What's Next for the Defund Movement?

Protesters rally at Black Lives Matter plaza across from the White House as President Donald Trump accepts the Republican presidential nomination Aug. 27, 2020. Photo by Jose Luis Magana/AFP

Five police abolitionists from around the country—some of them newly elected to city councils—talk about lessons from 2021 and plans for 2022.

MINNEAPOLIS

In the birthplace of the summer 2020 uprising over the police murder of George Floyd, the defund movement took a blow in November 2021. Ballot Question 2, which would have opened the door for major structural changes to the Minneapolis Police Department, failed 44%-56%. Yet city council challenger Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who campaigned in support of Question 2, won by 13 votes in a runoff. And a progressive ballot measure to allow rent control, known as Question 3, passed 53%-47%.

Kandace Montgomery

is a Black and queer organizer in Minneapolis and a national leader in the Movement for Black Lives. She is co-executive director of Black Visions, which co-issued the May 2020 demand to defund the Minneapolis Police Department. She was board chair of the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition to remove the city’s mandate for a police department.

Kandace Montgomery: The result of the summer 2020 uprising that was led by young Black and brown people here in Minneapolis was a political opportunity to create systemic and transformative change in the ways police hold power and how resources are moved within the city to support public safety. Many of us understood it as a step toward abolition. For others, it felt like a necessary step to actually ensure folks’ safety.

So the Yes On 2 campaign looked to change the city charter — our city’s constitution — to remove a requirement to keep the police department as it is. Then, it could be replaced by a Department of Public Safety that would take a public health approach to our safety. That department would include police officers but also a breadth of other things, like mental health responders and nonpunitive social workers.

I’m still processing lessons learned. I think our opposition made the conversation very much about abolition or not. That created a lot of fear for people who are not quite there, who have some really real concerns around their physical safety and intercommunal violence. And so the conversation became very narrow.

But my experience of talking to folks on doors, talking to our canvassers, being on the phones, is that once you are able to actually have the conversation of, Here’s what a Department of Public Safety could look like — it could include youth programming, it could include all of these things” — I found, overwhelmingly, that even people who were still very committed to the idea of still having police were able to embrace this vision. They just needed more time to let go of the policing thing. And that was OK, as long as we were consistently doing that work.


ROBIN WONSLEY WORLOBAH

is Ward 2 city councilor in Minneapolis. She has been active in Black Lives Matter since 2015 and backed the 2021 ballot measure to restructure policing. A democratic socialist, she was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative MN.


In the birthplace of the summer 2020 uprising over the police murder of George Floyd, the defund movement took a blow in November 2021. Ballot Question 2, which would have opened the door for major structural changes to the Minneapolis Police Department, failed 44%-56%. Yet city council challenger Robin Wonsley Worlobah, who campaigned in support of Question 2, won by 13 votes in a runoff. And a progressive ballot measure to allow rent control, known as Question 3, passed 53%-47%.

Kandace Montgomery: The result of the summer 2020 uprising that was led by young Black and brown people here in Minneapolis was a political opportunity to create systemic and transformative change in the ways police hold power and how resources are moved within the city to support public safety. Many of us understood it as a step toward abolition. For others, it felt like a necessary step to actually ensure folks’ safety. 

So the Yes On 2 campaign looked to change the city charter — our city’s constitution — to remove a requirement to keep the police department as it is. Then, it could be replaced by a Department of Public Safety that would take a public health approach to our safety. That department would include police officers but also a breadth of other things, like mental health responders and nonpunitive social workers. 

I’m still processing lessons learned. I think our opposition made the conversation very much about abolition or not. That created a lot of fear for people who are not quite there, who have some really real concerns around their physical safety and intercommunal violence. And so the conversation became very narrow.

