Thursday, February 9, 2017

Listening To The Movement For Black Lives Webinar In Salem

I was fortunate to be able to sit in on The Movement For Black Lives webinar and participate in a community discussion here in Salem last night. Over 1000 people participated in the call nationwide. Our room in Salem was a mix of experienced activists and people new to activism and people with differing opinions on how to move forward. Most of the participants were white. This webinar series in Salem is on-going. Please check in with Salem's Racial Justice Organizing Committee or watch this blog for the details on next event, which will be held on March 8.

The people who have developed the webinars nationally and the folks in Salem who are making our participation possible deserve thanks and solidarity and our support. You can become a supporter by showing up.

The webinar call was filled with the enthusiasm of people at the front lines of struggle, people who really understand what organizing for political power means. The speakers communicated a sense of dynamic Black political growth which has taken decades of organizing work to create. Reports came from the north, Midwest and south, and of course the call was timely. Sessions won his new job while we were on the phone.

The key understandings coming out of the call for me were the formulations that The Movement For Black Lives is about resisting, defending the gains made, advancing and building political power, and doing this in serious, strategic and sophisticated ways. One speaker put it well when she said that political power is “about who gets what where, when and how.” Another speaker said that winning political power in the context of The Movement For Black Lives begins with challenging the allocation of resources and building from there, building from the local to the national stages. These points were summed up by the speaker who said, “Political power is the tool for our liberation.” The point of winning political power in this context is situated in people of color taking control of their lives back, from the most simple and ordinary of daily routines to complex political and resource questions. The emphasis here is on local control, self-determination, and strategies for mobilizing and organizing which engage people at the base and build the liberation struggle. This is not a leader-dependent effort.

It would not be appropriate for me to analyze or report on all that was discussed. I want to highlight that the speakers put electoral action forward as a form of mass organizing, and that the prep work for this consists of constantly educating, agitating and training people where identities intersect in the community and on the job. The movements in the St. Louis area and in Jackson have now lasted longer than any other similar or related struggles because they worked from this model. Campaigns around winning a peoples’ budget, public safety, collective land holding and the vision of a sharing economy, defending and supporting political prisoners and breaking down fear barriers pulled people in who might otherwise have given in to despair. From that point campaigns need to develop which can build from the base and go national and use necessary disruptive tactics to win where there are attempts to block progress. The faith needed to win is invested in the people, and not in mystical solutions.

We are hearing the questions of the Solid South, the historic Black Belt, collective leadership and self-determination and autonomy being raised in new and exciting ways. Everyone needs to pause, listen, reflect and act to support this work.

It was good to hear someone from MomsRising ask a question about the youth and to hear a young LGBTQIA+ person ask a question and be told to move away from using the term “marginalized.” The speaker said, “You’re at the center of the movement.”

There are some serious needs out there which we can help meet. First, support the struggle in Jackson, Mississippi by donating, passing on articles and news, and responding to the movement there in affirming and supportive ways. Make that real by going here and here. Perhaps we could form a Friends of Jackson group here. Second, get familiar with The Jackson Plan and the Malcom X Grassroots Movement by starting here. Third, you can support political prisoners through the Jericho Project by going here and here and by trying to re-form the Salem Jericho network which was initiated a few years back. Contact us if that interests you.


  1. Thank you for this great summary. I agree we should broaden our view beyond Salem to learn about and support people and organizations that advance the movement for black political and economic power. Since part of the webinar focused on the work in Jackson, MS, I would like to share this article that someone recently shared with me about the community economic development and political mobilization in the black community in Jackson:
    "Insights From Mississippi on Organizing in a Right-Wing Context: A Conversation With Kali Akuno"

  2. Bummed I couldn't stay for the webinar so thanks for your summary and commentary. I especially liked the speakers comments about moving away from the word marginalized. They are at the center of the movement!