The Twin Cities African People’s Caucus is a group of black organizers within the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) which strives to advance the role of black revolutionary politics within the union and to develop competent, skilled organizers of African descent. Most of us came together around the justice for Jamar Clark movement. We have been heavily involved in the anti-police brutality movement ever since.
Our group came together to provide legal services to incarcerated people. It quickly became clear that what we wanted—prison abolition—couldn’t be achieved with lawsuits and courtrooms. We want to combine direct legal services and a mass movement to create alternative systems to hold people accountable, free our communities, and fight for what will make them stronger and more stable.
BLMHTX is an organization of academics, activists, artists, religious leaders, and community organizers that aims to educate, empower, and build coalition in order to address issues that impact black lives in the city of Houston. Our official formation was inspired in the wake of recent violence and brutality against black lives that continues to sweep the nation in general and by local acts of brutality against black lives in the city of Houston and state of Texas, more specifically.
We are the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. We are the Mass Association of the New Afrikan People’s Organization[…] Our membership over the years has been involved with every major struggle for human rights from the Jena 6 to Oscar Grant to the Black Lives Matter Movement that has impacted our nation over the past 25 years. While these are important points of struggle for our people, for us the inspiration to fight comes from the centuries long struggle of our people for self-determination and national liberation.
We met after a local demonstration that was called a demo at a combination of meetings, rallies, and a newly-formed study group.[..]We are a mixed race group of angry people, who started working together.[..]Being anti-reform has been something that’s come up a lot. Especially looking at other groups in town and then at the system and feeling like there’s no way to reform this; it’s all gotta go.
Out of the Flames of Ferguson (OOTFF) is a group of community members and organizers from around Houston working to combat police violence against Black and Brown people, particularly women, low-income, and trans and queer people of color through educational and community building events such as Know Your Rights workshops, movie nights, panels and discussion, [and] direct action including protests, rallies, marches, and speak-outs. We believe that the police are an inherently racist, patriarchal, homophobic and transphobic institution; our hope for change is thus not in reform but, rather, in the capacity of our communities to envision, model, and create a more just society. Our framework for this kind of radical imagining and work is what we call the “3 D’s:” Disempower, Disarm, and Disband the police.
Our group is called the Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee (TMOC). We first formed, as the name suggests, as an ad-hoc grouping in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman. All of our members had been politically active prior to our formation. Members have been directly involved in organizing in Oakland around Oscar Grant’s murder and various other organizations and projects from Massachusetts to Florida, including Miami Autonomy and Solidarity, Black Rose/Rosa Negra, Raider Nation Collective, CopWatch, and Bring the Ruckus, among others.
What role do you think rioting plays in the movement?
We’ve seen that riots can be too impulsive and short-lived to depend on from a long-term organizing prospective. Short bursts of anger can help to score important victories against the state, but they can also hamper efforts to organize unified community self-defense and can even lead to petty infighting in our movements.
When the oppressed have no voice and see a lack of accountability, rage builds. One cannot expect that an individual can continue to see injustice without emotionally reacting. There are several ways that we can address those emotions and some have chosen to express their rage with rioting.
The people’s uprisings (not riots) in Ferguson and Baltimore were understandable responses of our people to ongoing terrorism and violence by police forces which we call “Operation Ghetto Storm.” While we understand why the people fight back in spontaneous rebellions, this is not what will liberate our people.[..] It is the people organized, rather than rioting, that will liberate us.
I think that the several weeks of rioting really drew a lot of people out in a way that hadn’t been seen in Austin in a long time. And in a way where people were coming together consistently afterwards; all sorts of different groups of people were getting together consistently afterwards to ask that question: what to do? That was largely inspired by Ferguson where people were coming out every day to ask that same question. And it was a mix of peaceful demonstrations and riots and street fights with the police into the evening but that it was people who were consistently coming together to build with each other. Baltimore happening after that provided some fuel.
Riots are also an important source of political education. They raise awareness about a set of problems or conditions in a mass way. They build on existing social connections but also bring people together in a set of spaces and experiences where they can discuss what they are rebelling against and debate short and long term visions for change. Through experience of rioting, people can learn tactical strategies, like how to attack property, how to protect each other in the streets, how to deal with tear gas, etc. And people can share those lessons, as we saw in the communication that happened between people in Ferguson and in other places like Palestine. Riots are an important validation of anger.
