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Green Base Building With Black Lives Matter

I’ve been walking around with both the Green Party of Rhode Island and the Black Lives Matter movement in Providence for the last few months. There is juncture fast approaching that is loaded with both risks and rewards. I hope I can articulate here a set of reflections on these contours in the landscape that will not be taken as anything other than polite diagnosis and prescription based on these points. I would also hope that these points, though derived from Providence observations, might be applicable to the wider country.

The black and brown activists in the movement I am talking to have gone in the span of a few short years through the spectrum of ideological maturation it took the civil rights movement ten years to go through before it became the Black Power movement. They are at the point where Huey Newton and Stokely Carmichael were at their zenith. While this epoch sees activists who subscribe to the horizontal-integration norms of Occupy Wall Street and the greater anarchist movement that has developed in the past two decades, they have a critique of imperialism and militarism that is way beyond anything the Bernie Sanders candidacy was offering. In other words, if we are going to have actual democratic socialism in America, it will come from these activists. These young people have a prophetic orientation to their acts of speaking truth to power, something Isaiah wrote about when he said “and a little child will lead them”. Unlike their elders, who are stuck on Hillary Clinton, these activists have zero interest in the Democratic Party and make no bones about it.

Simultaneously, the Greens are now executing their Green Welcome Mat strategy. The Sanders crowd has effectively split between Clinton and Stein, as was expected from the beginning. The addition of Ajamu Baraka to the ticket was a stroke of genius that scuttles the whole Green-baiting scare tactic of “voting Green will elect Trump!” They are also petitioning in states to get ballot access, which I am doing here in the Ocean State.

It would seem the obvious point is for Greens to bring these petitions to Black Lives Matter protest and begin looking for signatures.

Wrong. Don’t. That’s only going to alienate them.

What people need to understand is that a Black Lives Matter protest is not celebratory. Black and brown men are being murdered by police in the streets with impunity. These protests are acts of mourning, the equivalent to a funeral. How would you feel if a white person showed up to a funeral you were attending to campaign?

No, instead Greens need to get involved personally with Black Lives Matter on a day-to-day basis. They need to build a base in the old fashioned way. State Green Parties need to be issuing press releases on every instance of police brutality. State party leadership needs to go join in this mourning and help them process their grief. Right now I am involved in an effort that is trying to pass in Providence an ordinance that would seriously impact and reform the police while creating accountability. There are such efforts going on nationwide in Black Lives Matter. Green Parties in every state can and should endorse these efforts and call on the legislative bodies to pass them immediately. From there activists in BLM will see these gestures and say “holy cow, they aren’t just a bunch of white bourgeois environmentalists, they care about us.”

And from there you will see activists in BLM bring in multiple people to sign petitions to put Jill Stein on the ballot. You’ll see the beginning of a movement of direct action politics that combines the Greens with BLM in a way not seen in decades.

This is going to entail a lot of sensitivity, maturity, and even a bit of risk. But the rewards will be extraordinary if handled correctly.