Strategic Leadership Challenges Confronting Black Lives Matters Movement

The Black Lives Matter Movement has an historic opportunity for unique 21st Century strategic community and political leadership. How they apply and exercise such leadership could potentially make it one of THE most important engines for meaningful social, economic and political justice for decades to come.
08/01/2016 08:41 pm ET Updated Aug 02, 2017
WWII Soldiers Raising The American Flag At Sunset.
WWII Soldiers Raising The American Flag At Sunset.

The Black Lives Matter Movement has an historic opportunity for unique 21st Century strategic community and political leadership. How they apply and exercise such leadership could potentially make it one of THE most important engines for meaningful social, economic and political justice for decades to come.

They recently released a comprehensive Platform Statement of their Movement. 60 orgs under BLMM came together to list 6 demands summarized in their statement. The Introduction of their Platform Statement says:

Black humanity and dignity requires Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the U.S. towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait.

In response to the sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities in the U.S. and globally, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country have come together with renewed energy and purpose to articulate a common vision and agenda. We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.

We believe in elevating the experiences and leadership of the most marginalized Black people, including but not limited to those who are women, queer, trans, femmes, gender nonconforming, Muslim, formerly and currently incarcerated, cash poor and working class, differently-abled, undocumented, and immigrant. We are intentional about amplifying the particular experience of state and gendered violence that Black queer, trans, gender nonconforming, women and intersex people face. 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.

While this platform is focused on domestic policies, we know that patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism, and white supremacy know no borders. We stand in solidarity with our international family against the ravages of global capitalism and anti-Black racism, human-made climate change, war, and exploitation. We also stand with descendants of African people all over the world in an ongoing call and struggle for reparations for the historic and continuing harms of colonialism and slavery. We also recognize and honor the rights and struggle of our Indigenous family for land and self-determination.

We have created this platform to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people. We also seek to intervene in the current political climate and assert a clear vision, particularly for those who claim to be our allies, of the world we want them to help us create. We reject false solutions and believe we can achieve a complete transformation of the current systems, which place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.

Together, we demand an end to the wars against Black people. We demand that the government repair the harms that have been done to Black communities in the form of reparations and targeted long-term investments. We also demand a defunding of the systems and institutions that criminalize and cage us. This document articulates our vision of a fundamentally different world. However, we recognize the need to include policies that address the immediate suffering of Black people. These policies, while less transformational, are necessary to address the current material conditions of our people and will better equip us to win the world we demand and deserve.

We recognize that not all of our collective needs and visions can be translated into policy, but we understand that policy change is one of many tactics necessary to move us towards the world we envision. We have come together now because we believe it is time to forge a new covenant. We are dreamers and doers and this platform is meant to articulate some of our vision. The links throughout the document provide the stepping-stones and roadmaps of how to get there. The policy briefs also elevate the brave and transformative work our people are already engaged in, and build on some of the best thinking in our history of struggle. This agenda continues the legacy of our ancestors who pushed for reparations, Black self-determination and community control; and also propels new iterations of movements such as efforts for reproductive justice, holistic healing and reconciliation, and ending violence against Black cis, queer, and trans people.

Elders of the 20th century civil rights, peace and and labor union movements should commend and support our grandchildren leaders and participants in today's Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the successive use of lethal force by the police against Black members of their communities, they have simply said to the police and to the greater non-Black communities "Enough is enough! We will not sit or stand by quietly and go silently into the night while police continue to kill us!"

The nationwide community response to the Black Lives Matter Movement is based on a broader-based and more inclusive and collective type leadership qualitatively different from the one or few persons' charismatic leadership paradigm that characterized our earlier "Civil Rights Movement."

This is not say our leadership was "less effective," in the 1960s in achieving, for example, the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We are simply saying that it is important for today's elders to recognize that the Black Lives Matters Movement maybe be able to achieve in the exercise of its new form of leadership an agenda that appears to be beyond what we were able to achieve.

It is instructive to note that Instead of the most exclusively male religious and civil rights leadership that characterized our Civil Rights Movement Today's Black Lives Matters Movement consist of young Black LGBTQ and straight persons meeting and initiating protests based on a collective, rather than individual exercises of leadership.

