The Black Led “Defund the Police” Movement Wins Great Breakthrough in Los Angeles: An Organizer’s Interpretation
At 11 PM on Tuesday June 30—after 13 hours of public testimony and board deliberations and yes, years of organizing—the Black Lives Matter and Defund the Police movement in Los Angeles and nationally took a great leap forward. The Los Angeles School Board, led by Board Member Monica Garcia, with the support of board members Nick Melvoin, Kelly Gonez, and Jackie Goldberg, voted 4 to 3 to cut the $70 million a year budget of the Los Angeles School Police Department (LASPD) by $25 million—35%—and move those funds to programs focused on the needs of Black students. This reduction in the department’s funds will potentially lay off 65 armed officers and cut the department’s overtime budget. We know of no other Defund the Police campaign in a major U.S. City that has made such a major political and material breakthrough—in this case, Los Angeles City, with 4 million residents, 650,000 students, and the second largest school system in the U.S.
Our campaign was also a major ideological victory. It delegitimized the very existence of police in the public schools and affirmed the experience and demands of the most militant and conscious Black students. The LA School Board meeting, with hundreds of demonstrators outside, 50 people inside the board room at a time with only board member Monica Garcia in person, and several thousand supportive viewers on closed circuit TV was a site of the most intense ideological contestation with the entire system of anti-Black colonial education. Dozens of angry, articulate, and organized Black students—many from Students Deserve—testified that the very presence of police in the schools was a racist and anti-Black attack on their racial identity, self-worth, self-confidence, and academic performance.
Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-chair of Black Lives Matter L.A., testified that all three of her children suffered police abuse in the schools while her son’s first experience of anti-Black police brutality was at the age of six. She described in painful detail how every aspect of a Black child’s life is criminalized and why the demand for No Police in the Schools was a life and death issue for the Black community.
Channing Martinez, director of organizing at Labor/Community Strategy Center and a graduate of Crenshaw High School in South Central, told the board, “The Strategy Center fought for years to end your police tickets and arrests for Black and Latino students coming to school late that you called truancy. We fought to end anti-Black ‘willful defiance’ suspensions and expulsions and to get the LASPD to return 1 tank, 3 grenade launcher, and 61-M16s that had been procured from the Department of Defense 1033 program. By now it should be clear. The only structural solution to educational and anti-Black racism is to end the police occupation of the schools altogether.”
Our political, fiscal, and ideological victory led LASPD Police Chief Todd Chamberlain, who had only recently been hired, to resign the following day. Chamberlain, a former LAPD captain, with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in organizational management, had tried to put a humanistic face on a militaristic institution. But he well understood the significance of the devastating vote of no confidence in his department and chose to exit rather than try to manage under even further scrutiny.
This was also a breakthrough, if just in the earliest stages, in the far larger war to protect and expand Black Los Angeles. The Strategy Center has been trying to build a movement, along with other forces like the Crenshaw Subway Coalition of which we are a part, for a counter-gentrification Right of Return of the Black Community to South Central. We have been working on the formulation of “the right of return” of Black dispersed populations, based on the Palestinian demand, that I began to explore in my 2005 and then 2015 edition of my book, Katrina’s Legacy, to imagine and demand the return of 100,000 post-Katrina dispersed Black people back to New Orleans. In this No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign we tried to convey the terrifying reality that Black students—once 25% of the Los Angeles Unified School District —are now only 8% and under daily attack. This is situated in the even larger crime that the Black population of Los Angeles—once 750,000 in 1970—has been forced down to 350,000 through conscious government and societal policies of economic sanctions, police occupation, and thousands of “you are not welcome here” public and private assaults. This was reflected in the federally and Democratic Party driven “war on drugs” “war on crime” “war on gangs” and as the Clinton’s demonized “super-predators” and “welfare frauds” the very clear “war on Blacks.”
Even in this great board vote on June 30, while we won a tactical victory in the wider war to reverse anti-Black policies, programs, and outcomes, the LASPD has retained 65% of its budget—$45 million—and still has more than 300 officers with guns. That is why we have to turn this breakthrough into a larger and longer offensive. Just recently Black Lives Matter L.A., Students Deserve, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle, Youth Justice Coalition, and the Labor/Community Strategy Center wrote to LAUSD Superintendent, August Beutner.
As our communities have experienced centuries of divestment, and with more budget cuts coming from the state of California, we will need much more than the initial 25 million dollar redirection from school police to begin to rectify the harm caused to Black communities. In fact, now may be the most appropriate time to imagine both what genuine race-conscious investments look like, and to reimaging what school safety means as we look for ways to keep all members of the school community safe in the midst of a global health pandemic. However, LAUSD must also recognize the precedent that was set when a Board majority voted to reduce LASPD’s budget by 35 percent – the District must not reverse course, and all implementation should reflect the spirit of the movement.
We call on the Superintendent to develop a timeline to phase out both the need and funding for school police, with funds being redirected to services and supports for Black students.
Anatomy of the Breakthrough
The Strategy Center has played a leadership role in anti-racist, Black liberation, organizing against the colonial and police occupied public schools in LA for more than 20 years. This recent victory for the Black and Black/Latinx united front offers such rich practice. Here are some themes and conclusions I’ll integrate into the analytical narrative to encourage discussion and debate in the growing Black-led social justice movement.
* The Centrality of the Black Liberation Struggle to urban and U.S. revolutionary hope and strategy
* The Strategy Center’s long term commitment to and physical centering in South Central’s Black community
* The essential role of the most radical, revolutionary, militant, and left politics to shape the Black and Latino movement.
* The building of a Black/Latinx/Third World united front with an agreed upon Black priority—and the outreach to the Latino community for its own independent and supportive voices in the larger united front
* The synthesis of long-term organizing and revolutionary opportunity to move decisively under opportune circumstances
* The value of an aggressive ideological challenge to the U.S. white settler state and its colonial anti-Black educational system
* The value of an anti-genocide frame in which to situate the suppression and subjugation of Black students, Black workers, Black women, Black homeless, Black prisoners, Black communities
* For the Strategy Center, the motivating force of our view that Black people constitute an oppressed Black Nation inside the white oppressor nation.
* A successful navigating of a complex relationship between social movements and elected officials that integrates that work into a larger social justice and revolutionary strategy. In this case, we rejected on the one-hand, an ultra-left theory of “exposing” “denouncing” and “forcing” those in power to vote for our demands and on the other, the ultra-right theory of the “inside outside game” that is little more than becoming an adjunct to the Democratic Party. The Movement treated the board members as political people who would be sympathetic to and supportive of our people, our program, and our objectives That mutual respect was critical to the victory
* The victory was rooted in a multi-generational movement inside Black and Latino communities in which young people and students were the driving force but older organizers, parents, teachers, community residents, and board members were understood as part of the solution not the problem. Contrary to some other theories and practices of “youth organizing” the Black and Latina students saw The System not “adults” as the target and the cause of the problem. That was the product of thoughtful organizing work over years in which student leaders felt supported and encouraged to exercise leadership inside student structures but also within a multi-generational community and movement ones as well.
* The explosive combination of deep ideological framing and grassroots organizing. Too often, “ideology” is the terrain of isolated ideologues and “organizing” is reduced to militant, Alinsky-like reforms inside the existing system with no ideological challenge. In this case the role of ideology and organizing were integrated in ways that were critical to the victory
* A generally non-sectarian theory and practice of the united front inside the Black community, inside the Latino community, inside the Black/Latinx alliance and inside the movement that allowed differences and tensions to be negotiated and resolved in ways that strengthened the movement and was apparent to the LAUSD board members with whom we negotiated and collaborated.
As will be explained, these are not abstract or tacked on ideological explanations but political lines that were actively put forth and gained influence through struggle inside the broad united front that won this breakthrough. This political perspective will be needed to protect what we have won and to extend those gains. This independent ideological perspective is even more critical in the midst of the Democratic Party’s efforts to shut down this militant moment and replace it with a manipulative empty appeal to Black voters and a pacified representation to white voters. The Democrats face a very real electoral challenge to defeat the fascist right in the 2020 presidential elections. But we can’t also expect them to advance the interests of the most militant, radical, and far reaching Black and Latino led social movements. That is our job.
I will of course tell you the story of the organizing and complex negotiations with the LAUSD Board so that you will have enough factual information from which to draw your own conclusions and learn from the narrative not just the analysis.
The Strategy Center’s long-commitment to South Central L.A’s Black community
On May 24, 2020 the Strategy Center was a respected organization in Los Angeles’ South Central Los Angeles based in our Strategy and Soul Movement Center. We had been fighting for No Police in the LAUSD Schools for 5 years with little support or movement from the 7 elected board members of the Los Angeles Unified School District. (LAUSD). One day later, May 25, 2020 George Floyd woke up to live his life as if his Black life mattered. Instead, he became the latest of hundreds and thousands of hundreds of thousands of Black people murdered throughout U.S. history by the white settler state. But his martyrdom, as that of with Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, the Four Birmingham Martyrs, and the rapidly expanding list of Trayvon Martin, Breanna Taylor, Michael Browne, and Eric Garner who also screamed “I can’t breathe” sparked a mass Black-led uprising that created the historical possibility of our victory to cut the LASPD police budget by $25 million. In that this article is trying to explain a methodology that can explain historical events, I begin with the premise that often, while new organizations come onto the stage of history, it is the long-distance runners who also have a cutting edge who are essential to the structural victories. Each organization involved in this breakthrough, Black Lives Matter LA, Students Deserve, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle, and others can and should tell their own story of how they arrived at that historical moment. Clearly I will tell you about their role on June 30, 2020, the day of The Vote. But let me take you on a journey to explain how, 30 years from our formation, the Strategy Center, having won many other major victories, was so fortunate to be part of making history again along with our dynamic and powerful allies.
