Black Lives Matter's First Five Years & the
Feminization of the Black Liberation Movement
Rarely in the history of Black progressive, radical, and revolutionary movements has one organization had a clear field to dominate the Darker Nation's political landscape. As we mark the 5th Anniversary of its founding, Black Lives Matter occupies that singularly unique position.
When impatient Black millennials rose up against a national spate of police murders, BLM surged into the leadership void vacated by Black Democrats and the Civil Rights establishment. BLM's rise was powered by women and LGTBQ communities of the Darker Nation. Ideologically and politically, BLM thrived on Black Feminist intellectual software. In the space of five years, BLM inverted the gender-power dynamic, bringing Black women and transgender leadership into the vanguard of its millennial surge.
'Black Lives Matter's ascent as the Darker Nation's most influential political organization has enormous implications for the future. The new leadership models, political issues, theories, and language they've presented to the Darker Nation is animated by the Black feminist project. How BLM's innovations have feminized the Black liberation movement deserves deeper exploration.
Black Feminism and the Cultural Mystique
Alt-Black.com believes BLM's multi-faceted feminist thrust is effecting a cultural shift within the Darker Nation. The impact is already being felt as Black women and LBTBQ activists emerge as leaders at grassroots level. But, something much more profound is being set in motion. The potential for this cultural shift to be enduring is rooted in the particularism of BLM as a Black millennial enterprise.
Significantly altering cultural templates forged over generations are defining moments because culture signifies who we are and what we believe as a people. It is our art, music, literature, politics, religion, institutions and rituals that mark the social DNA and behavior that forges our "Black identity."
Cultural renovation and renewal that maintains its authenticity and organic connection to its people is typically the tradecraft of our musicians, writers, artists and intellectuals. In normal times political forces impact cultural change at the margins. These are not normal times.
Black Feminisms' influence on BLM was a given. Founded by three women, two of which self-identify as 'queer,' BLM's Co-Founders Alicea Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrice Cullors were well schooled in the sciences of Black feminist theory. They have 'receipts' on the Black street as community organizers and leaders of fightback organizations on immigration and mass incarceration issues.
BLM's Black feminist impulse swims against the cultural tide. It challenges the fortress of patriarchy, and the legacy of sexism that belittled the role of Black women in the Black Power movements of the 1960's.On both accounts BLM is making waves.
BLM's rise as a new political actor can be attributed in-part to a confluence of events that occurred during the run-up to BLM's founding. Black millennials coming of age were weary of the Civil Rights establishment and looking for new generational leadership. The Darker Nation had also grown more tolerant and accepting of a range of LGTBQ related issues. BLM also surfaced after four decades of rigorous Black feminist intellectual activity had laid a theoretical foundation for programmatic and activist gender-based politics.
In our recent article, 'Black Nationalism, Women, Black Feminism & Gender Identity,' Alt-Black.com charted the progression of Black feminist thought from the 1960's to the founding of Black Lives Matter in 2013. This article explores the nexus between 'Black Feminism' and BLM's expansive cultural project. The term Black Feminism is used here in a broader sense, which includes the following components;
1.Black Feminism centered on Black women’s historical experience as opposed to the colorblind feminism articulated by predominantly white feminists in the 1960's.
2.Black Feminisms' foundational theoretical works as exemplified in Alice Walker's concept of "Womanism" or Kimberlé Crenshaw's construct of Intersectional Feminism which dissected the connection between racism, class oppression, sexism and gender identity.
3.Black Feminism's promotion of a humanistic visionary pragmatism
BLM's leadership profile constituted a radical rupture from single charismatic male-led organizations that dominated Black Power and Civil Rights organizations in the sixties. Arguably, fifty years later, Black Nationalists and Civil Rights groups (The Tabernacle) remain almost exclusively led by Black men.
BLM's critique of the sixties Black Power movement stated that "Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men—leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition."
Since their founding in 2013, BLM delivered on their promise to close the gender and LGTBQ leadership gap. As they've evolved from an internet hashtag to an expanding global network of forty chapters, cisgender women and LGTBQ leaders have flourished across BLM's political spaces as organizers, spokespersons and strategists. As Co-Founder Patrice Cullors noted earlier this year, "We have impacted the world; the Black Lives Matter Global Network, a crew of mostly young Black women and femmes challenging the culture to live up to our resilience."
Cullor's reference to 'challenging the culture' is not just a passing phrase. In her July 2018 interview with Newsweek Magazine speaking of BLM's achievements, Cullors said "On the cultural front we've changed our entire cultural understanding of blackness and anti-blackness." How should Cullors' remarks be interpreted?
Viewed through a wide-angle lens that Black culture defines who we are as people, BLM are the radical exponents of a new inclusivity. It holds that the Darker Nation can longer relegate anyone to the margins, regardless of their sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, economic or immigration status. In BLM's mosaic of the Darker Nation, everyone has something to contribute to the Black Liberation project, if we value their humanity.
