*Nationwide, the Movement for Black Lives is forging economic platforms that call for the repair and reform of black communities, and the rights of transgender people of all races has become an important part of the movement. Many historians would ague that one of the main reasons why black folks can’t get ahead in life is due to their collective need to be all-inclusive.
Several minority groups have organized under the movement, shifting focus away from the core of the agenda: protecting the lives of black men, women and children. Now, the nationwide movement has broadened its focus to include the many ways that black lives are threatened by poverty and prejudice in the United States.
“We’ve seen an overinvestment in policing and surveillance and a complete divestment from educational programs and communities,” says Marbre Stahly-Butts, a leader of the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of 40 organizations nationwide. “Any change in these systems requires a change in the economic system and how money is distributed within it.”
Politicians and activists believe that movement echoes that of the Black Panther Party of the 1960’s. The Panthers formed in 1966 with the goal of “policing the police.”
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A year later, the Panthers released their Ten Point Program, which called for employment and housing for blacks, along with an end to police brutality. They also began offering social services to black communities, such as health care clinics and free breakfast.
Jamal Joseph, a young leader of the Black Panthers who is now a director, writer, and film professor at Columbia University in New York, says that such community programs were “vital to the Panthers’ work” because the Panthers recognized “that the community needed to be part of their own liberation.”
“Similarly to what happened in the civil rights movement and in the Black liberation movement, [Black Lives Matter organizers] are connected nationally and also building consciousness and connecting the dots between what’s happening with mass incarceration and poverty and the lack of education,” says Joseph. “In other words, the movement is saying that we recognize that people are being killed by the cops, but also that people are being killed by neglect. And we want to address that. We want to address poverty, poor health care, poor education, and issues that are critical.”
In cities such as Chicago and St. Louis, black activists such as Montague Simmons are organizing economic justice campaigns.
“This year’s there’s a lot of energy and we’ve received support largely because of what’s happened in Ferguson to really make [the worker center] real,” says Simmons.
Recently, Black Lives Matter Chicago launched another initiative called OurStory, which is a community dialogue project that aims to promote political education on the South Side and engage “residents in creating solutions to public safety and violence.” Their events feature performances by poets, singers, and comedians and giveaways from local, black-owned businesses.
Meanwhile, Janaé Bonsu sees a strong connection between policing, prison, and poverty. So when members of her organization, Black Youth Project 100, created an economic agenda, Ms. Bonsu saw it as a “natural extension from our commitment to end criminalization.”
Historian and author Donna Murch notes that while there are some obvious parallels between today’s movements and the Panthers, black activists of today face a far greater challenge.
“The Panthers are organizing in a time of much greater economic prosperity than now, especially for poor and working class people,” says Professor Murch, who teaches at Rutgers University in New Jersey and is the author of “Living for the City: Migration, Education and the Rise of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California.”
“A third of African-American men are under a form of correctional control and this has really emerged in the last 40 years,” says Murch. “So I think the problems that people are up against today are even larger.”