HomeVesey RepublicWhat We BelieveVesey's Republic of Letters Unburdened By What Has Been: The Case for Kamala 

 Letter No. 3 Black Feminist--Black Nationalist Exchange Series 
             Black Lives Matter's Demise & Questions of Black Feminism 
Somewhere on its journey from popular hashtag to the largest Black protest movement since the 1960’s, Black Lives Matter lost its way. Its challenge to state-sanctioned police terror and the carceral complex sputtered, then stalled.

Black Lives Matter’s state of suspension remains a pivotal issue for Alternative Black Nationalists, not because some of its political miscalculations could have been averted, but because BLM’s political stasis and lack of transparency threatens to inflict collateral damage on the radical Black feminist project. 

In as much as BLM’s leaders departed from the traditions of Black feminism, we find that prospect unacceptable.  

BLM was touted as many things: a new Black millennial rising, the first American hashtag/internet revolt, the 21st Century Black Civil Rights Movement. Nevertheless, its animating source-code and political vector was radical Black feminism. It’s Black feminist-led enterprise hummed to the rhythms of Intersectionality theory. 

So too, decentralized leadership emerged as one of BLM’s signature achievements. The argument presented here takes exception to that view, asserting instead that the flawed implementation of its decentralized leadership model was central to its demise. 

To be specific, BLM failed to respond and resource its local chapters and partners’ needs, failed to train local leaders, and failed to develop an internal decentralized structure.  

Thus, dissecting the Black Lives Matter experiment is of paramount importance, particularly given the unwillingness of BLM Network leaders Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to provide a substantive explanation of the problematic that vexed the movement. 

Princeton Assistant Professor Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s recent article, Five Years Later, Do Black Lives Matter? provides invaluable insights into the BLM moment. It comes at a time when the Black left has recoiled from performing a root canal on BLM, preferring instead to spare the patient and its extended family the pain of a truthful extraction. 

In her September 2019, Jacobin Magazine article, Yamahtta-Taylor made the following observation regarding BLM leaders’ reluctance to respond to their supporters and skeptics;  

”It raises the crucial question of how organizers emerge from a lost battle or even a lost war with more clarity about their experience, the lessons learned, and salvaged relationships that may allow them to fight another day with a better sense of what to do the next time around.”

In this respect, we couldn’t agree more with Professor Yamahtta-Taylor. Supported by many Black feminists, Black activists, and the multi-racial left, BLM’s egalitarian decentralized prototype was hailed as a radical break from the single charismatic Black male leadership model of the 60’s Black Power movement.

Thus, a valid question arises; were the failures of the BLM Network’s decentralized model attributable to flawed assumptions in Black feminist thinking or its implementation by the Network leaders? 

In our view, the responsibility for the failure of BLM’s decentralized leadership model falls principally on the Network’s founding leaders: Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi, and Patrisse Cullors.

Alternative Black Nationalists reading of the BLM Network’s decentralist model, indicates they erred in two significant respects: adopting an overly simplistic analysis of the 60s ‘single charismatic Black leadership’ model, and underestimating the quality of national leadership required to effectuate a highly functional decentralized structure.  

Our starting point was to ask the question; what did BLM hope to achieve by “going flat,” or deploying a more horizontal decentralized model? The BLM Network outlined the core of some of its thinking in the following passage; 

“BLM members see and understand significant gaps in movement spaces and leadership. Black liberation movements in this country have created room, space, and leadership mostly for Black heterosexual, cisgender men.”  

“As a network, we have always recognized the need to center the leadership of women and queer and trans people. “We create much more room for collaboration, for expansion, for building power when we nurture movements that are full of leaders and allow for all of our identities to inform our work and how we organize. This then allows for leadership to emerge from our intersecting identities, rather than to be organized around one notion of Blackness. Because of this, we resist the urge to consolidate our power and efforts behind one charismatic leader. What we do is support the chapters. We support their local demands and goals.”

From this passage and other BLM Network writings we concluded that BLM’s decentralized leadership structure sought to achieve at least three goals: 

First, to subvert the logic and dominance of sexist patriarchy-based hierarchal leadership structures, by ensuring women, LGBTQ, Transgender, and marginalized folk were integral to Black communities’ leadership structure and political agenda.  

Second, to develop a cadre of strong local leaders (‘bench strength’ or what Garza called a ‘leaderful’ organization) promoting diverse leadership styles, issues, and intersectional solutions.  

