With the major party conventions wrapped up and the presidential campaign season kicking into gear, the Black Lives Matter movement is making policy demands.
But while the group's new policy platform may be coming out at a significant moment in this election season, its authors do not see their demands as an election issue. Their grievances trace back centuries, they say, and won’t be solved by one candidate or one election.
The question is: after making such ambitious demands, are activists prepared for what will likely be a long and frustratingly slow road, riddled with setbacks and defeats, towards seeing those demands met?
“I think it will probably be a struggle for them to maintain the energy and fire that has animated the movement,” says Michael Fortner, a professor of urban studies at the City University of New York and author of the book “Black Silent Majority.”
But, he adds, “That’s the challenge of every social movement in the United States, and the test of Black Lives Matter will be its ability to maintain the force and fire of grass-roots activism and combine it with a very smart and nimble lobbying arm.”
A coalition of more than 60 organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement released the platform this week, listing six core demands, including an investment in education and jobs programs, a divestment in prison systems, an end to the death penalty, and reparations for “harms inflicted on Black people” dating from slavery through to mass incarceration.
From indignation to remedies
This is not the first time the BLM movement has turned its anger and frustration into concrete policy proposals. Last year the group launched Campaign Zero, a platform that outlined 10 policy proposals focusing on reforming police practices and the criminal justice system.
The platform released this week “is broader than that,” says Dr. Fortner.
“This happens to movements,” he adds. “Over time people who are engaged in that activism realize that they have to take their movement to the next level, that they need to take their righteous indignation and turn it into good remedies for the problems they have identified, and I think this new Black Lives Matter platform tries to do just that.”
On the surface, the platform makes daunting – for some, perhaps unrealistic – demands. One section is titled “End the War on Black People.” Another section, simply “Reparations.”
These are charged words, admits Shawn Alexander, a professor of African and African-American studies at the University of Kansas, but he says a closer examination of the platform reveals incremental, bite-sized policy proposals that are not only achievable, but could build towards the systemic changes the platform demands.
“You have to have small victories to keep people engaged,” he says, “and if you look at the way they break down these six goals, there are little things that they can focus on” in the short-term.
Take the Reparations section, for example – perhaps the most click-baity of the six sections. Many have commented on the current political impossibility of financial reparations for slavery, but within that section the coalition calls for the immediate passage of House Resolution 40, a bill – which Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan has introduced in every session of the House of Representatives since 1997 – calling for the creation of a commission to study the impacts of slavery on living African-Americans and to make recommendations on “appropriate remedies.”
“Getting discussion on [the bill], getting that passed, is something they could focus on,” says Professor Alexander. “Those little things are things where they could gain progress.”
A pivotal moment
But the Black Lives Matter movement is now at a pivotal moment, trying to maintain the grass-roots activism and outrage that fueled its rise while acclimating to the glacial pace of coalition-building and policy-making.
“It’s a slow process to develop a platform. It’s another process to move them,” says Thenjiwe McHarris, who was part of the team that helped draft the platform. “We’re going to have to push really hard to really get these policy recommendations implemented and to move it forward.”
And it will be critical that the BLM movement keep doing this, according to Nana Gyamfi, a Los Angeles-based human rights activist and attorney who wasn’t involved in drafting the platform.
“These are issues black folk have been dealing with for a long time,” he says. “But we don’t hear it enough. Things have to be repeated again and again. We have to have new analysis, new thoughts. We have to be thinking outside of the box. So it’s absolutely critical that this came out and that we continue to do this on a regular basis.”