Black Lives Matter and the Democrats
How disruption can lead to collaboration
A year after the police murder of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, an incipient mass movement struggles to congeal and define itself. The emergent movement is rooted in resistance to systemic state violence and repression in Black America, yet its trajectory wobbles under the push and pull of the contending forces that have been set in motion, and is further distorted by relentless pressures from a power structure that pursues simultaneous strategies of both cooptation and annihilation.
Physical annihilation is a constant threat to the “street” component of the movement, such as the young people of Ferguson whose defiance of the armed occupation inspired a national mobilization, and whose urban guerilla language resonates in all the inner cities of the nation. They are the cohort whose social existence has been shaped and defined by a mass Black incarceration regime inaugurated two generations ago as the national response to the Black movements of the Sixties. The clearly visible fact that many of the cops that occupied Ferguson during this week’s anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder were physically afraid—and that the “street” brothers and sisters were demonstrably not—is all the proof we need that Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.
Physical annihilation, or a lifetime of social death through imprisonment, is also only a presidential executive order away for the “above ground” activists of the movement, whose comings, goings and communications are carefully tracked by the First Black President’s secret police, as reported by Intercept. The various components of what is collectively called the Black Lives Matter movement are on the domestic enemies list of Homeland Security, overseen by Jeh Johnson, a Black man, and the FBI, under the overall direction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Black woman.
Lynch, like her predecessor, Eric Holder, believes her race entitles her to play both Lord High Prosecutor and Black role model. Thus, as a Black “elder” and “credit to her race,” Lynch purports to have the moral authority to define what the movement should be doing to commemorate Michael Brown’s murder. “The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” she said—as if people should reconcile themselves to a system that kills a Black person roughly every day, has resulted in one out of every eight prison inmates in the world being an African American; a system that cannot possibly be healed. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night,” Lynch warns, switching to her Lord High Prosecutor persona, “are contrary to both that message, along with everything [we] have worked to achieve over the past year.”
What the Obama administration has spent the year trying to do, is co-opt the same activists they are building dossiers on, in preparation for possible future detention. There are clear limits, however, to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that, like all Democratic and Republican governments in the United States for the past 45 years, is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime—albeit with some tinkering at the margins.
The greatest asset of the movement cooptation project is the Democratic Party, itself, an institution that thoroughly dominates Black politics at every level of community life. Not only are Black elected officials overwhelmingly Democrats, but virtually all of the established Black civic organizations—the NAACP, the National Urban League, most politically active Black churches, fraternities and sororities—act as annexes of the Democratic Party. Two generations after the disbanding of the Black grassroots movement and the independent politics that grew out of that movement, the Democratic Party permeates political discourse in Black America. And the Democratic Party is where progressive movements go to die.
If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed. Yet, the #BlackLivesMatter organization, a structured group with a highly visible leadership and chapters in 26 cities, is now circling the event-horizon of the Democratic Black Hole. To the extent that it, and other movement organizations, have gotten money from labor unions, they are accepting Democratic Party cash, since organized labor in the U.S. is also an extension of—and a cash cow to—the Democrats. Indeed, labor union money in a presidential election year is far more dangerous to the independence of the movement than grants from outfits like the Ford Foundation. Labor wants measureable results for its dollars, and will make its money talk at the ballot box.
#BlackLivesMatter activists may convince themselves that they are confronting the ruling class electoral duopoly by disrupting presidential candidates’ speeches, but the tactic leads straight to cooptation. What is the purpose? If #BLM’s goal is to push the candidates to adopt better positions on criminal justice reform, what happens afterwards? The logic of the tactic leads to either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s). Otherwise, why should #BLM—or the candidates—go through the exercise?
Former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor Martin OMalley, whose draconian street-sweeps resulted in the arrest of 750,000 people in one year—more than the total population of the city—submitted a full-blown criminal justice system proposal after being confronted by #BLM. Will it be graded? Is #BLM in the business of rating candidates? If so, then the group is inevitably acting as a Democratic Party lobby/constituency, and is wedded to certain electoral outcomes. At that point, it ceases being an independent movement, or an example of independent Black politics. It’s just another brand of Democrat.
If the goal is to pressure candidates to put forward “better” positions on criminal justice or other issues, then what #BLM is actually doing is nudging Democrats towards incremental reform. In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. (None of this works with the Republican White Man’s Party.)
The #BLM tactic avoids formulation and aggressive agitation of core movement demands. But, a movement is defined by its demands—which is one reason that the current mobilization is best described as an “incipient” movement; a mobilization with great promise.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced Democratic president and sometimes ally Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War, in 1967, and rejected even the appearance of collaboration with the ruling class duopoly. King understood that his job was to move masses of people towards their own empowerment, not to act as an interest group or lobby in the corridors of the system. (Malcolm X, and later, the Black Panther Party, would have pilloried King if he had.) Half-a-century later, the Democratic Party is full of Black officials, but, in light of their performance in office, this is more evidence of defeat than victory. Two months before Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, 80 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus—four out of five full-voting members—supported continued Pentagon transfers of military weapons and gear to local police departments, including the Black congressman representing Ferguson, William “Lacy” Clay.
The Democratic Party, like its Republican duopoly cousin, is a criminal enterprise, polluting the politics of Black America. Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes. They are the enemies, within, the people who have facilitated the mass Black incarceration regime for two generations. “Lacy” Clay and his CBC colleagues have killed thousands of Michael Browns.
People’s core demands ring out in every demonstration. When Black protesters shout, “Killer cops out of our neighborhood,” they aren’t referring to a couple of especially bad apples; they’re talking about the whole damn occupation army. That’s why the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which holds its national conference in Philadelphia, August 22 and 23, believes “Black Community Control of the Police” is a righteous, self-determinationist demand. Other groups may feel strongly about other demands, and that’s fine. Movements are lively places. But, a movement cannot congeal without core demands.
—Black Agenda Report, August 12, 2015