Section 5: An organizer's interpretation of some lessons from the Defund the Police/No Police in the LAUSD Schools Campaign
Section 1: Anatomy of the Breakthrough • Section 2: The Strategy Center's Role
Section 3: The Elected Officials' Role • Section 4: Board, LASPD Struggles Continue
Section 5: What This Taught a Veteran Organizer
I understand that all organizers assert some relationship of cause and effect to prove or validate their theories. So will I. In my work with the Strategy Center and my role as an historian of social movement I give great emphasis on what I call “theory-driven practice, practice-driven theory.” Based on our collective sum-up of our own practice, the practice we observe of others, and a deep reading of the history of revolutionary movements and revolutions, in the end all I can say is, "These to us, are the lessons we have drawn from our own work and a broader reading of history." I hope it can inform your own organizing work and again lead to discussion and debate.
As I repeat for myself and my readers every time, "There is no such thing as "history" only the battle over the interpretation of history." While I have written this article as a participant in a Black-led united front trying to represent the views of its leading actors in the end any article reflects the politics and conclusions of its author.
Re-asserting Black Power, Black self-determination, and Black focus and priority to drive the larger movement was critical to our victory.
The pro-Black movement to fight anti-Blackness won the day. We won the ideological victory. While many of our groups are all Black, others all Latinx, others Black and Latinx, others multi-racial, and others virtually all white, we all agreed this was a Black moment in history that were fighting to expand. Every group with whom we worked including our own Latina members and many overwhelmingly Latinx groups, wanted to punctuate that virtually all the martyrs of our movement including George Floyd are Black. In the testimony before the board, besides many Black students, it was deeply moving that many Latina students spoke of their own suffering and oppression but then said, "But you treat the Black students even worse and I am here in solidarity with them."
Within the broader social justice movement, some Latinx groups have asserted it is a Latinx/Black or "people of color" alliance but have not prioritized the special oppression of Blacks to the grave detriment of the Black community—and in our view, their own work. Some Latinx organizers, aware that Latinos are entering the labor market as Blacks are being driven out, moving into South Central as Blacks are being driven out, have replied, "It is not our fault or responsibility. These are the “objective factors" of capitalism that we can’t control.” Other Latinx organizers, not just in the Strategy Center but throughout the U.S. have argued that it is the Latinx working class and community that must rally to the side of the Black community to address its special and egregious oppression at the hands of the white settler state. Every organizer can control the political line, the political narrative, and the ideological argument. At the LAUSD school board, it was the powerful line of Black priority set by Black Lives Matter L.A. enthusiastically supported by UTLA, Inner City Struggle, Labor/Community Strategy Center, and so many Latinx students that carried the day This time the battle to give focus and credit to the Black movement that has fought so hard for every oppressed group did not liquidate the experiences of Latinx people but in fact amplified them.
Reconstructing the Latinx/immigrant rights, Chicano movement force in the long battle against the police in the schools and the police state
In our work and in this campaign, in that many of our high school members are Latina, but also because those are our politics, we have also argued that Latinx people, Mexican immigrants, and Chicanos are oppressed peoples inside the borders of the United States with the right of self-determination. As early as 1994, in our opposition to the racist, anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in California, the Strategy Center wrote and published, Immigrant Rights and Wrongs—to fight for open borders and human rights for immigrants that superseded any U.S. racist laws. Our initial history was shaped by Center founder Rodolfo Acuna in his book Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. The dilemma now is very deep in the organizing process that goes beyond facile assertions of Black/Latino unity. There are deep fears and conservative instincts inside the Black and Latino communities.
There are many families who support and defend the police out of their own experience but also the 24/7 barrage of pro-police propaganda that shapes the entire U.S. ideological field. If our movement loses its Black priority we will lose our moral and political edge. If we minimize or liquidate the specificity of Latino oppression, the courage of the Dreamers, the militancy of Latinx youth who have their own fights with the system we will also lose our strategic power. This complex navigation how to build a powerful Black/Latinx movement that goes beyond a mechanical coalition is beyond the scope of this article. But I can assert that in the battle against the Los Angeles School Police we found that note, that lyric, that symphony that captured everyone's imagination. The challenge will be to keep reconstructing it as new conditions develop and new forces in both the Black and Latino communities take us on.
We situated the fight against school police in the larger frame of the public schools as colonial instruments in which "education" is code for socializing, subordinating, and breaking the will of Black and Latinx students.
During our last 20 years of organizing in the L.A. public schools, we have seen that every abuse of the rights of Black and Latinx students, and always, with by far the worst impacts on the Black students, reflected the deeper abuses of colonial education.
