It’s been a heady time for the Black Lives Matter movement. After months of confinement, the death of George Floyd unleashed a flood of progressive protesters, who swept through Western cities in a frenzied festival of righteous purification.
Nothing is safe from this tidal wave of iconoclasts; heroes of the second world war and the Civil War; classics of the silver screen and the crystal bucket; Chicos, Redskins, Coco Pops; no sin is too trivial to escape the scourge of our moral guardians; no corporation too large to bow in submission; YouTube, Amazon, Netflix have made donations or altered their logos; English Premier League footballers and ageing Democrats take the knee.
But while there’s no sign yet of a Thermidorian reaction, in some quarters at least, Messidor has arrived, the harvest month in the French revolutionary calendar, when rebels reap what they sow. In Seattle’s Capitol Hill Organised Protest area, or CHOP, the crop has been bloody. It should surprise no one that a ‘cop-free’ zone set up to protect black people from police brutality would usher in not ‘a summer of love’ as Democrat Mayor Jenny Durkan had hoped but rape, robbery, arson, assault and homicide.
Sympathetic media claimed that the area was ‘mostly peaceful’ even when Raz Simone, a local rapper, warlord and recipient of a community arts grant of $83,500, started handing out assault rifles from the back of his Tesla. When gunshots rang out last Saturday, media claimed that multiple white men with long guns in a pickup truck were the perpetrators. Alas for leftists, video showed a gun fight between two young black men. The victim, a rapper known as ‘Lil Mob’, had graduated from high school only the day before.
Simone was furious that first responders let ‘our bro bleed out for 30 minutes till he died’ but given that a mob had prevented police from securing the crime scene, unarmed paramedics were not going to risk their lives providing first aid. Durkan has finally admitted that ‘it’s time for people to go home,’ and ‘the impacts on the businesses and residents in the community are now too much.’ CHOP will get the chop. Yet there’s no timeframe for police to return to the precinct; hopefully it will be before the next death.
Patrisse Cullors, one of the co-founders of BLM, has so far said nothing about Lil Mob. All black lives matter but perhaps some more than others. On the Saturday before his death she performed her latest artwork, barefoot, in a candlelit room, dressed in a gauzy emerald robe, silver metallic pants and a t-shirt bearing the logo BLACK POWER. Standing in front of a pair of outstretched wings, she wrote LAPD BUDGET, JAILS, PRISONS and POLICE on blank pieces of paper, before shredding them as a ‘sacrificial offering’ and holding them mid-air before they disintegrated. The work was ‘a prayer’ to the spirits of those lost recently to ‘white supremacy’ which ended not with an amen but an ‘ashe’, an invocation of power in Yoruba, the lingua franca of African slave traders.
Cullors is, in her own words, a ‘trained Marxist’, ‘super-versed’ in ideological theories and a fan of the Black Panther Party; Marxists who called for the arming of African Americans, the release of all blacks from jail, and the payment of compensation to African Americans for centuries of exploitation. While she is open about her radical politics, BLM has been shrewd enough to spell out the details of its platform on the website of the umbrella Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) of which it is a member. BLM talks generally about dismantling imperialism, capitalism, white-supremacy, patriarchy and state structures such as prisons and jails but M4BL gets down to tin tacks accusing the US of being complicit with Israel in the ‘genocide’ of the Palestinian people, calling for a 50 per cent cut to the US military budget and the closure of the over 800 US military bases worldwide. It is also calls for reparations not just for slavery but for wealth extracted from black communities through ‘environmental racism’, ‘food apartheid’ and ‘racialised capitalism’.
For an anti-capitalist movement, BLM is raking in the dough. In 2016, it partnered with J. Walter Thompson to create ‘Backing Black Business’. In 2017, it partnered with OneUnited Bank, the largest black-owned bank in the country, to launch the Amir ‘black debit card’ during Black History Month.
And despite its radical agenda, the deluge of publicity has led to a flood of funding. Yet apart from celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio who ostentatiously dip into their piggy banks to fund BLM, trying to figure out who has given money, how much and how it is spent has been deliberately obscured. Donations are channelled through ActBlue Charities or Borealis Philanthropy to a global nonprofit called Thousand Currents which passes it on to the BLM Global Network Foundation.
One thing is certain, the movement is not apolitical. One of the ‘guiding principles’ listed on the BLM website is ‘sacred resistance,’ to topple the ‘White-supremacist-patriarchal-heteronormative-capitalism’ that President Trump embodies. Cullors backed Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Democratic primaries hoping they would ‘beat the Bloombergs… and the Bidens of the world.’ Having failed in that task, she told CNN she wants to ‘get Trump out’ of the White House and ‘pressure’ Biden to adopt BLM’s policies.
Despite winning the Sydney Peace Prize in 2017 and the recent mass rallies, BLM doesn’t seem to have an official chapter in Australia. Nonetheless, the ABC has stepped into the breach, with an article that instructs on how to learn from indigenous people about the Black Lives Matter movement. Indigenous lawyer Teela Reid explains that indigenous storytelling is ‘intricately linked with the Black Lives Matter movement because… it is a movement that tells the truth about our experiences,’ although as Reid puts it, ‘we tell stories in different ways that don’t necessarily comply with Western forms.’ This could explain indigenous Greens senator Lidia Thorpe’s statement on the ABC that ‘the colonisers came and set up the colony which they now call Australia’ and ‘mass genocide occurred.’ Thorpe has set up an organisation called ‘Pay the Rent,’ asking Australians to pay her reparations but it isn’t attracting the money pouring into BLM, which has the nous not to broadcast such plans.
For Cullors, the struggle continues but it’s not all blood, sweat and tears. In one performance artwork, she created an evening of cleansing, with black performers, dressed in white, washing one another’s hair with coconut milk and honey, while Cullors lay in a tub of Epsom salt. It might not do much for poor blacks who are still sleepless in Seattle’s Capitol Hill, but Democrats hope they can surf on BLM’s racial discontent all the way to Election Day.
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