Black Lives Matter activists are standing together and using their political leverage.
The Movement for Black Lives – a coalition of over 60 organizations affiliated with the movement – released its first official list of demands on Monday, directed at politicians on the heels of the Republican and Democratic conventions.
"Black life is undervalued and assaulted in myriad ways," said Dara Cooper, an organizer with the National Black Food & Justice Alliance, one of the group's partner organizations, according to the Associated Press. "Policing and mass incarceration has so much to do with it, but it's also the education we receive, the type of food we have access to, the ability to be self-determining through land ownership.... We fight against things, but we also need to be fighting for something."
The agenda released Monday on the coalition's website consists of six demands:
- An end to "the named and unnamed wars on Black people"
- Reparations for past and continuing harms
- Investments in the education, health, and safety of black people, and divestment from the systems that criminalize, cage, and harm black people
- Economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure black communities have collective ownership, not merely access
- Community control of the laws, institutions, and police meant to serve that community
- Independent black political power and black self-determination in all areas of society
The platform also outlines 40 specific policy recommendations to achieve these goals.
These demands came just a week before the second anniversary of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., which ignited the Black Lives Matter movement. The movement began in 2012, but picked up momentum when the 18-year-old was fatally shot by white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014.
The Black Lives Matter movement has been criticized by civil rights activists from the 1960s and politicians, among others, for having not outlined specific policy demands.
Democratic presidential nominee and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks from a discussion backstage at a campaign event with three activists in New Hampshire in August 2015 were particularly direct.
At the time, she told the activists, "Look, I don’t believe you change hearts … I believe you change laws, you change allocation of resources, you change the way systems operate." She went on to say "You’re not going to change every heart. You’re not … But at the end of the day we can do a whole lot to change some hearts and change some systems and create more opportunities for people who deserve to have them."
The Movement for Black Lives is poised to throw around some considerable political weight, particularly with the timing of this release of policy proposals following the Democratic and Republican conventions, at which Black Lives Matter activists were noticeably absent among protesters.
"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," Michaela Brown, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Bloc, one of the group's partner organizations, said in a statement. "We seek radical transformation, not reactionary reform."
The coalition of activists could hold significant sway over the presidential election, as the turnout of black voters has proved key to clinching Democratic victories in recent elections. As The Christian Science Monitor's Henry Gass wrote in August 2015:
The black community has seen how high turnout in two presidential elections has contributed to victories for Barack Obama, while low turnout in two midterm elections has led to resounding victories for his Republican opponents in Congress. Black activists know the Democratic Party needs them, and the experience of the past year has only emboldened their resolve to be heard.
The Movement for Black Lives developed from a conference at Cleveland State University a year ago. Over 2,000 black activists attended.
"We recognize that not all of our collective needs and visions can be translated into policy," M Adams, one of the authors of the new platform and co-executive director of the nonprofit Freedom, Inc. in Madison, Wis., said, according to The Los Angeles Times. "But we understand that policy change is one of many tactics necessary to move us towards the world we envision, a world where freedom and justice is the reality."
This report contains material from the Associated Press.