During our last 20 years of organizing in the L.A. public schools, we have seen that every abuse of the rights of Black and Latinx students, and always, with by far the worst impacts on the Black students, reflected the deeper abuses of colonial education. When we fought to stop the ticketing of students as they entered the school for “truancy,” at the instruction of the School board, when we stopped administrators, at the instruction of the school board, use the racially constructed violation called "willful defiance" (meaning Black boys expressing any form of life) as a pretense for their suspension and expulsion we developed and even deeper understanding of the school as a jail. The school system imposes a culture of surveillance, passes, disciplinary proceedings, verbal reprimands, and school police on the students.
Black students, often young women, testified that from the minute they walk in to school they are a suspect. Their every behavior is monitored, criticized, controlled, and disciplined. As more one Black student said, "After so many interactions with the school police, I wake up in the morning and do not want to go to school" For those working on uplifting the academic performance of Black students the "school as jail" formulation points to a radical dismantling of an entire spider web of repressive institutions and behaviors toward Black students. We rejected the politics of close-to-the-Democratic Party community groups who speak about "education reform" "racially disproportionate impacts" and "implicit bias." Instead, we indicted the public schools as anti-Black and settler colonial and the school police as a military arm to enforce racist policies—not an aberration but a necessity.
In the Strategy Center’s June 1, 2020 letter to the LAUSD School board and Superintendent Austin Beutner, we wrote,
“The entire concept of “school police” is a reflection of a colonialist and racist worldview. Today, the public schools, even with their best efforts, continue the pattern of “Indian Residential Schools” in which the goal or at least the outcome is the breaking of the spirit, subjugation, and humiliation of Black and Latinx students to bend them to the will of an oppressive white society. We know there are many who do not believe they are perpetuating those pernicious impacts, but we look to the best intentioned supervisors, teachers, and board members to fight for the end of “School police” in order to stop inflicting pain and racial abuse on Black and Latinx students and families. While we can of course enumerate specific abuses of the LASPD we are arguing that the daily experience of Black and Latinx students being patrolled by armed police creates a terrible and terrifying sense of normalcy that is in itself cultural and racial assault on their development as full human beings and has profoundly traumatic impacts.”
In an empire based on the dominating ideology of “one nation, indivisible” the subordination and integration of the Black and Latinx child into the ideology and institutions of the white settler state is the central role of public education. In this case, students, parents, teachers, and board members took a small but significant step to challenge and discredit the ideology and institutional power of colonial education.
After decades of confronting the racist policies of the school system and school police the Movement, with great leadership from Black Lives Matter L.A., escalated the criticism that the police by their very existence are racist.
United Teachers of Los Angeles president Cecily Myart-Cruz, who was a middle school teacher, said, "What is a Black child supposed to think when they see a policeman with a gun and pepper spray?" Others asked, "and what happens to their soul, their confidence, their academic achievement? Again, the reality of police state trauma is a direct factor in depressing and suppressing Black student academic performance and self-esteem. The police by their very existence are racist. Their intimidation and threats while also deeply impacting Chicano(a) and Latinx students is imposed at a far higher level and ferocity against Black students. This is rooted in the slave ship police, the plantation police, and the white racist police constructed to capture, torture, and return the runaway slaves.
The very demand to dismantling the police and the police state, reflected in Defund the Police movement, is a major breakthrough in historyand a challenge to the Democratic Party and Civil Rights establishment.
In the midst of the mass rebellions in response to the police murder of George Floyd, every urban police chief, every Democratic Party elected official, every member of the civil rights establishment tied to big city mayors spoke with studied sincerity to call for laws to prosecute police and limit their immunity, and laws and contracts to give more authority for police chiefs to remove the unbearably clichéd and omnipresent "rotten apples." In the midst of the new growth industry of media selected Black talking heads with no ties or accountability to social movements the goal of the establishment was clear—to create a new class of commentators whose interests were to promote their careers while consciously deflecting and rejecting the movement to dismantle the police altogether. (And yes, movement people must fight so that the leaders of social movements are the spokespeople who represent their demands to the media— another front in the endless war.)
Today Joe Biden refuses to defund any police while Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti made a deceptive and tokenistic reduction of no more than $150 million from a $2 billion police force while retaining all 10,000 armed officers. The U.S. still perpetuates more than 1,000 police killings per year in which Blacks are murdered at 300% times their percentage in the population. Our movement broke through the deceptions of the Democratic establishment including many in the Black community who issue the endless and hopeless calls for body cameras and other superficial restrictions on an armed army that is a law unto itself. Our victory in an actual defunding that led to an immediate lay-off of armed police sets the tone for a larger defund the police movement.
Counter-hegemonic demand development is critical to give content to the Defund the Police movement and avoid tokenistic and cooptive maneuvers by Democratic Party and civil rights establishment forces. Our 50% cut, 75% cut, then 90% cut and then phase out the school police altogether demand and movement can shape the defund the police movements in the U.S.
