Under Trump, Racial Justice Activists Must Seek Solutions Outside the State

Trump has promised to crack down on dissent, but the Movement for Black Lives must still grow stronger.

Asha Rosa Ransby-Sporn

(Sean Rayford / Getty Images)

On the evening of Nov. 8, 2016, I was near an East Oak­land polling site with a group of BYP100 mem­bers, talk­ing with vot­ers about the propo­si­tions on the bal­lot. It wasn’t until late that evening that I checked the elec­tion results and learned that Amer­i­ca had elect­ed as pres­i­dent a neo fas­cist who has pro­mot­ed xeno­pho­bia, con­doned the racist vio­lence of his sup­port­ers and threat­ened to put even more police on the streets of Black com­mu­ni­ties. Since then, Trump has nom­i­nat­ed as attor­ney gen­er­al Sen. Jeff Ses­sions (R‑Ala.), who in 1986 was denied a fed­er­al judge­ship because of his racist views, who has called the Vot­ing Rights Act intru­sive” and who is like­ly to oppose even the most minor reforms to the crim­i­nal jus­tice system.

Fac­ing out­right antag­o­nism from a fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, the Move­ment for Black Lives must con­tin­ue to seek solu­tions that don’t rely on the state. We are already build­ing com­mu­ni­ty-based infra­struc­ture to address each other’s needs — we have always had to. We can learn from projects like Free­dom Square, the #LetUs­Breathe Collective’s 41-day recla­ma­tion of land on Chicago’s West Side that fed hun­dreds of neigh­bor­hood res­i­dents and addressed con­flict with­out police involvement.

Under Trump, our move­ments are under threat. He has effec­tive­ly promised to crim­i­nal­ize dis­sent, propos­ing to expand libel laws and sug­gest­ing to Bill O’Reilly this past July that his attor­ney gen­er­al would inves­ti­gate Black Lives Mat­ter. On Twit­ter, he won­dered if burn­ing the U.S. flag should have con­se­quences— per­haps loss of cit­i­zen­ship or year in jail.” Whether or not he fol­lows through on his threats, the mes­sage to orga­niz­ers is clear.

Trump has tried to imple­ment a divide-and-con­quer strat­e­gy. His New Deal for Black Amer­i­ca” argues that our com­mu­ni­ties are harmed by ille­gal” immi­gra­tion. He has attempt­ed to sow divi­sion in Black com­mu­ni­ties by tar­get­ing peo­ple with crim­i­nal records, whom he promis­es to remove … from our neighborhoods.”

In response, some lib­er­als and left­ists have called for aban­don­ing iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics”— code for their belief that address­ing struc­tur­al racism is not a pri­or­i­ty. Many call for uni­ty,” but such sweep­ing rhetoric too often sug­gests gen­er­al­ized solu­tions and visions that leave out the most mar­gin­al­ized. Indeed, the Move­ment for Black Lives is in many ways Black folks’ response to being left out of oth­er move­ments. Some sec­tors of the white Left, for exam­ple, do not see end­ing depor­ta­tions, racial vio­lence, police occu­pa­tion of Black com­mu­ni­ties and mass incar­cer­a­tion as being at the cen­ter of eco­nom­ic jus­tice work. Anti-Black­ness per­me­ates even peo­ple of col­or” spaces that are too often con­struct­ed around nar­ra­tives of oppres­sion and col­o­niza­tion, with­out regard for Black people’s par­tic­u­lar his­to­ry of chat­tel slav­ery, dis­place­ment and state violence.

Our strat­e­gy must be one that address­es, rather than gloss­es over, the diver­si­ty of iden­ti­ty and expe­ri­ence with­in and across our com­mu­ni­ties. We must under­stand who specif­i­cal­ly is under threat and how. This means orga­niz­ing with­in our own com­mu­ni­ties first: Those of us in Black com­mu­ni­ties should be active­ly dis­pelling the tar­get­ed myths put forth by Trump about undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants; those in immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties should be work­ing to break down racial­ized notions of crim­i­nal­i­ty; and white folks must be orga­niz­ing oth­er white peo­ple in cities, sub­ur­ban towns and rur­al areas to con­front both racial oppres­sion and Trump’s lies.

For a mod­el, we can look to the asam­bleas pop­u­lares”— pop­u­lar assem­blies — being host­ed by immi­grant jus­tice orga­ni­za­tions across the coun­try. In these spaces, fam­i­lies, com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and activists edu­cate them­selves polit­i­cal­ly, learn new skills from one anoth­er and explore the inter­sec­tions between their expe­ri­ences and those of others.

It is in spaces like these that we can col­lect our cousins,” so to speak, and begin build­ing the bet­ter world that we know won’t be pro­vid­ed by the state.

Asha Rosa Rans­by-Sporn is a nation­al orga­niz­ing co-chair for BYP100, an orga­ni­za­tion of Black 18- to 35-year-olds that orga­nizes through a Black queer fem­i­nist lens.
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