Glen Ford reminded us that Black liberation cannot be found over a cheese plate and mimosas in a $6 million southern California mansion.
An April 4, 2022 article in New York Magazine brought the Black Lives Matter national organization under public scrutiny - once again. Titled “Black Lives Matter Secretly Bought a $6 Million House,” the article details how a luxury Los Angeles mansion was secretly purchased by BLM leaders Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Melina Abdullah. This revelation adds to other reports over the past two years of financial secrecy and malfeasance by the Black Lives Matter national organization, which received record donations – around $66 million – after the police assassination of George Floyd. The same day the report was released, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation announced that the mansion (now called the Creator’s House) was a “housing and studio space” for recipients (including “influencers,” new and “renowned” artists) of a new BLM program, the “Black Joy Creators” Fellowship.
Indeed, the story of the $6 million mansion caused great consternation and ridicule among many in the Black community. It also reopened questions about the cooptation (or deployment) of so-called “activists” in ways that not only defang radical calls for change, but that also elevate a neoliberal type of “activism” - individualism over the needs of community. This new “Black Joy Creators” program is a perfect example. But the “Black Joy Creators” program also demonstrates the hollowing out of the BLM movement from the top down. It is also not the first of BLM programs that fell far short of the radical potential that could have resulted from the millions of protestors who took to the streets in support of Black lives and Black life.
Back in 2019, Alicia Garza introduced the “Black Census Project,” a survey to determine the political concerns and needs of Black people in the U.S. The late Glen Ford was not impressed. First, Ford argued, the project seemed to be a way to deliver Black votes to the corporate democrats. Second, and most importantly, he critiqued the project’s inability to link domestic terrorism against Black people to US terrorism against Black and Brown people abroad. In fact, Ford argued that the “absence of foreign policy questions is a deliberate ploy to make the project and its players palatable to imperialists,” and that its main goal was to “shrink Black lives.” Ford could not have been more correct. His analysis, reprinted below, has stood the test of time, and is a sobering reminder that the struggle for Black liberation continues – and it can not be found over a cheese plate and mimosas in a $6 million SoCal mansion.
GLEN FORD: Black Lives Matter Founder Launches Huge Project to Shrink Black Lives, 2019
Alicia Garza, of Black Lives Matter fame, last week introduced her latest project in the pages of the New York Times: a survey of “more than 31,000 black people from all 50 states” to determine, as the headline announced, “What Black People Want .” The Black Census Project “is the largest independent survey of black people ever conducted in the United States,” wrote Garza. A collaboration of Garza’s Black Futures Lab , Color of Change , Dēmos , and Socioanalítica Research , the project “trained more than 100 black organizers and worked with some 30 grass-roots organizations” to elicit Black people’s views on a range of domestic subjects – but asked not a single question related to war and peace.
Garza & Co. have thus performed a kind of lobotomy on the Black polity in the United States, excising from public policy discussion Black Americans’ views on the nation’s endless military and economic wars against people of color around the world. Garza’s team appears to have operated on the premise that Black people have no opinion on the death of millions and the destruction of whole societies, crimes that are committed in their name by the U.S. government. As if Black Americans don’t see the connection between ever-expanding war budgets and constantly shrinking domestic social spending. The project is structured as if African Americans are provincial boobs who don’t give a damn about foreign affairs or the intersection of U.S. foreign and domestic policy.
What is perfectly clear, is that the survey is designed to influence the election strategies of the Democratic Party, whose candidates, she writes, fail to “address the issues that affect black communities or meaningfully court them.” Instead, “time, money and effort are expended to identify and cater to moderate white voters who are already fickle about politicians and political parties. This has long been the Democratic establishment’s strategy, but they doubled down on it after the 2016 election when analysts proclaimed that the left’s undue focus on ‘identity politics’ sent moderate white voters to the Republican side.”
Most corporate Democratic candidates also avoid foreign policy issues whenever possible. Garza and her corporate-philanthropy-funded crew impose the same strictures on Black discussion, in hopes of creating a saleable electoral campaign product for Democrats.
The survey’s web page is keen to advertise that the 31,000 “Black Census respondents are highly engaged in elections: Not only did more than 73 percent report voting in 2016, but 40 percent also report some other form of electoral activity, such as engaging as donors, volunteers, or canvassers.” The message is: these are folks that need to be put to work on some worthy Democrat’s campaign. “As the unwavering base of the Democratic Party, if the politically engaged Black population ceased to vote and gave up on the system, it would upend the Democratic Party and have devastating effects on our democracy as a whole,” says Garza’s Black Census Project, in a transparent pitch for its availability to save the Party and “the system.”
The survey is quite methodical in providing questions to guide candidates in navigating Black domestic political views. It confirms that the Black political consensus on economic justice at home remains intact, with large majorities of respondents favoring high taxes on the rich, increased minimum wages, and affordable health, higher education and housing. (The survey does not ask if any of these things should be a right.) Predictably, three-quarters of those surveyed want cops made accountable for their misconduct, and just over half want community boards created to supervise police departments. But the surveyors were not interested in Black people’s views on U.S. military violence abroad, or the impact of U.S. policies on poverty in the world, or anything at all about Africa, a continent the United States has militarily occupied since 2008. We do learn that President Obama, who effectuated the occupation, enjoys an 85 percent approval rating among respondents, as does Black Lives Matter.
The survey is a hustle to make Garza, Color of Change and their (already deeply-connected) financial backers bigger players in the Democratic Party – without challenging lawless U.S. empire, “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world, today,” as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated more than half a century ago, and as Malcolm X hammered home till his dying breath.
Garza knows what she’s doing. The Movement for Black Lives platform, titled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice," is quite radical in its demands to end the (domestic) war on Black people, and on reparations, disinvestment of oppressive government and economic institutions, economic justice, community control, and decriminalizing Black political activity. It puts forward no demands on U.S. foreign policy, but instead offers an apology: “While the movement's platform largely focuses on the implementation of domestic policies that will advance black communities in America, the movement also recognizes that patriarchy, exploitative capitalism, militarism, and white supremacy know no borders.”
But Garza knows the borders of what is acceptable to the corporate Democratic Party, and adheres to the limits imposed by the fat cats – who are also among her donors. This is sometimes called political “capture” of dissidents by the ruling class. However, the term “capture” hardly fits when the prey is begging to be caught.
As Black academic Jennifer Nash writes in this week’s edition of the BAR Book Forum, Black feminists tend to hold “proprietary attachments to intersectionality…to keep it close, to guard it.” Yet Alicia Garza pretends, for Black Census Project purposes, to be blind to the intersection between U.S. slaughter of millions of non-white people abroad and the mass Black incarceration regime at home. She doesn’t respect Black folks enough to even ask if they approve or disapprove of their government’s conduct abroad. The absence of foreign policy questions is a deliberate ploy to make the project and its players palatable to imperialists. Garza not only pretends that she doesn’t see the connection between the trillion dollar U.S. military budget versus endless austerity for human needs programs, she has overseen a survey that pretends the rest of Black America is also blind and dumb. Her survey is an insult to the Black Radical Tradition, which is rooted in solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world and has resulted in Black America winning allies and emulators around the globe.
Fortunately, an organization exists that will never forget the six million Congolese that have been slaughtered to date as a result of U.S. foreign policy – the worst genocide since World War Two – and which fights daily to bring Washington’s “endless wars” to a halt: the Black Alliance for Peace . But that’s not the kind of project that corporate billionaires fund.
Source: Glen Ford, “Black Lives Matter Founder Launches Huge Project to Shrink Black Lives,” The Black Agenda Report, June 6, 2019.