But my experience of talking to folks on doors, talking to our canvassers, being on the phones, is that once you are able to actually have the conversation of, Here’s what a Department of Public Safety could look like — it could include youth programming, it could include all of these things” — I found, overwhelmingly, that even people who were still very committed to the idea of still having police were able to embrace this vision. They just needed more time to let go of the policing thing. And that was OK, as long as we were consistently doing that work. 

Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I think often in these conversations — and within our movement — it’s about policing only. And that’s also how the opposition tries to frame it. But actually, under a capitalist society, policing is only one piece. My city council campaign put Question 2 within a socialist analysis: We have to correct the conditions under racial capitalism that cause a power imbalance and inequality that policing ends up reinforcing. We have to make mass investments in our public infrastructure, which we know actually address crime by stabilizing people’s lives and their communities.” Neoliberals don’t want to hear anything about mass investments. We lead with transitional demands that not only improve people’s material conditions, but also shine a light on an enemy to rally working-class people around — demands like rent control, which maintains some level of housing security for working-class people and has a very clear class enemy in corporate developers, who generate millions if not billions of dollars of wealth from working-class people through ever-expansive rents. So then we link these issues by saying, You are going after our localized enforcement structure of capitalism, the police.”

I think the movement backing Question 2 made a mistake of not naming the enemy. Because then the opposition was able to say, You hate the police chief, this upstanding Black man.” Or, You hate Black people, you want them to live in communities riddled with gun violence.” The mayor, these corporate-backed PACs like Operation Safety Now, the Downtown Council, the chief of police and the police union literally went on four months of a speaking tour. Almost every weekend, out over in north Minneapolis, where a baby has just got shot and killed, they would basically say, Look at these grieving parents, look at these grieving Black folks, we can’t afford to try something experimental.”

We didn’t have a narrative to counteract that at that scale. And that’s fine — but if we don’t have the narrative, then we damn sure have to have the ground game. Because, I mean, we’re only running on people power, we ain’t got none of these corporations sponsoring us.

I think there was a missed opportunity to have a strong ground game in the places that the corporate elite targeted, which was working-class Black folks. It was a great testament to the signature campaign [to get Question 2 on the ballot] that they reached 1,400 Northside residents, but what if we had joined forces with the rent control coalition [backing Question 3] to do joint canvasses across north Minneapolis? To say, This is your better offer. Not only will you get a quality, equitable public safety system, but you’ll stop paying all your money to the slumlords. This is how you don’t got to work two jobs in order to take care of your kids. And then you’re missing out on your kids, and they’re being pulled to get involved in other things.”

Another point the opposition said was, You progressive abolitionists, y’all ain’t got no plan. This public safety department ain’t gonna do nothing.” I’ll be very frank, the coalition had internal debates about this. Very early on, we knew the opposition was going to weaponize the language of the ballot amendment. And I think there was a missed opportunity of putting out that proposal Kandace mentioned, around alternative responders.

My campaign made our own democratic socialist public safety plan. We made zines of it that we distributed when we were door knocking to say, What if we actually invest in what Kandace named — unarmed responders, first responders, mental health providers, social workers?”

In our ward, we turned out more than 50% of registered voters, and Question 2 won [56% to 44%].

And I know Kandace wants to throw in something, too.

Kandace Montgomery: I agree with a lot of those offerings, Robin, and I’m excited to sit down to debrief. Just adding, I think it’s important to see the conditions in which we were fighting, coming out of 2020. Folks were exhausted, living through a pandemic. Our organizations were all very much pulled. Multiple organizations, including Black Visions, were dealing with internal conflict. And a lot of organizers were experiencing a lack of activity from community members— because of the economic conditions, because of the pandemic, because of isolation.

Some opportunities had to be missed because people just literally didn’t have the capacity to pick them up. I name that because I think our movements need to really think about how, in these low moments, we are fortifying our organizations and our bases and our relationships. How are we actually developing Black organizers so that it’s not just 10 of us who are brilliant, radical Black strategists in the city? Because, to be real, it’s hardly much more than that.

