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Why We Split with BLM Global Network: Interview with an Organizer

In December, BLM Inland Empire broke with the BLM Global Network and formed the Black Power Collective. Below we interview BPC member Darrin Johnson on what motivated the break and the group’s plans for continuing the struggle for Black Lives. On Saturday, Left Voice will hold a roundtable discussion with Johnson and others on BLM, Class Struggle, and Revolution.

Left Voice

February 25, 2021
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Photo: Darrin Johnson

In early December, ten local Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapters (#BLM10) published a statement calling for greater accountability, transparency, and more democratic decision-making processes within the national structure and leadership of the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) and its co-founder and executive director, Patrisee Cullors. In January, another BLM chapter — BLM Inland Empire — issued another statement breaking with the national BLM network. While the statement focused on the disastrous internal structure of BLM, it also made deeper criticisms of BLM’s involvement with the Democratic Party and in supporting “black capitalism.”

The statement clearly says, “The use of the BLM name, which we believed was intended to unify our struggle, has been commodified and debased. It is now being used to sell products, acquire book deals, T.V. deals, and speaking engagements. We have no interest in these pursuits, and we are opposed to the movement to substitute Black capitalism for white capitalism…”

It goes on to say, “The issue of greatest concern for us is the relationship between the Global Network and the Democratic Party. This is hypocritical at best, as the Democratic Party has historically rejected and ignored BLM’s demands and has made it clear that they are pro-police, pro-prison, and committed to capitalism….This is a party that is a threat both here and internationally. To ally with them is to ally against ourselves.”

After breaking with the BLM network, the chapter re-named itself the Black Power Collective. Here we present an interview with Left Voice member Julia Wallace and one of the writers of the BLM Inland Empire statement, who is now a main organizer of the Black Power Collective. 

Join Left Voice for a Black History Month round table on Saturday, February 27. Sign up or view the event on Facebook

What made you all break from the Global Network?

This was actually a long time coming, and something that our chapter had been deliberating about for years. There were a number of factors that played into our making our decision when we did:  First, there was the BLM 10’s statement, which outlined how the Network exploited and didn’t communicate with the grassroots organizations that are putting in the real work across the United States The Global Network has made decisions about the infrastructure of the Network as well as major financial decisions without addressing any of the many chapters that make (or made) up the Network. Second, the Network’s support of Democratic candidates who are directly responsible for systemically racist laws, like the 1994 Crime Bill written by Biden, and Kamala Harris’ jailing the parents of children who have trouble going to school was shameful and literally against what the organization was originally about. Lastly, there is the Network’s increasingly embarrassing caricatures of being revolutionary, like partnering with One United Bank, prominent members such as Melina Abdullah partnering with Levi’s Jeans company, and the cringeworthy “Twerk on Washington” video that was released on Dr. King’s birthday. These all created the perfect storm. We had to finally make the decision to break away. The BLM Global Network is not revolutionary, it is exploitative.

This is the latest example of how the Democratic party will take the fangs out of a movement. This just isn’t the same group that got people to really question the need for police and their role in upholding white supremacy and capitalism. The network has now become part of the very system that the movement was originally intended to fight against. 

What would financial accountability look like to you?

It would be holding public sessions to vote on how money is used. It would mean absolute transparency in how money is used, in logs that are made public. It would mean determining how money can best be used to help those of us that are suffering during this pandemic, and how money can best be used to aid mutually. It does NOT mean creating organizations without input from the various chapters, creating a PAC to support the Democratic party

What has been the response to your statement?

The response has been much more positive than negative. There have been so many people who have reached out to us to let us know that we were saying out loud what they have been trying to say. There are so many people that have been done dirty by the Global Network and BLM-LA, and many of those people did not have the platform to make their stories known. The BLM10 have also said that they love our statement, and we will be working with them directly. We knew there would be reactions to our statement, and of course there have been some negative reactions as well, but those have mostly come from folks who are still convinced that the Democrats are our saviors. We’ve also seen that there are right-wing folks that have got wind of this and are making their comments. I want to make it clear: we do not care what they think. We do this so that we can have a STRONGER movement, which is not what right-wingers want to see. The moves being made by the BLM10 and ourselves will result in a stronger, truly grassroots, truly revolutionary movement. If anything, anyone who considers themselves on the left politically but does not want to see a stronger movement should question if they are not more right-leaning politically than they realize.

Why did you change your name, and what is the reason you changed it to the Black Power Collective?