The Labor/Community Strategy Center was initiated in 1989 as a “think tank/act tank” to organize in L.A’s Black and Latino communities to address “the totality of urban life.” It’s anti-capitalist, anti-racist politics were initiated in the year of the fall of the German Democratic Republic, the imminent disintegration of the Soviet Union, and the triumphalist declaration of world capitalism—TINA—there is no alternative.
That vision was rooted in my work with the Congress of Racial Equality in 1964, the Newark Community Union Project, and our close alliances with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The organizational lineage continued through the Students for a Democratic Society, Black Panther Party, and based on my 18 months in prison for militant demonstrations against the war in Vietnam, the Attica and Soledad Brothers defense committees.
The immediate predecessor to the Center was my work in the UAW Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open—an historic struggle of Chicano and Black workers and communities that successfully forced GM to keep the plant open for a full decade. Throughout my ten years as a UAW/Ford and GM assembly line worker, I was also shaped by my participation in the New Directions Movement, a brilliant, insurgency in the United Auto Workers, led by Jerry Tucker that took power in the 6 mid-Southern states—including Missouri, Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma. New Directions challenged the racism and class collaboration of our union. During many of those years I was also a member of the League of Revolutionary Struggle, a Black/Chicano/Asian/Pacific Islander majority communist group, all of whose members believed that both Blacks and Chicanos were oppressed nations inside the borders of the U.S. with the right of self-determination up to and including the right to secede from the U.S.
My job, in initiating a new institution, was to synthesize and integrate all of those histories, philosophies, and organizational reflections into something new to relate to the time, place, and conditions of L.A. and the U.S. in 1989. Clearly, the leading role of the Black and Latino movements and working class in an internationalist anti-imperialist frame reflected in actual mass organizing work was the mandate and the challenge.
The first three Strategy Center organizers were Chris Mathis, a Black autoworker from the GM plant, Lisa Duran, a Latina college affirmative action officer, and Kikanza Ramsey, a Black recent college graduate. In 1992 the Strategy Center formed the Bus Riders Union, a breakthrough movement of Black, Latin@ and Korean bus riders that generated a multi-racial organization with dynamic tri-lingual working class culture. After the 1992 Urban Rebellion in Los Angeles our Urban Strategies Group published Reconstructing Los Angeles and US Cities from the Bottom Up—in which we called for massive re-investment in South Central and massive divestment from the LAPD—“the social welfare state not the police state.”
By 2001, when I returned from the World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa the Strategy Center agreed that we needed a specifically Black/Afro-centric campaign. Out of a Reparations Study Group we initiated the Community Rights Campaign to focus on racism, colonialism, and militarism in the public schools based on a Black/Latinx united front but within that, a chance for us to give our work a greater Afro-centric focus. Damon Azali Rojas, Manuel Criollo, Barbara Lott-Holland, Patrisse Cullors, Carla Gonzalez, Mark-Anthony Johnson, Ashley Franklin, and now Channing Martinez and Brigette Amaya are among the many gifted organizers who have led that work for the past 20 years.
During that same period, the Bus Riders Union became the largest mass organization of Black/Latino/Korean bus riders in the U.S. and won a major civil rights court and organizing victory against the Los Angeles MTA. In the civil rights lawsuit–Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union vs. Los Angeles MTA we won $2.5 billion in improvements in the urban bus system including replacing 2,000 dilapidated diesel buses with 2500 lower-emissions compressed natural gas buses, 1 million hours of new service, and dramatic reductions in bus/train fares that led to a 20% increase in mass transit ridership.
By 2015 the organization, to effectively give greater focus to the Black struggle and to better integrate the Bus Riders Union and Community Rights, merged both groups into our Fight for the Soul of the Cities city-wide social justice organization and move our offices to South Central Los Angeles. While we would maintain our Black/Latinx membership core we agreed to make the struggle to protect and expand L.A.s oppressed, occupied, gentrified and rapidly declining Black community our highest priority. We rented, invented, modeled, and remodeled a four storefront complex at the Corner of King and Crenshaw in the heart of L.A.’s Black community that we call the Strategy and Soul Movement Center—the home of our Fight for the Soul of the Cities and Bus Riders Union membership office and our Strategy and Soul bookstore and Strategy and Soul Film Theater and Art Gallery. From there our focus has been organizing Black adults in the Crenshaw/Leimert Park community and Black and Latinx students in three Los Angeles high schools through our Taking Action Social Justice Clubs—Augustus Hawkins and Ouchi O’Donovan in South L.A. and Roosevelt High School in East L.A. We have provided a counter-hegemonic programmatic frame through our Campaign for Urban Reconstruction and it’s five demands—Free Public Transportation, No Police on MTA Buses and Trains, Stop MTA Attacks on Black Passengers, No Police in the LAUSD Schools, and No Cars in L.A.
These demands were expanded through the insurgent city council campaign of Channing Martinez in the 10th City Council District where we are located–one of the last centers of Black concentration and even then not of Black majority. Channing ran on the 5 demands but expanded them to “Cut the Los Angeles Police Department by 50%,” “50% of all new public and private sector jobs must go to Black applicants, and Open Borders and Amnesty for all Immigrants-Kick ICE out Of LA.”
In our work, far more than many, the ideological focus on “counter-hegemonic demand development” is not abstract, tangential, or a throw-away line in the organizing process. It is in the realm of demand development where the generality meets the particular and the core politics of the campaign is reflected. “Arrest killer cops” and “defund the police” shaped our struggle and it was that ideological frame that gave the Black students in particular, the upper hand in the battle of ideas that turned the tide at the LAUSD board. In our campaign for Urban Reconstruction, it was situating the demand for No Police in the LAUSD Schools with No Police on the MTA buses and trains with Stop MTA Attacks on Black passengers” combined with “we demand the social welfare state not the police state” and “we want counselors not cops” reflected in 30 years of organizing and five years of deeper organizing in South Central’s Black community that gave the Strategy Center a far better sense of orientation, legitimacy, and influence in the broad united front that won the victory.
As we have carried out our work, the Strategy Center has always understood the critical nature of a broad united front against racism and imperialism and the most principled and mutually supportive relationships with many allies. We try to fight against any form of sectarianism or organizational self-importance. We instill in every member and ourselves time and time again, “There is nothing we can win by ourselves. The Black/Latinx/Third World United Front and from there reaching out to people of all races is the only hope for the world. This is reflected in our close relationships with the Pan African Film Festival, Black Lives Matter L.A., South LA Food Co-op, Community Coalition, Inner City Struggle, Los Angeles Community Action Network, and CADRE. We call it the Strategy and Soul Movement Center because we see our work as movement-building. We have hosted PAFF’s annual three-day volunteer film festival, a film showing of DOLORES—the life of Dolores Huerta—with Community Coalition—and organized our first Strategy and Soul Community Organizing Fair with 300 attendees. We have worked closely with Dr. Melina Abdullah and BLM LA at Strategy and Soul to launch of their website, highlight the testimony of mothers whose children were murdered by police, and host he showing of Ava Duvernay’s staggering film, When They See Us.
In the summer of 2019, to get more community support for our Campaign for Urban Reconstruction, and in particular our No Police in the LAUSD Schools, No Police on MTA Buses and Trains demands, 8 high school students—led by Brigette Amaya, Kassandra Soriano, Angeles Soriano, Sophie Tielemans, and Gionna Magdaleno in our Transformative Organizers Interns Program— held conversations with more than 2,000 Black and Latinx residents of South L.A. They went door to door over 20 square blocks and spoke to residents at many community events including the Compton Pride Festival, CicLavía, and the Central Avenue Jazz Festival.
At first, many people were ambivalent or even opposed to our campaign for No Police in the L.A. Schools, No Police on MTA buses and trains, (Stop MTA Attacks on Black Passengers, Free Public Transportation/No Cars in L.A.) but the sincerity and persuasiveness of the Strategy Center students convinced more than 350 people to call on the School Board and LA MTA, to end the police in the schools and on public transportation.
As late as the fall of 2019, we spoke with several school board members about getting rid of the school police but even our closest ally, Monica Garcia was not convinced. She said, “Bring me more specific complaints from students because I want to focus on police behavior. You better get more support from parents because many have been convinced that the police presence is necessary.” Some of our students who attended were disappointed. They thought we would just go in, ask for what we wanted, and get it. I explained that Monica was talking to us as organizers. If we were asking board members to take on such a powerful institution as the school police and their many political allies, it was our job to build a stronger movement. It was a challenge we had to embrace.
We have a long track record of winning victories to change school policy but at the time, even for us, in the summer of 2019, it was hard to imagine the balance of forces that would win any cuts in the school police force let alone its elimination. But the reason we carry out long-distance counter-hegemonic campaigns is because you never know what set of events, conflicts, and changes in conditions can lead to a victory— but you have to lay the groundwork for when that opportunity arises. On May 24, 2020 we could not see that opportunity.
But on May 25, 2020 brother George Floyd, woke up to just live his life, and wanted to believe that his Black life mattered. Sadly, tragically, and infuriatingly, he ended it as a Black martyr. When white police officer Derrick Chauvin stood on the neck of George Floyd for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and killed him in cold blood the whole world exploded— from Minneapolis to South Central to South Africa to South London. Tens of millions of people, led by the Black community groups, Black Lives Matter chapters, and joined by Latino, Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander, and white social justice groups, marched, protested, fought, put their bodies on the line, and pushed history forward.