To the rent control piece: The rent control coalition was a bit broader, and it was not necessarily aligned on policing. Some of the leadership intentionally decided not to sign onto our question. And so those collaborations weren’t really possible. Again, it speaks to the ways we have to build alignment, shared vision. I think everybody should understand how police abolition gets us to housing justice gets us to these other things, but it’s long-term work.

Yes 4 Minneapolis volunteer Tira Howel (right) garners support for Question 2 on Election Day, Nov. 2, 2021, which would have allowed Minneapolis to restructure its police department. Joshua Lott/The Washington Post via Getty Images

AUSTIN, TEXAS

Proposition A, on Austin’s November 2021 ballot, would have mandated two police officers per every 1,000 residents, a major expansion. More than 80 groups joined a No Way on Prop A campaign, including the Travis County Democratic Party, Austin Democratic Socialists of America, AFSCME Local 1624 (the county employees’ union), the firefighters union and the emergency medical services union. Prop A lost 31%-69%.

ANDREW R. HAIRSTON

is a civil rights attorney and writer in Austin, Texas. He organized with the No Way on Prop A campaign to block an increase of hundreds of millions to the city’s police budget. He is running a democratic socialist campaign for Travis County justice of the peace in the March 1 Democratic primary.

Proposition A, on Austin’s November 2021 ballot, would have mandated two police officers per every 1,000 residents, a major expansion. More than 80 groups joined a No Way on Prop A campaign, including the Travis County Democratic Party, Austin Democratic Socialists of America, AFSCME Local 1624 (the county employees’ union), the firefighters union and the emergency medical services union. Prop A lost 31%-69%.

Andrew R. Hairston: A pretty tremendous victory was registered November 2. We defeated this unfunded mandate for the police — projected to cost up to $600 million to the detriment of parks, libraries, fire and other social services.

A little bit of political background. In 2019, Austin City Council voted to lift the camping ban that had been in place for some years and to allow folks who are experiencing homelessness to be in public spaces. In 2020, the city council started to move toward a defund strategy and mandated a series of cuts to the police department. 

But in 2021, at the behest of Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Legislature stepped in to undo local efforts and codify in state law that local police budget cuts are impermissible without voter approval. And then this conservative-backed group, Save Austin Now PAC (SAN PAC), got a measure on the May 2021 ballot to reinstitute the camping ban. Austin DSA and other nonprofits fought against it, but it passed 58%-42%. A lot of wealthy white folks in West Austin are like, You know, we just don’t want to see folks experiencing homelessness.”

Then, SAN PAC kind of doubled down and said, You know what, let’s super-fund the police. We have this momentum.”

The super-funding ballot measure failed miserably. The voters were like, You know, we don’t want to affirmatively support people experiencing homelessness, but I guess we also don’t want to super-fund the police.”

So that’s where we are. I think there’s still a lot of organizing appetite to push back against the super-funding of the police pushed from the state government, but as Robin uplifted, there’s this tepid response from neoliberal folks. They’re like, We don’t want to super-fund the police, but … we’re not going to really entertain this conversation about abolition.”

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Because D.C. is not a state, its election cycle coincides with federal elections, the most recent being November 2020. In the June 2020 city council primary, democratic socialist Janeese Lewis George ran on a defund platform against Democratic heavyweight Brandon Todd, a protégé of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and a supporter of the police union. Lewis George won 55%-43% (a third candidate won 2%). But in the November 2020 election for two at-large council seats, both candidates supporting police defunding lost.

MAKIA GREEN

is a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black liberation organizer who is co-chair of the Defund MPD Coalition, co-founder of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and a former core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. As an organizing director with the Working Families Party, Green campaigned in 2020 to get supporters of police defunding elected to D.C. Council.

