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“How Black Lives Matter Can Really Matter”: Decentralized Structure Runs Risk Of Going The Way Of Occupy Wall Street

Ferguson is the raw, visceral, unsavory face of pure racial emotion and despair pouring into the streets. It is unpredictable, it can be frightening, but above all else it is essential. American society needs once again to see the frustration and anger that is born from racial injustice.

The original narrative of Michael Brown’s death—of a young black man who had just graduated from high school being gunned down in the street by someone who has sworn to protect him, and whose body was allowed to rot in the scorching summer heat for four hours while his friends, family, and neighbors helplessly watched—was the moment when many African Americans decided to make their pent-up frustrations known to the rest of America. Many coalesced into passionate and activist-driven peaceful protests, and a select few unfortunately resorted to violence. This is when the Black Lives Matter movement caught fire.

A year later, the movement is most certainly at a crossroads. Sunday, the peaceful protests organized by Black Lives Matter activists on the anniversary of Brown’s death were marred by violence, shootings, and arrests. That night, a black male opened fire on police officers, and by Monday a state of emergency was declared. That same day, roughly 200 activists staged a sit-in at the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis and 57 were arrested. Those arrested included Cornel West and prominent social media Black Lives Matter personalities DeRay Mckesson and Johnetta Elzie.

Additionally, last Saturday, Black Lives Matter activists interrupted and eventually shut down a Senator Bernie Sanders rally, similar to their actions at NetRoots Nation in July, demanding that he take bolder measures to confront police brutality and racial inequality.

So the movement is out there getting attention and generating press. But all of this noise needs to bring about a sustained change. A movement has to be more than merely raw emotion, and catharsis, and this is an evolution that Black Lives Matter needs to undertake.

A prime example of the movement’s organizational confusion is found in the strange interactions between Sanders and “members” of the movement over the past month or so. At the Sanders rally, it was Marissa Jenae Johnson and Mara Jacqueline who stormed the stage to confront the senator. But Johnson’s and Jacqueline’s connection to the movement appears tenuous at best. But Black Lives Matter does not have a central leadership or organizational body, so almost anyone’s official connection with Black Lives Matter can come into question.

“Black Lives Matter is a movement, but it is also a mantra,” said Jonathan Newton, the founder and president of the National Association Against Police Brutality. “It does not have a centralized structure, and that is what I think causes some confusion and also allows this movement to live on.”

But one might wonder: Why is Sanders still being targeted more than other presidential nominees when his long record of civil rights advocacy is at least now known to most? Maybe a month ago at NetRoots his positions on police brutality, inequality, and race were unknown, but they should not be now.

And why isn’t Hillary Clinton receiving an equal barrage of interruptions and demands from members of the Black Lives Matter movement? You could argue that her recent speech on criminal justice reform has shielded her from these attacks, but no one can really know for sure.

And more than that, why isn’t the GOP being bombarded with interruptions? It makes you wonder about the wrongs Sanders must have committed, but confusingly, none of these questions has a clear answer, and they cannot because there is not a central leadership to this movement to provide them. Almost all parties could be defined as rogue factions united by a similar ideology and mantra.

Sanders has most likely received more abuse than others because his events are more accessible than other candidates’ due to the large crowds they draw. The combination of easy access and sizable media coverage has made him an easy target. But the movement clearly cannot sustain itself on these predatory actions alone. These interruptions need to evolve and have a more clearly defined purpose.

“We can question the method of what these interrupters have been doing, but we cannot question the message,” said Newton. “And that method has already produced responses.” In the last week, Sanders has appointed Symone Sanders, an African-American woman, as his national press chair, and he has published a detailed outline of his stances on racial injustice on his official website, so the potential impact of these interruptions is clear.

Charting their future course is not. When will other presidential candidates get ambushed? How does the movement remain vibrant enough to ensure that the proposed changes become a reality?

On the flip side, the nearly nonexistent organizational structure has allowed numerous independent “Black Lives Matter” groups such as Newton’s NAAPB to arise and work for positive change on the racial injustice issues that the movement espouses, and this has energized and activated countless individuals who previously were passive observers.

If Black Lives Matter is to have the impact its activists demand through sit-ins, confrontational interactions with presidential candidates, peaceful protests, and sometimes volatile demonstrations, then the group needs to unite and organize to a more substantial degree than it does now.

The civil rights movement of the 1960s had many different groups, including the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and more. These groups independently organized supporters and occasionally clashed, while promoting the same message of change.

Black Lives Matter could peter out similar to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Maybe it will organize its activists like the Tea Party has and have a noticeable impact on our government. Could Black Lives Matter Democrats become a significant force in the not too distant future?