This was something else that our chapter deliberated on for a long time, but we finally decided that we no longer wanted to be associated with the Network. One thing I’d like to make clear is that different chapters that are breaking away from the Global Network are deciding whether to keep the BLM name or not. As long as they’re breaking away from the Network, we support them, whether they change their name or not. For us, having the name was bringing us a lot of flak that was due to the actions of the Global Network and the LA chapter of BLM. Quite frankly, we didn’t want folks to think of us when they saw those Levis ads.

The name “The Black Power Collective” embodies what we’re about. TRUE Black power. Not “vote blue no matter who” ridiculousness, but revolutionary socialist power to the people! Seeing the kind of empowerment that the revolutionaries that came before us brought to our people. The power that loving and protecting one another brings. We aim to inspire our people to realize the power that we have, and to remember and honor the powerful people that we come from. 

As I’ve learned from these past few years of organizing, plans and focuses can change at any moment. For now, our goal is to build with the BLM10. What we will end up building is slowly but surely coming into focus, but it will take time. We also are continuing to coalition build within our community and focus on mutual aid. We are restructuring, so some of what we’re doing will take time, but the work continues!

What are the politics of the group, and what are your personal politics? Tell us more about the Inland Empire? Demographics and politics. What do people think people should know about the IE that they may not know?

We are a socialist revolutionary group for Black empowerment. This means all Black people: LGBTQIA, disabled, homeless, all genders, and from anywhere on Earth. Speaking for myself, I’ve seen some of the worst of what capitalism does to our communities, having grown up in San Bernardino, California. San Bernardino is a part of the Inland Empire, which is a densely populated area of predominantly working class folks that is located approximately 70 miles east of Los Angeles. The air quality is some of the worst in the nation due to all of the diesel trucks that go through the area. These diesel trucks go to warehouses, which are abundant in the area. People are exploited for their labor, including undocumented immigrants who work for damn near nothing. The police enforce this system of capitalism and white supremacy just as bad as (and in some cases worse than) other areas, but since we’re not a big city like Los Angeles, there is not as much attention paid to what is happening here. This is an area that needs socialism. It needs strong unions. It needs guaranteed medical care for all that live there. It needs guaranteed housing. Capitalism is literally killing the people living here.

How can we fight against police brutality during the Biden era?

A lot of what began during the Obama years and continued during the Trump years MUST continue now! There was a surge during the last year of the Trump administration because people thought that getting rid of Trump would somehow be the end of white supremacy. Patrice Cullors, a co-founder of the BLM organization, even said so herself, after Trump lost the election. But what a lot of people that were involved failed to realize was that Trump was a mere symptom, and certainly not the root cause of police violence against Black folks and the prison industrial complex. This false idea of the Democrats being saviors to Black people and all marginalized groups is dangerous, because it allows them to continue to stab us in the backs while smiling in our faces. As I mentioned earlier, Biden is literally the author of the 1994 Crime Bill, a piece of legislation that has put more Black and Brown folks behind bars than any legislation passed post-War on Drugs. Kamala Harris jailed parents for their children being truant to school, sided with police unions, argued that prisons needed to retain prisoners because they would otherwise “lose an important labor pool,” and defended California’s decision to deny a trans woman’s request for gender-affirming surgery. Black lives do not matter to these people, and they need to be fought against with every bit the ferocity that we fight against Republicans. 

We fight by taking to the streets. We fight by not letting any of these politicians be comfortable. We fight by organizing in our workplaces. We fight by contributing to and supporting grassroots activists instead of national organizations. We fight by providing mutual aid, and helping each other in ways that the government never will. We fight by educating folks as to how we’re being exploited by this system and how it is not sustainable. 

How is the fight for socialism related to the fight for Black liberation?

You cannot have one without the other. Capitalism is directly responsible for the conditions that Black folks are living under worldwide. The colonialism and imperialism that both undermined the continent of Africa and brought many of our ancestors to the Americas is exactly what upholds capitalism. Black liberation to me looks like de-centering whiteness, loving ourselves, and finally having healthcare, housing, education, food, and water for all of us. It means embracing our art, it means not having white supremacy dictate and ruin our lives. These are the same goals held by anyone that is looking to replace capitalism with socialism. The goals of socialism: workers controlling and reaping the benefits of the means of production, guaranteed healthcare, housing, education, food and water for all, an end to the prison industrial complex…these are the goals that have been espoused by Black revolutionaries for as long as the struggle has existed! In order to be free, we need socialism! 

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