Makia Green: As organizing director with the Working Families Party, I worked on Janeese Lewis George’s campaign for Ward 4 councilmember. She ran on a campaign of housing rights, good jobs, demilitarizing and divesting from the police, and investing in communities. Defund MPD [Metropolitan Police Department] has been talking about divest/​invest for years: Take away the infrastructure from things that are harming us and put money into things that will help us. 

The council campaign was a long shot to everyone else’s mind. She was going up against an incumbent [Brandon Todd] in a seat from which people often become mayor — two times so far.

Lewis George was attacked by her own party members. This out-of-state PAC, Democrats for Education Reform, put in tons of money. Everyone was getting these postcards taking her words out of context — just a complete misinformation campaign. They made it sound like she could and would fire all the cops. Come on, right? It just missed her platform completely, as well as what was realistic. But honestly, a lot of times, we thought our folks were going to believe this.

On Election Day, the mayor, who’s a pro-cop mayor, put a curfew because of the protests supporting folks in Minneapolis. There were hundreds of people downtown in front of the White House. The curfew started before the polls ended. And we knew who that was going to impact— Black and brown voters. We knew what she was doing — she was backing Brandon Todd.

And in spite of that, people stayed in line till after midnight. Young people came to vote, saying, I’m here specifically for Janeese and I’m here to vote because Black lives matter.” Folks had their fists up in the line and, around 7 o’clock, the time of the curfew, everyone kneeled together. Janeese won by a landslide, in my opinion.

November 2020 was a completely different landscape. The presidential election was polarizing everything. The Democratic Party started to say that the defund demand was eroding support. 

In D.C., there was a 24-person race for two at-large city council seats. Two of the candidates, Ed Lazere and Markus Batchelor, ran in support of what we called, Defund MPD, Refund D.C.” Unfortunately, neither won.

For me, the lessons in this moment are: One, strike while the iron is hot. Context does matter. And two, run a campaign that canvasses to find out, Is everybody really on board?” Everyone’s kneeling and putting out flags on their house, but are they talking to their friends? Are they really going to be down for you when it counts? 

We also want to claim our victories. We won a lot of policing reforms. We restored voting rights for everyone who’s incarcerated in D.C. currently and formerly. We’re trying to decriminalize drugs and decriminalize street vending. We’re having hearings on getting rid of mandatory minimums. None of that would have been possible without the movement — without you all.

Washington, D.C., Ward 4 Councilmember Janeese Lewis George greets constituents after being sworn into office Jan. 2, 2021. George, a democratic socialist, defeated an establishment-backed candidate in the June 2020 primary by running on a "defund the police" platform, among other issues. Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

SOMERVILLE, MASS.

In the Boston suburb of Somerville, Defund Somerville Police Department won a 7.7% police budget cut in July 2020. In November 2021, Defund SPD organizer Willie Burnley Jr. won a city council seat, along with two other democratic socialists.

WILLIE BURNLEY JR.

is co-founder of Defund Somerville Police Department and is city councilor in Somerville, Mass. Endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, he is a Black and queer organizer, a former union steward with Teamsters 122 and former campaign staffer for Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

In the Boston suburb of Somerville, Defund Somerville Police Department won a 7.7% police budget cut in July 2020. In November 2021, Defund SPD organizer Willie Burnley Jr. won a city council seat, along with two other democratic socialists.

Willie Burnley Jr.: Somerville is about four square miles, with about 80,000 people — one of the densest places in the country. It’s 75% white, but you have a lot of white people here saying, Oh, I love our diversity.” [laughter] Massachusetts is pretty pro-police, so those dynamics all play into this conversation.

In the midst of 2020’s national reckoning with police violence, our city government was saying, We know our budgets are going to get impacted by Covid, so what we’re going to do is massively cut housing.” The Office of Housing Stability, which helps people stay in their homes and not be displaced, was going to get cut by 12%.

