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SNCC Legacy Project endorses the Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform

August 19, 2016

by Jamilah King

A group of civil rights era activists have passed the torch to a younger generation, so to speak.

Leaders of SNCC James Forman, Cleveland Sellers, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and Stokely Carmichael in 1966 – Photo: Horace Cort, AP

Leaders of SNCC James Forman, Cleveland Sellers, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and Stokely Carmichael in 1966 – Photo: Horace Cort, AP

One week after the Movement for Black Lives released a wide-ranging, and long-awaited, policy platform, the activists’ vision for change has also earned an endorsement from delegates of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a famed student organizing group that formed in the 1960s.

In a letter signed by more than 67 former SNCC members, the activists, under the umbrella of the SNCC Legacy Project, wrote that “we of yesterday’s SNCC say to today’s #BlackLivesMatter, ‘Ya’ll take it from here!’”

“With their protests and demands, the Movement for Black Lives is continuing to exercise their rights, guaranteed to all Americans under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution,” the letter continues. “We, the still-active radicals who were SNCC, salute today’s Movement for Black Lives, for taking hold of the torch to continue to light this flame for a knowingly forgetful world.”

The letter’s signers include Robert “Bob” Moses, the architect behind the civil rights era’s famed Freedom Schools, and Berniece Johnson Reagon, founder of the acapella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Stokely Carmichael and Julian Bond, leaders of SNCC, in 1967 – Photo: Horace Cort, AP

Stokely Carmichael and Julian Bond, leaders of SNCC, in 1967 – Photo: Horace Cort, AP

The Movement for Black Lives released its policy platform on Aug. 1. It was collaboratively built over a year of discussions between more than 40 Black organizing groups from across the country. At 22 pages long, it includes more than 40 demands, including an end to capital punishment, redistribution of resources from police departments to mental health treatment programs, the right for workers in on-demand tech economies to unionize and divestment from fossil fuels.

SNCC (colloquially pronounced “snick”) was a pioneering group of predominantly Black activists mostly known for staging lunch counter sit-ins and helping to coordinate 1964’s Freedom Summer, which brought dozens of volunteers to rural Mississippi towns to help register Black voters. Many of its members would go on to play important roles in American civic life, including former leader Stokely Carmichael – who later adopted the name Kwame Ture and helped popularize the phrase “Black power” – and the late Julian Bond, who would go on to lead the NAACP.

In a letter signed by more than 67 former SNCC members, the activists, under the umbrella of the SNCC Legacy Project, wrote that “we of yesterday’s SNCC say to today’s #BlackLivesMatter, ‘Ya’ll take it from here!’”

Previous generations of Black activists have not always been so kind to the generation that followed them. Rev. Al Sharpton has been sharply critical of the group’s “leader full” approach to organizing, which shuns the idea of a traditional movement spokesperson a la Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. And former activist Barbara Reynolds penned a critique in the Washington Post in 2015, writing that she supported the modern activists’ cause, but “not their approach.”

The Movement for Black Lives’ new policy platform looks beyond the 2016 election

The Movement for Black Lives catapulted to national prominence with its call to end police violence in African-American communities, but a new policy platform shows that the diverse network has much broader goals.

On Aug. 1, the Movement for Black Lives, the network that also encompasses the popular online movement Black Lives Matter, released a policy platform aimed at improving the political, economic and social realities of Black life in the United States.

Photo: AP

Photo: AP

Ranging from broad demands to key proposed solutions, the platform includes a call for reparations for “past and continuing harms,” a call to demilitarize law enforcement, a call for protections for service and farm workers to unionize, and a demand to redirect funds used to incarcerate people for sex work and youth-related crimes to job programs and mental health programs.

“Because we’re speaking radical and transformational change, not just minor tweaks to an existing system, that transformational change will be driven from the ground up,” M. Adams, co-executive director of Freedom Inc. and member of the M4BL Policy Table leadership team, said. “Therefore we’re not only thinking about election cycles. We wanted to offer something that elevated and articulated a shared set of priorities that’s connected to movements before this political moment and after this moment.”

Adams added about the election: “We also want to intervene in this moment and give an agenda that resists current election, state and corporate power.”

“Because we’re speaking radical and transformational change, not just minor tweaks to an existing system, that transformational change will be driven from the ground up,” M. Adams, co-executive director of Freedom Inc. and member of the M4BL Policy Table leadership team, said.

The platform, which can be seen in full on the Movement for Black Lives Policy Table’s website, comes immediately on the heels of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, which saw this country’s two major political parties pick Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as the nominees for their parties. While Clinton made history, becoming the first woman to be nominated by a major party, Trump again antagonized both his critics and members of his own party when he lashed out against the parents of a Muslim American war hero named Humayun Khan, who was killed while fighting the U.S. war in Iraq in 2004.

Photo: John Minchillo, AP

Photo: John Minchillo, AP

Amid the buzz of the election, the Movement for Black Lives’ platform is a deliberate pivot away from politics-as-usual and an attempt to reframe not just the campaigns, but the country in which they’re happening.

“We seek radical transformation, not reactionary reform,” Michaela Brown, communications coordinator of Baltimore Bloc, said in a press release. “As the 2016 election continues, this platform provides us with a way to intervene with an agenda that resists state and corporate power, an opportunity to implement policies that truly value the safety and humanity of Black lives, and an overall means to hold elected leaders accountable.”