Third, to build a sustainable decentralized movement by maximizing local autonomy in which people make decisions, articulate problems and craft solutions. As articulated by BLM supporter Barbara Ransby, decentralization’s guiding assumption is that "people are more loyal, committed and better prepared to carry out solutions they create, instead of those developed by national leaders." 

Alternative Black Nationalists fully support these three goals for BLM or any mass based  “movement.” BLM succeeded spectacularly in filling its leadership ranks with women, LGBTQ activists, and traditionally marginalized folks. In that sense, they solved the problem of exclusionary leadership. 

Arguably, though, their success was as much the result of its open membership policy that allowed anyone to start a local BLM chapter, as it was its decentralized leadership model. Similarly, we’re not critical of BLM’s open chapter membership policy, assuming one is prepared to deal with its pros and cons. 

In Seattle, three groups claimed the BLM mantle in 2016. One group held events only for ‘black women, femmes, queer, and trans people.’ Why? Because of their encounters with dominating men they felt attempted to take over BLM. We get that.  

On the other hand, when one group of Seattle BLM supporters disrupted Bernie Sander's campaign  rally, it set off a contentious round of finger pointing and call outs between the three groups. Patrice Cullors was dragged in to referee the food fight, but the controversy highlighted a sense of confusion and instability in BLM’s ranks. How were decisions being made and by whom?  

From our standpoint, BLM’s decision to adopt a decentralized leadership model, was not a particularly radical or significant choice. As will be explained later, we believe a decentralized leadership model is and should be the preferred structure for most broad-based political movements. 

As an aside, we don’t believe there’s anything inherently patriarchal or undemocratic about a hierarchal leadership structure, which are more appropriate for some types of organizations and political parties. Neither do we believe decentralized leadership models are inherently more “women friendly,” notwithstanding claims by women that they prefer organizational models that stress group consensus or collaborative decision-making.  

So, what went wrong with BLM’s organic decentralized leadership model?

At a November 18, 2016, strategic retreat convened by BLM Network and the Movement for Black Lives leaders in New Market, Tennessee, the problems with the BLM’s decentralized model came to head.  

Held shortly after Donald Trump’s surprising general election win, local BLM Network chapter leaders and Movement for Black Lives coalition leaders complained that requests for political guidance, coordination, and resources from its national leaders were routinely ignored. “A lot of us were looking for support, cues or direction, and we weren’t getting it,” said Margaret Haule, of BLM in Austin. 

BLM supporter Marissa Johnson, and member of the group Safety Pin Box that disrupted Bernie Sanders Seattle campaign speech also noted that, “Resources end up getting directed to just the national [organization] because people on the outside of the movement don’t know any other names besides Black Lives Matter. It prevents resources from getting to a wide range of people doing on-the-ground work.” 

In addition to BLM leaders being under pressure to respond to their local affiliates, Trump’s election had intensified the group’s internal crisis. BLM’s strategy design depended on Hillary Clinton winning the election, then pressing her administration from the inside to pass criminal justice reforms, like those adopted by DeRay McKesson’s Campaign Zero group. 

To hold Clinton’s feet to the fire, BLM would also continue to exert outside pressure on the streets, while refusing to endorse Clinton or Sanders. Alicia Garcia consistently counseled an approach that kept its distance from the Democratic Party candidates.  

“I was afraid Clinton would ‘dog whistle’ her way to the White House like her husband Bill.” Garza said. “Bernie couldn’t get it together, with any real substance, criminalization, police violence, and state-sanctioned violence.” Was Garza being disingenuous? 

What we do know is that in the summer of 2016, she admitted that "I voted early. I voted for Clinton, but I don't support Clinton. I'm not 'with her' and I don't and won't endorse her.” Later in 2017, she said, ‘I focused solely on the Democratic Party, as candidate Donald Trump did not seem capable of winning.’ 

What does seem clear is that BLM leaders like Garza, Cullors, McKesson, and Brittany Packett were engaged in a version of an “inside-outside strategy” articulated by Cornel West in 2015. Addressing students at the University of Houston, West advised that,

"Black Lives Matter must stay in the streets as well as put pressure on the powers that be on the inside. We need an inside-outside strategy. We can’t just be solely outside and have no impact inside. We need both fronts." 

