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Unblocking our Movement Chakra: The Epilogue

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Unblocking Our Movement Chakra: The Epilogue

“No movement can survive unless it is constantly growing and changing with the times. If it isn’t growing, it’s stagnant, and without the support of the people, no movement for liberation can exist, no matter how correct its analysis of the situation is.”

– Assata Shakur

 

I’ve received incredible response to the Chakra series already; the articles are resonating with freedom fighters. I believe it’s because over the last several years I’ve been listening to your frustrations, pain, insights and aspirations. There’s enough of us seriously doing the work to create a sea change in movements for transformative change. Let’s start, or in some cases, accelerate the important discussion about what we are building and how we will organize for power.

I started off the year with talking about the 3 S’s—what we need more of in our movement building. To be more strategic, more serious and more sophisticated. I talked about the 3 S’s publicly as a panelist in the M4BL webinar on “Political Power.” Since then, I’ve added two more S’s: More science and more study. All five are critical to thinking about organization for transformation.

Winona LaDuke reminds us that there is no “social-change fairy.” Neither can we chant or talk our way to power. We must organize the masses of people based upon a vision and a strategy. It takes a plan to build a house, write a book. It takes a protocol to do surgery, to work in the pit stop. Individualism in our movements is on steroids and contributes to the erroneous view that we can come into the movement, and stumble and fumble up on social change.

In our current situation, to resist is to almost be passive. It’s like trying to hold back the floodgates of neo-liberalism but not move forward. There must be an action verb connected to resist. Resist and rebuild. Resist and renew. Resist and organize. It imperative that we don’t lose the political ground that we’ve fought so hard to gain. Now, we must be bolder and more creative in our strategy and tactics. We should start thinking about disruption tactics (like a national strike!) to turn up the heat and to win our demands. This is a good time to discuss campaigns like UnGovernable2017 as a focus for strategic action.

Last year the New York Times report on protests of police killings in 88 cities over a two-week period. I wondered what our movement’s net gain was given the amount of energy and resources these actions took. Did we get a cop convicted? Did we change a department’s policy on deadly force? Did our organizations grow? We know that these mass actions are psychological boosters for our people but we need to be planning protests in a way that advances our struggle, pushes a set of demands. This is the time to be more sophisticated and strategic. Let’s rally people beyond a protest sign and around a strategic, principles of organizing and a revolutionary code of conduct.

First, do no harm to our movements and its committed members. If we take ourselves seriously, the way in which we do our work reflects whether you believe our struggle is worthy and winnable. There’s gonna be hustlers in our movement. There’s gonna be those who don’t do the work but take credit for the work of others. We should make it difficult for these blood-suckers of the movement to operate and to operate without consequences. We must create healthy and safe space for the vigorous practice of self-criticism and criticism as well as for redemption and healing.

What study and retooling does our movement need to better understand the period we are in? Groups like Project South, School of Unity and Liberation (SOUL) and institutions like The Highlander provide us with valuable popular education and training modules. Can we give them feedback when we use their resources to improve their relevancy and potency? Of course we can, but we must be disciplined enough to conduct trainings and political education for our networks, then facilitate a summation that allows us to build and grow. Feel free to add to the accompanying resource list to the Chakra series.

The Movement Chakras of vision, strategy, organizing, workstyle, redemption, transformation and summation are congested, obstructed, jammed up. I have often said some of the brightest and imaginative people are in our social justice movements. We can—and must—figure out our collective vision and purpose. Our goal in the next five years is to build highly disciplined organizations and formidable movements that actively engage in political education, constructive criticism and radical workstyles. We need to get our people ready for battle. It’s time to get in formation.

 

Unblocking our Movement Chakras: Recommended Resources

 (Please share any readings, videos, etc. related to the series that we can add to this list.)

Accountability to the Collective

A protocol created by the Organization for Black Struggle

Creating a Viable Left: Sixteen Lessons Learned from Building the Black Radical Congress

By Jamala Rogers and Bill Fletcher, Jr.

Combat Liberalism

By Mao Zedong, Adapted by the Organization for Black Struggle-St. Louis, MO

The Demise of the Women of Color Resource Center*

By the Community Task Force

Ella Taught Me: Shattering the Myth of the Leaderless Movement

By Barbara Ransby

More Than We Imagined*

Ear to the Ground Project by NTanya Lee and Steve Williams

Up You Mighty Race*

By Umi Selah (Formerly known as Phillip Agnew)

*Denotes an article cited in the Unblocking the Movement Chakras series

 

 

Humanizing the homeless

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Published in St. Louis AmericanApril 27, 2017

I was totally disgusted when I read what happened to the residents of the New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC) when the city finally forced the closing of the homeless shelter. New Life opened its doors in 1976 and carried out its mission until the downtown site didn’t fit neatly into the city’s gentrification plan. Residents were re-traumatized with the forced removal and displacement by the city’s actions. Even though the embittered battle went on for several years, there clearly was no transition plan in place for NLEC’s residents. It made me wonder about the validity of any planning by the city to address homelessness.

