Responses are from multiple members of the African People’s Caucus:
What is your group, and how did it come together? Were you inspired by, or involved in, protests against recent police killings, such as Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, etc? What about earlier incidents, like Katrina, Oscar Grant, or the Jena 6?
The Twin Cities African Peoples 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. Jamar Clark was executed by the Minneapolis police department in the predominantly black neighborhood of north Minneapolis where police brutality and resentment of the police runs high. We have been heavily involved in the anti police brutality movement ever since.
The rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore was controversial throughout the nation. What role do you think rioting plays in the movement?
Rioting from an explicitly political context has many different pros and cons. Historically, rioting has played a crucial role in pushing for liberal reforms in this country. Some of the most important victories of the civil rights era would have never happened without it.. It can also help revolutionaries push people who may have been more passive before to become more militant. On the other hand, we’ve also seen that riots can be too impulsive and short lived to depend from a long term organizing perspective. Short bursts of anger can help to score important victories against the state but it can also hamper efforts to organize unified community self defense and can even lead to petty infighting in our movements. During the 4th precinct occupation rioting played an important role in bringing militants together from many different walks of life. Those who had never participated in militant direct action got a chance to practice and experiment with different tactics. More experienced militants learned of new tactics and played crucial roles in helping to organize more coordinated resistance against the police. In a nutshell, rioting helps to build popular power against racism but cannot fully be depended on to liberate our people from its effects. In order to do that we need decentralized autonomous community organizations which can operate on the grass roots level and collectively propose alternatives to the plague we call capitalism and the racist state that supports it.
Some groups have proposed reforms that they think will help lower the rate of police brutality, such as body cams, campaign zero, sensitivity training for cops, or civilian review boards. Do you advocate for any reforms? Do you think these reforms will be effective?
Even with body cameras there is no guarantee that police officers will stop from beating or even killing you. Much of the outrage that has come in recent years with police terrorism has come through video recordings of police brutality and murders. Furthermore even having video evidence of unjustified (in the legal sense) murders has not led to guilty verdicts. There are some aspects of Campaign Zero that I agree with such as ending Broken Windows policing. Anything that gives police less justification to arrest people for misdemeanor crimes is a win for black working people. Also community review boards or boards that aim to make the police more accountable to the community may be a good step in taking power away from cops and putting it in the hands of the people. That said the focus on police sensitivity trainings and restructuring police union contracts are not good goals. Police will kill and oppress the people because it is the role they play in maintaining white supremacist class society. Also 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.
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. A great example is the omnipresent recurring call for Black Friday boycotts (#blackoutblackfriday, #notonedime). However, time and time again, they’re barely a flash in the pan because the black left has failed to understand the labor movement. Without mass support from unions and low¬wage workers these campaigns organized solely through Facebook fall flat. These might be short term solutions to help stabilize the black middle class, but under capitalism these are still just minor reforms.
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?
As a long¬time black feminist, I’m sometimes excited and most times disappointed not only in the mass movement, but also of fellow feminists who aren’t doing much more besides “saying her name.” 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. The top down black feminist movement is messier. For example, after days of inner¬ movement conflict, weeks of high resistance at the #4thprecinctshutdown, and the Mall of America/ airport shutdown, we finally got a break for Christmas Day. Except I had a “white ally” blowing up my phone saying, “we got ‘the call’ (from Ferguson, mecca for white allies) to organize a day of action for Sandra Bland.” Tomorrow, Dec. 26th I was asked if our union caucus wouldn’t mind “shutting some shit down” for Sandra Bland. So, as you can imagine, lots of weary people declined to act, there was very low turnout, and then the rhetoric practically writes itself: “#BLM doesn’t care about black women!” Not true. National organizing is just sloppy.
What do you feel is the place of nonprofit organizations in the movement? Are they a positive or negative influence, and why?
Non¬profits 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. The revolution will not be funded. Furthermore non¬profits often co¬op people’s movements. Power is than centralized with the decisions and narrative being set by a small number of people. The voices of more militant and revolutionary segments of the movement are then drowned out.
What relationship should the Black Lives Matter movement to 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. Electoralism is where social movements go to die. The reforms we do see are generally only given by the state after pressure from mass movements. Civil rights did not do much to improve material conditions for black peoples in the US, and definitely did not stop us from experiencing violence at the hands of the state.
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 other?
The modern prison system has origins in the repression of black people in the US after the end of slavery. Policing is an extension of slave patrols and the repression of the urban working class as well as black people. Prisons and policing continue to uphold this system of inequality. Immigrants are being targeted in similar ways to black people in the US. Here in Minneapolis, much of the support base that is regularly mobilized by BLM is made up of students. Many of the decision makers are or were students. This is the black political class. The influence of academia is evident in the language and politics heard from BLM organizers. Especially notable is the lack of a class analysis and the presentation of non¬violence as a dogma instead of one of many tactics.
Are there any struggles around the world that you think resonate with the struggle for black liberation in the U.S? Which, and why?
Black people have arrived at our current position in class society as a result of the colonization of Africa and the slave trade that brought us here. Just as civil rights did little to improve quality of life for black peoples here in the US, independence movements in African countries did not significantly improve the living conditions for the masses there. In order to finally be free, we must overthrow global capitalism.
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?
The AME massacre and other violent right wing attacks have dispelled the myth that racist white violence against black people is no longer a problem in this country. If Dylann Roof’s goal was to divide class unity it ended up doing the exact opposite. It galvanized popular support against systemic racism culminating in the take-down of the Confederate flag from the state capitol. If anything the only forces that became divided from that moment on were Roof’s own reactionary allies. This is not to suggest that neo fascist groups should be taken lightly. Indeed, even here in the liberal white capital of America we call Minneapolis we have come under attack from white racist reactionary youths whose paranoid and irrational fear of what they call “melanin rich communities” threatened to undermine our own internal unity. When these reactionaries attacked our encampment at the 4th precinct and shot 5 unarmed protesters it proved without a hint of doubt just how dangerous neo fascism can become if not confronted immediately. After this the community became much more serious about perimeter security. Fascist elements would attempt to probe the encampment but were never allowed to come close and if identified ahead of time were chased off by self organized patrol squads. This is just one of the many kinds of self defense models that POC communities should emulate and is being pushed forward by revolutionaries not only as a popular political concept but as a way of life. When our communities are under attack from so many different directions it is the only logical response. The recent rise in fascist violence revealed another thing to us. While radical revolutionaries enjoy some degree of popular support in our fortified urban areas we have virtually no presence in the more rural areas of Minnesota and beyond. 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. While this may be a scary proposition to some, comrades should remember that our recruitment pool is bigger than theirs and steadily growing while theirs grows smaller. We have to take advantage of that fact now and begin building coalitions with our class allies in the rural expanse both to deny the fascist their organizing base as well as to protect our own people from fascist attacks. Only unified city and rural class solidarity can defeat fascism for good.