Why are there very few movements calling for a 50% cut in the police departments? Why are there very even fewer to even conceptualize a 50%, 75%, and then 90% cut in police funding—which is tantamount to completely phasing out the police? I worry that there is not enough tactical unity in the movements challenging the police state. So even when people say, "Defund the police" there is little agreement or will to turn that into an actual long-term campaign. The "Defund the Police" movement is still vulnerable to cooptation until it can agree in each city as to how much money will be defunded, how many police let go, and how fast they can win the actual changes. The No Police in the L.A. Schools Movement's demand for a 50%, then 75% then 90% cut is one that other organizations and movements should consider. And our actual victory of 35% could be a baseline of expectations in an actual struggle that won. And despite the normal tensions inside our united front, those contradictions were resolved through very principled struggle so that we all were really fighting for the largest cut possible. The unity of our forces was a decisive factor in the actual vote by the school board.
The dialectical alliance of youth, new forces, militant long-distance runners, and sustained organizing work was key to the victory.
In every social movement, it takes new forces, new people, new energy, often new organizations, coming from Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and Third World youth, and white youth following their leadership, to provide the driving force of historical change. It was Black Lives Matter and Students Deserve who provided that great driving force in Los Angeles supported by Inner City struggle high school students, BSS students, and high school students from Strategy Center Taking Action Social Justice clubs. While there was great leadership by youth and students, many of them participated and provided leadership inside multi-generational organizations with long track records and deep community ties that had the influence and muscle to win the day. Black Lives Matter L.A. began in 2013. Students Deserve has been in the schools for more than a decade. The most progressive leadership of UTLA has fought since the Coalition for Educational Justice for more than 15 years. Inner City Struggle has struggled for 20 years and the Strategy Center has strategized for 30. Many of the people providing leadership at the board meeting had a long history of struggle and agreements with board members that helped shape the final breakthrough vote and many students learned that demonstrations, social media, preparing testimony, testifying, and direct conversations with community leaders and board members are part of an integrated tactical plan.
Inside the social justice movement in which many young people are providing leadership there are debates about the politics of what is now called “youth organizing.” The Strategy Center, having recruited, trained, retained, and encouraged hundreds of Black, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander organizers, and a few white organizers as well, has chosen create school based youth/student forms but also integrate “youth organizing” into a larger multi-generational strategy of a Black/Latin@/Third World alliance. Our student leaders share that perspective and have often fought for it. We have seen some views in the movement that identify “youth” and "youth organizing" in ways to overestimate and even exacerbate generational contradictions inside Black and Latinx communities and to underestimate the many different political perspectives between and among students. Even today, when more than half of our most active members are Black and Latinx high school students, inside the Strategy Center it is our multi-generational strategy and tactical plan that attracts the students who have the greatest political unity with us. We are presently working with more than 200 high school students in three Los Angeles High Schools all of whom, based on the inevitability of the laws of evolution, are getting older every day. It is our appeal to them as future college students or entrants into the job market and from there long distance runners, and their direct experience in working with people of all generations that gives them hope that their lives, and those of their families, can be part of a long-term and unified national liberation struggle.
In Los Angeles, we have, for the most part, avoided the pitfalls of over-stated generational conflicts inside Black and Latinx community organizations. Obviously if older members of an organization try to dominate or dismiss the energy and initiative of young people or fear their anger and militancy then they place the entire future of the organization at risk and will bring many of the problems down on themselves.
We are also deeply concerned that some political lines inside “youth organizing” lead to a caricature, rejection, and dismissal of the achievements of Black, Chicano, and Third World revolutionary organizations throughout U.S. history —and those of only a few years ago. That is why we teach, “Study history, interpret history, and make history” through our Strategy and Soul Revolutionary Organizers Film and Book Club whose members are from 12 to 95. Many of our leaders are high school students who also reach out to their parents, families, and teachers. Inside the No Police in the L.A. Schools campaign, the energy and initiative of youth was palpable, welcomed, and given great room to breathe. But in turn, the students gave great respect to parents, teachers, family, movement veterans, and yes, LAUSD board members, who were critical to the victory. In our struggle, it was a multi-generational Black led, Latino supported, multi-racial united front that won the day. We did not attack each other. We kept our eyes on the prize. We focused on the system, our demands, and the victory.
Our movement had greater power and greater multi-racial unity by situating the No Police struggle inside the larger catastrophe of U.S. attacks against Black people. Inside that united front the Strategy Center situated our broader educational work in the frame of the Black community as an oppressed nation inside the borders of the United States. No one wanted to or chose to debate with each other the specificity of our structural analysis of Black oppression but we all shared and expressed the egregious, outrageous, unacceptable, and systematic nature of the system’s attack on Black people.