They were barely going to touch the police department — maybe a 3% cut. This flew in the face of the national conversation. So we got organized. We did phone banks, emails, biking and car caravans to the mayor’s house. Defund SPD organized six hours of public testimony to the city council; 148 people spoke, saying, No, we should cut the police by at least 10%.” That number came from a survey where the average actually was 60% — but we didn’t think we were quite ready for that demand as an organization that was about two weeks old. We got 7.7%, which was $1.3 million. The money actually went where we wanted it to go: healthcare, housing, rental assistance, food, services, the things that make our community stronger and safer.

In the midst of that battle, we had a lot of pushback. All these people, including the police chiefs, said, This isn’t Ferguson, this isn’t New York. We are different and we’re better.” We heard this from June to December 2020. What they didn’t tell us was that, in October 2020, the local president of the police union handcuffed a man and pepper-sprayed him in the face.

We also saw continual gatekeeping around what communities of color and working-class people need and who is representative of them. So we had a bunch of white people saying, You guys aren’t representative of my people over here who are people of color. You’re gentrifiers, you’re rich people, you weren’t born here.” In fact, Defund SPD’s steering committee is majority people of color and almost all renters. They are far more representative of those communities, often, than the people who have the power to decide these things. 

WHERE THE BLACK VOTERS ARE

Makia Green: What I’m wondering is, how do we make sure that folks are not gaslighting us about where Black folks are? We get this in D.C. and I saw it when I went to Minneapolis. Maybe it’s not the tagline defund,” but we know Black people deserve and want healthcare, public safety, to hold our homes — and we’re told Black people don’t support these things.

Kandace Montgomery: In places like Minnesota with such a huge white population and also a significant Black population, tokenization happens very easily. Particular Black people are sort of courted for positions of quasi power. Often, those people don’t work in their actual community’s interests. And there’s also an old guard that sticks to a more moderate politic. 

Minneapolis really has to move past an idea that Black people are a monolith and that Black people can’t disagree. So that the conversation isn’t as narrow as, the Black community didn’t get behind this.”

We’re also facing things like voter suppression and a lack of authentic engagement with Black community members, especially from the traditional electoral apparatus, and a lot of skepticism because of inaction from council. What I feel really committed to is we need to have a stronger vision that people can tangibly and physically resonate with.

Robin Wonsley Worlobah: I wonder, what would the conditions have been if we had double the Black folks to push back against the Black old guard? The public safety debate that was held in October revealed very clearly that the opposition, that included the Black old guard, did not possess a strong plan for public safety transformation. In fact, after the forum, Queen Minister JaNaé Bates [co-chair of the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition for Question 2] had members of the Black old guard churches coming up to her being like, Bruh, I’ve been lied to.”

Makia Green: I really think we need to push back on the way they use the stories of our community loved ones who are grieving as chess pieces to get more funding. They use Black death to line the pockets of our oppressors. One thing we say in D.C. is, There’s a cop on every block in my neighborhood, but our kids are still getting shot.”

When crime is up, police need more money so they can solve it. When crime is down, police need more money to keep crime down. When crime stays the same, police need more money to keep up morale. When officers quit during a huge movement — in D.C., record numbers left the force — it’s, The angry kids yelled at them so they left.” Is it possible that people leave this job all the time because it’s a very unsafe job, and you’re putting people in a place where they have to police their own community and they don’t believe in it anymore?

Willie Burnley Jr.: I resonate so deeply with that. In Somerville, the police unions were able to say, Violence is up, shootings are up,” and turn that into, I guess we need more cops.” Obviously, what they’re doing isn’t working. So either they’re incompetent or we need to find another route. Which is it?

Youthful abolitionists and Black Lives Matter supporters mark the anniversary of the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2021, outside of Los Angeles police headquarters. Sarah Reingewirtz/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

THE DEMOCRATS

Willie Burnley Jr.: I have some tension around how much time we should spend trying to respond to accusations like, Democrats lost nationally because Cori Bush doesn’t like the police,” or, We have to stop saying defund the police’ as a party.” The Democrats have never run on defund the police”; it should be obvious to anyone paying attention that they’ve never lost anywhere because of defund. I ran on it, and I did not lose.