In Los Angeles, two organizations provided the driving force of the broader movement, —Black Lives Matter L.A. and Students Deserve, a Black high school student organization with close ties to BLM/LA. Still, by May 25, 2020, with the murder of George Floyd and the great Black led rebellion that was sparked by his martyrdom, the Strategy Center had become a long-standing and trusted community institution in the Black community and the Strategy and Soul Center a community asset for “retreat, repair, reconstruction, rethinking, and resistance.” As tens thousands of us chanted, “Black Lives Matter/Prosecute Killer Cops/Defund the Police” the demand “Defund the Los Angeles School Police/No Police in the LAUSD Schools” vividly illustrated what every long-distance revolutionary and every Black student knew immediately, “There is nothing more powerful than idea whose time has come.”
Radical and revolutionary social movements need courageous elected officials to turn demands into structural changes
Another building block of the victory was the Strategy Center’s 30 year history of working with, struggling with, sitting in upon, suing and bringing to court, and successfully negotiating major structural policy changes with the leaders of the LA Power Structure—the elected, appointed, and corporate officials in the city. We know that many new to the movement—experiencing what seemed like an apparent and rapid cause and effect between protest and a $25 million/35% cut in a major police force—assumed that mass anger and “street heat” by themselves, almost like alchemy, turned recalcitrance into victory at the LAUSD board.
Yes, to be clear, the mass protests in the midst of a national rebellion for civil rights and Black liberation were clearly the driving force. But still, it took years of prior organizing and weeks of organizing and tactics to get the four votes to deliver the structural changes we were demanding.
In the first weeks of the rebellion, organizers, members, and leaders of Black Lives Matter/LA, Students Deserve, Brothers Sons Selves, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle, and the Labor/Community Strategy Center held many conversations to agree upon a tactical plan. We reached a consensus that we needed a strong board motion to move in the direction of defunding the entire LASPD budget. But let’s be clear. Just because a movement demands things it does not mean that the system is listening or every cares. The same historical moment and forces tried to win major cuts in the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). But despite thousands of people marching in front of the mayor’s house, he only put forth a cut of $150 million out of a $2 billion+ budget and even then, he mainly withdrew an increase he had proposed. Similarly unsuccessful, despite the Los Angeles Sheriff’s $3.5 billion, the county, only because of fiscal problems, only cut it by $150 million or less than 5%. So, to even get a board member to consider a cut of 25% let alone 50% would take a miracle. Still, we hoped for at least a motion to cut the budget by 50% but we also needed a leader on the board to entertain let alone introduce such a motion.
It became clear to those of us who had spent years working with the board that the miracle would have to take the form of board member Monica Garcia. Ms. Garcia had roots in the long history of Chicano(a) student and educational insurgency in East Los Angeles, and had led the fight on the truancy tickets, willful defiance, and returning the weapons. We needed her to step forward again. As a few of us reached out to her she was already reaching out to us. As we explained the idea for the 50% cut she said, “I am already there.” (See Counterpunch, How we got the weapons out of the LA Schools). After several of us including Maria Brenes director of Inner City Struggle and myself worked with board member Garcia, reporting back to Brothers Son Selves and Students Deserve and other allies, Ms. Garcia introduced a motion to not just cut 50% of the school police budget in 2021, but to extend those cuts to 75% in 2022, and 90% by 2023. The question became: how could we get four votes out of seven to pass her motion?
As I reported in CounterPunch (June 26, No Police in the L.A. Schools: A Great Breakthrough and Victory is in Sight) our first attempt was at the June 23 meeting. While we got four different board members, at different times in the debate, to agree to significant cuts in the LASPD budget, we could not get the four board members to find the will and unity to push through a common motion. And certainly not enough to support the visionary plan of Ms. Garcia. Right after the vote, I reported,
“The anger, pain, and determination of the Black community, the Latinx community, and all people of goodwill cannot be denied. There will be other votes and our movement is on the case. Victory is closer every day. No Police in the LAUSD Schools Now!”
After the “almost” June 23 LAUSD Board vote we had to pivot rapidly and move our energy to the board vote on the LAUSD budget of $7.6 billion on June 30, only a week away. Ms. Garcia agreed to re-introduce her motion, this time as an amendment to the annual budget. She also corrected a significant weakness in the first motion. Initially the motion called for the first set of cuts to be in 2021. This time we realized that we had to push for an immediate cut—that is, in the 2020 budget. Otherwise, the school police and their allies would have an entire year to counter-organize before the cuts went into place.
In the week preceding the budget vote, organizers from BLM LA, Students Deserve, Brothers Son Selves, United Teachers of Los Angeles, Inner City Struggle, and the Labor/Community Strategy Center—learning from the last board meeting and witnessing the contradictions inside and among the progressive board members—did more work to produce a unified voting bloc that could deliver four votes for the greatest possible cut in the police budget. Our tactical plan was clear. We would fight like hell to get at least 3 votes for Monica Garcia’s 50% cut in the 2020 budget and try to get a fourth. If we could not we would push for the greatest cut in the LAPSD budget possible upon which four board members (out of 7) could agree. But the $35 million/50% cut was our goal and that is what people spoke about all day and night.
In that week the movement groups had engaging discussions with board members Monica Garcia, Kelly Gonez, Nick Melvoin, and Jackie Goldberg—all of whom, at one time or another, had voted for at least a $20 million cut. The discussions were complex and principled and we were fortunate to have four board members who understood they had some accountability to our movement and agreed there had to be some significant cuts to the school police budget.
Even given the limitations on our mass presence by the COVID 19 restrictions (let alone it devastating impacts) we still were able to bring hundreds of people outside the board room, more than 50 of whom went inside to testify in person and another hundred who testified through video. Again it was the Black students, many with Students Deserve and all of them speaking with clear support for the 50% cut, that moved the entire process forward. Black students said the very existence and presence of the police made them sick; the police made them not want to go to school; the police brought intimidation, fear, and anti-Black animus into every day in school. And many, in a great consciousness raising experience for board members and community members alike, explained in stark detail that it was not just the police but the entire school system that was punitive, racist, and anti-Black. Each student raised their testimony to a heart-felt, spoken-word performance.
Still, it was not until the day of the vote that the dynamics of the board alliances played out. The organizations with the greatest history of working with board members tried to use every form of persuasion, negotiation, but also dynamics of mutual respect to forge a consensus. As the testimony continued we reached out to Nick Melvoin. Would he continue his vote from the week before for a 50% cut? Yes, he would! Then we had conversations with Kelly Gonez. Ms. Gonez said yes as well. As she explained, the week before she had supported a $20 million cut; but after another 5 hours of listening deeply to the students, she was convinced that a $35 million/50% cut was in order. So, by 7 PM we had three votes for Monica Garcia’s motion. (The week before we had two.) But three votes—without a fourth vote—would not be able to change anything.
The fourth vote we needed was that of board member Jackie Goldberg. Ms. Goldberg, a well-known figure in the LA progressive community, had been on the LAUSD board for many years, went off the board, and came back through an election in 2016 with the strong support of UTLA. But as of 7 PM on June 30 she would not move from her $20 million maximum cut. But when it became clear that we had three votes for the 50%/$35 million cut many people from UTLA and every other constituency had phone conversations with her and her allies, calling on her to please be the 4th vote for the 50% cut. Still, even after those conversations, she indicated she would not move past a $20 million cut.
Now here was the dilemma. Had Jackie Goldberg drawn a line in the sand at a $20 million cut it would have forced the 3 other board members, who were ready to vote for $35 million, to join her motion or lose everything. That still would have been a step forward objectively but in terms of the morale and consciousness of our movement, the Black students, and the 3 board members who had agreed to a $35 million cut, it would have been very demoralizing as well. For if one board member, and yes, a white board member, demanded that everyone come down to her $20 million—even though we had three votes for $35 million,—the Black students in particular, who were putting their hearts and lives on the line, would have been profoundly disappointed that their impassioned appeals did not win the cuts they had demanded.
Then, sometime around 8 PM, we had a breakthrough. While the 3 board members who opposed any cuts were beginning their long, redundant, rambling monologues, Garcia and Goldberg negotiated with each other. They agreed on a $25 million/35% cut. Under this plan, Monica would introduce her motion for a $35 million cut, knowing she had 3 votes. Then Jackie would introduce a “friendly” amendment—meaning it would be accepted by the maker of the motion—to reduce the cut to $25 million. If the amended motion passed it would replace the initial motion and would become part of the 2020 budget. The result was that Ms. Goldberg agreed to cut an additional $5 million out of the LASPD budget to move up in the direction of Ms. Garcia’s motion—even if, in return, three board members had to come down from their initial $35 million objective to meet hers.
And that is what happened. All four board members agreed upon a $25 million/35% cut. And yes, all the key organizations were aware of this agreement and enthusiastically signed off on it.)
Then, for at least three more hours, that seemed like an eternity, the three board members who opposed any cuts—George McKenna, the only Black member of the board, and white board members Scott Schmereson and Richard Vladovik, all of whom were former school administrators, spoke interminably about crime, gangs, danger, and the great contributions of police. While they knew our side had the four votes, they were speaking to a large constituency, not just among white parents but among some Black and Latin@ as well, who supported the police and who would be needed for their counter-plan that was already in the works.
Then finally, at 11:45 at night, almost 18 hours after some dedicated people had arrived at 6 AM to reserve seats for student speakers, the board finally voted. And yes, we won by the 4 to 3 vote we needed. Then the board voted to adopt the entire LAUSD $7.6 Billion budget. And when that passed, the $25 million cut in the Los Angeles School Police Department was locked in. And yes, while not the 50% we had hoped, the 35% cut that we won, is the largest percentage cut we know of in any school police force and any police for period during this period of urban rebellion.
