Report Back: Miami Black Lives Matter Mobilizations, NGO’s & Constructing a Movement
By Members of One Struggle
Across the nation and the world, protests, blockades, and demonstrations are proliferating in response to the non-indictment of police officers involved in the murders of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. People are mobilizing, demanding justice and proclaiming that the system be indicted.
Miami – Friday, December 5th – Activists and organizers from a number of social justice non-profits organized a demonstration in the heart of Wynwood, a gentrified part of Miami; home to upscale art galleries, restaurants, and shops. The event aimed to highlight state violence not only in Ferguson and New York, but here in Miami as well. Last year, a young graffiti artist – Israel Hernandez – was tazed to death by police officers over tagging an abandoned McDonald’s in Miami Beach. The demonstration was a vigil for Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Miamians who have lost their lives to police brutality. The event coincided with the start of Art Basel, a yearly art festival designed for artists and art buyers of the bourgeoisie.
The vigil shifted into a march down NW 36th Street and headed towards interstate 195. From North Miami Ave we left the street and headed up the highway exit ramp. In solidarity with mobilizations across the country, marchers formed a blockade, shutting down traffic in both directions. People linked arms across lanes, chanted, and held their ground. Traffic to and from Miami Beach was paralyzed. After blocking east and west bound traffic, we took up all the eastbound lanes and continued to march, stopping again before exiting to Biscayne Blvd. Off the highway, we shut down traffic and intersections moving past the Midtown Mall to the main street of Wynwood – NW 2nd Avenue – a hotspot for Art Basel Events.
Disruptions of this scale are not common in Miami – a city where political consciousness and activity can, at times, feel completely stagnant. It was wonderful to experience the palpable strength of people taking the streets in our city. Many drivers stuck in traffic honked in support and happily took our leaflets. Shoppers, Art Basel goers, restaurant workers were forced to stop what they were doing, and many shouted their support. As we marched more people joined us.
As a whole, this mobilization was really positive. It highlighted state violence in our community and mobilized over 500 people, demonstrating that Miamians are also fed up. However, it’s important to analyze what lessons can be learned, and what we, as anti-capitalist organizers, can do to advance the struggle.
Justice Cannot Come from the Capitalist State
The resounding cry at Miami mobilizations in the wake of Mike Brown and Eric Garner is for justice from the judicial system. With our presence at these demonstrations, we aim to demarcate from this position and to push that justice cannot come from courts, elections, judges, politicians, or kinder cops. These institutions and their representatives exist to divide, disorganize, and pacify us. Justice comes from people organized as a social force, fighting for their interests.
As we marched One Struggle members and others began chanting, “No justice, no peace! Fuck the police!” Several of the NGO organizers near us rolled their eyes and quickly worked to start another less combative chant. In media reports of this I-195 shut down and march, the police narrative was consistent – they were friends of the mobilization, present to protect our right to protest. Silencing combativity against the police supported the police narrative of serving and protecting communities, rather than unifying people on the actual purpose of the police – to protect private property.
Bourgeois democracy and its state apparatus do not serve our interests. Contrary to what we are taught in school, this democracy is only for the capitalist class. We have gained some democratic rights as concessions through class struggle, but at the end of the day these rights serve to maintain the order and domination of the capitalist class. Unless we connect the fight against racism with the fight against capitalism/imperialism, our struggles will be funneled into reforming a system that requires and maintains class divisions, oppression and exploitation.
We need a movement, united against our common enemy – capitalism. To build a movement capable of this fight, we need to be constructing mass level organizations – neighborhood committees, student organizations, workplace organizations.
If our goal is a movement to combat the whole arrangement of society, we need to understand the relationship between mobilization and mass movement. Mobilizations entail calling on people to participate in rallies, actions. A mass movement pushes dialogue, strategizing, and building organization and consciousness through continuity of practice.
Mobilizations and organized mass movements are two distinct and essential tools we must wield in our fight to defeat capitalism and racism. They exist in dialectical relation to one another, with the organized mass movement as the main goal. Mobilizations have two roles: they are both a method to build a movement, and they are the outward expression of the organized movement.
We constantly hear references to “this movement,” and “our movement.” The reality is that while the recent wave of protests is an amazing and inspiring outcry, they are a series of mobilizations. We are far from the organized movement that is needed. Occupy also was not at the stage of a movement, but was a longer-term mobilization.
A mass movement is based on webs of interconnected organizations and organized individuals, collaborating with and supporting each other based on varying levels of political unity. A mass movement entails a level of organization and centralization that we have not experienced here in the US since the Civil Rights Movement.
But movements don’t spring into existence. They’re built. Our work now should be to build organizations to magnify our power. Our mobilizations need to move beyond expressions of outrage and into growing mass organizations. Growing towards the organized movement is the point – mass mobilizations that do not contribute to building and strengthening it are activist endeavors that lead nowhere. In South Florida, the general tendency is to move from mobilization to mobilization, without considering how these mobilizations are growing organization and consolidating towards a movement.