Rioting has kicked off and sustained this movement, but is not an end in itself. The 1992 L.A. riots were much larger than the ones in Ferguson and Baltimore, but did not lead to a mass movement in the way that these did. Movements must defend all rioters both politically and materially, but must also take into account the context of the particular riots. Every riot is not the revolution.
Do you advocate for any reforms? Do you think proposed reforms (for example, body cams, civilian review boards, and sensitivity training for cops) will be effective?
Police will kill and oppress the people because it is the role they play in maintaining white supremacist class society. Work should be done to abolish police unions, not just alter their contracts. The problem I have with many of these proposed solutions is that there is not a revolutionary agenda emphasizing the abolition of the police. It is not simply a matter of bad policy or a few bad apples. Police terrorism IS the function of the police. While work should be done to do away with legal protections and policies that bolster the terrorist acts of the police, there should be more of an emphasis on building community self defense against the police as well as for people in the community.
In the short term, we need policies in place that will disrupt the current system. Policies and accountability are the keys to establishing some inkling of justice in this current system. In the long term, the system needs to be deconstructed entirely and reconstructed to ensure justice for all.
It doesn’t matter if the cop is a “good” one or a “bad” one. It doesn’t matter if the cop is White, Black, Asian or Latin@. They are part of the militarized occupation force and they are doing what they were trained to do, occupy the New Afrikan (so-called African American) colony. We understand that reforms like these or police review boards are not the path to liberation. On the other hand when our people fight for these things we point out their limitations and raise the demand for self-determination and national liberation while not alienating the people around the immediate demands they may raise at the moment. We believe that all “legal means and demands must be exhausted” so that the people will fully understand the our real solution lies in self-determination and national liberation.
The entire government needs to be overturned! The policing system is a part of the U.S. Department of Justice. Reforms are like “putting a new tire on an old car”. The new tire will eventually need to be replaced, also. To say nothing of the hundreds of other parts to “old car”. Recently, the creators of the Black Lives Matter movement referred to police brutality and murders as police terrorism and state-sanctioned violence. Body cams, campaign zero, sensitivity trainings, and civilian review boards are a far cry from creating a just system for all. It’s state-sanctioned, it’s not just the police.!The ones that we vote for are the ones letting it happen.
The modern day police evolved out of slave patrols. To say that we can reform the police is like saying people back then could’ve reformed the slave patrols. The police must be disbanded. The only kind of viable reforms that our groups should be advocating for are those that disempower the police, pushing them out of our neighborhoods altogether.
While organizing to end “broken windows” policing and for demilitarization of the police can create breathing space for poor and working class Black and Brown people, as well as for organizers, they must not be seen as ends in themselves. They can be entry points for new activists, rallying calls for coalitions, and steps on the road to police abolition, but we must remember that the police upheld white supremacy for over 150 years without military grade weapons and modern “crime fighting” tactics.
The movement has sparked wide-ranging online discussions of strategies for black liberation. What do you think of strategies such as “buying black”? Forming black worker or consumer cooperatives? Strengthening the black family? Are there any other strategies you’re seeing discussed that you feel strongly about, for or against?
We see lots of black political/ economic strategies passed around online, that at a minimum might strengthen the black elite or black middle class, but far too often these strategies fall short of real liberation. So we see the emergence of black capitalist ideas that sound nice, but without any class analysis or critique of capitalism itself, these tactics will only uplift SOME of our people.
We believe in the education, empowerment, and uplifting of our people. If buying black helps you to appreciate, value, and support your people, then buy black. The key in all of these strategies is the implementation and strategic plan. Are these strategies sustainable? Are these strategies inclusive? Do these strategies negatively impact one group while elevating another? Will this liberate our people? Is the strategy considerate of the community? We think it’s important to ask these key questions before considering any strategy.
In fact we support all of these, though we see them as “tactics” rather than strategies or ends in themselves. Any tactical program which focuses on New Afrikan (so-called African American) self reliance and self-determination is useful for helping to develop our people’s national identity. We believe it is important to strengthen our people’s social and familial relationships. At the same time we fight to dismantle ideas of domination and oppression among the people which exists in some of these relationships.