A recent ruling by a judge allowed the city to finally close the doors and evict homeless people. How sick does that sound – evicting the homeless? About 100 people were divided between a city recreation center and a city warehouse where the Forestry Division houses its equipment and chemicals. The rec center was temporarily closed to neighborhood youth to house the homeless.

Like most components of poverty, homelessness has been unduly racialized. The Public Policy Research Center at the University of Missouri – St. Louis released the Missouri Statewide Homelessness Study Report last year. It cited that African Americans are more likely to be homeless than any other race. Blacks account for 60-95 percent of the residents of various shelters, even though we’re about half of the general population.

The consequences of these stats filter down to the most vulnerable: our children. Youth between the ages of 6-17 years old represent a big chunk of those in shelters.

St. Louis Public Schools has experience a dramatic rise in homeless students. The housing situation doesn’t stay outside the classroom; it affects the learning environment. According to school records, students without a permanent place to lay their heads every night represents a quarter of the district’s total enrollment. When SLPS last reported the number of homeless students in the district at the end of the 2015-2016 school year, there were 5,451 students in the city district designated as homeless. That staggering number has tripled in the past five years.

Remember the plan created by St. Louis and St. Louis County to “end chronic homelessness”? It was a 10-year plan that would bring the issue to its knees in 2015. While I’ve reviewed the mid-term progress report, I’ve seen no evaluation of the 10 years and what it did or not produce.

We need to get our homeless problem under control because President Trump has an austerity plan for working people that will throw more people out of jobs and out of housing. St. Louis numbers are nowhere near cities like New York City (62,000 homeless). This doesn’t mean manipulating the Point in Time (PIT) count like Utah apparently did when it touted reducing its homelessness by a whopping 90 percent. The PIT count is the number of people without shelter on a given night in January that must be reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The count is connected to receiving federal funds for homeless services.

Perhaps if we transcend the race of most of the homeless and focus instead on the children and their families, we may get closer to the roots of the issue. We may get to humanizing the lives behind the statistics. We may get to realistic ways to provide affordable housing for those most in need.

Get cops out of schools

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Published in St. Louis American, April 19, 2017

Then came the mass shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, which resulted in increased federal funding for hiring police in schools through programs by the Department of Justice like ‘COPS in Schools” or “Safe Schools/Healthy Students.” Predominantly white or affluent schools like Columbine rejected the concept of cops in the school. Jim St. Germain, co-founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow, echoed the sentiments of communities where those schools are: “Kids from suburban white America – they don’t get arrested for cursing out a teacher, throwing a book,” St. Germain said. “These are the things they go to a counselor for.”

Next came the Zero-Tolerance policies adopted by many school districts as their desperate but ineffective response to school behavior that reflected normal kid stuff or other behaviors that were symptomatic of deeper emotional and psychological issues. Even groups like the American Federation of Teachers bought into this flawed response to school violence although it has since rejected the failed policy. ZT is where suspensions and expulsions — the biggest motivators for school drop-outs – have skyrocketed.

More brushes with police lead to more violations, more violations lead to more interactions with the criminal injustice system. This is where the concept of a “school to prison pipeline” is born.

Research also has shown that students of color; lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender children; and those with special needs are disproportionately suspended and expelled from school. Who is not targeted? White, heterosexual, able-bodied students.

The coming of the super-predator never materialized. The term faded from the public square but much of the attitudes, policies and program remained intact. Like the documented decrease of violent crime in the broader society, incidents of school violence have also decreased. Yet the message that we keep getting bombarded with is that crime is rampant and that we need more police to make us safe.

Cops in schools takes discretion and power away from teachers and administrators and puts it into the hands of police who often lack the training and clear standards to respond appropriately. That’s how you get someone like deputy Ben Fields in Columbia, South Carolina, who was captured on cell phone video lifting a black girl out of her desk and body-slamming her to the floor. It was later reported that the juvenile’s mother had died recently and she had been put into foster case. Unbridled brutality was the response Fields meted out to a grieving student coping with life-changing circumstances, when a counselor was needed.

Missouri had the highest suspension rate for black elementary school children in the nation. St. Louis Public Schools was a big contributor with 2,023 suspensions to students in kindergarten through third grade in 2015; no white student was suspended. The new policy is no suspension of the little ones, and students of any grade level with drug violations will receive treatment rather than punishment.

We still need to beat back the kiddie felony law, eliminate military equipment to school districts received from the DOJ’s 1033 program, stop all suspensions that are non-violent and non-criminal, recruit more qualified social workers and counselors, and get cops out of our schools.