Robin Wonsley Worlobah: Anytime the Democrats lose for not delivering change, they blame the leftists, they blame Bernie Sanders, they blame the Squad. In Ohio, they brought a Black woman corporate establishment candidate to go up against Nina Turner.

It’s their way to deflect, in hopes that they can finally win over suburban voters. This is why we see the party constantly move to the political Right and adopting conservative platforms and messaging. It all demonstrates that the party is not interested in making transformative change.

Joe Biden can, right now, with the stroke of the pen, eliminate trillions and trillions of dollars of debt for millions of students, and he refuses. Instead he does other maneuvers, like authorizing student debt payment pauses, to placate those who own capital. That’s the reason the Democratic Party is about to lose heavily in the midterms. They’re not beholden to the people. Working-class people spend so much time phone banking for the Democratic Party and door knocking to get nothing. But working-class people are starting to see beyond the misinformation fog. People are becoming more and more disengaged and more frustrated with the Democratic Party.

After several decades of failing to reform or take over the Democratic Party, you would think that we would learn that this strategy simply doesn’t work. I ran as an Independent as a testament to say, DSA, how’s this partnership with the Democratic Party looking for y’all?” My sis Kshama Sawant in Seattle is the reason why the Fight for 15 spread nationally. It wasn’t through the Democratic Party. Even under full Democratic control at the federal level, we still can’t get $15. And we should be talking about $25.

So as Black working-class organizers and leftists, we should think about building independent political power, instead of constantly routing all of our talent, art, labor and brilliance into a party that we end up having to fight more than actually get something from.

A forward-looking graffiti wall in New York City in fall 2020 supports defunding the police while reading, "We'll be patience," prophetic of organizers' longview approach to the movement for abolition. Joan Slatkin/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

2022 AND BEYOND

Willie Burnley Jr.: In Somerville, the city is considering building a new public safety building to house the fire department and a bunch of police— half of the building would just be for their vehicles. The building would cost $100 million. That’s more than a third of our overall budget. So we’d need to borrow money. 

To the point Robin was making earlier, Defund SPD is in the midst of a community conversation about what public safety means, how we build it, how we invest in it. If we want to have a new fancy building, OK, let’s do that, but why do we need police in there? Let’s remove the police. Let’s put in a community center. Let’s put in municipal ambulances. In Somerville, police aren’t often responding to violent crime; people need an ambulance, they need help for a mental health crisis or a crisis of addiction. Nine times out of 10, they don’t need a person with a gun. 

That council vote needs a supermajority because the measure is bond-funded. We have, now, four DSA candidates on our council, and if we vote as a bloc, we can just kill this thing outright. So we can engage in a negotiation. 

Andrew R. Hairston: 2022 has notes of optimism and hope for me. Running for justice of the peace in Travis County, Texas, as a member of the Democratic Party but also as a democratic socialist and abolitionist, I’m trying to be deeply explicit in my values: This is for Black people, for queer people, for folks who have been pushed to the margins.

Kandace Montgomery: I am still wrestling with the question of where to go in 2022, to be honest. I’m really trying to assess and evaluate the data we have from the last 18 months, to create more of an arc of strategy that wins some concrete things along the way toward a larger vision. We’ll also be building relationships with new council members and getting an understanding of their priorities and opportunities — especially voices like Robin’s, who are more ready and primed for a much more radical approach.

We have a whole bunch of new contacts and people. We need to go out and sit down with those folks. We need one-on-ones every day.

In terms of the midterms, I think we really need to figure out when is the right time to be going for a Department of Public Safety and, like Robin said, put a little bit more meat to the definition of what that is. I think Robin might have a better sense of that timing.

