Who Owns The Movement, And Where Are They Taking It?

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Above Photo: From blackagendareport.com

As funders of the nonprofit industrial complex, the one percent of one percenters literally own what most of us call the movement. Last summer the “Ford Foundation and anonymous donors” pledged to invest $100 million to “strengthen the next generation of social justice leaders… in what many call the Movement for Black Lives.” Do we want to go where the owners of this movement are taking us? Is there any other destination or way to ride?

For more than a generation now the accepted wisdom, whenever people aim to tackle some societal problem has been to join or start or seek employment with or volunteer for this or that nonprofit organization. It’s just the way Things Are Done. It’s worth noting that our First Black President began his professional career with the nonprofit industrial complex.

Now that the presidential election no longer takes up all the air in every room, it’s time to pay closer attention to the present and future of the peoples movement in the US, namely who owns it and where the movement’s owners are taking it.

Back in August 2016 it was announced that the “Ford Foundation and Anonymous Donors” were helping marshal $100 million dollars for “…field-building activities that strengthen the next generation of social justice leaders.  Specifically, the collaborative effort supports the infrastructure, innovation and dynamism of intersectional Black-led organizing that have become integral components of what many call the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL).”

This is not $100 million from small donors. It’s100 million in big chunks from big people who have never been shy about letting recipients of their largesse know exactly what they expect for their cash. It’s $100 million from the one percent of the one percent, who intend to pick choose and fund the next generation of black leaders, just as they did with the old ones. What activists have come to call “the movement” has in large part been the creature of its one percenter funders. This is the essence of the nonprofit model of social justice activism, and it’s why, as Warren Marr put it, NonProfits Can’t Lead the 99%.

Where the new movement’s owners and their chosen leaders want to go is anybody’s guess. The only thing we can be certain of is that revolutionary changes will not be on the agenda. $100 million can bankroll a lot of careers and organizations going in a number of different directions. One early fruit of this collaboration is a partnership between the Movement For Black Lives and J. Walter Thompson whose clients include corporate criminals Nestle, Shell Oil, and the US Marine Corps, among many others. Last month they premiered the beta version of a web site that’s supposed to tell you the location of the nearest black business.

The myth that black folks ought to be able somehow use our “black buying power” to save or spend our way out of oppression has been discredited many times, most notably by Dr. Jared Ball. But it’s one of those fairy tales one percenters really like, so it’s an obvious place to sink some of that money.

A December 30 Left Voice article by Julia Wallace and Juan Cruz Ferre levels that and some other reasonable criticisms of where the owners of the Black Lives Matter Movement seem to be taking their contraption. They correctly observe that for our people, economic justice requires an end to the capitalist system that drives gentrification, that needs privatization, and that gave birth to racism as we know it.

But the Left Voice alternative to M4BL’s boosting of the same old nonprofit industrial complex as the custodian of our movement is forming a “united front” against Trump, getting into the streets, and waging demonstrations, traffic stoppages and strikes in communities, streets and workplaces. There are lots of problems with this.

For one thing, there is pernicious and well established North American tradition of protest as empty pageantry. Think back to Malcolm X’s depiction of the 1963 March on Washington as a picnic on the mall. Now think forward to antiwar and climate and a hundred other permitted marches in front of state capitols and through canyons of empty office buildings on days when there was no business to disrupt. Though young activists have begun to break from this tradition with traffic stoppages and other tactics, we’re a long way from being able to shut down the critical infrastructure of cities and states.

The technical term for those kinds of actions are strikes and general strikes, respectively. In the absence of deeply rooted organizations supported by membership dues, email lists of millions, or at least hundreds of thousands, Left Voice’s talk about the use of the strike as a weapon capable of shutting down the prison state is transparently delusional.

I’m not saying the strike is the wrong weapon. There’s a very good reason sympathy strikes, non-economic strikes and general strikes are illegal in the US. All of these are illegal because they’re naked and unambiguous exercises of people power. The unfortunate truth is that our movements are nowhere near being able to pull those off, and we’ll never get there unless we can first build some new kinds of organizations to replace the movement’s abject dependence upon the nonprofit industrial complex and its corporate sugar daddies. When the Black Lives Matter people can organize health care workers teachers or Uber drivers in some town, that’ll be time to talk about the strike as a weapon.

Baby steps first. The only way we can begin to take the movement back from the non profits and their one percenter sugar daddies is to pull together local bodies funded by dues and voluntary contributions of members, so that they can pay staff and conduct the peoples business responsible to nobody but the people. This is only a new idea inside the United States. It’s the way Things Are Done everywhere else on the planet.

The only people I know who are intent on doing this right now are some of the left activists in the Green Party, who are committed to taking and remaking it from the bottom up and the inside out, making it member-financed, internally democratic and explicitly socialist party that can secure scores and hundreds of meeting places in every state, and pay local organizers to do what has to be done.

We’re finally past the stage when we simply say that it’s time to start taking our movement back from the nonprofit industrial complex without clear examples of how this can be done. Some of us have a plan, and we’re all over it.
  • DHFabian

    There is no movement today. There are only interest groups competing for dollars, while having virtually nothing to do with ordinary people and real life conditions.

  • Jon

    Important article, and yes, be very leery of the 1% money! As for Green Party, from the outset we Greens have rejected any corporate money, either as a party of for our candidates. This why pushing GP to the left is very viable, Democratic (sic) Party which is in the pockets of the mega-rich with few exceptions. But “dues-paying” as a requirement is the wrong way to go, as we would lose the vast majority of membership on which ballot access depends. Instead, we need to do active fundraising from the membership with events they want to attend, for instance. But making it a requirement for voter registration would be a disaster and decimate our numbers. Imperative that this aspect be rejected as “party-cide.”