I think the idea of buying black crosses over with gentrification. A lot of the events where people have been talking about supporting black businesses, there’s sort of an undercurrent that they’re talking about: supporting east Austin businesses so that they can stay vibrant and be a part of that community. The other place that I see the buying black piece coming from—and strengthening the black family—in Austin has been from the conservative Nation of Islam. At their events and at the speeches that they’ve given, you hear about those often.
“Buy Black” ignores the class divisions that exist within Black people in America. Examples abound of wealthy Black Americans investing in things that hurt Black people, such as Michael Jordan’s connections to private prison companies. It also focuses exclusively on the power of the dollar as an agent for change instead of seeing that power can also come from the streets.
What has been your orientation to the Say Her Name protests? What ways do you see questions of gender arising in the movement? Do you see a revitalization of feminism occurring? If so, what are its features? If not, why?
The reemergence of feminism that we HAVE seen is very minimal and deeply rooted in identity politics instead of class analysis. We could all #sayhername until we’re blue in the face, but we’ve all failed to address how capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy intersect to create extremely oppressive conditions for black, queer and trans women. I am, however, more pleased with local efforts, as the Twin Cities is seeing local groups fighting to address internal misogyny and patriarchy.
To be sure, as it has for the past several decades, black feminism continues to be a prolific area of black intellectual thought and consciousness. But its reach and influence has largely been limited to the academy. Fortunately, with the developments of movements such as Say Her Name, along with growing conversations among activists about the need for “intersectional” approaches to justice work, black feminism is gaining ground beyond the academy and within the general public in a way that it has not since its initial inception among black women creative writers during the 1960s and 1970s.
MXGM: As stated above, anti-sexist oppression is an important principle of our movement. We support the work of bringing the oppression of black women into the front of our struggle. We have fought and struggled for these positions and principles over the years. At each epoch we have had to struggle both within our movement and then within our community for recognition of the total liberation of all our people regardless of gender, sexuality or class. The sisters of our movement identify as revolutionary New Afrikan Womanists. We see within the broader Black Liberation Movement as well as the Black Lives Matter Movement that women and queer people are playing important roles of leadership and mass participation and demanding to be able to do so fully as who they are.
To be cynical for a second: I feel as though it’s mostly been on the level of representation. So, there’s a lot of discussion about elevating people: the people who initiated the hashtag, many of the people we can point to as leaders, and a lot of new names that have made it into the movement discourse. Which is significant, but it seems to be more on the level of recognition and representation than people being oriented toward gender differently in a way that has actually been liberatory for black women generally.
We see #SayHerName as a challenge to the dominant discourse and media representation of police brutality as an issue that only affects and claims the lives of straight, cisgender Black men, as well as the myth of the fight for racial justice as one that has been waged only or primarily by men. We see #SayHerName as a call not only to bring attention to the cases in which women and gender nonconforming people have been victims and survivors of police brutality, but also to recognize the reality that Black women and queers have comprised and continue to comprise both the leadership and the very backbone of these struggles.
Have you participated in any movement conferences (the Movement for Black Lives convening in Cleveland, etc)? What came out of it? What useful functions do gatherings like these serve for the movement?
The Black Radical Tradition conference was held at Temple University in Philly, and although we did not organize it, one of our members was a panelist, and we did attend many of the panels and the march. Again, it was good for morale to hear speeches from the likes of Angela Davis and Cornell West, but it remains to be seen what shakes out of the aftermath of the conference.
In Cleveland we presented several important workshops aimed at promoting a strategy for the movement beyond a focus on police and toward human rights, self-determination and national liberation as a solution to Black People’s problems. These gatherings can be important for providing spaces to exchange ideas and wage political struggle over a direction for the movement.
What do you feel is the place of nonprofit organizations in the movement? Are they a positive or negative influence, and why?
Nonprofits should have little to no place in the movement. Funding comes with strings attached. By depending on funding from the rich and wealthy you are giving them control over the movement. The very people who benefit from this oppressive system are not going to give us money to destroy the system.