In the midst of COVID 19, we could not have the in-person hugging and crying that most of us would have wanted. But in the bizarre new world of remote viewing, at least several hundred people watched all 14 hours and we estimate that at least another 1,000 more watched the final vote on the School Board website. Those who braved the day had the pleasure of laughter, affection, and hugs. Others of us had to celebrate through the most beautiful texts, emails, calls, and zooms! Everyone knew they were watching history being made by organizers and organizations right before their eyes.
It is great being an organizer. Many days are long, many leads do not pan out, many tactics do not achieve their objectives and many weeks turn into months turn into years. But then, if you are lucky, there are the magical moments of victory. Organizing is for the long-distance runners but also for those, often young, who rise up, take leadership, and speak with the revolutionary truth of their own experience. We all saw with our own eyes the great young revolutionary Black and Latinx students who opened up their hearts and souls, changed minds, changed policy, and changed history. We also felt validated that the very long-term work of constituency development in the high schools, long-term relationships with board members, and long history of winning so many structural reforms in the practice of policing led to this victory as well.
We also understood that for the four LAUSD board members who voted for this historic measure–Monica Garcia, Kelly Gonez, Nick Melvoin, and Jackie Goldberg—they were part of the movement. They had to exercise their own agency, their own political judgment, and their own battles with powerful countervailing forces to deliver the votes and the victory for the people.
The Countermoves continue and the Movement needs to stay on the offensive making an accurate assessment of your opponent’s tactical plan. Their superior force is always part of the reality and should not be a cause of despair; instead, it is a basis from which to develop a planned and conscious character to our resistance rooted in the actual conditions on the ground. If any movement wants to keep the political momentum it has to grasp the full power, danger, and tactical plan of its adversary so that it can develop a tactical plan based on that assessment. Sure enough, almost from the minute we won those who support a police/punitive school system went on the counter-offensive.
Conservative teachers counter-organizer
United Teachers of Los Angeles’ outgoing president Alex Caputo-Pearl and incoming president Cecily Myart-Cruz were forceful advocates for a full divestment of all police in the schools. The union’s House of Representatives voted by a 154-56 margin to support their position. Predictably, shortly after the LAUSD vote conservative elements in the union began pushing for a “full membership vote”— normally reserved for contract ratifications—to overturn the union’s position and as a vote of no confidence in the leadership. As Strategy Center organizers have attended and worked in the L.A. high schools for 30 years, we well understood that there is a substantial force of teachers, many white but also Black and Latinx, who see their students as dangerous and the police as their friend. We also saw so many UTLA teachers take a stand to be on the right side of history in this vote. This referendum will be a fight for the soul of the union. Its outcome is so important it will involve not just UTLA but many students, parents, and community groups who were instrumental in the LAUSD board victory to support teachers who are challenging colonial, anti-Black education. This will be a campaign with its own tactical plan—a campaign we have to win.
The Struggle at the school board continues
The LAUSD board meets every month and there will be many future votes—some to dismantle, some others to preserve, and some to expand the authoritarian, militaristic, punitive, and racist public school system. There will be debates about innovative forms of security and safety led by students, teachers, and community organizations. Many of us are moving to educate and mobilize the community for the full removal of all police in the schools. And there will be new motions to allocate far more than the $25 million cut from the police budget to fund Black students and schools with significant Black concentrations. This is where protracted long-term organizing comes into play. The vote we won is just a moment in time and now the struggle continues. We have to find the will and resources to play the long-game and not allow the other side to wear us down or for us to self-sabotage through complacency and self-congratulation.
Working out relationships with the new leadership of the LASPD
The LASPD has a new police chief, Leslie Ramirez, a graduate of LAUSD and a 29 year veteran of the school police force. Her job will be to protect the existing funding of the school police and to ask for the funding cuts to be restored. There will be decent police with whom we have already worked saying, “Give us a chance to do better.” It will be a challenge to work with the existing police, and a Latina police chief, as we try to restrict their abuses, reach agreements with them on specific behaviors, and at the same time call for their entire budget and role to be eliminated. The police are real people and real political forces and we engage them all the time through protests, conversations and negotiations. As one example, in May 2016, four years before this vote, the Strategy Center negotiated with former LASPD chief Steven Zipperman, a very decent person, to return the weapons—1 tank, 3 grenade launchers, and 61 M-16s—to the Department of Defense and issue an apology to the community—which he did. And yet, how did he have the power and the will to have ordered those weapons in the first place? And can you even imagine a white school district having procured those weapons in the first place?
Now, when the police are recalcitrant and won’t negotiate it is easy to be in complete opposition to them. But when they approach you and say, “OK. I know you want to get rid of us but right now we exist and you exist so we better sit down and figure out if there are agreements we can reach” it presents a tactical conundrum. In most cases, the Strategy Center would agree to those conversations and possible negotiations for specific improvements because that is our fundamental approach. We feel responsible to oppressed communities and our members are part of and represent those communities. People understand if you go into negotiations in good faith and come back to say the offer was tokenistic, manipulative, and even harmful. While they will still want to hear the details we have gotten great support because people trust that we did not reject the conversation out of hand. That does not mean that others cannot reach different tactical decisions and yes, we have also turned down meetings we felt were manipulative on their face. But in this case, as just one tactical dilemma, the LASPD will be here for at least a year and most likely more in some, hopefully reduced capacity. And what if board members who have voted to cut their funding also ask us to negotiate with them to further restrict their authority and actions? The specifics are for each group to work out in their particularity. But our experience has indicated that for us, when in doubt we engage. For us, it is the clarity of the demands, the building of an independent base around a radical, structural program, building a broad united front to support those proposals, close ties with our members and the broader community, and the constant pushing for the most radical solutions that can give community-based revolutionaries the upper hand. So in this case, yes, our ongoing negotiations with the police, still shaped by the specifics of when and how and in consultation with our allies to have a clear and agreed upon tactical plan, are part of our “No police in the LAUSD Schools” campaign.
Update on the board and LASPD struggles
At the last LAUSD board meeting on Tuesday August 4, the counter-movement counter-organized in the most predictable but also substantial form. As Channing Martinez reported,
“A group of teachers, administrators, and students from Building Blue Bridges, at Crenshaw and Dorsey High Schools, the last high concentration Black high schools, spoke against the cuts in the LASPD budget. BBB is a police initiated program, in the long tradition of Police Athletic Leagues, (“PAL”) to portray the police as part of the counseling and even therapeutic services of the school. More than 20 people spoke for an hour and half saying that the cuts in the LASPD budget would require cuts in their program. They argued that Building Blue Bridges takes students on field trips, assemblies, and seminars with police officers. ‘We do not believe that most police are brutal or racist and in fact, if you just give them a chance to get to know the students better these problems can be solved.’ A group of organized Latinos were very critical of Black Lives Matter by name. They argued that LAUSD used Black Lives Matter protests and the death of George Floyd to carry out policies that were very harmful to Latinos. They told stories about gang violence (both Black and Latinx) and argued that the School Police protect them and make them feel safe. My conclusion is clear. Just as we predicted “the other side” is mobilizing.
This is all the more reason that our movement has to organize for every board meeting, bring more speakers, rebut hostile speakers, and constantly try to win and shape the terms of the debate. There are some who think we can just come to each board meeting and ask for another motion to further cut the police. Yes, that should be part of the plan. But the board is not going to take another vote to make further cuts for many more months or even until next year’s budget vote. It is the fine-grained day by day organizing and active participation in each LAUSD board meeting that can create the conditions for the next major offensive on our part and the next opportunity for another round of cuts. And yes, to create the framework for when the next visible instance of police abuse generates the next mass upsurge that can help us win greater cuts.
The police around the country are organizing a white and right backlash
The United States has more than 850,000 paid and armed police who, through police unions, police political associations and police contributions to and threats against elected officials are a political army to fight for police political power. Police and their many allies will use every incident of Black self-defense or aggressive and pre-emptive self-defense, or Black people attacking each other, or Black people violating the system’s laws most of which were passed to arrest Black folks in the first place to prove to an audience that already hates Black people that the Defund the Police movement is a threat to their psychological, cultural, and physical safety. In New York City, Black people are 24% of the population but 50% of the arrests—another mathematical proof of genocide—even after stop and frisk has allegedly been overturned. And yet, the New York Post recently showed a picture of two unarmed Black people “putting a policeman in a chokehold” with the headline, “So you want to defund the police?” Now in fact the officer was not injured and in many instances he would have murdered the Black people not just arrested them. But the point is the system is on the ideological counter-attack. So yes, again, we have to expand agit-props, political education and the war of ideas as another front to build up our forces and to combat any loss of momentum from our victory.
Trump is taking out ads attacking the Democrats and the “defund the police” movement
Trump’s ads, in the tradition of Leni Riefenstahl, show demonstrators, many white, throwing objects through windows in protest against U.S. racist practices. The voice over says, “This is what happens when you defund the police.” The ads offer visual incitement to Trump’s base to support his “if you loot we will shoot” movement.
The Democratic Party wants to divert the Defund the Police Movement to a moderate and ineffective appeal for “racial justice” that it hopes can turn out the Black vote without turning off the white vote. The just concluded Democratic Convention spoke about “inclusion” of Black people into the party, inclusion of Black women into the party, ending “private prisons” when it is the public prisons that are the main danger, and “criminal justice reform” that cannot threaten the police or prison guards because no one even knows what it means. Meanwhile Joe Biden has rejected any efforts to defund the police. He does defend “peaceful protest” but will not defend the righteous militancy of a life and death movement with anything like the vehemence with which Trump is denouncing us. How does our movement keep winning the battle of ideas in a society that is a racist police state? How do we push the Democrats to go beyond cooptation of Black Lives Matter?