  • Linda Jansen

    “But ‘dues-paying’ as a requirement is the wrong way to go, as we would
    lose the vast majority of membership on which ballot access depends.”
    If the Green Party stays with the clientalist format, who makes decisions about party direction? The current formulation is anti-democratic, which means GP is losing the lifeblood of what makes any movement viable: input from the lived experiences of its membership. Democrats redux, anyone?

  • Jon

    “Clientalist?” I have no idea what you mean by that. I’ve been Green for 26 years and the main problem is lack of interest by the vast majority of those registered Green. THAT is the problem. We welcome far more input and engagement. Except for conventions, decisions are made by the steering committees, using the 10 key values as the criteria for such decisions.

  • Jon

    Typical negativity from you Fabian. Boring too.

  • jemcgloin

    “Now think forward to antiwar and climate and a hundred other permitted marches in front of state capitols and through canyons of empty office buildings on days when there was no business to disrupt. ”

    IMHO, protesters spend to much energy aiming messages at decision makers that don’t care, and not enough energy aiming messages at the rest of the People. Movements make an impact when they are growing. That is what scares decision makers into doing something different, the threat that a movement might become a mass movement.
    Even shutting down, say a bank headquarters or something, has almost no effect, unless it converts the apathetic into protesters.
    And worse, shutting down the 99% to get them to fight the 1% is often counter productive. Bus drivers that I know, who are convincable on justice issues are only angered by sitting idle in a bus full of passengers angry they can’t get to work.
    The ideal is to shut down the 1%. while the 99% are watching, especially if the targets are unpopular already. This is difficult and requires a lot of creativity.
    It is also possible to do protests where the People are without inconveniencing them. You can just communicate and and educate, and even learn from the public without confrontation. Getting arrested only gets you press a few times, then the press gets bored with that and moves on, or uses it as a distraction from your message.
    Horizontal movements have a tendency to be inward looking. So many mic checks are circles looking in. If you are on the outside you can’t see or hear anything, just the backs of people yelling something. Often there is no one facing out with literature or anything. Turn around. Face the world. Send your message out instead of in. I like to take flyers and go away from the protest, because often people who are a few hundred feet away can’t figure out what all the noise is about.
    The usual form a protest takes is to concentrate a lot of people together in protests or marches. I like these big shows of feet on the ground, because people are more likely to take you seriously if you have a lot of people.
    But these tight groupings have minimum surface area. Another way to look at it is to maximize surface area. Give everyone ten flyers, and then create long lines of people down side walks in all directions. Have everyone try to engage the public, politely, handing out flyers and explaining why they are needed.
    “We are all outreach.” The 1% think they just got permission from voters to loot the country. They have maximized our divisions by race, gender, etc. They will try to privatize as much of the national wealth as possible before the midterms. Shutting down legislation is possible, but it will take a lot of people to do it. Communicate with the People to get them on your side.

  • jemcgloin

    This is just not true. There are many movements fighting for justice.
    We just a big (temporary)success with TPP. The people that spent five years working every day to tell the People about TPP, got Bernie to talk about it, and Trump stole the issue from him, and even Clinton was forced to say bad things about it.
    If this didn’t happen it would have been quietly passed in the lame duck session. It is likely to come back around next year, but it will be more difficult.
    Indigenous peoples around the world are communicating with each other, supporting each other, and showing up at each others protests, with support from the non-indigenous also. They just won a big (temporary) success in Standing Rock.
    The Fight for Fifteen is filled with fast food workers who risk their jobs to demand higher wages and a right to unionize. They are having successes around the country.
    Black Lives Matter is far bigger than the core of organizers discussed in this article.
    Many of the people in these groups realize that all of our grievances are connected by the economic system and the oligarchy that controls it. There is a lot of communication and cooperation across groups. There is also world communication between protest groups and movements.
    Be positive. Give people a reason to cooperate and fight.

  • kevinzeese

    Just because a protest is at a government agency or corporation, does not mean the goal of the protest is to change that target. The primary purpose of all protests needs to be to grow the movement. The target is often a foil that is used to create media, often social media, that the people see so more awareness of an issue is created and so people see others are mobilizing and how to get involved. This also helps to build national consensus on an issue, which is also essential for the movement.

    Some protests, most notably pipeline protests have a realistic goal of impacting the corporation or their financiers. Protests increase the cost of building pipelines and other infrastructure and at a time when energy prices are low, increasing the cost of production makes a difference.

    When it comes to the corporation or agency another goal is to create dissent within the target. Dissent can result in many challenges for the agency/corporation but one is a whistleblower who conscience is awakened by protest. One whistleblower can do tremendous work with a big positive impact

    When you have these goals in mind, it also impact how protesters behave, i.e. you want to take actions that draw people to the movement not frighten them away or turn them off.

  • DHFabian

    It wasn’t my intent to entertain you. Grownups understand that the only way to address problems is to recognize and discuss them — not deny them.

  • DHFabian

    Frankly, we’ve tried for the past 20 years to shine a spotlight on the consequences of America’s war on the poor — something that actually costs lives. We’ve tried to convince people to consider calling for restoring the basic human rights (UN’s UDHR) of food and shelter to our poor. It has consistently been pushed into the background to focus on the preferred set of causes. By now, the degree of public ignorance about US poverty has effectively disappeared the issue for over 20 years. The poor don’t have the money or the public microphone to be heard at all.

  • Jon

    And that i why I comment often with my substantial knowledge from decades of activism. The comment about “entertainment” is off base and frivolous.

  • jemcgloin

    Yes actually shutting down a pipeline or other piece of bad economics does affect the target corporation, costing them money, and more importantly, time. Usually these events are far from populations, so if you can document them well, and spread the word you can also grow the movement.
    I like the idea of creating dissent in the target also. A whistleblower can be a powerful thing, if they are successful.