Letter from the US: Black Lives Matter movements issues a radical vision statement

September 12, 2016

A coalition of about 60 Black Lives Matter groups from around the United States issued “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice” on August 1.

The document is long and detailed. It is the most important Black independent political action program since the National Black Independent Political Party and Black Power conventions of the early 1970s. It also is a reflection of the leading role of Black young people in the still-nascent radicalisation of US youth in general.

Its preamble states: “Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the US towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved.

“In recent years we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns, and impacted elections, but our elected officials have failed to address the legitimate demands of our movement. We can no longer wait…

“We are a collective that centres and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognise we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all our work.”

This emphasis on unity with other oppressed groups is expressed in many of the document’s demands concerning Latinos, women, Native Americans, all workers, LGBTI people, and others.

US imperialism

It is a radical document that poses fundamental changes as well as immediate demands. For example, it states: “America is an empire that uses war to expand territory and power. American wars are unjust, destructive to Black communities globally and do not keep Black people safe locally.”

It opposes the “war on terror”, including in the Middle East; characterises Israel as an “apartheid state” responsible for “genocide” against the Palestinians; and opposes US military aid to Israel It also opposes US actions in Haiti.

The policy statement says: “The interlinked systems of white supremacy, imperialism, capitalism and patriarchy shape the violence we face. As oppressed people living in the belly of global empire, we are in a critical position to build the necessary connections for a global liberation movement.

“Until we are able to overturn US imperialism, capitalism and white supremacy, our brothers and sisters around the world will continue to live in chains … our liberation is intrinsically tied to the liberation of Black and Brown people around the world.”

This is in a section that lists things that should be “divested” from so as to fund people’s needs.

In another example of its vision, in the document’s longest section titled “End the War on Black People”, it states: “Until we achieve a world where cages are no longer used against our people … we demand an end to all jails, detention centers, youth facilities and prisons as we know them.”

Institutionalised racism

The Black Lives Matter movement has not only been galvanised by the police murders of Blacks, but the whole system of institutionalised racist oppression.

The uprising in Ferguson after the police murder of Michael Brown in 2014 exposed not only systematic police violence and repression, but the entire legal system’s criminal use of frivolous arrests, high bail, fines and court surcharges to exact what amounts to illegal taxes on the Black community. The document calls for such practices to end.

It also calls for an end to the “war on Black immigrants”, including deportations, Immigration and Customs (ICE) raids and immigrant detentions. Such demands also embraces Latinos and other immigrants.

By calling for an end to the war on “Black trans, queer and gender nonconforming people” — which impacts Blacks especially — it embraces all LGBTI people.

It calls for an end to the criminalisation and dehumanisation of Black youth; the use of past criminal history to discriminate; capital punishment; mass surveillance of Black communities; the privatisation of the justice system; and for the demilitarisation of police.

“A Vision for Black Lives” offers concise but thorough explanations of the problems addressed and what its demands would accomplish.

There are four other sections. One is about “Political Power” and calls for “independent Black Political Power and Black self-determination”. This recalls demands raised in the Black radicalisation of the 1960s and early ’70s, as does it call for “Community Control”, which is in another section.

This connection is also clear when the document calls for an end to the criminalisation of “Black Political Activity” and for the release of all political prisoners. It directly refers to the FBI’s COINTELPRO program in the ’50s and ’60s, directed against Black groups and others, such as socialists, as well as political prisoners from that time still in jail or on international “terrorist” lists.

It calls for the removal of Assata Shakur from such lists, and for the bounty on her head to be rescinded. Shakur was a Black militant who was the victim of a police frame-up in the early 1970s. She escaped from jail and fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum. Both Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump demand Shakur be brought back to the US and jailed for the rest of her life.

Economic justice

Another section is on “Reparations”. This concept has been traditionally associated with calls for reparations for the harm done by slavery.

But the Vision takes this concept further to include reparations for all the economic harm and exploitation of Blacks not only under slavery, but up to the present day.

A section on “Economic Justice” calls for the restructuring of federal, state and local taxes to eliminate regressive taxation where workers pay a higher tax rate than the rich. It supports progressive taxes, where the rich pay a much higher rate and the lowest income bracket pays nothing.

It also calls for protections for workers not included under current regulations, including domestic workers, farm workers, and restaurant and other workers who rely on tips. Many are Black and Latino, but this demand is in the interest of all workers, as is the demand for the right of all workers to organise unions.

The document is a work in progress. It also has an international aspect, as groups in other countries — including in Canada, Britain, and Australia — have taken up the name of Black Lives Matter in their own struggles.

It should also be read, discussed and debated among socialists and others on the left. I learned a lot from reading it, as will others.

Black Lives Matter has increased the confidence of Black youth that what they do matters. They are taking the lead away from the Black political establishment which is mired in the Democratic Party. The “Vision for Black Lives” will increase that confidence.

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