The core of our problem is that the police state is not a reflection of “The Right” or “Trump” but an integral part of the formation and perpetuation of the U.S white settler state into which progressive Democrats of color are trying to integrate—often as simply the best choice they believe is historically possible. In every major urban center it is the Democratic Party that is the political apparatus of the police state. Throughout U.S. history the police were armed settlers murdering Indigenous peoples nations in the way of their land grab hysteria, the police were the armed forces on the plantation and the white poor slave catchers organized at their periphery; the Klan and the police so integral that in the civil rights movement we said they were “blue by day and white by night.” In CORE and SNCC we knew that the Southern racist Democrats and northern Democratic liberals were joined at the hip. So today, in Los Angeles and among all of our allies in the Police Out of the Schools Movement, as we push beyond our important but short term victory, the larger strategic question is even more imposing: How do we “defund the police” when the police and the U.S. army are the institutionalized enforcement arms of the U.S. white settler police state?
An organizer’s interpretation of some lessons from the Defund the Police/No Police in the LAUSD Schools Campaign
I understand that all organizers assert some relationship of cause and effect to prove or validate their theories. So will I. In my work with the Strategy Center and my role as an historian of social movement I give great emphasis on what I call “theory-driven practice, practice-driven theory.” Based on our collective sum-up of our own practice, the practice we observe of others, and a deep reading of the history of revolutionary movements and revolutions, in the end all I can say is, “These to us, are the lessons we have drawn from our own work and a broader reading of history.” I hope it can inform your own organizing work and again lead to discussion and debate.
As I repeat for myself and my readers every time, “There is no such thing as “history” only the battle over the interpretation of history.” While I have written this article as a participant in a Black-led united front trying to represent the views of its leading actors in the end any article reflects the politics and conclusions of its author.
Re-asserting Black Power, Black self-determination, and Black focus and priority to drive the larger movement was critical to our victory.
The pro-Black movement to fight anti-Blackness won the day. We won the ideological victory. While many of our groups are all Black, others all Latinx, others Black and Latinx, others multi-racial, and others virtually all white, we all agreed this was a Black moment in history that were fighting to expand. Every group with whom we worked including our own Latina members and many overwhelmingly Latinx groups, wanted to punctuate that virtually all the martyrs of our movement including George Floyd are Black. In the testimony before the board, besides many Black students, it was deeply moving that many Latina students spoke of their own suffering and oppression but then said, “But you treat the Black students even worse and I am here in solidarity with them.”
Within the broader social justice movement, some Latinx groups have asserted it is a Latinx/Black or “people of color” alliance but have not prioritized the special oppression of Blacks to the grave detriment of the Black community—and in our view, their own work. Some Latinx organizers, aware that Latinos are entering the labor market as Blacks are being driven out, moving into South Central as Blacks are being driven out, have replied, “It is not our fault or responsibility. These are the “objective factors” of capitalism that we can’t control.” Other Latinx organizers, not just in the Strategy Center but throughout the U.S. have argued that it is the Latinx working class and community that must rally to the side of the Black community to address its special and egregious oppression at the hands of the white settler state. Every organizer can control the political line, the political narrative, and the ideological argument. At the LAUSD school board, it was the powerful line of Black priority set by Black Lives Matter L.A. enthusiastically supported by UTLA, Inner City Struggle, Labor/Community Strategy Center, and so many Latinx students that carried the day This time the battle to give focus and credit to the Black movement that has fought so hard for every oppressed group did not liquidate the experiences of Latinx people but in fact amplified them.
Reconstructing the Latinx/immigrant rights, Chicano movement force in the long battle against the police in the schools and the police state
In our work and in this campaign, in that many of our high school members are Latina, but also because those are our politics, we have also argued that Latinx people, Mexican immigrants, and Chicanos are oppressed peoples inside the borders of the United States with the right of self-determination. As early as 1994, in our opposition to the racist, anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California, the Strategy Center wrote and published, Immigrant Rights and Wrongs—to fight for open borders and human rights for immigrants that superseded any U.S. racist laws. Our initial history was shaped by Center founder Rodolfo Acuna in his book Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. The dilemma now is very deep in the organizing process that goes beyond facile assertions of Black/Latino unity. There are deep fears and conservative instincts inside the Black and Latino communities. There are many families who support and defend the police out of their own experience but also the 24/7 barrage of pro-police propaganda that shapes the entire U.S. ideological field. If our movement loses its Black priority we will lose our moral and political edge. If we minimize or liquidate the specificity of Latino oppression, the courage of the Dreamers, the militancy of Latinx youth who have their own fights with the system we will also lose our strategic power. This complex navigation how to build a powerful Black/Latinx movement that goes beyond a mechanical coalition is beyond the scope of this article. But I can assert that in the battle against the Los Angeles School Police we found that note, that lyric, that symphony that captured everyone’s imagination. The challenge will be to keep reconstructing it as new conditions develop and new forces in both the Black and Latino communities take us on.
We situated the fight against school police in the larger frame of the public schools as colonial instruments in which “education” is code for socializing, subordinating, and breaking the will of Black and Latinx students.
During our last 20 years of organizing in the L.A. public schools, we have seen that every abuse of the rights of Black and Latinx students, and always, with by far the worst impacts on the Black students, reflected the deeper abuses of colonial education. When we fought to stop the ticketing of students as they entered the school for “truancy,” at the instruction of the School board, when we stopped administrators, at the instruction of the school board, use the racially constructed violation called “willful defiance” (meaning Black boys expressing any form of life) as a pretense for their suspension and expulsion we developed and even deeper understanding of the school as a jail. The school system imposes a culture of surveillance, passes, disciplinary proceedings, verbal reprimands, and school police on the students. Black students, often young women, testified that from the minute they walk in to school they are a suspect. Their every behavior is monitored, criticized, controlled, and disciplined. As more one Black student said, “After so many interactions with the school police, I wake up in the morning and do not want to go to school” For those working on uplifting the academic performance of Black students the “school as jail” formulation points to a radical dismantling of an entire spider web of repressive institutions and behaviors toward Black students. We rejected the politics of close-to-the-Democratic Party community groups who speak about “education reform” “racially disproportionate impacts” and “implicit bias.” Instead, we indicted the public schools as anti-Black and settler colonial and the school police as a military arm to enforce racist policies—not an aberration but a necessity.
In the Strategy Center’s June 1, 2020 letter to the LAUSD School board and Superintendent Austin Beutner, we wrote,
“The entire concept of “school police” is a reflection of a colonialist and racist worldview. Today, the public schools, even with their best efforts, continue the pattern of “Indian Residential Schools” in which the goal or at least the outcome is the breaking of the spirit, subjugation, and humiliation of Black and Latinx students to bend them to the will of an oppressive white society. We know there are many who do not believe they are perpetuating those pernicious impacts, but we look to the best intentioned supervisors, teachers, and board members to fight for the end of “School police” in order to stop inflicting pain and racial abuse on Black and Latinx students and families. While we can of course enumerate specific abuses of the LASPD we are arguing that the daily experience of Black and Latinx students being patrolled by armed police creates a terrible and terrifying sense of normalcy that is in itself cultural and racial assault on their development as full human beings and has profoundly traumatic impacts.”
In an empire based on the dominating ideology of “one nation, indivisible” the subordination and integration of the Black and Latinx child into the ideology and institutions of the white settler state is the central role of public education. In this case, students, parents, teachers, and board members took a small but significant step to challenge and discredit the ideology and institutional power of colonial education.
After decades of confronting the racist policies of the school system and school police the Movement, with great leadership from Black Lives Matter L.A., escalated the criticism that the police by their very existence are racist.
United Teachers of Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz, who was a middle school teacher, said, “What is a Black child supposed to think when they see a policeman with a gun and pepper spray?” Others asked, “and what happens to their soul, their confidence, their academic achievement? Again, the reality of police state trauma is a direct factor in depressing and suppressing Black student academic performance and self-esteem. The police by their very existence are racist. Their intimidation and threats while also deeply impacting Chicano(a) and Latinx students is imposed at a far higher level and ferocity against Black students. This is rooted in the slave ship police, the plantation police, and the white racist police constructed to capture, torture, and return the runaway slaves.
The very demand to dismantling the police and the police state, reflected in Defund the Police movement, is a major breakthrough in history and a challenge to the Democratic Party and Civil Rights establishment.
In the midst of the mass rebellions in response to the police murder of George Floyd, every urban police chief, every Democratic Party elected official, every member of the civil rights establishment tied to big city mayors spoke with studied sincerity to call for laws to prosecute police and limit their immunity, and laws and contracts to give more authority for police chiefs to remove the unbearably clichéd and omnipresent “rotten apples.” In the midst of the new growth industry of media selected Black talking heads with no ties or accountability to social movements the goal of the establishment was clear—to create a new class of commentators whose interests were to promote their careers while consciously deflecting and rejecting the movement to dismantle the police altogether. (And yes, movement people must fight so that the leaders of social movements are the spokespeople who represent their demands to the media— another front in the endless war.) Today Joe Biden refuses to defund any police while Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti made a deceptive and tokenistic reduction of no more than $150 million from a $2 billion police force while retaining all 10,000 armed officers. The U.S. still perpetuates more than 1,000 police killings per year in which Blacks are murdered at 300% times their percentage in the population. Our movement broke through the deceptions of the Democratic establishment including many in the Black community who issue the endless and hopeless calls for body cameras and other superficial restrictions on an armed army that is a law unto itself. Our victory in an actual defunding that led to an immediate lay-off of armed police sets the tone for a larger defund the police movement.
