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.