The Strategy Center, as one group in this broad united front, carried out our own independent political line to guild our work and contribute to the larger debate and discussion. For us we use the term “Black Nation” to describe and analyze the reality of Black experience and nationality formation inside the U.S. imperialist white settler. In my own study, I am deeply influenced by the Comintern's 1928 and 1930 Resolutions on the Afro-American National Question and Komozi Woodard's discussion of Black national formation in Nation within a Nation: Amiri Baraka and Black Power Politics. In the present,
Channing Martinez and I use it frequently on our radio show, Voices from the Frontlines and explore it at public events at Strategy and Soul with professors Akinyele Umoja and Robin D.G. Kelley. And contrary to stereotypes of groups that have a private revolutionary and public reformist discourse we use those concepts, based on time, place, and conditions, in public testimony at government agencies and in discussions with elected officials.
We use the concept in the broadest sense of an oppressed people with the right of self-determination whose dire circumstances allow them to bring human rights charges against the government of the United States. We elevate the work of Malcolm X who said, “To be clear, I am a Black nationalist.” On the other hand, we have worked to distance ourselves from the sometimes bitter infighting inside the Black movement as different groups have confronted each other over their particular views as to what is a Black nation and which is the group best able to lead the struggle—often with the result that a possible united front is destroyed.
In our work we center discussions of Black revolutionary nationalism around the very concrete and historically determined efforts of William L. Patterson, Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Malcolm X who brought the plight of Black people in the U.S. to the attention of the United Nations. Under international human rights law and practice, they could only do so by arguing that Black people constitute a racially and nationally oppressed people inside a hostile and racist nation state.
At the Strategy Center, our perspective that Black people are an oppressed nation suffering genocide at the hands of the U.S. imperialist white settler state is the larger frame that has given greater power to our grassroots organizing in South Central Los Angeles and throughout the 4 million person city and 10 million person county. For us, it has been critical as to why and we retain members and organizers for 3, 5, 10, 15, and 20 and more years.
As late as March of this year, this perspective was most clearly articulated in the Channing Martinez for City Council race. Martinez, who described himself as a Black, Garifuna, queer, civil rights and climate justice revolutionary won 2400 votes, overwhelmingly from Black voters, and 5% of the total. His influence at the dozens of large community candidates’ forums was far larger than his vote. Martinez ran on a counter-hegemonic platform that began with the Strategy Center’s 5 core demands—No Police in the LAUSD Schools, No Police on MTA buses and trains, Stop MTA Attacks on Black Passengers, Free Public Transportation, No and Cars in L.A. But during the campaign that just ended in March 2020 (and a run-off from which with the two highest polling candidates will be in November 2020) Channing expanded his program to calling for a 50% cut in the funding of the LAPD and 50% of all new public and private sector jobs going to Black applicants.
He put forth the entire set of demands, including Open Borders for all immigrants and U.S. hands off Venezuela, China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, and the world as part of an anti-genocide campaign. These four months of the most intense door to door, person to person organizing put us in conversation with thousands of potential voters, 1,000 of whom signed petitions to allow him to get on the ballot and 2400 of whom voted for him. This campaign, only three months before the June board votes, gave additional support for the Strategy Center’s participation in the No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign and confidence that our call to “Stop U.S. Genocide Against the Black Nation” could, with art and thoughtfulness, be helpful to our work and the larger campaign. And in terms of political theory we learned even more than we understood before the campaign that for the Black community and most people in the U.S., "politics" still is best understood as "electoral politics."
The idea that we ran a "revolutionary community organizing campaign" validated our highest hopes. Somehow, when a young Black man, from Crenshaw High School and Otis College of Art and Design, is on a panel with 4 other substantial candidates, including Mark Ridley Thomas, a Democratic Party powerhouse, says he wants to cut the LAPD budget by 50 percent or end all police in the schools, people seem to listen better to the ideas. And when Channing said, "If I am elected I will spend 90 percent of my time in the community and 10 percent at the city council, and MRT said, "If you do that they will eat your lunch" it was a great and thoughtful debate about the role of community organizing and elected officials. And it wasn't again right or wrong as much as the entire discussion raised the consciousness of the Black community, and all of us on the campaign. All of this work created a far strong base for the Strategy Center going into the No Police in the Schools votes of June 2020.
In our political education classes, we have given great attention the brilliant work of William L. Patterson—We Charge Genocide: the Crime of the U.S. Government against the Negro People—presented to the United Nations in 1951 and re-issued in 1970 with a chilling introduction by Ossie Davis.
Black men were brought to this country to serve an economy which needed our labor. And even when slavery was over, there was still a need for us in the American economy as cheap labor. We picked the cotton, dug the ditches, shined the shoes, swept the floors, hustled the baggage, washed the clothes, cleaned the toilets—we did the dirty work for all America—that was our place, the place where the American economy needed us to be. But a revolution of profoundest import is taking place in America. Every year our economy produces more and more goods and services with fewer and fewer men. Hard, unskilled work—the kind nobody else wanted, that made us so welcome in America, the kind of work that we “niggers” have always done—is fast disappearing.
