In January, the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC) convened a conference at the University of California, Merced called “Black to the Future: Black Nationalism for Black Millennials.”
The Afrikan Black Coalition could not have selected a more timely and important issue to explore. A half-century after the sixties Black Power risings, Black Millennials are inheriting the Black Nationalist project. They do so at a time when White Nationalism is resurgent and attacks on the Darker Nation are being directed from the White House.
As its ascending vision holders, Black Millennials have already began altering the political and cultural footprint of Black Nationalism. The transition between veteran Black Nationalists anchored in the Black Power era of the 1960's and 70's, and emerging Black Millennials has brought us to an inflection point. In that spirit, Alt-Black.com offers these comments on the opportunities for Black Nationalists to influence Black Millennials in a revolutionary direction.
From our perspective, veteran Black Nationalists and Black Millennials have significant differences on two issues that hopefully will be addressed with candor and sensitivity. These are issues that can help bridge certain aspects of the generational divide.
First, we should consider deepening the dialogue over how Black Millennials and veteran Black Power Movement activists assess the shortcomings of the sixties revolutionary struggles. Second, there's a need to explore ways to narrow the cultural gap between Black Millennials and sixties Black activists that finds expression most acutely in the realm of gender politics and gender identity.
Defining Black Nationalism:
From the outset, it’s important that the Afrikan Black Coalition provided the following definition of Black Nationalism on its website;
“Black Nationalism refers to the radical notion that Black people cannot truly be liberated until we control our own land, education, politics, economics, and every other institution and facet of society that impacts our lives.”
As Alternative Black Nationalists, we recognize that Black Nationalism as an ideology and political doctrine has been subject to various interpretations. Many of these interpretations diluted Black Nationalism’s revolutionary currency by ignoring the demand for a Black national homeland.
We’ve asserted that Black Nationalists need to establish a baseline that Black Nationalism’s goal is winning self-determination and creating a Black homeland on the landmass of America’s settler state. We are heartened that ABC’s definition of Black Nationalism cleaves to the first principle of Black Nationalism.
Millennial Source Codes for Black Nationalism
As each successive generation renews the doctrine of Black Nationalism, it’s difficult to predict what new source codes, theories, organizational forms, methods of work, tactical and strategic alliances will become embedded in its project. Emerging Black Millennial radicals--particularly those associated with and influenced by Black Lives Matter (BLM)-- have been developing a particularistic critique of the sixties Black power movement that has already impacted Black Nationalist thought and practices.
The Feminization of the Black Liberation Movement
One area Black Millennials have registered their concerns about is the denial of leadership roles to Black women in the sixties. Demeaning, sexually exploiting Black women activists, and giving short shrift to Black Feminists by male Black Power Era leaders were all grievous errors of that period. It was wrong, and the breach has not been healed five decades later. To be clear Black Millennials are doing more than talking; they've created a new organizational model. BLM and other millennial organizations brought transgender, queer women and LGBTQ people into leadership roles and ensured that its outreach targets those communities. Alt-Black.com supports these changes. We have referred to this phenomenon as the “Feminization of the Black Liberation Movement.”
We also stated previously in an Open Letter to Black Nationalists, our concern that some self-identifying Black Nationalists organizations—especially those rooted in the 1960’s Black Power movement--may find opening their ranks to LGTBQ and transgender communities problematic.
Similarly, Black feminists that parted ways with the civil rights establishment, cultural nationalists, and Black Nationalists over their sexist practices and gender assigned roles in the 60's are now an intellectual tour de force among radical Black millennials. For example, radicalized Black millennials have widely embraced the Black feminist construct of intersectionality.
Black Nationalists need to examine constructs like intersectionality and debate them with radicalized Black millennials, if they find the formulation problematic. Alt-Black.com’s reading of the intersectional model is that it illuminates a deeper understanding of the “matrix of oppressions” faced by someone who for example is Black, female, and gay. It unveils the multi-dimensional nature of inequities when seeking redress of social justice issues, and reminds us why we must fight simultaneously on all fronts to eliminate oppression and discrimination.
What the intersectional construct doesn’t necessarily explain is the source and root cause of these oppressions. Race, gender and class are interconnected, but they are not comparable forms of oppression. Not only do these forms of oppression require different analytical approaches, we have to ask if one takes priority over the others--at least from the standpoint of the ruling capitalist class that benefits from this multi-faceted exploitation. Its a subject that requires more discussion.
Decentralized Leadership Models
Central to the radical Black Millennial critique of the Black Power movements’ shortcomings is an emerging consensus that the movement suffered from a “top-down, male-centered, charismatic leadership model." We've already spoken to the gender side of this equation, but another component of the millennial critique concerns implementing decentralized organizational models. Breaking with the vertical, top-down hierarchical models of the sixties, Black Millennials have gone horizontal and bottom-up.