The issues that Black Lives Matter wants to impact will not be solved overnight or in one election cycle. A sustained level of advocacy, organizing, and peaceful protesting needs to occur for a long period of time, and this cannot be achieved without BLM evolving into a more organized and focused movement.

 

By: Barrett Holmes Pitner, The Daily Beast, August 12, 2015

August 13, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter, Racial Injustice | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Protest 101, A Chance To Change The World Again”: Some Thoughts As We Wait To See Whether Ferguson Burns

Last week, I spent a day at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, where some students and I talked about protest. Des Moines is six hours up the road from Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb where Michael Brown, an unarmed teenager, was shot to death by a police officer in August, prompting weeks of often violent clashes between protesters, rioters and heavily militarized police.

Some of the kids have ties in that area, so they were waiting — even more tensely than the rest of us — to see if a grand jury would indict the officer and whether the failure to do so would mean renewed violence. These were serious-minded young people concerned about the state of their nation and they were wondering what they could do to effect change.

I’ve had similar talks on college campuses going back before most of us ever heard of Ferguson. I’ve lost count of how many students have told me: “I want to change things, but I don’t know how. What can I do?”

It amazes me that half a century ago people their age fought for civil rights, women’s rights and an end to a useless war in Southeast Asia using no technology more sophisticated than mimeograph machines and rotary dial telephones, while kids with iPads and social media accounts feel helpless to make themselves heard. I’ve walked away from many encounters with students feeling that they were earnest, well intentioned — and utterly clueless about their power to better the world.

Nor am I alone in that. I often hear older people, those who marched, leafleted and shouted for justice in the ’60s, complain that Kids These Days are too complacent. They lament what they would do if they were just young enough. Rep. John Lewis, the hero of the voting rights campaign in Selma, often puts it like this: “Young people today are too quiet.”

But here’s an idea: Instead of just criticizing them, why don’t their elders teach them? Meaning not just icons of the struggle for human rights like Gloria Steinem, Diane Nash and Tom Hayden, but lesser-known footsoldiers whose names never made the history books. Why don’t they put together college campus lectures, church basement meetings, podcasts?

Call it Protest 101, a seminar in how to organize effectively for change. It would be a gift to the next generation, one the elder generation is uniquely positioned to give.

I vacillate on what John Lewis said. Sometimes it seems to me that young people are, indeed, entirely too quiet, too narcotized by gadgets, games and irrelevancies to notice the world is going to heck around them. Other times, it seems that they simply don’t know what to do about it, that they have been made to feel too helpless and small to make a difference.

But as the Occupy movement a few years ago demonstrated and Ferguson reiterates, there is a new ferment among young people — and people not so young — as they see civil rights gains whittled away, as they see elections rigged like a casino slot machine by monied interests, as they see unarmed black boys gunned down without consequence, as they see robber barons too big to fail game the economy and get away scot-free while the full weight of American jurisprudence and media indignation drops like a brick on poor people and immigrants.

What a waste if that energy goes only into the breaking of windows. What a loss if that moral authority is burned up in fire.

This nascent, inchoate movement knows how to get attention, but has no idea what to do after that. It is undisciplined and unformed and does not know how to articulate an agenda for change. I submit that that’s where their elders come in.

The ’60s generation once changed the world. Here’s a chance to change it again.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, November 17, 2014

November 20, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights, Ferguson Missouri, Michael Brown | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Extreme Left Is Harmless”: Government Treating Peaceful Left Activists Like Terrorists, Again

Both liberals and conservatives spend time arguing that the other side contains people who are nutty, highlighting extreme statements in an attempt to convince people that there’s something fundamentally troubling about their opponents. There are many differences between the extreme right and the extreme left, perhaps most importantly that the extreme right has a much closer relationship with powerful Republicans than the extreme left has with powerful Democrats. When you find a crazy thing a liberal said, chances are it’s an obscure professor somewhere, or a blogger with twelve readers, or a random person at a protest. The crazy people on the right, in contrast, are often influential media figures or even members of Congress, people with real influence and power.

There’s another critical difference that doesn’t get as much attention: the extreme left is, generally speaking, harmless. That’s their nature. They’re more likely to meditate and form committees than hurt anyone. It’s been almost half a century since there were any leftists plotting bombings, and other than the occasional eco-vandal keying an SUV, the left isn’t going to be creating much in the way of crime and mayhem.