As a nonprofit organization, we grapple with how to make our work sustainable without compromising our values, which don’t always mesh with the nonprofit form. There is always a serious problem when organizations put the desires of funders and the careers of paid staff over the needs of those they claim to serve. Everyday working class people in struggle must always be where direction and guidance comes from and that’s where leadership capable of changing society will emerge, not established non-profits.
We believe that nonprofits are a serious negative problem for our movement. We believe that they are used to misdirect the revolutionary potential of the movement and bring the Black Lives Matter Movement into the control of the left wing of the Democratic Party. By dumping huge amounts of funds and jobs to young people in the movement, nonprofits seem to be serving to promote left/liberal “community organizing” as revolutionary work while limiting the revolutionary direction and nationalist direction that our people are taking.
I’d say that my answer would be that non profits are parasitic and can’t exist without the suffering of people. Non profits wouldn’t be around if people had the shit that they needed and non profits tend to just act as gatekeepers for resources. I don’t think that they do anything for movements besides come in and start taking what they can: energy, momentum, influence, or actual resources.
A rough comparison can be made that nonprofits are to street level struggle as unions are to workplace level struggle. They seek to be mediators of the struggle, and end up being the first line of defense for the system. While they can provide political cover and resources at best, at worst they can lead spontaneous and independent movements back into acceptable forms of struggle.
What relationship should the Black Lives Matter movement have to the established political parties, if any? To the electoral system in general?
BLM should remain independent of political parties. Only Autonomous, direct action carried out by the black working class and others who share a common interest in ending police brutality is what we will bring about the changes we want.
BLM should keep political parties accountable as they have been through direct action initiatives. And we feel it’s the responsibility of BLM activists to be informed of the policy platforms that negatively or positively affect the most vulnerable members of our community in order to put pressure on political leaders for revision.
We promote Malcolm X’s ideas about voting as expressed in his speech “the Ballot or the Bullet”. We support electoral politics as a “tactic” particularly in Black majority counties of the South Eastern United States.
We can not speak about the relationship of the Black Lives Matter movement to established political parties. While we work in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and support the fight against police terrorism, our political work is strategically different than that of the BLM. Our own position on the question is that we have no relationship with any of the parties of the US empire.
The Black Lives Matter movement should take a confrontational and antagonistic stance towards the established political parties. There is an inherent contradiction in pursuing electoral politics. It implies that we believe that the current system can work in our favor, but this runs directly contrary to our actual experience in this capitalist, patriarchal and white supremacist society. Having close ties to either party has not helped our struggles.
Electoralism at this point in our social movements existence should be off the table entirely. If we had autonomous, mass social movements to speak of, then maybe we could debate the nuances of having some sort of inside-outside electoral strategy, but zero energy or resources should be going to support electoralism of any sort right now.
What relationship does the Black Lives Matter movement have to other movements in the U.S, like the immigrants rights, prisoners, or student movements? How do they mutually influence one another?
We can see a common thread between the disruptive actions of immigrant youth where they have used their bodies to directly stop deportations and disruptive actions people have taken under the banner of Black Lives Matter, where people have similarly used their bodies to stop business as usual.
Without a doubt, white supremacist violence is at work in the forced and violent deportations of immigrants, it is at play in the prison system and it is certainly at the root of the discrimination and violence that black students are facing on college campuses across the country. In this way, Black Lives Matter is tied to, wrapped up in and connected with these other movements.
The BLM movement has everything to do with students, prisoners and immigrants rights. BLM cares about Black and Brown lives, and BLM needs to fight against police brutality in all forms whether it occurs on campuses, our neighborhoods, in workplaces, against immigrants or prisoners. BLM has the potential to unite Black and Brown people, and to bring seemingly disparate movements into contact with one another.
I think that the post-Ferguson movement produced a lot of spaces where people were consistently coming together to ask the questions of the day. This interfaced with other movements as there were moments that happened in each other these struggles. So, thinking about hunger strikes at Karnes, close by to Austin, and other immigrant detention centers, folks who had met each other in the post-Ferguson movement were more aware. To me, the tricky question is who is having relationships? Can we tell if the people who are coming out to Ferguson stuff are interacting with the people who are coming out for immigrants rights stuff in any meaningful way? Or vice versa?