What’s clear is that once Clinton loss the election, the BLM’s ‘inside-outside strategy’ unraveled. Pursuing a course correction to fix the problems of its decentralized leadership model was even less a priority than it was previously. 

Thus, coming out of New Market, there was no big plan to respond to Trump’s law-and-order offensive. There was no strategic communications initiative to align the localities with the center. There was no re-organization to provide structural support to the local areas or new mechanism to disperse funds to local areas. 

Professor Yamahtta-Taylor’s summed up the impact of BLM’s non-existent organizational structure this way; 

"The absence of…any structure within the movement, left very few spaces to evaluate the state of the movement, delaying its ability to pivot and postponing the generalization of strategic lessons and tactics from one locality to the next or from one action to the next. Instead, the emphasis on autonomy, even at the cost of disconnection from the broader movement, left each locality to its own devices to learn and conjure its own strategy."

We concur. Her conclusion that the absence of an internal structure crippled BLM’s ability to ‘evaluate the state of the movement,’ highlighted a critical feature of decentralized leadership. What do we mean?

Movements typically are mass-based organizations created around broad goals, like ending the unpopular Vietnam War or police terror in BLM’s case. Movements are comprised of diverse individuals, coalitions, and groups that employ a variety of political approaches, tactics, and strategies to achieve their broad common goal. 

Thus, a critical part of a movement’s national leadership’s role is to study, review, and evaluate the effectiveness and weaknesses of their local groups, their activities, politics, alliances, and connection to the local communities.  

Working with local groups to identify which practices are more successful than others, popularizing those lessons, and sharing that information with other areas is a key part of national leaderships’ role. So too is assessing what additional resources or assistance is needed to increase the prospects of local success. 

That being said, developing local strong local leadership is decisive to fielding a viable decentralized organization. At the heart of BLM’s decentralized leadership mantra was Alicia Garza’s insistence that BLM was a “leaderful,” not leaderless movement.  

Therefore, ensuring local leaders received leadership training should have been a BLM Network priority to develop the organization’s strategic depth and sustainability. BLM had grown quickly, and new leaders (some very inexperienced) had emerging in the heat of battle. 

Moreover, at the New Market meeting, BLM was confronted with real-time situations that some of its local leaders were economically challenged, and even unable to pay their rent. These are not new questions that decentralized organizations or hierarchal-based parties have had to confront.  

Professor Yamahtta-Taylor addressed BLM’s decentralized leadership dilemma from a slightly different angle, noting that; 

“The BLM movement claimed to have no leaders, embracing the “horizontalism” of its Occupy predecessor. But all movements have leaders; someone or some group of individuals are deciding that this or that thing will or will not happen; someone decides how this or that resource is used or not used; someone decides whether this or that meeting will or will not happen. The issue is not whether there are leaders, it is whether those leaders are accountable to those they represent.”

Whether one interprets BLM’s rhetoric as being “leaderful” (lots of leaders) or “no leaders,” the practical reality is that beyond giving speeches, print, online, and televised interviews, Garcia, Cullors, and Tometi deemed they had no leadership responsibilities or accountability for anything other than supporting local chapters, which didn’t happen.  

Commenting on their leadership role, Patrisse Cullors stated that “It’s very rare there is a national directive for people to do things. We amplify and support.” But let’s be clear. The types of leadership activities that include providing analysis, assessments, leadership training, internal structure, messaging, and consistent communication has little to do with issuing “a national directive for people to do things.”  

More than any other component of BLM’s decentralized leadership model, leadership development, accountability, and organizational succession lie at the heart of its critique of the single charismatic black male leadership model.

Conventional wisdom holds that one critical lesson of the 60’s Black Power movement experience is that when a maximum leader was eliminated (assassinated, incarcerated, or otherwise), the movement and its organizations faltered. The Black masses were left leaderless and their cause withered on the vine.  

The single charismatic leadership model syndrome largely reflects events associated with the deaths of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. The resulting leadership and organizational void created by the loss of extraordinary leaders is real, but this critique also has severe limitations that deserve further probing. 

For example, can it be said that after King’s assassination the Civil Rights movement folded? Notwithstanding the fact that King’s death in 1968, marked the transition from the Civil Rights Era to the Black Power Era, we think not. 

