A Unique Moment & Rare Opportunity
The tragic killings of Black men, women and boys by mostly white police officers in the past year has sparked a Black social justice movement the likes of which we have not seen since the Civil Rights era. This growing Black Lives Matter movement has the potential to become the Black civil and human rights movement for this generation – confronting structural racism in policing and a host of other issues that constrict the ability for the Black community to thrive and matter in this country. There is a growing opportunity to win policy changes to help ensure greater police accountability and for examining and addressing racial discrimination across many aspects of Black life. However, this opportunity is limited by the relatively under-developed and under-resourced infrastructure for Black-led political and institutional power that currently exists. Black-led organizing and power building/social change organizations have been under-resourced for decades, thereby reducing the capacity to secure substantive change in moments like this. Much of the dynamic organizing that is part of the Black Lives Matter movement is being done by newer formations with limited funds and borrowed or volunteer staff. If these groups and other parts of the Black social change ecosystem are not sufficiently supported, then it is likely we will squander this unique moment for achieving Black social change and racial justice in this country. Consequently, the real opportunity and need in this moment is to strengthen and build the power of the Black community to secure the policy, institutional, political and social changes necessary to make Black lives matter and thrive in this country.
While the issue of police violence has sparked this historic moment, the leaders of the Movement for Black Lives understand that police killings of Black people are perhaps the sharpest point of a very long blade that inflicts daily wounds on the collective body of the Black community. This systemic State violence or death by a thousand cuts spreads across all quarters including housing, education, criminal justice, health, jobs, economic security, environment, reproductive rights, media, social regard, etc. In order to make Black lives matter, we have to figure out how to support work on police accountability while at the same time strengthen the infrastructure to build power and win on the array of issues where Black lives do not matter.
In order to do this there needs to be an explicit focus on strengthening and cultivating Black-led power building organizations, leaders, campaigns, cultural production, strategic analysis and narrative framing. The infrastructure for Black social change has diminished over the last several decades, in part due to the under-resourcing of Black led social change organizations. This has helped create a capacity conundrum for Black led social change organizations and a practice of giving grants to more established, non-Black led groups to win policy campaigns in and for the Black community. The philanthropic community needs to get creative to figure out how to strengthen the capacity of Black led organizations without diminishing their ability to grow the necessary resources and experience to build power.
As the call for an explicit focus on Black led social change has been increasing, there have been questions about the strategic prudence of this approach, especially in relation to desire to foster multi-racial power building. However, as the institutional and political power of the Black community increases, so too does the strength and effectiveness of multi-racial coalitions that Black organizations and leaders are a part of. The converse is also true – the strength and effectiveness of multi-racial coalitions is limited, in equal measure, by the relatively weak infrastructure for Black institutional and political power. Therefore, we argue that a focus on strengthening Black institutional and political power has the dual effect of addressing the specific issues impacting the Black community and expanding the capacity for multi-racial coalitions to address racial and social justice issues writ large.