Looking back at the sixties, part of the Black Millennial narrative for decentralized leadership is that when charismatic leaders were killed or jailed, their organizations and political infrastructure collapsed. Their supporters and constituents were left without leadership and the organizational capacity to carry the struggle forward. Indeed, when BLM and the Black Millennial resistance surfaced earlier this decade, most of the mass Black radical organizations in the sixties were defunct. Operating outside the boundaries of "The Tabernacle" (The Civil Rights Establishment and Black Democrats) Black Millennials had few institutional resources to draw upon. It's true that following the death of Martin Luther King Jr., the SCLC collapsed. But the SCLC had run its course, and King was recalibrating his strategy to address the reality that civil rights legislation wasn't going to create racial or economic equality for Black people. Furthermore, The Darker Nation was moving in a more revolutionary and confrontational direction to take on the ruling powers. Had King lived, he would have had to restructure or replace the SCLC to maintain contact with the tenor of the times. Similarly, Malcolm X had just formed the OAAU, before his tragic assassination. Having moved the Nation of Islam from a small religious sect to a potent national force before breaking with them, Malcolm's new direction called for expanding his work with Civil Rights and Black left activists. We have no doubt that had Malcolm X lived, he would have worked with others to build out the OAAU as a serious organization.
The Black Panthers epitomized charismatic, top-down, male leadership. In the short space of a year, they grew from a small handful of community-based organizers to the most powerful national Black revolutionary organization in the country. They grew so fast that the party functioned by default as a decentralized organization. Young Black men and women who caught "Panther fever" literally went out and bought Black leather jackets and berets and started local chapters, without Huey Newton and Bobby Seale knowing. The Panther headquarters had to dispatch organizers to cities and towns across the country to explain to these "new chapters" what the Party program was. In many respects the Panthers could have benefitted from being a more centralization party. When FBI Director Hoover unleashed the full brunt of his Cointelpro counterinsurgency program against the Panthers, 749 of its members were arrested and 29 were killed in 1969 alone. Factionalism inside the Black Panther Party, and the FBI's ability to infiltrate the organization made them more vulnerable to attack. Organization matters, as does time, place and circumstance. This is a very painful lesson we learned from the BPP. We understand that Black Millennials and BLM have sought to avoid some of the pitfalls of Black Power groups in the sixties by instituting a decentralized organizational model. These horizontal models provide political flexibility, initiative, and the strategic depth to develop local leaders and strong local chapters. We share the view that when local people are the owners and innovators of their initiatives, their achievements and institutions are more likely to be sustainable in their communities.
Alt-Black.com has no problem with decentralized organizational models, especially if you're building a movement. Our point is that building a party and other types of entities require different types of structures— some that are more hierarchal and centralized. Neither can political parties and organizations be so naïve as to believe they'll always have the freedom to operate openly under changing circumstances. Here again, the Panthers' experience is instructive. The Black Panthers participated in electoral politics, running for offices from the presidential election in 1968, to city council races in Oakland. They also ran free breakfast programs and health clinics, conducted open revolutionary organizing, and directed a well resourced underground Black Liberation Army, all at the same time.
Whether any particular organization adheres to a centralized or decentralized leadership model, depends on the type of organization needed to fulfill their short-term or long-term tasks. In either case, both have the responsibility of training and developing the most effective leaders and revolutionary programs possible.
Finally, as it concerns centralized versus decentralized models, our take on the “Millennial Impulse” is that Black millennials regard themselves as being more inclusive, “team oriented” problem solvers. They also share an ultra-democratic impulse believing that everyone should have their say to reach consensus.
That’s fine, because we believe the more you involve people in decision making, the more the movement will develop and grow. As will be mentioned shortly, such an inclusive, democratic model exist in the Black Nationalist-led Cooperation Jackson movement.
Black Millennials and Social Democracy
Politically progressive and on the left flank of the Democratic Party, Black Millennials are gravitating toward a Social Democratic political agenda. Over the past two years the SD agenda has centered on Medicare for All, a $15 minimum wage, prison and social justice reforms, heavily subsidized or needs-based college tuition, cuts in defense spending, and breaking up "too big to fail" financial institutions.
Black Nationalists should view Black Millennials migrating to Democratic Socialism as a positive development. We have entered a period of populism and political fluidity in which young people are in political transition. Democratic Socialism fits the contemporary moment. It seeks to achieve socialist goals within the existing democratic system rather than overthrowing capitalism. Empowering working people to make critical decisions that guides the economy means voting Wall Street and corporate interests out of office. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez may be an elected Democrat, but her brand is Democratic Socialist. She's handling her business in Congress, but much of what AOC is doing is building a movement outside its walls to invade the Thunderdome in Washington. Membership of Democratic Socialist organizations like the DSA has quadrupled since Trump's election. So has the number of their elected public officials who are winning local and state elections. Democratic Socialism and left populism are becoming the coin of the realm of the predominantly white left in electoral politics. We may also be seeing the first rumblings of an organized effort to build a Black electoral left. On Black Lives Matters' 5th Anniversary in 2018, the group announced that after a period of critical assessment and reorganization, Co-founders Opal Tometi and Alicea Garza would resign from working on day-to-day-operations. Patrice Cullors assumed full-time leadership of BLM, while Garza spearheaded a new initiative called the Black Futures Lab (BFL).
