By Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report
The movement that is emerging under the banner Black Lives Matter is not yet one year old, but it will be dead before it reaches the age of two if the Democratic Party has anything to say about it. The movement’s greatest challenge will be to survive the impending mass mobilization of Black Democratic officeholders and operatives in a $5 billion presidential election season.
The current Black-led grassroots campaign is, in very important ways, even more vulnerable to Democratic cooptation and dismantlement than was the white-led Occupy Wall Street movement, which succumbed to a combination of Democratic infiltration and repression – on top of its own contradictions – in the early months of 2012. Although its slogans remained imprinted in the minds of much of the “99%,” by the time the November election rolled around, Occupy had long been a spent force, swept from the streets and encampments by mainly Democratic mayors acting on orders from their Party leader and president, Barack Obama.
The Democratic Party poses a far greater institutional threat to the Black Lives Matter movement, by virtue of the fact that the Party permeates every aspect of African American civil society. Not only are virtually all Black elected officials Democrats, but all the major civic organizations – the NAACP, the Urban League, most Black local churches and labor organizations, fraternities and sororities, not to mention Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow-Push Coalition and “King Rat” Al Sharpton’s National Action Network – are annexes of the Democratic Party.
Put another way: the nascent Black-led movement for social transformation poses a grave threat to the Democratic Party’s chock-hold on Black politics. Therefore, the movement is inevitably on a collision course with the Democratic Party, although this may not yet be clear to many activists.
As I said at the closing plenary of the recent Left Forum gathering in New York City, the Democratic Party sits atop the Black polity “like a grotesque Sumo wrestler,” squeezing out the Black radical tradition. The Black Lives Matter movement consciously draws on this authentic – and still deeply honored – radical tradition, seeking to put it into practice under 21st century conditions.
“Black Democratic politicians and power brokers have facilitated the exponential growth of the Black Mass Incarceration State in all its genocidal aspects.”
In both its resistance to a criminal justice system designed to contain, criminalize and crush Blacks as a people, and its broader demand for social and economic transformation and global peace, the nascent Black-led movement picks up where a previous mass movement left off, two generations ago. The Sixties liberation movements were shut down through a combination of government repression and the rise of a class of Black office-holders and aspiring corporate collaborators whose interests lay in joining the existing order, not transforming it. Their political vehicle was, and remains, the Democratic Party – the organization through which this “Black Misleadership Class” became embedded in local and national power structures. As a loyal and key component of the ruling political duopoly, these Black Democratic politicians and power brokers have facilitated the exponential growth of the Black Mass Incarceration State in all its genocidal aspects, and greased the wheels of gentrification that is dispersing Black populations to the four winds, limiting the geography of effective Black political self-determination.
Malcolm X anticipated the rise of such a class, in the early Sixties, well before passage of the Voting Rights Act. His verbal assaults on the “Big Six” – the NAACP, Urban League, SCLC, CORE, SNCC, and A Philip Randolph – warned against Blacks becoming too close to the white power structure: specifically, the Kennedys and the Democratic Party. Malcolm advocated an independent Black politics:
“It's just like when you've got some coffee that's too black, which means it's too strong. What do you do? You integrate it with cream, you make it weak. But if you pour too much cream in it, you won't even know you ever had coffee. It used to be hot, it becomes cool. It used to be strong, it becomes weak. It used to wake you up, now it puts you to sleep.”
Under the political hegemony of the misleaders, the Black polity slumbered, fitfully, for more than 40 years.
As appendages of the Democratic Party, the Black political class has gone from coffee with too much cream, to being the Kahlúa, the coffee liqueur, in the milk. (Or, more like a thin, chocolaty syrup in a foamy, homogenized corporate concoction.)
“The political battlefield of the movement is largely delineated by a Black internal politics that has for two generations been warped and turned against itself by the deep infestation of the Democratic Party.”
The mission of the movement is to challenge the legitimacy of the Black Mass Incarceration State, the machinery that killed Michael Brown and thousands of others, imprisons and permanently stigmatizes millions, and makes the entire Black community fair game for every atrocity imaginable at the hands of armed occupiers, the police. This direct confrontation with the State also explicitly rejects the rule of the classes that the police and military protect.
Black America is by far the most radical population group in the United States. History has made us so. The Black radical tradition, which encompasses the whole Left spectrum, is quite sufficient to inform the Black Lives Matter Movement – and to teach something to non-Black allies.
Most importantly, it must be understood that the political battlefield of the movement is largely delineated by a Black internal politics that has for two generations been warped and turned against itself by the deep infestation of the Democratic Party. Blacks in the U.S. cannot move forward, cannot resist the mass incarceration regime, cannot forge truly effective alliances with other groups in the U.S., or join the struggling peoples of the world, except to the extent that they break the internal stranglehold of the Democratic Party and its operatives in Black civil society. These are the lessons of Ferguson and, especially, Baltimore.
To succeed, the Black Lives Matter Movement must transform the politics of Black America. By definition, that means declaring war on the Democratic Party, and forcing Black politicians and activists to choose between the Party and the people’s struggle. The Democrats understand the logic, and have mounted a systematic cooption-repression response that will intensify as the election season – and Black cities – heat up.
As usual, the Democrats will try to make Black people more angry at the terminally racist Republican Party than at the police and local administration of their (typically) Democrat-run city. Hillary Clinton is already making noises of empathy with Blacks suffering under the urban police state. However, the Black Lives Matter movement has no institutional stake in the victory of either party, but is, in fact, locked in mortal political struggle with other Black people in the Democratic Party. These Black Democrats will insist on a truce, a cessation of agitation against national or local Democrats, until after the election. As with the Occupy movement, this will be accompanied by intensified police pressures against activists. At the end of the process, the Black Lives Matter movement is meant to go the way of Occupy, lost in the electoral Mardis Gras – killed by Democrats, not Republicans.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.