Extreme title? Yes. It seemed, however, that one ridiculous and misleading title deserved another. The title in question, as you may have guessed, is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s “Yes We Can: Why Hillary Clinton will do more for black people than Obama.” Dr. Dyson’s piece is about the intersection of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Black politics, and more specifically the broader Black Lives Matter movement.
Dr. Dyson’s piece is essentially one long straw-man argument. He clearly has no real idea who is in the Black Lives Matter ecosystem, nor what any of the BLM groups are doing, including the organizations in the city (state) where he teaches (Washington, D.C.). It seems, then, we must start by educating the good doctor a bit.
Dyson creates a dichotomy between people who believe in Black Lives Matter protest and those focused on “public policy.” He even has the temerity to suggest that this is something those of us in the movement can learn from Hillary Clinton. He of course covers himself just enough by mentioning some activists who worked on the President’s policing task force, but throughout the whole piece tries to set up Black Lives Matter protesters versus legislation and policy.
This is, in a word, absurd. The first issue is how Dyson seems to be defining the Black Lives Matter movement, generalizing about a handful of people who have disrupted rallies of Democratic presidential candidates. While he doesn’t necessarily represent those people accurately, more importantly this is an extremely narrow framing.
The only national gathering of the movement so far, the Movement for Black Lives National Convening this past summer, clearly puts the lie to that idea. The 1,500 or so people who attended came from a diverse array of backgrounds including the “official” Black Lives Matter network and Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100), organizations with a national scope. Others there came from from smaller localized groups such as one I work with, and a range of individuals working with unions and other organizing groups whose main work is around issues like affordable housing, food justice, LGBTQ rights and many other struggles.
What was notable at the Cleveland convening was that the vast majority of people were doing concrete work around various reforms, and that—as should be obvious—this work was complementary, not contradictory, with the varying protests, disruptions and so on.
Dr. Dyson perhaps should have paid more attention to Washington, D.C. Well before Hillary Clinton “laid out her vision” on racial justice issues in the spring of 2015, our organization, Stop Police Terror Project-DC (which in an earlier iteration was known as DCFerguson) called for two specific reforms. One, that the police end the D.C. version of “Stop and Frisk” called “Jump-outs.” We succeeded in winning this reform. Two, that the District enact some form of community self-policing along the lines of Safe Streets in Baltimore or the Office of Neighborhood Safety in Richmond, California. Currently the D.C. Council is poised to pass a bill that would include just that. We’ve fought for reforms while leading marches in the streets and disrupting elected officials, including D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Southerners Organizing on New Ground (SONG) is pushing policy issues along with creative protest methods in multiple cities, including in the triangle area of North Carolina where, after an extensive canvass and survey of (mainly) youth, they developed a bold set of protocols for police to follow to humanize their encounters with young (and especially young queer) people of color. Oh, and they started this process before Hillary Clinton said anything, or before Bernie Sanders was ever disrupted.
Also before Sanders ever entered the race, and before Clinton decided the issue was important enough to opine on, Black Youth Project 100 put out a pamphlet-length policy paper.
Dyson also ludicrously suggests Clinton can bridge the gap between her campaign and the new movement if she were to “push BLM to find a broader framework for its concerns than just policing.” If Dr. Dyson had spent less time tailing Hillary in search of a check from The New Republic, and more time actually finding out what the movement is doing, he would see we’ve already been developing broader frameworks.
Once again, well before Hillary Clinton cared, or Sanders entered the race or was disrupted, Ferguson Action, which routinely holds conference calls of hundreds of activists around the country, had put forward a comprehensive list of demands that included employment, housing, and education. Also, for the record, Doc, the first disruption of Sanders was helmed by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI); you might be able to guess from the name they have a “framework” that is more than “just policing.”
It is pretty clear that Dr. Dyson doesn’t really know anything about Black Lives Matter. He has a rolodex of important Black preachers but apparently seems to limit his interaction with the movement to a handful of people he meets around the edges of Clinton campaign events and some videos he has watched on the Internet. People in the movement know that it is extremely broad and diverse. A recent call for proposals to fund BLM work from a large foundation received 275 responses. That reflects the breadth of the activity, and the few examples listed above reflect the depth of it.
Perhaps Dr. Dyson won’t be convinced, but as someone on the ground from the beginning it is 100 percent clear that well before any Democratic presidential candidate said “Black Lives Matter,” groups around the country were combining all sorts of protest tactics with work that embraced a framework that goes far beyond policing, aimed at achieving immediate results and also re-igniting a discussion around what Black freedom would look like. In fact, anyone who is paying attention would notice there is a very strong anti-capitalist strain in the rhetoric and language of the movement. I might argue we are working off a framework much broader than that of Dr. Dyson who seems to see change as happening through elections and polite conversations.
Since Dr. Dyson saw fit to use a quote from Marx in his article, I’d like to end with a message to him from Mao Tse-Tung: “No Investigation, No Right to Speak.
Eugene Puryear is the Party for Socialism and Liberation 2016 candidate for Vice-President, running with Gloria La Riva for President. Learn more about their campaign at VotePSL.org