Concretely, that means Black political, civic, and community leadership must shine the light on Black women and transgender persons who are also victims of state-sanctioned violence. They insist that their lives, their humanity, their stories are just as important as high-profile black heterosexual males. BLM is promoting a new community standard, what can be called a new type of gender identity and humanitarian accountability. It ask the Black community the question "who are we?"
Along with women and transgender people, BLM's seeks to build an expanded coalition of the marginalized and most vulnerable communities. The coalition includes the economically disadvantaged, the disabled, senior citizens, immigrants, the incarcerated, and those discriminated because of religious beliefs.
By applying BIack Feminist intersectional theory to its community organizing strategy, BLM is engaging these invisible communities from the "bottom-up." In doing so, BLM seeks to affirm these constituencies' humanity and give them agency within the Darker Nation.
Implicit in BLM's work with the most vulnerable communities is their emphasis on "loving engagement." These expressions of love in its communications and outreach style focus on restoring the victimized. Healing them and creating safe spaces to reintegrate them back into the community as whole individuals is the bricks and mortar of BLM's collectivist dynamic.
The collectivists strain is a central tenant of BLM's vision of community. Harold Cruse, in his book "Crisis of the Negro Intellectual" said that 'The Black intelligentsia had been ideologically corrupted by the "great American ideal" that posited the rights of the individual rise above everything else.' The importance of Black radicals and activists consistently calling on the Darker Nation to act in its collective interests cannot be stressed enough.
In a country where we're trained to put our individual interests, happiness and the attainment of wealth and status above everything else, winning hearts and minds to sacrifice for the collective interest is an uphill battle. The task becomes much more difficult when organizations like BLM aren't articulating aspirational collective visions.
In every radical or revolutionary period, movement leaders invariably attempt to remold our national identity. Harlem Renaissance radicals fashioned the "New Negro." In the 30's and 40's, Black communist conjured visions of the 'New Socialist Man.' Malcolm X's heated rhetoric ripped the veil off of the idealized white man and attempted to raise a generation of proud Black men fully invested in their historic Black and African heritage. Black Lives Matter is attempting to birth a culture of full gender identity, inclusivity, collective responsibility, healing and restoring the least of its people.
BLM Organizational Change and the New Five Year Plan
While BLM is building resistance to the destructive effects of capitalism against Black communities, it has also called attention to the psychological impact of living in what Cullors called "everyday occupation by the police." In Cullors interview with Newsweek, she predicted that in the next five years, "We'll have launched a multinational campaign one of which will be to adequately support black folks with mental illness so that they don't end up being vulnerable and killed by law enforcement."
Many of the issues BLM' takes on are not new, most notably police brutality. Community based organizations in urban areas have been working on issues like mass criminalization, incarceration, sentencing disparities, and drug wars for decades. What BLM and its coalition partners bring to the table is millennial energy, policy alternatives and a new sense of inclusiveness, cooperation and restorative feminist inspired approaches. BLM's working agenda appears to be moving towards institutionalizing its efforts.
"In five years, said Cullors, "I think Black Lives Matter will be a formidable institution inside the U.S., but also outside the U.S. we are really supporting the most vulnerable communities that our country has seen, and we'll continue to be on the frontlines for those communities."
Cullors prediction that BLM will become a formidable national institution envisions Black Lives Matter transitioning to a more formalized organizational structure. That institutional structure could assume a variety of forms, but seems to contemplate building a social infrastructure to insure Black survival and stabilization of Black communities.
Cullors remarks should be evaluated in light of BLM's recent organizational changes. In February 2018. BLM announced that Co-Founders Alicea Garza and Opal Tometi "will discontinue work on the day-to-day operations and as spokespersons for the organization to focus on other impactful, like-minded projects and initiatives."
In the same press release Cullors said “I will remain with Black Lives Matter Global Network as a spokesperson, senior advisor and key strategist.I will also continue to work with BLM staff and network members as the Black Lives Matter movement enters its fifth year, and formulates and implements its 2018-2023 strategic plan.”
The press release also revealed that Garza’s latest initiative, the "Black Futures Lab," aims to “develop strategies that help Black people imagine the political, social and economic alternatives needed at the local, state, and federal level, while Building the political power needed to implement those alternatives.” The Black Futures Lab initiative dives head first into electoral politics. Candidate recruitment, supporting elected officials and creating a campaign war chest to fund candidates are at the center of the Lab's mission.
As advertised, the Black Futures Lab is not a part of Black Lives Matter. Garza explained the switch to the political track by saying that the Lab will dismantle the myth that there exists one right strategy for achieving our goals and that policy change is one of many tactics necessary to move us towards the world we envision."
A key part of Black Lives Matter's brand as "New Jack" political rebels was eschewing electoral politics, particularly their refusal to endorse Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential runs. They also didn't kowtow to the Black church. Nevertheless, BLM's organizational changes reflect a new assessment of how to move forward after their first five years. They may also be feeling pressure to clarify where they want to take the Darker Nation.
