Wind in The Tower
by W. Bernell Brooks lll on 11/15/23
by W. Bernell Brooks lll on 10/26/23
“The BLM movement claimed to have no leaders, embracing the 'horizontalism' of its Occupy predecessor. But all movements have leaders; someone or some group of individuals are deciding that this or that thing will or will not happen; someone decides how this or that resource is used or not used; someone decides whether this or that meeting will or will not happen. The issue is not whether there are leaders, it is whether those leaders are accountable to those they represent.”
Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor
June 8, 2020
"I must acknowledge the missteps and the hard-learned lessons of our movement. To become better, more accountable, and more transparent leaders, We — I– must reflect on and address the repercussions of our mistakes.
To this point, the urgency of Black Lives Matter’s work has dictated our form and function. Often, we have operated in “rapid response” — deploying people and resources to stem, both literally and metaphorically, the bleeding in our communities. We have paid dearly for it.
We leapt into the fray with inadequate funds. We have worked off half-drawn blueprints and roadmaps that led to untenable ends. We have exhausted the most self-sacrificing among us without providing adequate time to recover or a fully realized vision for the long haul."
Named BLM's Executive Director in June 2020, at the height of the George Floyd protests, Patrice Cullors issued the first statement in September acknowledging long-standing criticisms of BLM's leadership. Cullors took personal responsibility for the lack of transparency, accountability, and planning. It was too little, too late. Six weeks later she received an open letter from ten BLM chapters and organizers that in part read,
"It was recently declared that Patrisse Cullors was appointed the Executive Director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network (BLMGN) Foundation. Since then, two new Black Lives Matter formations have been announced to the public: a Black Lives Matter Political Action Committee, and BLM Grassroots. BLM Grassroots was allegedly created to support the organizational needs of chapters, separate from the financial functions of BLMGN. We, the undersigned chapters, believe that all of these events occurred without democracy, and assert that it was without the knowledge of the majority of Black Lives Matter chapters across the country and world."
BLM's ubiquitous storming of America's political landscape was singularly unique. Black Lives Matter was simultaneously a hashtag signifier, a slogan, the first internet-based mass protest movement, the first Black millennial rising, the 21st Century Black Civil Rights Movement, and the first mass-based Black Feminist/LGBTQ-led movement that vibrated to the rhythms of Intersectionality theory.
Decentralized leadership emerged as one of BLM’s signature achievements. The argument presented explores how in theory and practice BLM's flawed implementation of its decentralized leadership model led to its descent into periods of political stasis, inconsistency, and some say corrupt practices.
To be specific, BLM failed to respond to and resource its local chapters and partners’ needs, failed to train local leaders, and failed to develop an internal decentralized structure.
Thus, dissecting the Black Lives Matter experiment is of paramount importance, particularly given the unwillingness of its former leaders to provide a substantive explanation of the challenges its decentralized "leaderful" and later "leaderless" model encountered.
Princeton Assistant Professor Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor’s recent article, "Five Years Later, Do Black Lives Matter?" provides invaluable insights into the BLM moment. She prefaced her analysis by stating, "The Black left has recoiled from performing a root canal on BLM, preferring instead to spare the patient and its extended family the pain of a truthful extraction."
In her September 2019, Jacobin Magazine article, Yamahtta-Taylor made the following observation regarding BLM leaders’ reluctance to respond to their supporters and skeptics.
"It raises the crucial question of how organizers emerge from a lost battle or even a lost war with more clarity about their experience, the lessons learned, and salvaged relationships that may allow them to fight another day with a better sense of what to do the next time around.”
Thus, a series of valid questions arise; were the shortcomings of BLM's decentralized model mainly attributable to its flawed assumptions, failures of implementation, poor guidance from the BLM's three founders, or some combination of these three factors?
BLM’s egalitarian decentralized prototype was also hailed as a radical break from the single charismatic Black male leadership model of the 60’s Black Power movement. That issue will be examined as well.