Facing political instability on its anniversary, Black Lives Matter presents an energetic new game plan.
After fours years of rapid national expansion, the future of the Black Lives Matter movement is uncertain. The 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump and the concurrent Republican sweep of Congress radically transformed the national political landscape. And for advocacy organizations like the Black Lives Matter Network, the prospect of garnering nationwide policy change has plummeted.
In the first half of this year, the organization has spent much time recoiling from this conservative revolution. Both the Washington Post and BuzzFeed have reported a slowdown in BLM street protests. And in a recent NPR interview, Black Lives Matter network co-founder, Patrisse Khan-Cullors referred to the movement’s national prospects as “devastating.”
However last week, on its fourth anniversary, the BLM Network took account of the movement’s victories to date and articulated a robust new game plan for operating in Trump’s America moving forward. In the 55 page report, organizers sketched out how a localized, intersectional agenda can keep the movement’s momentum going during this time of political uncertainty.
“Our dissent, demonstrations, demands, and tireless fight for dignity have revealed a ubiquitous white rage, resentment, and revenge,” Shanelle Matthews, Director of Communications for the Black Lives Matter Global Network said in the written statement referring to the nation’s rise in popular xenophobia and racism. “Coupled with economic insecurity and a rise in global conservatism, we are living in a more precarious political landscape than we were just one presidential election ago.”
“Despite that, our mandate has not changed,” Matthews continued. “Organize and end all state-sanctioned violence until all Black Lives Matter.”
Beyond Matthews resolute call to continue organizing, her emphasis on advocating for all black lives is an important distinction. As the movement has blossomed in recent years, leaders have combatted the common tendency to only rally around male, cisgender victims of police brutality and elevate cisgender male voices in protest leadership roles. Rather, BLM has prioritized centering women and trans people in both leadership roles and advocacy.
“As organizers who work with everyday people, BLM members see and understand significant gaps in movement spaces and leadership.” A network spokesperson said in the anniversary report. “Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men—leaving women, queer and transgender people, and others either out of the movement or in the background to move the work forward with little or no recognition.”
“As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people,” the report explained.
Political scientist note just how sharply this focus on centering the most marginalized communities and amplifying their voices sharply contrasts from traditional civil rights advocacy groups operating principles.
“Placing police brutality into a wider web of inequality has largely been missing from the more narrowly crafted agendas of the liberal establishment organizations, like [Rev. Al] Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN), which have focused more on resolving the details of particular cases than on generalizing about the systemic nature of police violence,” Princeton University Professor of African-American Studies Dr. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes in From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation.
Taylor explains this means that the legacy civil rights organizations usually concentrate on legal approaches to addressing police brutality, whereas this generation of activist connects police oppression with other social issues.
In the BLM Network four-year report, writers highlight both the strategic and social value of addressing the interwoven web of crises such as transphobia, sexism, poverty, and structural racism.
In addition to continuing to cultivate diverse coalition across identities, BLM activists are doubling down on the local, grassroots tactics in light of the Trump Administration. Given that the Trump White House has articulated a staunchly adversarial stance towards Black Lives Matter, organizers are looking to local state legislators and city councils to achieve the policy changes that they seek.
“The local is where the work is,” Cullors said in an interview with NPR. “if you zoom in to cities, to towns, to rural areas, people are fighting back, and people are winning.”
The organizers who authored the report have confidence that this combined strategy of intersectional and local organizing will be a successful formula.
“Despite all that we are up against given this new political landscape, we are uniquely positioned to build substantial power for Black people in 2017.” Shanelle Matthews wrote in the report. “We know this because we have been here before, and we have the wisdom of elders and the wherewithal to listen and strategize accordingly.”
“The work will be harder,” Matthews wrote, “but the work is the same.”