Even in the South—in Mississippi for example —95 per cent and more of the cotton is picked by machine. And in the North as I write this, more than 30 per cent of black teenage youth is unemployed. The point I am getting to is that for the first time, black labor is expendable; the American economy does not need it any more. What will a racist society do to a subject population for which it no longer has any use? Will America, in a sudden gush of reason, good conscience, and common sense reorder her priorities?—revamp her institutions, clean them of racism so that Blacks and Puerto Ricans and American Indians and Mexican Americans can be and will be fully and meaningfully included on an equal basis? Or, will America, grow meaner and more desperate as she confronts the just demands of her clamorous outcasts, choose genocide?”
In 1989, forty years after the publication of We Charge Genocide, the Strategy Center published the historic work of Professor Cynthia Hamilton, one of our founding members—Apartheid in American City: The Case of the Black Community in South Central Los Angeles. In her terrifyingly prescient description
“The larger unspoken malady affecting South Central stems from the idea that the land is valuable but the present tenants are not. This ‘Bantustan’ like its counterparts in South Africa serves now only as a holding space for Blacks who are no longer of use to the larger economy. Today, South Central is 75% Black with 280,000 Black residents. It is a wasteland with few jobs, no industry, and few functioning services.”
Now, 70 years after the publication of We Charge Genocide and 30 years after the publication of Apartheid in an American City, the genocidal policies of the U.S. government have been further instrumentalized.
In 1970, there were 200,000 people in U.S. prisons, at least 25% of whom were Black. At the time we thought that number was an outrageous reflection of U.S. racism and police force—which it was. Today there are 2.3 million people in prison almost 1 million of whom are Black. In 1970 there were less than 200,000 people in U.S. prisons. Today there are 200,000 women! In U.S. prisons. And while Black people are 13% of the population Black women are 30% of all the women in prison—a factor of almost 300% more than random and even more compared to white underrepresentation.
The astronomical, predictable and consistent measurement of Black overrepresentation in every index of pain, suffering, and misery—imprisonment, homelessness, death by police, unemployment, death by COVD 19—at ratios of 200%, 300%, 500%. 600% over “equal” or “random” experience of is a central mathematical proof of genocide.
So, today, we situate the struggle to eliminate all police from the LAUSD and every school in the U.S. as a central component of the fight to stop and reverse U.S. genocide against Black people. Look at every major urban center in the U.S. There is a systematic policy, carried out by Democratic Party big city mayors, to drive Black people out of every major city, every major job market, out of any area of Black concentration and Black political power. The miseducation and mistreatment of the Black child is tied to an even larger and nefarious plan to brutally punish Black people, the Black community, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Black Liberation Movement, for its leadership of the Great Revolution of the Sixties. For those of us who were there and saw a revolution with our own eyes, for those Indigenous, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and white movement people, it was unquestioned that the Black Liberation Movement’s provided essential political and moral leadership to every oppressed group in the U.S. and a significant movement of anti-racist, anti-war white folks. We saw and participated in the Black occupation of key urban centers, in its mass rebellions organized and spontaneous.
We saw the Black anti-war, anti-colonial leadership of the anti-Vietnam war, anti-Apartheid movement. We saw Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. King, Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Harry Edwards, Ruth Turner, and thousands of Black leaders oppose every U.S. coup, invasion, and mass murder. We also saw The System turn on any Black leaders who went beyond "integration" into challenging the U.S. Empire and the ferocious and punitive backlash against SNCC, the Black Panthers, Dr. King, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and any other Blacks against empire. The systematic white backlash reflected in driving Black people out of any centers of political power today is rooted in the system's fear and hatred of Black rebellion since the first enslaved African was forced onto the first white European slave ship.
The fight to get Black people back to their previous areas of political concentration— the “right of return” of Black people to New Orleans, Harlem, and South Central— has been a growing focus of our work and the No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign
In Los Angeles, the school system's crimes are reflected in terrifying statistics—Black children, once 25% of the public school population, now comprise only 8% of the LA public school population. No system of this magnitude and power can have an outcome it did not plan. It is clear the city, the ruling class, the Democratic Party, does not want a large Black population and neither does it school system. As we judge all people by the consequences of their actions, the LAUSD, as an institution, does not want Black children to feel comfortable, confident, and welcome and has to understand that the result is Black students have great difficulty in reading, mathematics, and every other measurement of performance. This is an intentional and racist outcome. In fact, despite its protestations to the contrary, the public school system does not want Black children and their families at all.