Robin Wonsley Worlobah: There’s an opening now to organize the 60,000 people who voted for Question 2 to build a public pressure campaign for the mayor to create the new Department of Public Safety. He said in September 2021 that he supported one and could do it without a ballot initiative. My office released an op-ed in December 2021 encouraging him to move forward.

Kandace Montgomery: The other thing I’ll say is that none of us went into 2020 and were like, Next year, we’re going to try and abolish the police.” All the organizers on this call know that’s a multiyear campaign arc, baby, that we tried to pull off in 18 months. The rupturings of uprisings create political opportunities. We all saw the political opportunity and went for it. I don’t necessarily regret that. But I do know, from my organizer brain and all the mentors who have trained me up, that I think it’s going to take multiple years of political education — and building up some of the models that people can rely on instead of the police — to actually fortify a base of Black folks who are able to more critically think through oppositional messages and are ready to take a step toward this kind of transformative change.

That’s a real tension: You have to take the political opportunities when they come, but we also have to move at the speed of trust and understanding within community.

Willie Burnley Jr.: Off election year, we need to be having these conversations in a really robust way, of, I am your neighbor. When you are unsafe, I am unsafe. Therefore, I am not going to abandon you.”

Mutual aid is the first way we establish trust. It’s hard to talk to someone about Marx or Frantz Fanon if they’re hungry. We have to meet people where they are. Parts of our community are dealing with deep poverty and a lack of resources. Once people have stability, they can become more open to conversations.

But we have to be very honestly strategic about the messengers and how we’re reaching out. The impression in Somerville of Boston DSA is that it is almost entirely white (although there are a lot of BIPOC folks). So how do we engage our people in public housing who are overwhelmingly Black and Latino? We have to be very mindful of who is doing that conversation and how we are engaging. Is it, knock on the door, Hey, have you heard about abolition?”

Or is it, How can we help to make sure your needs are being met?” And then a more gradual introduction to the work of abolition.

We have to build those informal networks, that so many of our ancestors have done, in order to give working-class people enough support to be able to start moving to the front lines. Those people can actually become our leaders in this movement and can reach out to more people, and that’s how we get past generational barriers.

Makia Green: I’m just grateful to still be putting forth candidates that would support a divest/​ invest campaign, regardless of what the Democratic elite leaders think and regardless of our wins and losses.

A lot of us are in the Black radical tradition, and we know that this movement has a longevity before and past 2020. We have been experimenting and trying and building, and that’s why we’re the largest movement in the country’s history.

At some point, there may be a new tagline beyond defund the police,” but it will be in the same tradition. And it’ll be about meeting the needs of Black people at that current time.

This roundtable was edited for length and clarity.

Kandace Montgomery is a Black and queer organizer in Minneapolis and a national leader in the Movement for Black Lives. She is co-executive director of Black Visions, which co-issued the May 2020 demand to defund the Minneapolis Police Department. She was board chair of the Yes 4 Minneapolis coalition to remove the city’s mandate for a police department.

Robin Wonsley Worlobah is Ward 2 city councilor in Minneapolis. She has been active in Black Lives Matter since 2015 and backed the 2021 ballot measure to restructure policing. A democratic socialist, she was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative MN.

Andrew R. Hairston is a civil rights attorney and writer in Austin, Texas. He organized with the No Way on Prop A campaign to block an increase of hundreds of millions to the city’s police budget. He is running a democratic socialist campaign for Travis County justice of the peace in the March 1 Democratic primary.

Willie Burnley Jr. is co-founder of Defund Somerville Police Department and is city councilor in Somerville, Mass. Endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, he is a Black and queer organizer, a former union steward with Teamsters 122 and former campaign staffer for Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey.

Makia Green is a queer, nonbinary, fat, Black liberation organizer who is co-chair of the Defund MPD Coalition, co-founder of Harriet’s Wildest Dreams and a former core organizer of Black Lives Matter D.C. As an organizing director with the Working Families Party, Green campaigned in 2020 to get supporters of police defunding elected to D.C. Council.

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