Freedom Dreams Deferred: The State of the Black Liberation Movement
Published by BlackCommentator.com on December 16, 2021
I have found this year to be one of extreme distress for the Black Liberation Movement. There were many warning bells going off that apparently were only heard by the freedom dreamers. What we see is an unrecognizable movement around us. How did we get here? Who have we become? How do we get on track?
Robin Kelley talks about the Black radical imagination in his seminal contribution to our struggle, Freedom Dreams. Kelley examines the “emancipatory vision” of generations who push our movements in new and radical directions. The vision has been not just been put at bay as Kelley suggests. I believe the accumulation of ancestral knowledge and contemporary lessons that begs for our rigorous study and appreciation has been trampled on by those seeking gratuitous fame on the backs of the Black working class.
Our movements have seen an awakening on many levels that must be summed up, discussed and put into new transformative strategies for the next period. I believe the answers to the above questions can be found in the renewed commitment to building a strong and viable Black Left.
Black folks have gone through some traumatizing shit since the Ferguson Uprising in 2014. On top of the Dr. Joy DeGruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and Sean Ginwright’s Persistent Traumatic Stress Syndrome, we had to endure the intensification of white supremacy under the Trump regime. For those who thought that the national media’s attention on the horrific murder of Mike Brown would make it the last Black body to perish at the hands of white cops or vigilantes, they were sadly mistaken. In 2020, the world witnessed the slow and agonizing murder of George Floyd on prime-time television. The incident propelled millions into street protests around the world. The icing on the cake of oppression was a deadly pandemic which aggressively sought out the most vulnerable populations. COVID-19 devastated Black communities, exploiting the conditions of poverty and health disparities worsened under racialized capitalism.
People of African descent across generations and diverse backgrounds watched the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, knowing full well that had Black protesters stormed the building, it would’ve been a blood bath. Any protesters who survived would be facing more than just felony obstruction laws.
Not surprisingly, urban areas across the country experienced record-breaking homicides rates. No surprise either that our self-medication in response to these conditions resulted in a siege of drug-related deaths. The cheap and powerful fentanyl is ravaging our communities and taking no prisoners.
This is our reality in America. And where is the Black Liberation Movement during this overwhelming and relentless barrage of assaults against the masses of our people? Gasping for political life and relevancy.
I have never seen so much venom as I have in the last year by those touting Black Lives Matter. Beat downs, call outs, cancel culture, legal actions, character assassinations and cyberbullying have been incessant. It’s the proverbial circular firing squad.
We all have witnessed or been victims of some form of public shaming or complete reputation annihilation. I know organizers suffering from insomnia, anxiety attacks, depression and a host of other issues affecting their overall health. Their ability to fully participate in their self-transformation and movement-building have been severely impaired.
With all this time, energy and resources being weaponized against one another, our enemies are gloating but our people are suffering. The call for restorative justice amongst ourselves has been muted. The Black lives in our own organizations don’t seem to matter.
The Black Liberation Movement has been infected by the most negative attributes of the nonprofit industrial complex, like individualism, opportunism and careerism. We’ve made building our personal brands more a priority than building strong organizations.
We’ve been hit by the flood of money washing over our movement and creating a swamp of political stagnation. It’s important to spend some time talking about money because it has played such a divisive role in our organizations and in our movement.
One Struggle KC released a statement back in the summer to explain how the group was grappling with how a section of the Black-led collective took organizational funds to start something new without group consensus. It is unclear whether One Struggle can survive a hit like this so early in their development but they are not alone as other movement groups attempt to address crippling internal issues around resources and personalities.
On a bigger stage, Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation garnered national attention as they took in $90 million dollars over the last year. Patrisse Cullors, the only founder of Black Lives Matter to be connected with BLMGNF, was publicly raked over the coals for her use of BLM funds to allegedly enrich her personal lifestyle. Co-founders Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, who have distanced themselves from the Foundation, are recipients of harsh criticisms because they continue to accept speaking engagements in the name of Black Lives Matter.
BLM Chapters lined up to condemn the BLMGNF and its BLM founders for their cloak of secrecy and for their breach of principles. The #BLM10Plus outlined their concerns in a statement to the movement. Families of victims murdered by police also lined up to accuse them of profiteering off the deaths of their loved ones. Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice and Lisa Simpson, the mother of Richard Risher, issued a joint statement that broadened the net of condemnation past the foundation and its founders to include Black attorneys Ben Crump, Lee Merritt as well as Tamika Mallory and Shaun King.
Meanwhile, in Ferguson, activists who helped propel a hashtag into a movement are still bitter that people like DeRay Mckesson parachuted into the media vortex, then launched his political career. Others became the darlings of the cable news network. The people who were doing the work in the St. Louis region before the murder of Mike Brown are still doing the work, probably a bit more jaded. They’re also wondering where their share of the wealth is that they helped to create.
Shortly after the beat down by the Left and the Right, Cullors resigned as the Foundation’s Executive Director. There was an attempt – although short-lived – to add credible leaders in our movement in an effort to set up the infrastructure necessary for effective operations and accountability. Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele, two sistahs for whom I have the utmost respect, issued a statement that they were backing off as senior executives because they were refused the access and opportunity needed to seriously perform their duties.
Their joint statement ends by saying “we are a strong and resilient movement, and that the ecosystem of organizations fighting for Black liberation is as strong as ever.” If all of these public statements swirling around over money and fingers wagging over political pimping are any indication of our movement’s strength and resiliency, we are in deep trouble. We don’t need to stay in place and wallow, we need to organize ourselves out of this swamp we’re currently in.
Our movement has experienced waves of new and younger activists often socialized by the toxins of internalized oppression and corrupted by neo-liberal tendencies. We have been unable to school them on movement behavior and expectations so that they are of service to the revolution.
The fact is that organizations and movements experience growing pains. The speed at which Black Lives Matter grew had all to do with the material conditions of our people and the incredible power of social media. Many contributed to that velocity, creating a new consciousness in this country about police violence and generating resources for which there was no agreed upon infrastructure for collection or distribution. We had no trusted entity to take on that prominent level of stewardship. This a matter of governance, not divvying up money between those with the most access.
Opportunists profiting off the movement is not new. These latest accusations of movement misappropriation goes far beyond the BLMGNF. There is a legion of blood-sucking characters who are cashing in on anything Black-led and Black-dead. We must hold them accountable as effectively and efficiently as we can while not losing sight of why we are fighting and who the beneficiaries of our righteous struggles are.
For the freedom dreamers, it’s time to dive deep into the Black radical imagination. The answers are there. We must respect the values and organizing principles that bind us while we do this important transformative work. It’s time to redirect our fragmented energy into nurturing healthy relationships and bolstering networks united around a shared revolutionary vision for a more just and democratic society. A strategically focused and unapologetic Black Left will get us there.