The “Right of Return” is a demand associated with the Palestinian people’s struggle for self-determination and national liberation. It can also shape the most engaged programmatic conversations about how to significantly increase the Black population of the LA schools and every urban center in the U.S. We have to begin by protecting and prioritizing the 50,000 remaining Young, Gifted, and Black students who remain. But we also need a real plan to bring 350,000 missing Black people back to Los Angeles, 100,000 Black people back to New Orleans, and 100,000 Black people back to Harlem so that “the right of return” is a demand tied to a tactical plan. The occupied, colonized, and terrorized Black children in the L.A. school system cannot be made free and whole without that larger frame, that larger struggle to protect and expand their families and communities.
Conclusion—bringing our movement onto the national and international stage—defeating Donald Trump in the 2020 Elections, bringing a Black and Third World liberation challenge to Biden/Harris and the Democratic Party
As we move to build on our victory to expand the Black Liberation Movement and the Black/Latinx/Third World Alliance the Strategy Center is paying greater attention to the forthcoming presidential elections— where a fascist president encourages right and white wing thugs to run rampant north and south and threatens to cancel the election or refuse to leave office if he is not re-elected. While some legalistically argue “he can’t do that” Trump is already signaling to his forces that if Biden is elected there will be an armed, right-wing uprising that will of course target Black and Mexican people to keep him in power.
Under these circumstances, there is an urgent need to build a united front against fascism in alliance with the Democrats and work for the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. But to be clear, there are also many fascists who live inside the Democratic Party. As Biden and Kamala Harris threaten war with China, Venezuela, and Iran, the election of the Democratic Party of war and racism will produce its own profound challenges for our movement. Rather than talking about what to do “after the election” the momentum from the Black Lives Matter/Defund the Police/No Police in the LAUSD Schools victory has to be brought directly into the national and Democratic Party debate. To be clear, none of the proposals below are being articulated by Biden, Harris, or the Democratic Party platform. We also reach out to our friends in every formation, Movement For Black Lives, Black Futures Lab, Democratic Socialists of America, Justice Democrats, who share these concerns to use their influence to support these demands as part of their own agenda for pushing the Democrats to the Black, to the Brown, and to the Left.
Cut all funding for federal, state, and local police forces. The call to “Defund the Police” and our call for “the social welfare state not the police state; climate justice state not the warfare state” goes to the heart of what the United States is, not just what it does.
As our researchers, Taylor Bentzen and Joseph Seyedan, worked to document the full institutional extent of the police and military state their work also exposed their many connections and interpenetrations of the federal government and local police forces into one unified dictatorship. As our movement fights for no police in the schools, no police on the trains, on the buses, in the streets, in the communities, in the workplaces and on the roads it’s a true miracle that we were able to defund any part of any this repressive web. So now, how do we extend that discussion to cut the funding for ICE, the FBI, the CIA, and the COPS program, and other federal enforcement and intervention program?
As just one example, the Strategy Center was able to convince the LA school police to return weapons to the Department of Defense 1033 Program that provides military grade weapons to state, local, and school police forces. But how do we shut down the entire program? In 2016, in the last year of the Obama administration, the Strategy Center, along with many other national civil rights groups, called on the administration to close down the program altogether. Instead, they sided with the police chiefs and were moving to relax the small restrictions they had already placed on the program.
In every federal funding bill there are hundreds of millions and often billions of dollars to fund federal law enforcement programs that are often more punitive and onerous than the already racist and repressive local police departments. We call on the Biden/Harris team to shut down the federal Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS) established as part of the 1994 Bill and Hillary Clinton Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act— that increased the federal penalties for many crimes, including adding new offenses that can be punished by death. The Department of Justice, which oversees the COPS program, has provided $14 billion since its inception to hire and train local police involved in community policing. Job Biden has pledged more than $300 million a year to this pacification program. He must drop that demand and shut down the program altogether.
Another federal atrocity is the Byrne Justice Assistance Grants that were started as a part of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 to give more funding, and more ties to the federal government, for $435 million each year. Ironically, former president George W. Bush tried to end the program but was overruled by both parties. Those trying to reform the Democratic Party and those of us working to defund the police should demand the end to the COPS, Byrne JAG, and DOD 1033 programs.
Quadruple the funding of the Department of Justice Civil Rights Department. The Justice department, as the federal agency that oversees local and state police departments, does far more harm than good. Still, the enforcement powers of the 1964 Civil Rights Act fall under its purview and some very good people choose to work at "Justice" with the hope to fight against police brutality and local and state racist practices. The federal consent decree imposed on the Ferguson Police Department, with all of its limitations, was the type of federal power that a strong Department of Justice can use on the side of more radical and structural demands by civil rights, Black, Latinx, and human rights organizers.
