Black Lives Matter is much more than the protests
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Over the last few years, the Black Lives Matter movement (or the Movement for Black Lives) has revitalized national discourse on racial justice, especially with regards to policing. This black and youth-led movement is known for disruptive acts of protest and civil disobedience designed to put pressure on decision makers to act.

One of the most recurring critiques of this movement is that activists do not know what they want. Critics have characterized the Black Lives Matter movement as reactionary, lacking in leadership and direction. Repeatedly, those who would dismiss this movement have cited the lack of a clear policy agenda as one reason not to take our organizations and movement seriously. The truth of course is that this year alone two detailed and well-researched policy agendas have been published — the Agenda to Build Black Futures and A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom, and Justice. Both of these documents outline a plan for addressing the systemic oppression historically and currently faced by black communities, delineating strategies for reinvesting in black communities and engaging young black people.

So while recently leaked documents from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) instruct legislators not to “offer support for concrete policy solutions” and the Republican nominee for president runs from offering voter specific policy proposals, young black grassroots leaders are providing those who pay attention with a meaningful and innovative policy agenda rooted in the lives of young black people. Our policy agendas fly in the face of critics who say this movement lacks specificity regarding our goals. The real question is whether legislators and policy advocates are prepared to seriously engage with our policies and recommended courses of action.

This week members of BYP100, a national member and chapter-based organization of black 18 to 35-year-old activists and organizers dedicated to freedom and justice, in partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), will travel to Washington, DC to push for our policy agenda. We will come from all parts of the country — California, Michigan, Louisiana, Illinois, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Maryland — to engage in our first “Build Black Futures” Advocacy Day. Together, we represent a base of thousands of black youth.

While our movement has been sparked by the very visible and persistent instances of police violence against black people, our agenda for policy intervention is far more expansive. The policy demands of this movement thematically calls for a divestment from institutions that harm people — ranging from police to jails — and for that money to be reallocated to our communities so that we can invest in the education, employment, and healing of black people. As the end of another fiscal year approaches, it is critical that we use the process of congressional appropriations to begin to address the state-sanctioned harms against black people by investing in our communities and institutions. That means supporting reparations to black people for the lasting impacts of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and mass incarceration. That means passing a workers’ bill of rights, including support for women’s paid and unpaid labor. That means providing full protection and support of queer and trans lives, wealth and health. That means respecting and enhancing the political power and community control of black people. And it means reallocating funds from policing to community-based strategies for public safety and community infrastructure.

As another national Election Day draws near, we want to remind legislators and candidates that our policy demands come from the lived experience of millions of young black people. We are travelling to Capitol Hill, not as paid lobbyists or policy specialists, but as individuals and grassroots organizations with stories to tell all of which we hope will illustrate how the issues outlined in our platforms impact our lives everyday. We are prepared to mobilize our base not only on issues of policing, but on issues of income equality, employment, fair housing, quality public education, and reinvestment in our communities and institutions. We will use our political power to leverage elected official accountability to our policy agenda. And we will walk the halls of Capitol Hill this week just as we have protested in the streets, demanding justice and freedom for black people.

Bonsu is the National Public Policy Chair of BYP100. She is a black feminist activist-scholar, writer, and organizer based in Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @janaebonsu


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