Rather than disintegrate, the Civil Rights Movement splintered in multiple directions. An unprecedented number of Blacks sought and won elective office. Radicalized Civil Rights supporters joined militant and revolutionary Black Power organizations. A significant sector of Black politicos steered a middle course of ersatz reformist nationalism that led to the 1972 Gary Convention movement and ultimately the formation of the National Black Independent Political Party (NBIPP) in 1980. Still others followed the modified integrationist Civil Rights grassroots tradition embodied in Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. 

Further, can it be said that after Malcolm X’s assassination in 1965, radical Black Nationalists and Black Power movements were diminished? Quite the opposite, they displaced the Civil Rights establishment as the dominant political voice on the “Black street.” 

Malcolm X’s legacy inspired the launch of the Black Arts Movement, the Black Panther Party, the Republic of New Afrika, numerous Pan-Africanist organizations, socialist, and other Black Marxist groups. 

Malcolm X’s political agenda of Black economic and political community control, Black cultural consciousness, anti-imperialist support for colonial liberation struggles and armed self-defense became the base template for the Black Nationalist movement.  

Did the assassination of King and Malcolm X, leave their movements leaderless? We think not. 
Ahmad Muhammad, Fred Hampton, Sonja Sanchez, Huey Newton, Elaine Brown, Stokely Carmichael, John Lewis, Assata Shakur, Angela Davis, John Huggins, Toni-Cade Bambara, George Jackson, and Bobby Seale were all their successors. Jailed, exiled, assassinated or surviving and contributing to the movement, these leaders and countless others stepped up and took their measure of the moment.  

Did the single charismatic male leadership model produce as BLM says, “one notion of blackness?” Even if we narrow 60’s male leaders down to King and Malcolm X, it can hardly be said that they promoted "one notion of blackness," or euphemistically speaking “narrow nationalism.”  

King purposely included young Black radicals and Black Power advocates within his advisory circle. He worked with a broad array of forces, including former and active members of the Communist Party USA. Under his leadership, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C.) entertained a wide range of perspectives on everything from opposing the Vietnam War to promoting a guaranteed income.  

While the single charismatic male leadership model evokes images of heavy-handed patriarchal dominion, it’s not insignificant that Bayard Rustin (gay Civil Rights activist) and Ella Baker (the woman who launched the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in 1960) created the idea to form the S.C.L.C., and drafted King as its leader.  

Similarly, after breaking with the NOI, Malcolm X and the OAAU worked with Black socialists, Black Marxists, Pan Africanists, civil rights activists, Black artists and musicians, other religious nationalists, international liberation movements, Muslim leaders and Islamic nations worldwide. Arguably, the ambit of these two 60s single black male charismatic leaders was as diverse and more politically sophisticated than what currently could be characterized as the Black Liberation Movement.  

For comparative purposes, it’s also instructive to consider one of the most important and authentic decentralized Black mass movement’s in the 60’s; the Black Arts Movement (BAM). In our recent article, ‘The Black Arts Movement and the Hand Grenade Poets Revolution,’ we pointed out that the BAM lead a Black cultural insurgency for ten years, without a national organization or single charismatic Black male leader. 

Nevertheless, their Black pride message expressed through music, art, poetry, novels, performing arts, film, guerilla theater, wall murals, book stores and new publishing houses impacted virtually every city and town across the country with a discernible Black population. In a few years, the Black Arts Movement obliterated the old assigned identities of ‘Negro’ and ‘Colored’ folks.’  

How can the Black Arts Movement’s success without having a single maximum leader or organizing center be explained? In most cities the BAM fielded seasoned, well-read, sage political organizers, artists, writers, and theoreticians who actively participated in its movement. They were also quality mentors for thousands of radicalized youth and cultural rebels.

Many of these veterans were from the old Communist Party USA, Trotskyites, socialist, Garveyites, and Pan-Africanist who had been active in the post-World War 2 era, supporting African liberation movements. 

In addition, their decentralized movement cohered as a national phenomenon because they maintained basic unity on BAM’s core beliefs; namely that Blacks were a distinct people or nation; that Blacks had developed a distinct culture; that Black culture was grounded in a different set of ethics and values than Western culture, and that Black cultural expression should actively contribute to our sense of self-determination and/or nationhood. 

Finally, the BAM movement produced an avalanche of writings, analysis, literary criticism, polemics, essays, reviews, magazine articles, and books on Black culture and the Black Power movement. This extraordinary level of intellectual engagement in which many future Black feminists played a prominent role, raised the collective consciousness and helped bind the movement as a national force.  