Under the Civil Rights Act each federal department, along with the DOJ, has the power to cut all federal funding for the programs it funds if it finds racially discriminatory practices—Department of Education, Department of Transportation, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Health and Human Services. The federal government, even under the weakened 1964 Civil Rights Act, has the power to cut off all funding from every school board, police department, hospital, city, and county that is found guilty of discriminating against Black, Latinx, and other oppressed minorities. It still has the power to under the legal standard of “disparate impact” in which plaintiffs would only have to prove that a specific policy “disproportionately” harms Black students. If that could be proven the federal government would have the right and power to cut off all federal funds. While the federal government only provides 8 percent of all local school budgets the loss of federal funds for public schools could be a powerful weapon. The more structural problem than the Supreme Court restrictions is that Democratic Administrations have rarely chosen to exercise that power against racist Democrats in urban and rural centers since it would require convicting fellow Democrats of violating civil rights. (The Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, after extensive federal filings by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Public Advocates, got the Department of Transportation on three separate occasions to accept a discrimination complaint against the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority--in itself a significant breakthrough.
And yet, in each case, two under Obama and one under Trump, the Department of Transportation Civil Rights Department and Department of Justice took a dive and capitulated to the Democratic mayors—Villaraigosa and Garcetti—rather than cut off MTA funds and support the rights of 500,000 Latino and Black bus riders. For those organizers in the Movement for Black Lives, for the supporters of Sanders and Warren, for The Squad, we need a major intervention in the 2020 election to get Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to pledge that they will make major investments in the DOJ and Civil Rights Departments of each federal agency and prosecute cities and states, even under Democratic mayors and governors, including cutting off funding from government agencies convinced of racial discrimination. Right now, no one even understands this as a real demand and we need those who have greater access to the Democratic Party to push these demands as a structural response to the mass uprisings over the murder of George Floyd. You know as well as we do that the party is focusing on visual diversity more than anti-racist policies and our Movement needs your help.
We are also reaching out to many prominent, independent movement people, who like us, are supporting Biden and Harris, to push beyond their line, “vote for them because they are better than Trump and can allow us to organize” to the demand, "which is why we need to organize now! during not just after the campaign.
Pass new federal amendments to the Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that explicitly reinstate the legal right for civil rights groups, called “private parties” to bring civil rights suits against employers, institutions, and government with the same “disparate impact” standard now available to the federal government.
When the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed, it clearly allowed civil rights groups to bring their own cases whether or not the Department of Justice or the Department of Transportation or any federal department chose to bring them. As late as 1996 the Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union, represented by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund brought a civil rights case against the Los Angeles MTA charging them with violating Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. We charged the MTA with violating the civil rights of 500,000 bus and train riders by dramatically raising the bus fares and cutting out the monthly bus pass causing “irreparable harm” to Black and Latino riders. Back then, while we also argued that the MTA was practicing intentional discrimination against Black and Latino riders, our core case to seek a temporary restraining order was to prove the high probability that we would "prevail on the merits of our case" once we went to trial, that MTA policies created "irreparable harm" to Black and Latino very low-income riders, and the burden of proof was to show that MTA policies had racially discriminatory "disparate impacts."
We did not to prove MTA intentions only that the consequences of their policies were discriminatory. Based on our legal filings, and brilliant court-room advocacy by NAACP/LDF attorney Connie Rice, federal district courts judge Terry Hatter issued a temporary restraining order against the MTA preventing them from eliminating the monthly pass. Truly miraculously (and captured in Haskell Wexlers's film Bus Riders Union) Judge Hatter's order on September 1, 1994 forced the MTA to reprint new bus passes that is had cancelled on the spot! Out of that legal victory we negotiated a ten year consent decree with the MTA in which we won $2.5 Billion in bus improvements for the oppressed class of bus riders.
In a direct response to that and many other legal victories, a reactionary Supreme Court, in 2001, issued a decision in Sandoval v. Alabama that overturned 37 years of legal precedent since the passage of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In a 5 to 4 decision, the court ruled, "There is no private right of action to enforce disparate-impact regulations promulgated under Title V." In the case, Ms. Sandoval claimed that she was denied the right to a Spanish language exam by the Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles. And yet, the court ruled, 5 to 4, in a decision it had already decided to make, that the larger question was that she and her attorneys did not have the right to bring that case in the first place.
The courts, as they usually do, just made up a new legal theory. They argued that Congress never intended civil rights groups—that is “private parties”—to be able to bring civil rights law suits unless they could prove intentional discrimination. This decision has been devastating to Black, Latino, civil rights groups who see discrimination right in front of their face in Black and white. But now the courts have imposed such restrictive criteria for bringing the case that most of the time, the groups under legal advice, decide to not even try. To be clear, this decision was made in 2001. President Barack Obama was elected in 2008 and for 2 years, had a Democratic majority in both the Senate and the House. He never campaigned on this issue, never raised this issue, never explained to people why restoring the "right of private parties" to bring civil rights suits under the disparate impact standard was so critical to Black and oppressed groups. And yes, it does raise questions a as to why Beltway Civil Rights Groups did not place those demands in front of him in the most militant and urgent manner.