Counter-hegemonic demand development is critical to give content to the Defund the Police movement and avoid tokenistic and cooptive maneuvers by Democratic Party and civil rights establishment forces. Our 50% cut, 75% cut, then 90% cut and then phase out the school police altogether demand and movement can shape the defund the police movements in the U.S.
Why are there very few movements calling for a 50% cut in the police departments? Why are there very even fewer to even conceptualize a 50%, 75%, and then 90% cut in police funding—which is tantamount to completely phasing out the police? I worry that there is not enough tactical unity in the movements challenging the police state. So even when people say, “Defund the police” there is little agreement or will to turn that into an actual long-term campaign. The “Defund the Police” movement is still vulnerable to cooptation until it can agree in each city as to how much money will be defunded, how many police let go, and how fast they can win the actual changes. The No Police in the L.A. Schools Movement’s demand for a 50%, then 75% then 90% cut is one that other organizations and movements should consider. And our actual victory of 35% could be a baseline of expectations in an actual struggle that won. And despite the normal tensions inside our united front, those contradictions were resolved through very principled struggle so that we all were really fighting for the largest cut possible. The unity of our forces was a decisive factor in the actual vote by the school board.
The dialectical alliance of youth, new forces, militant long-distance runners, and sustained organizing work was key to the victory.
In every social movement, it takes new forces, new people, new energy, often new organizations, coming from Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Third World youth, and white youth following their leadership, to provide the driving force of historical change. It was Black Lives Matter and Students Deserve who provided that great driving force in Los Angeles supported by Inner City struggle high school students, BSS students, and high school students from Strategy Center Taking Action Social Justice clubs. While there was great leadership by youth and students, many of them participated and provided leadership inside multi-generational organizations with long track records and deep community ties that had the influence and muscle to win the day. Black Lives Matter L.A. began in 2013. Students Deserve has been in the schools for more than a decade. The most progressive leadership of UTLA has fought since the Coalition for Educational Justice for more than 15 years. Inner City Struggle has struggled for 20 years and the Strategy Center has strategized for 30. Many of the people providing leadership at the board meeting had a long history of struggle and agreements with board members that helped shape the final breakthrough vote and many students learned that demonstrations, social media, preparing testimony, testifying, and direct conversations with community leaders and board members are part of an integrated tactical plan.
Inside the social justice movement in which many young people are providing leadership there are debates about the politics of what is now called “youth organizing.” The Strategy Center, having recruited, trained, retained, and encouraged hundreds of Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander organizers, and a few white organizers as well, has chosen create school based youth/student forms but also integrate “youth organizing” into a larger multi-generational strategy of a Black/Latin@/Third World alliance. Our student leaders share that perspective and have often fought for it. We have seen some views in the movement that identify “youth” and “youth organizing” in ways to overestimate and even exacerbate generational contradictions inside Black and Latinx communities and to underestimate the many different political perspectives between and among students. Even today, when more than half of our most active members are Black and Latinx high school students, inside the Strategy Center it is our multi-generational strategy and tactical plan that attracts the students who have the greatest political unity with us. We are presently working with more than 200 high school students in three Los Angeles High Schools all of whom, based on the inevitability of the laws of evolution, are getting older every day. It is our appeal to them as future college students or entrants into the job market and from there long distance runners, and their direct experience in working with people of all generations that gives them hope that their lives, and those of their families, can be part of a long-term and unified national liberation struggle.
In Los Angeles, we have, for the most part, avoided the pitfalls of over-stated generational conflicts inside Black and Latinx community organizations. Obviously if older members of an organization try to dominate or dismiss the energy and initiative of young people or fear their anger and militancy then they place the entire future of the organization at risk and will bring many of the problems down on themselves.
We are also deeply concerned that some political lines inside “youth organizing” lead to a caricature, rejection, and dismissal of the achievements of Black, Chicano, and Third World revolutionary organizations throughout U.S. history —and those of only a few years ago. That is why we teach, “Study history, interpret history, and make history” through our Strategy and Soul Revolutionary Organizers Film and Book Club whose members are from 12 to 95. Many of our leaders are high school students who also reach out to their parents, families, and teachers. Inside the No Police in the L.A. Schools campaign, the energy and initiative of youth was palpable, welcomed, and given great room to breathe. But in turn, the students gave great respect to parents, teachers, family, movement veterans, and yes, LAUSD board members, who were critical to the victory. In our struggle, it was a multi-generational Black led, Latino supported, multi-racial united front that won the day. We did not attack each other. We kept our eyes on the prize. We focused on the system, our demands, and the victory.
Our movement had greater power and greater multi-racial unity by situating the No Police struggle inside the larger catastrophe of U.S. attacks against Black people. Inside that united front the Strategy Center situated our broader educational work in the frame of the Black community as an oppressed nation inside the borders of the United States. No one wanted to or chose to debate with each other the specificity of our structural analysis of Black oppression but we all shared and expressed the egregious, outrageous, unacceptable, and systematic nature of the system’s attack on Black people.
The Strategy Center, as one group in this broad united front, carried out our own independent political line to guild our work and contribute to the larger debate and discussion. For us we use the term “Black Nation” to describe and analyze the reality of Black experience and nationality formation inside the U.S. imperialist white settler. In my own study, I am deeply influenced by the Comintern’s 1928 and 1930 Resolutions on the Afro-American National Question and Komozi Woodard’s discussion of Black national formation in Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka and Black Power Politics. In the present, Channing Martinez and I use it frequently on our radio show, Voices from the Frontlines and explore it at public events at Strategy and Soul with professors Akinyele Umoja and Robin D.G. Kelley. And contrary to stereotypes of groups that have a private revolutionary and public reformist discourse we use those concepts, based on time, place, and conditions, in public testimony at government agencies and in discussions with elected officials.
We use the concept in the broadest sense of an oppressed people with the right of self-determination whose dire circumstances allow them to bring human rights charges against the government of the United States. We elevate the work of Malcolm X who said, “To be clear, I am a Black nationalist.” On the other hand, we have worked to distance ourselves from the sometimes bitter infighting inside the Black movement as different groups have confronted each other over their particular views as to what is a Black nation and which is the group best able to lead the struggle—often with the result that a possible united front is destroyed.
In our work we center discussions of Black revolutionary nationalism around the very concrete and historically determined efforts of William L. Patterson, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X who brought the plight of Black people in the U.S. to the attention of the United Nations. Under international human rights law and practice, they could only do so by arguing that Black people constitute a racially and nationally oppressed people inside a hostile and racist nation state.
At the Strategy Center, our perspective that Black people are an oppressed nation suffering genocide at the hands of the U.S. imperialist white settler state is the larger frame that has given greater power to our grassroots organizing in South Central Los Angeles and throughout the 4 million person city and 10 million person county. For us, it has been critical as to why and we retain members and organizers for 3, 5, 10, 15, and 20 and more years.
As late as March of this year, this perspective was most clearly articulated in the Channing Martinez for City Council race. Martinez, who described himself as a Black, Garifuna, queer, civil rights and climate justice revolutionary won 2400 votes, overwhelmingly from Black voters, and 5% of the total. His influence at the dozens of large community candidates’ forums was far larger than his vote. Martinez ran on a counter-hegemonic platform that began with the Strategy Center’s 5 core demands—No Police in the LAUSD Schools, No Police on MTA buses and trains, Stop MTA Attacks on Black Passengers, Free Public Transportation, No and Cars in L.A. But during the campaign that just ended in March 2020 (and a run-off from which with the two highest polling candidates will be in November 2020) Channing expanded his program to calling for a 50% cut in the funding of the LAPD and 50% of all new public and private sector jobs going to Black applicants. He put forth the entire set of demands, including Open Borders for all immigrants and U.S. hands off Venezuela, China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, and the world as part of an anti-genocide campaign. These four months of the most intense door to door, person to person organizing put us in conversation with thousands of potential voters, 1,000 of whom signed petitions to allow him to get on the ballot and 2400 of whom voted for him. This campaign, only three months before the June board votes, gave additional support for the Strategy Center’s participation in the No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign and confidence that our call to “Stop U.S. Genocide Against the Black Nation” could, with art and thoughtfulness, be helpful to our work and the larger campaign. And in terms of political theory we learned even more than we understood before the campaign that for the Black community and most people in the U.S., “politics” still is best understood as “electoral politics.” The idea that we ran a “revolutionary community organizing campaign” validated our highest hopes. Somehow, when a young Black man, from Crenshaw High School and Otis College of Art and Design, is on a panel with 4 other substantial candidates, including Mark Ridley Thomas, a Democratic Party powerhouse, says he wants to cut the LAPD budget by 50 percent or end all police in the schools, people seem to listen better to the ideas. And when Channing said, “If I am elected I will spend 90 percent of my time in the community and 10 percent at the city council, and MRT said, “If you do that they will eat your lunch” it was a great and thoughtful debate about the role of community organizing and elected officials. And it wasn’t again right or wrong as much as the entire discussion raised the consciousness of the Black community, and all of us on the campaign. All of this work created a far strong base for the Strategy Center going into the No Police in the Schools votes of June 2020.
In our political education classes, we have given great attention the brilliant work of William L. Patterson—We Charge Genocide: the Crime of the U.S. Government against the Negro People—presented to the United Nations in 1951 and re-issued in 1970 with a chilling introduction by Ossie Davis.
