis of concrete conditions. Some of it will be strategic. If we are in this for the long haul, we will have to find ways to navigate our hurt and trauma in a way that serves our commitment to freedom.
The way I see it is the path to freedom is through Black Power. Black Power is the result of Black Liberation. Black Liberation can be obtained through building a critical mass of educated and politicized members of oppressed nationalities and working class communities. We need political organization. Black Lives Matter is not the only way to achieve this. But it is certainly a part of this equation for hundreds of thousands of people. If you are about getting free, this should excite you. If it doesn’t, I want to challenge you uncover the root cause for that.