As we work to grow organization and the movement, autonomy is vital to this process. The fight against racism and capitalism is based on our capacity to organize in our interests. Do our mobilizations, our tactics and strategies serve the interests of building a mass movement to fight the system that facilitates and profits from racism, police brutality, the school to prison pipeline? Or do they maintain capitalist interests?
Here in Miami, the vigil, I-195 blockade, and other recent mobilizations have been organized by the Miami Committee on State Violence – a coalition under the leadership of local social justice non-profits including the Power U Center, the Dream Defenders, and the Miami Workers Center. While we are not questioning the good intent of individuals within these organizations, we are stating that these organizations are not capable of leading the struggle we need.
NGOs are demanding a demilitarized police, body-cameras for officers, and “kinder” policing. They are demanding that individuals in the police force and the judicial institutions be held accountable, yet they won’t address the capitalist system that upholds racism and requires state violence. All of these organizations have been heavily invested in voter registration and get-out-to-vote campaigns. These ‘solutions’ and ‘alternatives’ have been tried before, again and again, and still there hasn’t been any change.
NGOs are objectively bound by capitalist interests. Their work is most often funded by grants from foundations, big unions, and other capitalist organizations. As a result, they can appear militant in their tactics, but at the end of the day can only offer solutions promoted by the ruling class, such as electoral politics, legal battles, etc. The NGO/non-profit system is designed to channel dissent back into the capitalist system; to stifle mass based organizations by offering career-based opportunities for organizers; and to recreate bourgeois bureaucratic structures.
Bureaucratic tendencies will always exist in organizations. Varying levels of commitment, experience, and confidence will always be present. It is how we address these contradictions that will determine whether we function democratically or bureaucratically.
Do our organizations struggle for political unity through open and democratic debate? Are we working to build the capacity of everyone in the organization to lead? Or, do we show up to meetings where the most experienced and advanced lead, while the rest of us vote on their proposals and essentially function as foot soldiers?
Political rapproachment – the process of struggling for political unity – is the basis of democratic organization and practices. From our shared political unity, we determine our goals, objectives, strategies and tactics – our political line. Everyone must contribute to this process, as it is the basis of our work. We should never ask people to act on something they do not understand or agree with.
In attending meetings for the Committee on State Violence, we consistently found that political unity and democracy played no role in organizing efforts. At a recent strategizing meeting called after the I-195 shut down, the room was filled with about 60 people. In what little space was given for discussion, there were calls to confront capitalism, patriarchy and white supremacy; calls to recognize intersections of race and class in our efforts; and there were calls to get new people in office. There was never a part of the program where these positions were discussed. Instead, we were split into two groups and given two pre-determined targets – an elected official and an agency of the state – around whom to plan mobilizations.
If we are serious about confronting racism and the economic system that enforces it, we need people uniting and leading their own fights in their neighborhood against slumlords and police; in their workplaces against their bosses; at their schools against tuition increases; then coming together to fight our common enemy – capitalism.
NGO’s are not capable of this type of organization. Their political unity and political line is based on whatever their funders require in order to get funded again. As a result, they will lead us into bureaucracy and reformism.
Identity & Politics
Something else to think about going forward is how identity politics can dominate other important elements, such as class. It’s important to stand with the masses as they cry out for justice, as well as listen to black and brown people from communities heavily impacted by state violence. But not every black or brown person you hear speak will share or advance the interests of the masses. Many people of color from middle-class to upper class backgrounds (even black celebrity millionaires) have spoken out and protested against racism and state violence but do they share the same interests of working class people? Does a wealthy black member of the ruling class share the same interests with a Haitian garment worker who earns a dollar a day? Identity can be an important issue because groups can use it to trump politics. Something we’ve noticed in South Florida is that activists and protesters will follow the lead of any voice/organization of color, not knowing what their politics are. Some black leaders will pacify us, funneling our efforts into reformist solutions like electoral politics. Other black leaders will contribute to our collective liberation. We need the latter, not the former, and that can’t be assessed through identity alone.
Blockades and protests will continue. This moment holds great potential for the long term process of building a mass movement. As described in our leaflet, justice comes from people organized as a social force. As organizers and people fighting for a new arrangement of society, we must be present in these moments to build organized relationships and grow organizations that truly represent the interests of the masses – structures that are democratic and autonomous. HERE you can download the leaflet we wrote and have been handing out at mobilizations and in neighborhoods. If you agree with it, feel free to use it.
United against the system, we wield real power. We don’t need NGO’s, politicians, or capitalists unions. We represent our own interests. When we have strong networks of mutual support, we can begin to provide an alternative to the dominant system. In building organizations based on democracy, autonomy, and struggle for political unity, we grow structures and practices for a new society. Our collective liberation from racism and all forms of oppression is intertwined with the fight against this entire capitalist/imperialist system. It’s one struggle!