Although BLM leader’s failed to address their local chapter’s needs, train leaders, and create a decentralized structure, the Black Arts Movement experience suggests they still had an opportunity to communicate their end goals and infuse their supporters with a dynamic vision of the future. It didn’t happen.  

“Even if you look at the black Greek letter organizations,” said one Ferguson organizer after New Market, ‘They have certain structures so that if something strays too far, there’s something to rein it in. That hasn’t happened with Black Lives Matter or the Movement for Black Lives. People are unclear about what they are coming to these organizations for.” 

The reality was that three years into its project, Black Lives Matter had an identity crisis. Was it a failure of the imagination or a failure to communicate clearly with its supporters, or both? How could this have happened? Again, we can only speculate. 

Having morphed from a hashtag Twitter community, to a criminal justice reform movement, to a multi-issue social democrat leaning organization in two years, BLM leaders failed at each step of its evolution to explain clearly what their goals were and why their mission was expanding.  

Since its inception in 2013, BLM was continuously swept forward by the confluence of events and forces, rather that advancing based on its own timetable and consolidating its foundation before moving to the next level. Once BLM burst into the national consciousness after Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson Missouri, the organization was besieged by Democratic Party operatives and presidential campaigns for endorsements and support. 

BLM’s sudden growth also required a revenue stream to advance its agenda. It was immediately set upon by foundations, 501’s, and grant funders from the Ford Foundation, Google, Benedict Consulting, The Open Societies Foundation, and Borealis Philanthropy. They demanded that BLM produce policy platforms, projects, measurable goals and objectives, timetables, benchmarks, and organizational charts to qualify for funding. 

Sitting on close to $100 million in potential grant funding while being squeezed by Democrats and grant funders, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) produced a 2015 Policy Table agenda. The 40-point document covered six areas: divestiture, economic justice, reparations, community control, building Black political power and opposing state-sanctioned violence.  

Was the 2015 Policy Table a product of serious discussion, debate and consensus within BLM and M4BL? Did the policy agenda articulate BLM’s end goal and vision? Possibly. But that doesn’t seem likely given the two groups convened their first conference in 2015, in Cleveland.  

The criticism from the BLM Network and M4BL’s frontline organizers at New Market that its national leaders failed to define the movement’s end goals, was an astonishing rebuke. Having done little to address the BLM’s serious organizational needs after New Market, founding leader Patrice Cullors simply blew off the criticism by attributing BLM’s "low visibility’ to a ‘changing focus on public policy." 

Similarly, Alicia Garza went further, saying “A lot of that [low visibility] is that people are channeling their energy into organizing locally, recognizing that in Trump’s America, our communities are under direct attack.”

Cullors and Garza’s statements, signaled the beginning of BLM’s transition away from direct opposition to state-sanction violence and criminal justice reform to becoming a multi-issued resistance movement to Trump.

In March 2017, four months after the New Market disputes were left unresolved, the Black Lives Matter Network and the Movement for Black Lives participated in launching a new multi-racial “left” coalition called “The Majority.” 

Alicia Garza justified BLM’s role in launching “The Majority” by saying “Our communities are under attack…It’s a real opportunity for us to build a movement of movements.” Patrisse Cullors claimed, “this new iteration of the movement is not just about ‘campaigns and strategic plans’ but a broad-based movement that coalesces around the idea of sanctuary for all.” 

A year later, Garza would move on. She joined Celine Richards, ex-Planned Parenthood president to co-found ‘Supermajority,’ an “inter-racial, intergenerational national women’s organization,” created to win support for a ‘New Deal for Women’ in the 2020 elections.  

In a similar vein, asked in 2017, where she thinks Black Lives Matter will be in five years, Cullors, who became the lead BLM spokesperson after Garza and Tometi departed said, “One of the biggest places I see us will be in local and national government.”  

In our view, Garza and Cullors shared a particular critique of the revolutionary movements of the 60’s, that sourced their conservative actions and mindset. 

That critique held that after all the fiery rhetoric, uprisings, and sectarian infighting over which organization had the “correct political line,” Black radicals failed to create enduring Black institutions in our communities, and failed to consolidate the broad left into an organized force [read electoral bloc] to beat back Ronald Reagan’s right-wing offensive in the 80’s and 90’s. They held a similar view about the waywardness of the “Occupy” movement.  

Garza and Cullors were determined that BLM’s criminal justice reform work would be institutionalized inside the Democratic Party policy machine, and that BLM’s base would become an influential left-wing voting block within the party. 

