Days after the close of the Republican and Democratic conventions, Black Lives Matter-related groups on Monday endorsed a wide-ranging platform intended to influence political candidates before the November election.
It marks the first time that Black Lives Matter, better known for its widespread protests against police shootings of black Americans, has officially entered the national political fray in terms of policy. The group’s members have been criticized for being heavy on protest and light on policy.
The platform, which calls for “black liberation,” makes 40 policy recommendations. Some are mainstream, such as calling for an end to the death penalty — something the Democratic Party has also endorsed in its platform. Others are more radical, such as reparations, including free public tuition to public universities, for “past and continuing harm” against black people.
It also advocates a ban on deportations; federal and state laws that will “acknowledge the lasting impacts of slavery”; and government investment in education, mental health and job initiatives for black Americans.
“Our grievances and solutions extend beyond the police killing of our people. State violence includes failing schools that criminalize our children, dwindling earning opportunities, wars on our trans and queer family that deny them of their humanity, and so much more,” said Montague Simmons, the chair of the St. Louis-based Organization for Black Struggle and one of the activists who helped write the platform.
“That’s why we united, with a renewed energy and purpose, to put forth a shared vision of the world we want to live in,” said Simmons, whose group took part in protests after a white officer shot 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., on Aug. 9, 2014. The death sparked days of unrest and brought national prominence to the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group that includes members of Black Lives Matter, released the platform. It developed out of a Movement for Black Lives conference that more than 2,000 black activists attended in at Cleveland State University a year ago.
“We recognize that not all of our collective needs and visions can be translated into policy, but we understand that policy change is one of many tactics necessary to move us towards the world we envision, a world where freedom and justice is the reality,” said another platform writer, M Adams, who is co-executive director of Madison, Wis.-based Freedom, Inc. The nonprofit works with poor minorities and youth.
The platform was written or endorsed by more than 60 activist groups. One of the best known is the Black Lives Matter Network. The network, which has chapters in dozens of American cities, has largely stayed away from electoral politics and has not endorsed a presidential candidate.
Some offshoots that are unaffiliated with it but use the Black Lives Matter name have gotten more directly involved in elections. Last week, one group in Ohio called Black Lives Matter of Cuyahoga County made waves after endorsing a Republican, Sen. Rob Portman, in his reelection bid.
Other individual activists who arose out of the Black Lives Matter movement, such as onetime Baltimore mayoral candidate DeRay Mckesson, have also advised the White House on how to improve relations between black Americans and police. Last year, Mckesson was one of several activists to launch Campaign Zero, an independent website with policy proposals on how to “end police violence in America.”
The Movement for Black Lives platform’s backers extend beyond black organizations and ones focused squarely on race issues. They include Dream Defenders, a multiracial Miami-based group that organized against Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law after the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who died after being shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012, in Sanford, Fla.
One endorsee is FIERCE, a nonprofit that works with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth of color in New York City. Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group made up of largely white allies to the Black Lives Matter movement, has also given its support to the platform.
Black Lives Matter and related racial justice movements have been strongly criticized by some politicians, as well as veterans of 1960s civil rights activism, for lacking specific policy proposals. The critics have included Clinton, who last year at a campaign event in Keene, N.H., suggested to black activists that they work on policy.
“I don't believe you change hearts. I believe you change laws,” she said in a backstage meeting.
Organizers behind Monday’s platform acknowledged that many parts had a slim chance of being taken on by major political parties or candidates.
“At a moment when both parties are putting forth policy proposals that either do nothing or actually do more harm to us, we are advancing a collective vision of concrete policy ideas that actually lead to safe and thriving black communities,” said Karl Kumodzi, an organizer with Black Youth Project 100 in New York City.
“We will continue to demand that our elected leaders enact meaningful change, such as divesting from systems that harm us and investing in our communities' long term safety. But regardless of what happens in November, we will continue to build independent black political power, knowing that's the only way to implement these transformative policies and hold lawmakers accountable. Our vision necessitates we look far beyond November.”