Black men were brought to this country to serve an economy which needed our labor. And even when slavery was over, there was still a need for us in the American economy as cheap labor. We picked the cotton, dug the ditches, shined the shoes, swept the floors, hustled the baggage, washed the clothes, cleaned the toilets—we did the dirty work for all America—that was our place, the place where the American economy needed us to be. But a revolution of profoundest import is taking place in America. Every year our economy produces more and more goods and services with fewer and fewer men. Hard, unskilled work—the kind nobody else wanted, that made us so welcome in America, the kind of work that we “niggers” have always done—is fast disappearing. Even in the South—in Mississippi for example —95 per cent and more of the cotton is picked by machine. And in the North as I write this, more than 30 per cent of black teenage youth is unemployed. The point I am getting to is that for the first time, black labor is expendable; the American economy does not need it any more. What will a racist society do to a subject population for which it no longer has any use? Will America, in a sudden gush of reason, good conscience, and common sense reorder her priorities?—revamp her institutions, clean them of racism so that Blacks and Puerto Ricans and American Indians and Mexican Americans can be and will be fully and meaningfully included on an equal basis? Or, will America, grow meaner and more desperate as she confronts the just demands of her clamorous outcasts, choose genocide?”
In 1989, forty years after the publication of We Charge Genocide, the Strategy Center published the historic work of Professor Cynthia Hamilton, one of our founding members—Apartheid in American City: The Case of the Black Community in South Central Los Angeles. In her terrifyingly prescient description
“The larger unspoken malady affecting South Central stems from the idea that the land is valuable but the present tenants are not. This ‘Bantustan’ like its counterparts in South Africa serves now only as a holding space for Blacks who are no longer of use to the larger economy. Today, South Central is 75% Black with 280,000 Black residents. It is a wasteland with few jobs, no industry, and few functioning services.”
Now, 70 years after the publication of We Charge Genocide and 30 years after the publication of Apartheid in an American City, the genocidal policies of the U.S. government have been further instrumentalized.
In 1970, there were 200,000 people in U.S. prisons, at least 25% of whom were Black. At the time we thought that number was an outrageous reflection of U.S. racism and police force—which it was. Today there are 2.3 million people in prison almost 1 million of whom are Black. In 1970 there were less than 200,000 people in U.S. prisons. Today there are 200,000 women! In U.S. prisons. And while Black people are 13% of the population Black women are 30% of all the women in prison—a factor of almost 300% more than random and even more compared to white underrepresentation.
The astronomical, predictable and consistent measurement of Black overrepresentation in every index of pain, suffering, and misery—imprisonment, homelessness, death by police, unemployment, death by COVD 19—at ratios of 200%, 300%, 500%. 600% over “equal” or “random” experience of is a central mathematical proof of genocide.
So, today, we situate the struggle to eliminate all police from the LAUSD and every school in the U.S. as a central component of the fight to stop and reverse U.S. genocide against Black people. Look at every major urban center in the U.S. There is a systematic policy, carried out by Democratic Party big city mayors, to drive Black people out of every major city, every major job market, out of any area of Black concentration and Black political power. The miseducation and mistreatment of the Black child is tied to an even larger and nefarious plan to brutally punish Black people, the Black community, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Liberation Movement, for its leadership of the Great Revolution of the Sixties. For those of us who were there and saw a revolution with our own eyes, for those Indigenous, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and white movement people, it was unquestioned that the Black Liberation Movement’s provided essential political and moral leadership to every oppressed group in the U.S. and a significant movement of anti-racist, anti-war white folks. We saw and participated in the Black occupation of key urban centers, in its mass rebellions organized and spontaneous. We saw the Black anti-war, anti-colonial leadership of the anti-Vietnam war, anti-Apartheid movement. We saw Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Harry Edwards, Ruth Turner, and thousands of Black leaders oppose every U.S. coup, invasion, and mass murder. We also saw The System turn on any Black leaders who went beyond “integration” into challenging the U.S. Empire and the ferocious and punitive backlash against SNCC, the Black Panthers, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and any other Blacks against empire. The systematic white backlash reflected in driving Black people out of any centers of political power today is rooted in the system’s fear and hatred of Black rebellion since the first enslaved African was forced onto the first white European slave ship.
The fight to get Black people back to their previous areas of political concentration— the “right of return” of Black people to New Orleans, Harlem, and South Central— has been a growing focus of our work and the No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign
In Los Angeles, the school system’s crimes are reflected in terrifying statistics—Black children, once 25% of the public school population, now comprise only 8% of the LA public school population. No system of this magnitude and power can have an outcome it did not plan. It is clear the city, the ruling class, the Democratic Party, does not want a large Black population and neither does it school system. As we judge all people by the consequences of their actions, the LAUSD, as an institution, does not want Black children to feel comfortable, confident, and welcome and has to understand that the result is Black students have great difficulty in reading, mathematics, and every other measurement of performance. This is an intentional and racist outcome. In fact, despite its protestations to the contrary, the public school system does not want Black children and their families at all.
The “Right of Return” is a demand associated with the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination and national liberation. It can also shape the most engaged programmatic conversations about how to significantly increase the Black population of the LA schools and every urban center in the U.S. We have to begin by protecting and prioritizing the 50,000 remaining Young, Gifted, and Black students who remain. But we also need a real plan to bring 350,000 missing Black people back to Los Angeles, 100,000 Black people back to New Orleans, and 100,000 Black people back to Harlem so that “the right of return” is a demand tied to a tactical plan. The occupied, colonized, and terrorized Black children in the L.A. school system cannot be made free and whole without that larger frame, that larger struggle to protect and expand their families and communities.
Conclusion—bringing our movement onto the national and international stage—defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 Elections, bringing a Black and Third World liberation challenge to Biden/Harris and the Democratic Party
As we move to build on our victory to expand the Black Liberation Movement and the Black/Latinx/Third World Alliance the Strategy Center is paying greater attention to the forthcoming presidential elections— where a fascist president encourages right and white wing thugs to run rampant north and south and threatens to cancel the election or refuse to leave office if he is not re-elected. While some legalistically argue “he can’t do that” Trump is already signaling to his forces that if Biden is elected there will be an armed, right-wing uprising that will of course target Black and Mexican people to keep him in power.
Under these circumstances, there is an urgent need to build a united front against fascism in alliance with the Democrats and work for the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But to be clear, there are also many fascists who live inside the Democratic Party. As Biden and Kamala Harris threaten war with China, Venezuela, and Iran, the election of the Democratic Party of war and racism will produce its own profound challenges for our movement. Rather than talking about what to do “after the election” the momentum from the Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police/No Police in the LAUSD Schools victory has to be brought directly into the national and Democratic Party debate. To be clear, none of the proposals below are being articulated by Biden, Harris, or the Democratic Party platform. We also reach out to our friends in every formation, Movement For Black Lives, Black Futures Lab, Democratic Socialists of America, Justice Democrats, who share these concerns to use their influence to support these demands as part of their own agenda for pushing the Democrats to the Black, to the Brown, and to the Left.
Cut all funding for federal, state, and local police forces. The call to “Defund the Police” and our call for “the social welfare state not the police state; climate justice state not the warfare state” goes to the heart of what the United States is, not just what it does.
As our researchers, Taylor Bentzen and Joseph Seyedan, worked to document the full institutional extent of the police and military state their work also exposed their many connections and interpenetrations of the federal government and local police forces into one unified dictatorship. As our movement fights for no police in the schools, no police on the trains, on the buses, in the streets, in the communities, in the workplaces and on the roads it’s a true miracle that we were able to defund any part of any this repressive web. So now, how do we extend that discussion to cut the funding for ICE, the FBI, the CIA, and the COPS program, and other federal enforcement and intervention program? As just one example, the Strategy Center was able to convince the LA school police to return weapons to the Department of Defense 1033 Program that provides military grade weapons to state, local, and school police forces. But how do we shut down the entire program? In 2016, in the last year of the Obama administration, the Strategy Center, along with many other national civil rights groups, called on the administration to close down the program altogether. Instead, they sided with the police chiefs and were moving to relax the small restrictions they had already placed on the program.
In every federal funding bill there are hundreds of millions and often billions of dollars to fund federal law enforcement programs that are often more punitive and onerous than the already racist and repressive local police departments. We call on the Biden/Harris team to shut down the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS) established as part of the 1994 Bill and Hillary Clinton Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act— that increased the federal penalties for many crimes, including adding new offenses that can be punished by death. The Department of Justice, which oversees the COPS program, has provided $14 billion since its inception to hire and train local police involved in community policing. Job Biden has pledged more than $300 million a year to this pacification program. He must drop that demand and shut down the program altogether.
Another federal atrocity is the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants that were started as a part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 to give more funding, and more ties to the federal government, for $435 million each year. Ironically, former president George W. Bush tried to end the program but was overruled by both parties. Those trying to reform the Democratic Party and those of us working to defund the police should demand the end to the COPS, Byrne JAG, and DOD 1033 programs.
Quadruple the funding of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Department. The Justice department, as the federal agency that oversees local and state police departments, does far more harm than good. Still, the enforcement powers of the 1964 Civil Rights Act fall under its purview and some very good people choose to work at “Justice” with the hope to fight against police brutality and local and state racist practices. The federal consent decree imposed on the Ferguson Police Department, with all of its limitations, was the type of federal power that a strong Department of Justice can use on the side of more radical and structural demands by civil rights, Black, Latinx, and human rights organizers.