Within the ranks of its member chapters and coalition partners, BLM's has encountered criticism and pushback. In breaking away from BLM, the Cincinnati chapter charged BLM leaders with intervening in local chapter struggles in Cleveland and other cities, derailing those struggles, and cutting backroom deals with local power brokers to thwart the communities will.
The renamed group, Mass Action for Black Liberation, also blasted BLM leadership for raking in funds from public speaking engagements, grants, and book deals while leaving local chapters and families in need. Reports surfaced in 2015 and 2016 that the Democratic Alliance, George Soros, the Ford Foundation and Borealis made contributions to BLM and local organizing efforts in Ferguson and St. Louis.
These contributions from Democrat leaning left groups don't taint BLM as sell outs. They are, however, troubling signs if the leadership is not consulting with its base. History is littered with the corpses of Black political groups that could not rely on their own communities for financial support or accepted funds with strings attached. It's a perilous path that usually ends badly.
Whichever direction BLM decides to travel in the future, managing the complexities of their decentralized leadership model and putting the organization on a path of financial self-sufficiency are make-or-break challenges. BLM will also have to be a more transparent organization to maintain its integrity.
Some Concluding Thoughts
BLM is positioned to become a long-term radical political force. They have raised chapter members across the country and have an expanding base in Canada and the U.K. Among Black millennials it has a natural social base. BLM speaks their language and shares a common generational experience. Its potential to organize a national Black student movement is an opportunity in search of a vision. The demise of the Black Liberation Collective national student organization at the height of BLM's street activism in 2015-16 was a real tragedy.
BLM's influence within the Black LGBTQ community is without political rival. But the backbone of BLM remains Black women awakening to left political activism.
Across the country, BLM's influence among Black Studies Departments and Black academia is substantial and growing. With the support of Black feminists organizations, including many scholars in academia, BLM has a virtual national Black think tank and policy shop at its disposal. What's truly unprecedented is that BLM has no substantial political opposition or competitors on the Black left.
To self-identifying Black Nationalists who may be skeptical about Black Lives Matter's anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist credentials, we counsel patience. BLM is still a young project, led by relatively young people.
BLM may be straddling that thin and sometimes blurry line between radicalism and reformism. We don't know. If they are, they haven't crossed it. Moreover, given their decentralized model with autonomous chapter members, some chapters are undoubtedly more radicalized and independent than others. Witness the Cincinnati experience.
Black Nationalists who have these concerns, would do better to struggle with BLM and their base to win them over as strong allies in the revolutionary nationalist camp. This is not the time to sit by with arms folded, waiting for the other shoe to drop and say 'I told you so.'
Within the Black Nationalist movement, the welter of BLM's gender identity politics, transgender leadership platform and Black feminist ideological moorings may be difficult for some to digest. That's okay. If BLM's positions regarding women's issues, and LGBTQ issues are counter-revolutionary or politically harmful to the struggle for self-determination, then state your argument. BLM has not been shy about voicing its criticisms of the Black Liberation movement on these matters, neither should any of us.
Irrespective of which direction BLM travels, their first five years has facilitated a decisive turn in changing the cultural dynamic regarding the role of women and LGBTQ activists in the Black Liberation Movement. This evolving cultural project regarding sex, gender and gender identification can also be seen in the emerging Black alternative culture movement. The growing AfroPunk scene and Afrofuturists literature and film are highly representative of women, LGTBQ personalities, depictions, characters, artists and intellectuals.
The "feminization" of Black culture and Black political movements is an evolving reality. This is a change, and change can be uncomfortable." Regarding culture 'The Heresy' has argued that "The Cathedral (America) has entered a period of sustained and intensifying, race-based cultural warfare. We are referring to reactionary attacks against the Darker Nation by the Alt-Right and the "Sun King" Trump in the cultural sphere. This is generating new forms of cultural resistance.
At the same time, the Darker Nation is beginning to redefine its relationship to America, the political system, and the dominant cultural narrative. These efforts strive to redefine and affirm a new sense of Blackness. The Black Alternative Cultural Movement and the feminization of the Black Liberation Movement are manifestations of this phenomenon.
The Heresy" at Alt-Black.com applauds and upholds the Black Feminist movement and the profound contributions they have made to advance the cause of the Black Liberation Movement.
BLM has survived scurrilous attacks by the corporate media, and an orchestrated campaign to paint them as a Black terrorist organization by FOX News. Black Lives Matter activists have been the targets of FBI surveillance and intimidation in association with the Bureau's domestic counter-terrorism program to round up "Black Identity Extremist." Alt Black.com and Black Nationalists condemn these attacks on BLM and all Black organizations.
Alt-Black.com congratulates BLM's founders, chapter members and supporters for launching a steadfast resistance movement against state sanctioned violence and other oppressions visited on the Darker Nation. We also wish to convey our support for all participating groups of the 'Movement for Black Lives.'
The Central Directory,