Extreme care and caution, therefore, should be the watchwords of earlier civil rights leaders who seek to join, advise, and speak directly or indirectly for or about the current Black Lives Matters Movement. Otherwise, notwithstanding the best of intentions, such words or actions appear "paternalistic," "dated," "opportunistic," or worst, shamelessly "self-serving."

Because of powerful recently released Platform of the BLMM and mindful of the cautionary observation in the preceding paragraph, we want to comment about one of the major potential pitfalls we see and hear regarding certain actions and protests of the Black Lives Matters Movement.

We are referring to the strategy of the BLMM and some of its leaders or spokespersons to "internationalize" or the publicly tie and associate the Movement with the struggle of the Palestinians against continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. We believe this issue, no matter how independently important it is issue is, on the merits, raises the bar for building a coalition of support beyond the capacity of the movement to sustain an otherwise great potential for widespread domestic support for its recently announced Platform Agenda.

Yes, we are aware that it was a hall mark of our early civil rights movement to express support for the anti-colonist movements for Independence Movements extant in various countries on the Continent of Africa in the last century. We repeatedly commented and publicly protested the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela by the South African government and condemned its racist Apartheid. Individual civil rights leaders would often join the picket lines around the South African Mission to the UN or the Embassy in Washington, DC.

We support the BLMM and its Platform Agenda because we believe they are and can be THE most current effective movement for mobilizing the largest and widest cross-section of people of goodwill in our nation to restrain and stop the police from shooting Black men as their first option in seeking to effect an arrest.

Consequently, we believe it is appropriate to ask how, politically and strategically is building such a coalition of support of BLLM's demand for police accountability of shooting black men in our respective communities enhanced or achieved by asking such potential supporters to also condemn Israel's continued occupation of Palestinian lands?

Yes, I am mindful of Dr. King's often quoted statements that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" and our "inescapable network of mutuality". These cogent and relevant observations comprised much of his strategic and moral vision underlying our efforts to end racial segregation in the United States in the 20th Century.

"The fierce urgency of now", however, is to get our nation to immediately demand that the police to stop killing Black men NOW, TODAY! Consequently, it is necessary for as many persons of goodwill to join us in this demand; again, TODAY not tomorrow.

We also agree that Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands must end ASAP. However, our analysis of the dispute convinces us that this cannot, and will not happen, unless it occurs on a negotiated basis between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. While we would like it to occur today or tomorrow, it will not. Why? Because, among other things, with due respect to the protests on various college campuses, today in United States, there is not currently a majority coalition of support for immediately ending such occupation.

Efforts to immediately end police brutality against Blacks in communities across our nation should not be dependent upon or tied to the issue of ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. We say this because we believe it is essential that a coalition be developed and mobilized domestically across our nation to stop police from shooting Black people, NOW! Today!

We respectfully suggest that it is or would be, politically a strategic mistake for the Black Lives Matter Movement to make such an effort dependent upon how many of those same potential supporters are prepared to see Israel immediately end its occupation of Palestinian lands.

Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands is unlikely to occur except on a negotiated basis with Palestinian leaders. This should be encouraged and done ASAP.

In the "best of all possible worlds" it should occur today or tomorrow, however, it will not. Why? Because among other political realities, a broad based coalition of support for ending such occupation immediately, currently does not exist within the United States sufficient to force either a Republican or Democratic Presidential Administration to force Israel to do so.

Accordingly, while the Black Lives Matters Movement may want to encourage the end of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, we respectfully suggest that they should not make this a central or major issue in their current struggle for Police accountability for the repeated and successive shootings Blacks across America.

A useful case study of the growth of the political and legal successes of the LGBTQ, Environmental, and other Movements has been written by David Coe in his recent book "ENGINES OF LIBERTY-The Power of Citizen Activists To Make Constitutional Law". We highly recommend his book.

Although, not easy and often painstakingly difficult there is often an unavoidable challenge to the political leadership of an important movement to determine what are its most strategic priorities at any given point in the development of their movement and the companion actions required and "pitfalls" to avoid.

Such a moment now.