Under the Civil Rights Act each federal department, along with the DOJ, has the power to cut all federal funding for the programs it funds if it finds racially discriminatory practices—Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Health and Human Services. The federal government, even under the weakened 1964 Civil Rights Act, has the power to cut off all funding from every school board, police department, hospital, city, and county that is found guilty of discriminating against Black, Latinx, and other oppressed minorities. It still has the power to under the legal standard of “disparate impact” in which plaintiffs would only have to prove that a specific policy “disproportionately” harms Black students. If that could be proven the federal government would have the right and power to cut off all federal funds. While the federal government only provides 8 percent of all local school budgets the loss of federal funds for public schools could be a powerful weapon. The more structural problem than the Supreme Court restrictions is that Democratic Administrations have rarely chosen to exercise that power against racist Democrats in urban and rural centers since it would require convicting fellow Democrats of violating civil rights. (The Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, after extensive federal filings by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Public Advocates, got the Department of Transportation on three separate occasions to accept a discrimination complaint against the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority–in itself a significant breakthrough. And yet, in each case, two under Obama and one under Trump, the Department of Transportation Civil Rights Department and Department of Justice took a dive and capitulated to the Democratic mayors—Villaraigosa and Garcetti—rather than cut off MTA funds and support the rights of 500,000 Latino and Black bus riders. For those organizers in the Movement for Black Lives, for the supporters of Sanders and Warren, for The Squad, we need a major intervention in the 2020 election to get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to pledge that they will make major investments in the DOJ and Civil Rights Departments of each federal agency and prosecute cities and states, even under Democratic mayors and governors, including cutting off funding from government agencies convinced of racial discrimination. Right now, no one even understands this as a real demand and we need those who have greater access to the Democratic Party to push these demands as a structural response to the mass uprisings over the murder of George Floyd. You know as well as we do that the party is focusing on visual diversity more than anti-racist policies and our Movement needs your help.
We are also reaching out to many prominent, independent movement people, who like us, are supporting Biden and Harris, to push beyond their line, “vote for them because they are better than Trump and can allow us to organize” to the demand, “which is why we need to organize now! during not just after the campaign.
Pass new federal amendments to the Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that explicitly reinstate the legal right for civil rights groups, called “private parties” to bring civil rights suits against employers, institutions, and government with the same “disparate impact” standard now available to the federal government.
When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, it clearly allowed civil rights groups to bring their own cases whether or not the Department of Justice or the Department of Transportation or any federal department chose to bring them. As late as 1996 the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund brought a civil rights case against the Los Angeles MTA charging them with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We charged the MTA with violating the civil rights of 500,000 bus and train riders by dramatically raising the bus fares and cutting out the monthly bus pass causing “irreparable harm” to Black and Latino riders. Back then, while we also argued that the MTA was practicing intentional discrimination against Black and Latino riders, our core case to seek a temporary restraining order was to prove the high probability that we would “prevail on the merits of our case” once we went to trial, that MTA policies created “irreparable harm” to Black and Latino very low-income riders, and the burden of proof was to show that MTA policies had racially discriminatory “disparate impacts.” We did not to prove MTA intentions only that the consequences of their policies were discriminatory. Based on our legal filings, and brilliant court-room advocacy by NAACP/LDF attorney Connie Rice, federal district courts judge Terry Hatter issued a temporary restraining order against the MTA preventing them from eliminating the monthly pass. Truly miraculously (and captured in Haskell Wexlers’s film Bus Riders Union) Judge Hatter’s order on September 1, 1994 forced the MTA to reprint new bus passes that is had cancelled on the spot! Out of that legal victory we negotiated a ten year consent decree with the MTA in which we won $2.5 Billion in bus improvements for the oppressed class of bus riders.
In a direct response to that and many other legal victories, a reactionary Supreme Court, in 2001, issued a decision in Sandoval v. Alabama that overturned 37 years of legal precedent since the passage of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In a 5 to 4 decision, the court ruled, “There is no private right of action to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title V.” In the case, Ms. Sandoval claimed that she was denied the right to a Spanish language exam by the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles. And yet, the court ruled, 5 to 4, in a decision it had already decided to make, that the larger question was that she and her attorneys did not have the right to bring that case in the first place. The courts, as they usually do, just made up a new legal theory. They argued that Congress never intended civil rights groups—that is “private parties” —to be able to bring civil rights law suits unless they could prove intentional discrimination. This decision has been devastating to Black, Latino, civil rights groups who see discrimination right in front of their face in Black and white. But now the courts have imposed such restrictive criteria for bringing the case that most of the time, the groups under legal advice, decide to not even try. To be clear, this decision was made in 2001. President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and for 2 years, had a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House. He never campaigned on this issue, never raised this issue, never explained to people why restoring the “right of private parties” to bring civil rights suits under the disparate impact standard was so critical to Black and oppressed groups. And yes, it does raise questions a as to why Beltway Civil Rights Groups did not place those demands in front of him in the most militant and urgent manner. Today, the Democrats must campaign, popularize, and implement a plan to go back to Congress to pass new legislation locking in the right of civil rights groups to bring civil rights cases and reinstate “disparate impacts” as more than enough proof to demand penalties and remedies. In Los Angeles, and yes, every city in the country, when Black people are only 8% of the school population but receive 25% of the tickets, 9% of the population but 50% the homeless, 20% of the riders on buses and trains but 50% of all who are ticketed and arrested all of these “disparate impacts” could lead to new civil rights challenges. And if the Democrats say that they do not have a congressional majority, tell them they did not need it when Obama was in power for 8 years because they could have enforced the hell out of the law that still gave them the power while making “re-instate the civil rights act” a national campaign. Do not make hollow gestures about John Lewis, Dr. M.L. King and the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Pass a new civil rights act! And don’t blame the Republicans. Do what Trump does best. He fights for what he wants and builds a base around it. We need a new national civil rights movement, based in the path-breaking work by grassroots groups on the ground, driven by the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter period in history, and aggressively supported by Beltway Civil Rights groups who have too often been part of the problem, to push the hell out of the Democrats now! Don’t make hollow references to a civil rights movement of old. Fight for that legacy by passing a new, powerful civil rights act now!
Demand that Biden, Harris, and the Democrats pledge non-interference in the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Cuba, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and all other nations in the world.
The United States military has a $750 billion budget, 1.2 million armed soldiers, and 800 military bases all over the world to prevent any third world nation or any nation that challenges its hegemony from breathing. In Defund the police and No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign we described the public schools as centers of colonial education begun in the horrific denial of the slaves’ right to read and the Indian Residential Schools. But speaking for the Strategy Center, we have to give far more attention and resources for campaigns to support the right of self-determination of people all over the world who are in constant threat of sanctions, military interventions, CIA plots and coups, and even nuclear attack by our government. At the height of the civil rights and Black Liberation movement and the height of the Vietnamese people’s struggle for self-determination and independence the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist frame was led by Black organizers. From SNCC’s Hell No We Won’t Go to Vietnam to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam to Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech the anti-colonial rhetoric was backed up by aggressive anti-war actions. Today, as both the Republicans and Democrats compete for the most belligerent, racist, and militaristic rhetoric and policy I worry that many people working for Biden and Harris will focus on a “domestic” civil rights battle and conciliate with or even enable their cold-war, hot war belligerence to win tactical victories and enhance their self-image as movers and shakers. Throughout the Democratic Convention the Democrats from Colin Powell to Barack Obama told us that Donald Trump is “soft on dictators” but Joe Biden will not be pushed around. Great! Pushed around by whom? It is the U.S. that is threatening the world, terrified of China’s growing economic and technological strength, and along with Israel, trying to destroy any independent political forces in the Middle East such as Iran. We can’t call for “No Police in the Schools” or even “in our community” if we don’t make clear that “our community is the world.” We began with Dr. King’s courageous strategic observation, “The United States, my government, is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”
As always it will be the Black movement and yes the Indigenous, Latinx, and Arab movements with strong support from anti-racist anti-imperialist whites who have to push the Democratic Party where it does not want to go—and when needed take the party on frontally. The Movement cannot give unconditional support to the Democrats and cannot be complicit in their war crimes. As many of us with deep ties to the Black and Latino communities form tactical and enthusiastic alliances with the Democrats to defeat Trump we need to provide the most principled, militant, and open struggle with any Democratic Party efforts to impose racism and colonialism on any people inside or outside the United States.
Finding hope in the daily struggle of the Black community and the lifetime journey of the revolutionary organizers
In my organizing work, as I interrogate myself and train others, I have a very sober understanding of The System’s power and the many limitations of my and our organizing work. I do not want to raise false hopes or contribute to self-congratulatory and self-serving ideological deviations among our organizers and our organization. I repeat to myself many times a day, the great frame by Amilcar Cabral, the brilliant African leader from Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories.”
But I tell you with all my truth and this is no lie. The people’s victory, the Black victory, on June 30, 2020 to cut the LASPD budget by $25 million and 35% was a damn hard fought and wonderful victory that the whole movement should celebrate, propagate, and emulate. For those who have taken the time to go with me on this organizers journey I hope this work can push you to new heights of creativity, insurgency, and victory.
Eric Mann is a veteran of the Congress of Racial Equality and the Newark Community Union Project where he worked closely with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. He is honored to be among the many hundreds who tell their stories on the Civil Rights Movement Veterans website (crmvet.org). He is presently director of the Labor/Community Strategy Center working in South Central Los Angeles at the Strategy and Soul Movement Center. He and Channing Martinez co-host Voices from the Frontlines—Your National Movement Building Show on KPFK Pacifica in Los Angeles. He welcomes comments at email@example.com