The Movement for Black Lives Policy Table, which consists of nearly 40 organizations, began thinking of a policy platform to articulate its concerns after the Ferguson uprisings of 2014, and started actually building it last summer in Cleveland, when at a conference called the Movement for Black Lives Convening. Its target audience, according to Adams, “is our community.”

As Adams explained, “One of the primary focuses of this platform is to be useful to folks in our communities who are doing our work.”

Jamilah King is a senior staff writer at Mic, where she focuses on race, gender and sexuality. She was formerly senior editor at Colorlines, an award-winning daily news site dedicated to racial justice. Prior to Colorlines, Jamilah was associate editor of WireTap, an online political magazine for young adults. She’s also a current board member of Women, Action and the Media (WAM!). Her work has appeared on Salon, MSNBC, the American Prospect, Al Jazeera, The Advocate, and in the California Sunday Magazine. She’s also a music junkie and an unabashed Bay Area sports fan. Contact her at jamilah@mic.com or @jamilahking. These stories (first part and second) originally appeared at mic.com.

The Movement for Black Lives Platform

Black humanity and dignity requires Black political will and power. Despite constant exploitation and perpetual oppression, Black people have bravely and brilliantly been the driving force pushing the U.S. towards the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. In recent years, we have taken to the streets, launched massive campaigns and impacted elections, but our elected leaders have failed to address the legitimate demands of our Movement. We can no longer wait.

Photo: Reuters

Photo: Reuters

In response to the sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities in the U.S. and globally, a collective of more than 50 organizations representing thousands of Black people from across the country have come together with renewed energy and purpose to articulate a common vision and agenda. We are a collective that centers and is rooted in Black communities, but we recognize we have a shared struggle with all oppressed people; collective liberation will be a product of all of our work.

We believe in elevating the experiences and leadership of the most marginalized Black people, including but not limited to those who are women, queer, trans, femmes, gender nonconforming, Muslim, formerly and currently incarcerated, cash poor and working class, differently-abled, undocumented and immigrant. We are intentional about amplifying the particular experience of state and gendered violence that Black queer, trans, gender nonconforming, women and intersex people face. There can be no liberation for all Black people if we do not center and fight for those who have been marginalized. It is our hope that by working together to create and amplify a shared agenda, we can continue to move towards a world in which the full humanity and dignity of all people is recognized.

While this platform is focused on domestic policies, we know that patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism and white supremacy know no borders. We stand in solidarity with our international family against the ravages of global capitalism and anti-Black racism, human-made climate change, war and exploitation. We also stand with descendants of African people all over the world in an ongoing call and struggle for reparations for the historic and continuing harms of colonialism and slavery. We also recognize and honor the rights and struggle of our Indigenous family for land and self-determination.

We have created this platform to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people. We also seek to intervene in the current political climate and assert a clear vision, particularly for those who claim to be our allies, of the world we want them to help us create. We reject false solutions and believe we can achieve a complete transformation of the current systems, which place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.

Rally 'Stop killing Black people'

Together, we demand an end to the wars against Black people. We demand that the government repair the harms that have been done to Black communities in the form of reparations and targeted long-term investments. We also demand a defunding of the systems and institutions that criminalize and cage us. This document articulates our vision of a fundamentally different world. However, we recognize the need to include policies that address the immediate suffering of Black people. These policies, while less transformational, are necessary to address the current material conditions of our people and will better equip us to win the world we demand and deserve.

We recognize that not all of our collective needs and visions can be translated into policy, but we understand that policy change is one of many tactics necessary to move us towards the world we envision. We have come together now because we believe it is time to forge a new covenant. We are dreamers and doers, and this platform is meant to articulate some of our vision. The links throughout the document provide the stepping-stones and roadmaps of how to get there. The policy briefs also elevate the brave and transformative work our people are already engaged in and build on some of the best thinking in our history of struggle. This agenda continues the legacy of our ancestors who pushed for reparations, Black self-determination and community control; and also propels new iterations of movements such as efforts for reproductive justice, holistic healing and reconciliation, and ending violence against Black cis, queer and trans people.

Demands

Demands in the 22-page platform are listed under six platform planks; each contains thorough analysis and discussion of the problems, suggestions for local, state and federal action, model legislation, resources, a list of organizations working on the issue and a list of the people who did the research and writing on that plank:

End the war on black people: We demand an end to the war against Black people. Since this country’s inception there have been named and unnamed wars on our communities. We demand an end to the criminalization, incarceration and killing of our people.

Reparations: We demand reparations for past and continuing harms. The government, responsible corporations and other institutions that have profited off of the harm they have inflicted on Black people – from colonialism to slavery through food and housing redlining, mass incarceration and surveillance – must repair the harm done.

Invest-divest: We demand investments in the education, health and safety of Black people, instead of investments in the criminalizing, caging and harming of Black people. We want investments in Black communities, determined by Black communities, and divestment from exploitative forces including prisons, fossil fuels, police, surveillance and exploitative corporations.

Economic justice: We demand economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure Black communities have collective ownership, not merely access.

Community control: We demand a world where those most impacted in our communities control the laws, institutions and policies that are meant to serve us – from our schools to our local budgets, economies, police departments and our land – while recognizing that the rights and histories of our Indigenous family must also be respected.

Political power: We demand independent Black political power and Black self-determination in all areas of society. We envision a remaking of the current U.S. political system in order to create a real democracy where Black people and all marginalized people can effectively exercise full political power.

Read the entire Movement for Black Lives Policy Platform here.

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