Extreme conservatives, on the other hand, are much more likely to be armed and dangerous. And we have plenty of examples of right-wing terrorism in our recent history, from the Oklahoma City bombing, to the Atlanta Olympic bombing, to the neo-Nazi who murdered six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, to the murders this April in Kansas at a Jewish community center and retirement home, and dozens more. So you would think that law enforcement authorities would be particularly concerned about violent extremism on the right, while not wasting precious resources monitoring, infiltrating, and harassing leftists who are doing things like protesting U.S. foreign policy or opposing income inequality.

Oh, but you’d be wrong. The latest, from the New York Times, describes how law enforcement officials around the country went on high alert when the Occupy protests began in 2011, passing information between agencies with an urgency suggesting that at least some people thought that people gathering to oppose Wall Street were about to try to overthrow the U.S. government. And we remember how many of those protests ended, with police moving in with force.

The activities the Times article describes are relatively low-level compared to how many agencies approached left activism in the years after September 11, essentially treating any gathering of liberals like it was an al Qaeda cell days away from launching an attack. Anti-war groups were infiltrated with undercover officers posing as protesters, the most innocuous groups imaginable were spied on (you can rest easy knowing the threat from Quaker peace activists was closely monitored by anti-terrorism officials), and wherever a bunch of liberals got together to raise their voices, mass arrests often followed.

If you can’t recall any Tea Party protests in 2009 and 2010 being broken up by baton-wielding, pepper-spraying cops in riot gear, that’s because it didn’t happen. Just like the anti-war protesters of the Bush years, the Tea Partiers were unhappy with the government, and saying so loudly. But for some reason, law enforcement didn’t view them as a threat.

Or even more recently, recall how gingerly law enforcement officials treated Cliven Bundy and his allies. Here was a guy stealing public resources, and his supporters were literally pointing guns at government officials, and the response of the government was, “Let’s everybody stay calm here.” Eventually the authorities just backed off. I guess it’s lucky for the Bundy folks that they never tried forming a drum circle or passing out veggie burritos, because then the hammer would have really come down on them.

This isn’t anything new, of course; the government has a long history of treating liberal groups like a dire threat to the republic. But when we see yet another story like this one, it’s a reminder that the people and agencies charged with public safety have bizarre notions of where terrorism might come from. And that makes all of us less safe.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 23, 2014

May 24, 2014 Posted by | Conservatives, Liberals, Right Wing | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Poor Little Rich Boys”: Weeping In Frustration At The Obstinate Refusal Of The American People To Recognize The Natural Aristocracy

If you read Matea Gold’s long piece at WaPo today about the vast, byzantine web of organizations—many just dummies or decoys or the purest kind of money launderers—set up by the Koch Brothers and their friends to exert massive influence on American politics behind multiple veils of secrecy, you may have been a bit underwhelmed by the Koch’s often-repeated rationale for all the skullduggery:

In a rare in-person interview with Forbes in late 2012, Charles Koch defended the need for venues that allow donors to give money without public disclosure, saying such groups provide protection from the kind of attacks his family and company have weathered.

“We get death threats, threats to blow up our facilities, kill our people. We get Anonymous and other groups trying to crash our IT systems,” he said, referring to the computer-hacking collective. “So long as we’re in a society like that, where the president attacks us and we get threats from people in Congress, and this is pushed out and becomes part of the culture — that we are evil, so we need to be destroyed, or killed — then why force people to disclose?”

Playing the victim has long been part of the Brothers’ shtick. Some readers may recall a stomach-churning Wall Street Journal op-ed by Ted Olson early in 2012 defending the Kochs (his clients) from the omnipotent, malevolent, Nixonian hostility of Barack Obama, before which they were apparently cowering in fear. This was in the midst of a presidential cycle in which the Brothers walked very, very tall, per Gold’s estimates:

Together, the 17 conservative groups that made up the [Koch political] network raised at least $407 million during the 2012 campaign, according to the analysis of tax returns by The Washington Post and the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks money in politics.

That was all self-defense spending, you see—just as Sheldon Adelson’s vast investments in American and Israeli politics are merely the feeble efforts of an honest entrepreneur to protect himself from persecution.

It would be funny if it weren’t so pathologically sincere. I suggest you read Gold’s piece in tandem with Molly Ball’s fascinating profile of Frank Luntz, who is apparently going through some sort of mid-life crisis because of Obama’s re-election:

Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. “The politicians have failed; now it’s up to the business community to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the business community to step up.” Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.

Luntz’s populism has turned on itself and become its opposite: fear and loathing of the masses. “I am grateful that Occupy Wall Street turned out to be a bunch of crazy, disgusting, rude, horrible people, because they were onto something,” he says. “Limbaugh made fun of me when I said that Occupy Wall Street scares me. Because he didn’t hear what I hear. He doesn’t see what I see.” The people are angry. They want more, not because we have not given them enough but because we have given them too much.

