by Black Agenda Report executive editor Glen Ford

A year after the police murder of Michael Brown an incipient mass movement struggles to define itself. [It] is rooted in resistance to systemic state violence and repression in Black America, yet its trajectory wobbles under the pull of contending forces that have been set in motion, and is distorted by pressure from a power structure that pursues simultaneous strategies of cooptation and annihilation.
Physical annihilation is a threat to the street component of the movement, such as the young people of Ferguson whose defiance of the armed occupation inspired a national mobilization, and whose urban guerilla language resonates in all the inner cities of the nation. The fact that many of the cops that occupied Ferguson during this week’s anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder were afraid and that the street brothers and sisters were not is all the proof we need that Black youth in what we used to call the ghetto remain eager to confront their tormentors.
Physical annihilation, or a lifetime of social death through imprisonment, is also only a presidential executive order away for the above ground activists of the movement, whose comings, goings and communications are carefully tracked, as reported by Intercept. The components of the Black Lives Matter movement are on the domestic enemies list of Homeland Security, overseen by Jeh Johnson, a Black man, and the FBI, under the direction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Black woman.
What the Obama administration has spent the year trying to do, is co-opt the same activists they’re building dossiers on. There are clear limits, however, to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that, like all governments in the US for the past 45 years, is committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime.
The greatest asset of the cooptation project is the Democratic Party, an institution that thoroughly dominates Black politics at every level. Black elected officials are overwhelmingly Democrats, [and] virtually all established Black civic organizations ñ NAACP, Urban League, most politically active Black churches, fraternities and sororities ñ act as annexes of the Democratic Party. And the Democratic Party is where progressive movements go to die.
If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it’s doomed. Yet, the #BlackLivesMatter organization, a structured group with a highly visible leadership and chapters in 26 cities, is now circling the event-horizon of the Democratic Black Hole.
#BlackLivesMatter activists may convince themselves they’re confronting the ruling class electoral duopoly by disrupting presidential candidatesí speeches, but the tactic leads straight to cooptation. What’s the purpose? If #BLMís goal is to push the candidates to adopt better positions on criminal justice reform, what happens afterwards? The logic leads to either a direct or indirect endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s). Otherwise, why go through the exercise?
Former MD governor and Baltimore mayor Martin OMalley, whose street-sweeps resulted in the arrest of 750,000 people in one year ñ more than the total population of the city ñ submitted a full-blown criminal justice system proposal after being confronted by #BLM. Will it be graded? Is #BLM in the business of rating candidates? If so, then the group is acting as a Democratic Party lobby, and is wedded to certain electoral outcomes.
If the goal is to pressure candidates to put forward better positions on criminal justice or other issues, then what #BLM is actually doing is nudging Democrats towards incremental reform. In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that’s left are petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. (None of this works with the Republican White Manís Party.)
Martin Luther King Jr. denounced Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War in 1967, and rejected collaboration with the ruling class duopoly. King understood his job was to move masses towards their own empowerment, not to act as a lobby in the corridors of the system. (Malcolm X, and later, the Black Panther Party, would’ve pilloried King if he had.) The Democratic Party is full of Black officials, but in light of their performance, this is more evidence of defeat than victory. Two months before Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, 80% of the Congressional Black Caucus supported continued Pentagon transfers of military weapons to local police, including the Black congressman representing Ferguson, William Lacy Clay.
The Democratic Party, like its Republican cousin, is a criminal enterprise. Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes.
Peopleís core demands ring out in every demonstration. When Black protesters shout, Killer cops out of our neighborhood, they aren’t referring to a couple of bad apples; they’re talking about the whole damn occupation army. That’s why the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which [held] its national conference in Philadelphia, Aug. 22-23, believes Black Community Control of the Police is a righteous demand. Other groups may feel strongly about other demands, and that’s fine. Movements are lively places. But, a movement cannot congeal without core demands.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

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