Saturday, August 20, 2016

Black Panthers Matter

A breathtaking, radical manifesto released earlier this month by a coalition of groups called The Movement For Black Lives, of which the huge nationwide Black Lives Matter movement is a member, received some mainstream media attention when it was released, but only because one paragraph of the 40,000 word document called Israel an "apartheid" state that's committing "genocide" against Palestinians.

The manifesto is formally called A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice, and I say it's breathtaking not only because it's so comprehensive and well thought out and so radical but also because it's so incongruous with most of what you hear from Black Lives Matter activists, who by and large aren't all that politically engaged but who do identify with identity politics, which essentially means they are apolitical.

On that, you can be for black civil rights, or be a feminist, or a gay activist, and be either a Democrat or a Republican. Politics itself doesn't really matter to the practitioner of identity politics. The core of politics -- economic matters -- isn't of concern to you. Many identity politics adherents are very well off and could care less whether economically disadvantaged blacks, women or gays live or die. Just look at the Democratic Party's base, which sends Democrats to congress in droves who are much like those we send from New Mexico, who could care less about economic matters and who never introduce or sign on to any piece of legislation that would even slightly alter the obscenely unequal status quo in this country, let alone do anything to slow down our government's ongoing global orgy of warmongering.

The manifesto calls for things like free college education, free universal health care, diverting military spending to finance public education including college, and community control of the police. It's way more radical than Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama are in another, far more conservative world.

The manifest is so radical because the coalition's member groups are. As Karl Kumodzi, who sat on the policy committee, told The Atlantic, they were some pretty well informed people, who knew something about the Black radical tradition and also about something the document borrows heavily from -- the Ten Point Program of the Black Panthers,. The Panthers were Marxists and revolutionaries and so are many of the people who belong to the groups in the coalition. I've heard some of them on Black Agenda Radio, which is produced by Black Socialist Glen Ford, although to Ford, who has Black nationalists and Black separatists on his program, the manifesto apparently doesn't go far enough and he's scarcely mentioned it.

Many of the most prominent people in Black Lives Matter have essentially ignored the manifesto, too, but for the same reason they disliked Bernie Sanders and now wish the presidential election would just go away. It reminds them of the shortcomings of identity politics and of how it actually does nothing about inequality and injustice for society as a whole, and can in fact make things worse.

But the document, and the articles and comments it's generated, are still bubbling around social media and aren't likely to go away soon, and it's going to be interesting to see if this welcome injection of reality has any long term influence on Black Lives Matter. As The Nation writes, it's not something that would make it through a Republican congress and isn't even the kind of incrementalism today's Democrats are infamous for, but it's not pie in the sky either. Each of its six primary demands is followed by realistic strategies for their implementation, some of which are already in use, and all that's really required is the will of a few million or so people that it be done.

Note: If you heard the news reports about the accusations of apartheid and genocide and wondered; that paragraph's co-author, Rachel Gilmer, who has a Black father and a white Jewish mother, was raised Jewish and used to be a Zionist, explains it to the Jewish Daily Forward, which has a history of even handed, well done articles. Gilmer says in part:

“There is a long history of those in power telling Black, Brown and all oppressed people how they can describe the violence inflicted upon them,” she wrote to the Forward. “We reject this history and believe that those who are suffering the brunt of oppression, mass killings and violence have the right to name what is happening to them.”

The article's author, Sam Kestenbaum, also writes:

For many of these young activists, who have studied texts like the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program from the 1960s and papers by the revisionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe, “genocide may not be defined solely as death but as cultural genocide,” said Kelly, “losing a culture, losing a language, losing your land.”

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