For the time being, Luntz appears focused on breaking into Hollywood, presumably to reform the people via popular culture:

If he could, Luntz would like to have a consulting role on The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama. “I know I’m not supposed to like it, but I love it,” he says. He feels a kinship with Jeff Daniels’ character, the gruff, guilt-ridden, ostensibly Republican antihero, who is uncomfortable with small talk and driven by a “mission to civilize.” “I love that phrase,” Luntz says. “That doesn’t happen in anything that we do.”

When he’s at home in Los Angeles, The Newsroom is the high point of Luntz’s week. He turns off his phone and gets a plate of spaghetti bolognese and a Coke Zero and sits in front of his 85-inch television, alone in his 14,000-square-foot palace. “That’s as good as it gets for me,” he says.

Yes, Frank’s another poor little rich boy, weeping in frustration at the obstinate refusal of the American people to recognize the natural aristocracy that seeks to guide them away from the evil demagogues who demand limits on their wealth and power. Luntz is a relative small-fry in the counter-revolutionary universe, but the Kochs’ whining sounds to me like the warning rattle of a coiled snake.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, January 6, 2014

January 8, 2014 Posted by | Koch Brothers | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Most Dangerous Negro”: Daring To Dream Differently And Imagining Something Better

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” so disturbed the American power structure that the F.B.I. started spying on him in what The Washington Post called “one of its biggest surveillance operations in history.” The speech even moved the head of the agency’s domestic intelligence division to label King “the most dangerous Negro of the future in this nation from the standpoint of Communism, the Negro and national security.”

Of course, King wasn’t dangerous to the country but to the status quo. King demanded that America answer for her sins, that she be rustled from her waywardness, that she be true to herself and to the promise of her founding.

King was dangerous because he wouldn’t quietly accept — or allow a weary people to any longer quietly accept — what had been. He insisted that we all imagine — dream of — what could and must be.

That is not the mission of politicians. That is the mission of a movement’s Moses.

And those Moses figures are often born among the young who refuse to accept the conditions of their elders, who see injustice through innocent eyes.

King was just 34 years old in 1963.

As President Obama put it Wednesday:

“There’s a reason why so many who marched that day and in the days to come were young, for the young are unconstrained by habits of fear, unconstrained by the conventions of what is. They dared to dream different and to imagine something better. And I am convinced that same imagination, the same hunger of purpose serves in this generation.”

So now, America yearns for more of these young leaders, and in some ways it has found some, not just in the traditional civil rights struggle but also in the struggles to win L.G.B.T. rights and to maintain women’s reproductive rights.

Yet there remains a sort of cultural complacency in America. After young people took to the streets as part of the Arab Spring, many Americans, like myself, were left wondering what had become of American activism. When was the last time our young people felt so moved that they took to the streets to bring attention to an issue?

There were some glimmers of hope around Occupy Wall Street and the case of Trayvon Martin, but both movements have lost much of their steam, and neither produced a clear leader.

So as we rightfully commemorate the March on Washington and King’s speech, let us also pay particular attention to the content of that speech. King spoke of the “fierce urgency of now,” not the fierce urgency of nostalgia.

(I was struck by how old the speakers skewed this week during the commemorations.)

What is our fierce urgency? What is the present pressure? Who will be our King? What will be our cause?

There is a litany of issues that need our national attention and moral courage — mass incarceration, poverty, gun policy, voting rights, women’s access to health care, L.G.B.T. rights, educational equality, immigration reform.

And they’re all interrelated.

The same forces that fight to maintain or infringe on one area of equality generally have some kinship to the forces that fight another.

And yet, we speak in splinters. We don’t see the commonality of all these struggles and the common enemies to equality. And no leader has arisen to weave these threads together.

Martin Luther King was a preacher, not a politician. He applied pressure from outside the system, not from within it. And I’m convinced that both forms of pressure are necessary.

King’s staggering achievement is testament to what can be achieved by a man — or woman — possessed of clear conviction and rightly positioned on the side of justice and freedom. And it is a testament to the power of people united, physically gathering together so that they must be counted and considered, where they can no longer be ignored or written off.

There is a vacuum in the American body politic waiting to be filled by a young person of vision and courage, one not suckled to sleep by reality television and social media monotony.

The only question is who will that person be. Who will be this generation’s “most dangerous” American? The country is waiting.

 

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 28, 2013

August 29, 2013 Posted by | Civil Rights, Martin Luther King Jr | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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