Today, the Democrats must campaign, popularize, and implement a plan to go back to Congress to pass new legislation locking in the right of civil rights groups to bring civil rights cases and reinstate “disparate impacts” as more than enough proof to demand penalties and remedies. In Los Angeles, and yes, every city in the country, when Black people are only 8% of the school population but receive 25% of the tickets, 9% of the population but 50% the homeless, 20% of the riders on buses and trains but 50% of all who are ticketed and arrested all of these “disparate impacts” could lead to new civil rights challenges. And if the Democrats say that they do not have a congressional majority, tell them they did not need it when Obama was in power for 8 years because they could have enforced the hell out of the law that still gave them the power while making “re-instate the civil rights act” a national campaign.
Do not make hollow gestures about John Lewis, Dr. M.L. King and the Edmund Pettis Bridge. Pass a new civil rights act! And don’t blame the Republicans. Do what Trump does best. He fights for what he wants and builds a base around it. We need a new national civil rights movement, based in the path-breaking work by grassroots groups on the ground, driven by the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter period in history, and aggressively supported by Beltway Civil Rights groups who have too often been part of the problem, to push the hell out of the Democrats now! Don't make hollow references to a civil rights movement of old. Fight for that legacy by passing a new, powerful civil rights act now!
Demand that Biden, Harris, and the Democrats pledge non-interference in the internal affairs of the People’s Republic of China, the Republic of Cuba, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Russian Federation, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and all other nations in the world.
The United States military has a $750 billion budget, 1.2 million armed soldiers, and 800 military bases all over the world to prevent any third world nation or any nation that challenges its hegemony from breathing.In Defund the police and No Police in the LAUSD Schools campaign we described the public schools as centers of colonial education begun in the horrific denial of the slaves' right to read and the Indian Residential Schools. But speaking for the Strategy Center, we have to give far more attention and resources for campaigns to support the right of self-determination of people all over the world who are in constant threat of sanctions, military interventions, CIA plots and coups, and even nuclear attack by our government. At the height of the civil rights and Black Liberation movement and the height of the Vietnamese people’s struggle for self-determination and independence the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist frame was led by Black organizers.
From SNCC’s Hell No We Won’t Go to Vietnam to Muhammad Ali’s refusal to fight in Vietnam to Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech the anti-colonial rhetoric was backed up by aggressive anti-war actions. Today, as both the Republicans and Democrats compete for the most belligerent, racist, and militaristic rhetoric and policy I worry that many people working for Biden and Harris will focus on a “domestic” civil rights battle and conciliate with or even enable their cold-war, hot war belligerence to win tactical victories and enhance their self-image as movers and shakers. Throughout the Democratic Convention the Democrats from Colin Powell to Barack Obama told us that Donald Trump is "soft on dictators" but Joe Biden will not be pushed around. Great! Pushed around by whom? It is the U.S. that is threatening the world, terrified of China's growing economic and technological strength, and along with Israel, trying to destroy any independent political forces in the Middle East such as Iran. We can't call for "No Police in the Schools" or even "in our community" if we don't make clear that "our community is the world." We began with Dr. King's courageous strategic observation, "The United States, my government, is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world."
As always it will be the Black movement and yes the Indigenous, Latinx, and Arab movements with strong support from anti-racist anti-imperialist whites who have to push the Democratic Party where it does not want to go—and when needed take the party on frontally. The Movement cannot give unconditional support to the Democrats and cannot be complicit in their war crimes. As many of us with deep ties to the Black and Latino communities form tactical and enthusiastic alliances with the Democrats to defeat Trump we need to provide the most principled, militant, and open struggle with any Democratic Party efforts to impose racism and colonialism on any people inside or outside the United States.
Finding hope in the daily struggle of the Black community and the lifetime journey of the revolutionary organizers
In my organizing work, as I interrogate myself and train others, I have a very sober understanding of The System’s power and the many limitations of my and our organizing work. I do not want to raise false hopes or contribute to self-congratulatory and self-serving ideological deviations among our organizers and our organization. I repeat to myself many times a day, the great frame by Amilcar Cabral, the brilliant African leader from Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands “Tell no lies and claim no easy victories.”
But I tell you with all my truth and this is no lie. The people’s victory, the Black victory, on June 30, 2020 to cut the LASPD budget by $25 million and 35% was a damn hard fought and wonderful victory that the whole movement should celebrate, propagate, and emulate. For those who have taken the time to go with me on this organizers journey I hope this work can push you to new heights of creativity, insurgency, and victory.
See Section 1: Anatomy of the Breakthrough
See Section 2: The Strategy Center's Role
See Section 3: The Elected Officials' Role
Section 4: Board, LASPD Struggles Continue
Section 5: What a Veteran Organizer Learned