Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Movement for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice

Elizabeth Catlett, Black Unity (1968)
At the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society, Clarence Lang explains why

“[f]raming symbols and discourses—rendered in the form of images, platforms and demands—are the most critical aspect of any movement-building effort. At their most effective, they bring political coherence and focus to an activist community, convey meaning and goals to supporters and potential participants, mobilize constituents to action, and equip adherents organizationally to contest for legitimacy (and power). Along these lines, framing discourses can communicate insurgent ideas about what changes are necessary, rather than simply what reforms are deemed possible.”

There are numerous historical exemplifications, some well-known, others less so, of such “framing” by social movements and political groups in the diverse struggles for black freedom and self-determination in this country. The end of legal institution of chattel slavery took place, first, with the Emancipation Proclamation, followed by the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery and involuntary servitude (although the exception that established ‘punishment for crime’ has led to notoriously nefarious consequences for the criminal justice system: ‘From the very beginning, the slave narrative, in both fact and fiction, has shaped America’s approach to crime control and punishment’*). Lang provides us with some historical exemplars by of a vivid and inspiriting backdrop to the attempt by The Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) to continue this tradition of “transformative agenda setting:”

“The work of movement framing has been an enduring feature of struggles for black freedom, though each wave of struggle has imagined black freedom in historically specific ways. This history includes the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (1896), which promoted seven ‘Objectives’ for the education, economic welfare and social rights of women and youth during the early years of Jim Crow, and popularized the motto ‘Lifting as We Climb.’ It also encompasses the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s 1920 ‘Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World,’ which globalized a Black Nationalist vision of self-determination in the wreckage of the First World War. Similarly, the ‘Ten-Point Program’ of Oakland’s Black Panther Party for Self-Defense (1966) [I added this link] reflected an anti-colonial consciousness prevalent among urban youth of color. As another example, the ‘Combahee River Collective Statement’ (1977) spoke to a growing intersectional approach to both analyzing and combating oppression on the bases of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Moreover, in its 1998 ‘Freedom Agenda,’ the Black Radical Congress reacted to the retreat from racial equality and economic justice that had occurred during the successive presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton, and offered a politically left alternative to the reactionary black conservatism of the 1995 Million Man March.”

The Movement for Black Lives is a coalition of over 50 groups and organizations that “engaged in a year long process of convening local and national groups to create a United Front,” united so as to articulate its “common aspirations” and formulate a “Platform” statement with “demands,” including the outline of some 30-plus policies. The “Policy Demands” revolve around the following topics: “the war on black people,” “reparations,” “investments and divestments,” “economic justice,” “democratic community control,” and “independent Black political power and Black self-determination.” In Lang’s words,

“On a bigger canvas, these ‘Policy Demands’ speak to the effects of a current neoliberal landscape characterized by, among other things, a denigration of social welfare expenditures and ideas of the public good; an emphasis on fiscal austerity and the punitive functions of the state; the deregulation of capital; widening gaps of wealth and privilege; the reduction of all social relations to private market exchanges; and the resulting atomization of the individual.”

Please read Lang’s post, and click on the links above for the specific policy demands. This is an impressive, timely and radical document that deserves wide circulation, discussion, and endorsement. 

* Donald F. Tibbs, From Black Power to Prison Power: The Making of Jones v. North Carolina Prisoners’ Union (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012): 181.


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