The Black Futures Lab website stated the organization was tasked to study policy initiatives, identify and support Black candidates, and create a fund raising war chest to support their campaigns. Obviously these would not be your run-of-mill centrist Black Democrats. Alt-black.com believes the Black Futures Lab foreshadows a more formalized effort to develop a new Black left with social democratic tendencies. We strongly encourage Black Nationalists and radical Black Millennials to read Alicea Garza's introduction to the recent reprint of the book "Revolution in the Air," by Max Elbaum. This book is one of the best summaries of the revolutionary left and New Communist Movement in the sixties. (Access on Amazon and read Garza's introduction free) Garza takes sixties revolutionaries and radicals to task for being too sectarian to build a mass resistance movement to combat the rise of the right in the post-civil rights era. She sees a similar problem with today's predominantly white new left. Focusing on the 2016 elections, she blasted the new left's sectarianism for not supporting Hillary Clinton to prevent Donald Trump from taking the Oval Office. Just as political momentum is gathering to give birth to a new Black left, revolutionary Black Nationalists are regrouping and have a new center of gravity in Jackson, Mississippi.
Cooperation Jackson: The Bridge to the Future
Cooperation Jackson is the outgrowth of a vision to create a Black homeland in 1968 by the Black Nationalist organization, the Republic of New Afrika. Founded and based in Detroit, the RNA initially purchased land in Mississippi in 1971. They designated Jackson, Mississippi as the capital of its homeland in the Black Belt South consisting of five states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama). Cooperation Jackson (CJ) was launched in the 2010's as a transitional program to begin exercising self-determination and building institutional and political capacity to provide a foundation to anchor a future Black state. It was shaped by the RNA's successors, the Malcolm X Grassroot Movement (MGXM) and the New Afrikan Peoples Organization (NAPO).
Cooperation Jackson's revolutionary plan called for workers to begin building a "solidarity economy" of networked cooperatives and worker owned democratically self-managed enterprises. Jackson launched a Rainbow Grocery Coop, Green Team Lawn Coop, Two Eco-Village Plazas, and a Community Production Center Coop with micro-enterprises. They also began seeding plans for future coop enterprises in 3-D printing and recycling.
Cooperation Jackson's Black and Green Revolution is also setting the foundation to begin deploying solar panels on its cities' housing and businesses. CJ is also preparing Jackson for a green economy and green jobs. In addition, Jackson is already cultivating urban food gardens and linking them with its rural-urban food exchange program. Cooperation Jackson's agenda is too achieve "food sovereignty."
Cooperation Jackson's Black and Green revolution is not only leaning forward environmentally, it seeks to preserve the health, self-sufficiency and sustainability of its citizens. That includes its radical anti-gentrification strategy. Cooperation Jackson has led the resistance to reject corporate economic development plans that would displace Black communities, take over Jackson's downtown area, and build gated communities for white upper income workers. Cooperation Jackson is also countering gentrification by supporting a Community Development Corporation that is purchasing land and homes to prevent real estate speculators from buying up tracks of real estate in the black community. New models have just been completed for its first two digitally mastered homes.
These initiatives have been discussed and vetted with the input of Jackson citizens through participation in Jackson's Peoples Assemblies that started as early as 2014. Through these assemblies Jackson's citizens voiced their priorities, reviewed city plans and budgets, and gave critical input on developing its worker-owned coops. This has not been an easy road for Jackson's Black Nationalists leaders and supporters. They have scored significant victories and suffered defeats. The counterattack by Mississippi's white power structure to dismember Jackson and stop this urban insurgency has been breathtaking.
Jackson, the 80 percent Black capital city of Mississippi is the frontier of the Black Nationalist eco-socialist experiment. Their initiatives are bold, exciting, futuristic and upending the assumptions of how life has to be in the most ruthless of all capitalist societies. It's revolutionary theory and practice in real time is a model that should be replicated in majority Black enclaves and urban areas across the country. The lessons of Jackson's eco-socialist model will help guide our collective efforts in the future. Black Nationalism has a powerful case to make to Black Millennials who are looking to the future. On behalf of Alt-Black.com, we send our congratulations to the organizers and participants of the “Black to the Future: Black Nationalism for Black Millennials” conference for bringing us another step closer to our goal.