Notwithstanding Cullors and Garza’s predisposition to keep tight reins on BLM, their outright retreat in the face of challenging problems and criticism is squarely at odds with Black feminist tradition. Black feminists never acquired a reputation of withdrawing from the battlefield, ignoring criticism or avoiding political engagement. 

Cullors and Garza’s unwillingness to engage, to fight, to be intellectually challenging, to take risks, and hold fast to principled positions is emblematic of what we mean by BLM leaders abandoning Black feminist traditions. 

It was Black Feminists willingness to make tough and daring decisions that elevated them as a political force to be reckoned with—one invested with substantial moral authority. Risking political isolation as an incipient movement in the 60s, Black feminists not only refused to be supplicants to White femmes, they publicly attacked their indifference to racial and class oppression. 

Having broken with White feminists, Black feminists assailed the rampant sexism and patriarchy of the Black Power and Civil Rights movements—effectively mobilizing their smaller forces to simultaneous wage a two-front war. It took years, but they won both the arguments.  

Black feminists defied the odds because they knew they were right on the issues. Not only were they committed, they were prepared to make the arguments. They maintained strategic confidence that Black women and others could be politically won over through sustained advocacy and engagement. That’s exactly what happened. 

But don’t take our word for it. One only has to read a few selections from Winston Napier’s “African American Literary Anthology” to appreciate the point.

The back and forth articles by Barbara Christian, Deborah McDowell, Sherley Anne Williams, Hazel Carby, and Joyce A. Joyce, debating the meaning of Black feminism, Black Nationalism, and literary criticism, the role of Black women writers, and post-structuralist theory are riveting, expansive, and contentious. The same can be said today, regarding the "Intersectionality Wars" within today's Black feminist movement. But BLM's leaders feared sharp principled debate. Haunted by the own confined vision of what went wrong in the 60's, they could only envision bitter, irreparable, sectarian division at the end of that rainbow.  

With so much turmoil and change hanging in the balance, BLM was unable to produce a seminal document, manifesto or statement that defined the times or truly elevated the movement to the next level. There was no equivalent document to the “Combahee River Collective Statement” or Barbara Smith’s “Toward a Black Feminist Criticism.” In contrast to the history of the Black feminist movement, BLM lacked intellectual curiosity and imagination. 

For all these reasons, we have stressed the point that the BLM's shortcomings have little to do with the inadequacies or incorrect political assumptions of Black feminist thought. Nor was BLM's insistence on implementing a decentralized leadership model problematic. We concluded there was a failure of implementation and overall leadership. History will record that Black Lives Matter was the first Black Feminist-led mass movement that extended beyond issues germane primarily to women or "feminist concerns."  We need to make sure, the historical reading is correct.     

As we stand at approaches of 2020, the surge of widespread protests against state-sponsored violence and police terror has subsided. The banging drums, the massive crowds, the colorful banners, the indicting chants, and cries for justice are muted now. The upsurge has receded. It seems unlikely Black Lives Matter will recover its radical credentials until it reconciles its past. Time will tell. 

In closing, Professor Yamahtta-Taylor surmises that,

“This certainly does not mean that the movement “failed. We are all indebted to the movement for bringing to light the full extent to which black women, including black trans women, are also victims of state-sanctioned violence and racist abuse.” 

“The mass movement that captured the attention of the world and upended the banal status quo does not exist in the same way. The questions of strategy, tactics, and democracy that emerged as a consequence of the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have not gone away; in fact, they remain critical to determining how we transform our current situation...” 

“However, the bigger problem was the movement’s inability to create the space to debate and work out the tension between reform and revolution, or more crudely between body cameras and prison abolition. All movements are confronted with existential debates concerning their viability and longevity. There are always crucial decisions to be made concerning their direction and the best route to get there.”

Professor Yamahtta-Taylor is certainly correct: BLM did not “create the space to debate and work out the tension between reform and revolution.” BLM’s agenda was reluctant to contemplate possibilities beyond reforms. 

 Working out the “tension between reform and revolution,” means that revolutionary forces uniting with our communities to oppose the carceral complex, must also ensure our people understand that the laws, the courts, and the police are not neutral organs of power. They exist to protect the interests of the ruling class, and to maintain the oppression of working people, especially people of color to keep them in their place. This reality will never change, until the ruling structure is overturned.