It’s absolutely critical that the BLM movement begin building those relationships and making these connections more explicit. The focus on the police has been necessary, but the police to a large degree are a symptom of white supremacy, not the cause, and as such there are other struggles against the state and capital which are essential for weakening/defeating white supremacy. They sometimes happen outside or somewhat outside those struggles against the police.
Are there any struggles around the world that you think resonate with the struggle for black liberation in the U.S? Which, and why?
We strongly resonate with the Palestinian people and we were proud to sign on to the Black4Palestine Statement of Black Solidarity with Palestine in 2015. There are so many parallels in our struggles for liberation, as acutely demonstrated when Palestinian activists responded to police repression in Ferguson by sharing methods to combat the effects of tear gas.
Although there is a particular valence of African American struggle for liberation that does distinguish it, the type of racialization that African Americans experience in the United States is quite similar to the dehumanization and domestic terror that Palestinians face at the hands of Israel; it is certainly similar to the violence and structural discrimination that black South Africans experienced at the hands of Afrikaners during the system of Apartheid and even now after the Apartheid state has fallen.
We are particularly in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian People against Israeli occupation and colonialism. We support the self-determination and national liberation of the Palestinian people. We Support the liberation struggle of the Puerto Rican nation as well as the struggle of the Native (Indian) nations of North America and the people of occupied Mexico (Texas, California, Arizona, New Mexico) and occupied Hawaii. We support these nations struggle because we share a common enemy, US colonialism and imperialism and we all struggle for self-determination and national liberation.
The Kurdish led “Rojava Revolution” in northern Syria is an interesting development in an otherwise bleak situation. The Kurds are an oppressed minority in several countries, and have been fighting for their rights and even existence for generations. The recent political turn in organizations such as the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) and its Syrian counterparts the TEV-DEM, PYD, YPG, and YPJ away from an authoritarian cult of personality and towards “Social Anarchism” is a positive development.
Recent years have seen a resurgence of right-wing violence, such as the Charleston Emmanuel AME massacre and the shooting of protesters in Minneapolis. How should we orient ourselves to this rise in violence?
If the current trend continues where revolutionaries remain confined to the cities and the fascist hold support in the rural expanse we can never hope to destroy racism completely. Undoubtedly there is much ignorance and fear in reaction to the concept of racial justice. White lower class people are especially susceptible to this line of thought. Therefore we believe that smashing the reactionary racist right absolutely depends on how we orient ourselves to political struggles happening in the rural communities of America.
We need to have an understanding of and be preparing for community self-defense. Right now BLM as a movement has not collectively, through experience, come up with a plan for dealing with right-wing violence. This is partly due to more conservative elements in the movement attempting to smother self-defense efforts that arise naturally, but the failure to develop self-defense efforts can’t be explained away by this. In grappling with this question OOTFF has solicited advice from Ashanti Alston. Ashanti is an elder in the movement who participated in the Black Power struggles of the 60’s as a member of the Original Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army.
We support the organizing of New Afrikan Self Defense Militias for our own people and People’s Self Defense Militias among other revolutionary people to defend our communities from white supremacist violence. We believe that our people must be organized and trained to defend our communities, churches, mosques, schools and other institutions against organized white supremacist terror.
I mean, I said masks before and I think that both Charleston and Minneapolis are examples of where that violence has come very directly to people without any warning and without any particular targets in mind, just black people. To our knowledge, they weren’t targeting individual people. I think that as far as the right wing upsurge in Austin, so watching right wing people get a hold of people’s information and photographs and names and using harassment to target militants, I think that our tactic of using masks, some degree of internet anonymity or non-participation, trying not to put too many details about ourselves online has kept us largely safe from harassment and trying to promote those practices to other people and I don’t think that would stop somebody from walking into a demonstration with a gun and just like taking out whoever they can get but with the type of right wing harassment that we’ve seen in Austin, being careful about what parts of identities are like out.
The main enemy we face is the State, through its organizations like the police and prison system, not the extra-parliamentary right, for now. Police and prisons are much more dangerous to Black people than the current KKK or militias and wield infinitely greater power in our society.