“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”
– Amilcar Cabral
The BLM10Plus (The original 10 signatories and the other chapters and organizers that stand with us) remain steadfast in our open calls for accountability from the BLM Global Network Foundation (BLMGN) and Patrisse Cullors.
With no other viable options available, on November 30, 2020 the BLM10 released a public statement calling for accountability from the Network and the affiliated Foundation. Following the release of this statement, chapter names were promptly removed from the BLMGN website. As a direct result of the release of our public statement, the demands for accountability grew. Families of those who were lost to police violence spoke out and also demanded accountability, including Michael Brown Sr., Samaria Rice, and Lisa Simpson. The number of chapters that have aligned in support of our statement has nearly doubled. Some of these chapters have made their own statements echoing not only our call to accountability, but also our experiences as we sought transparency, democracy and internal transformation for years. Organizers outside of Black Lives Matter have also stepped forward making official statements and through social media expressing the harm they have experienced by BLMGNF.
Black Liberation must be about more than protecting the few of us that are doing well. It must be about building a movement that will ensure all of us get free. Because successful movements are collective, not individual, they must be rooted in accountability that protects all of our people. Our love for the people means we have a duty to prioritize this principled accountability for each other, our communities, and the struggle for Black Liberation.
The issues we raise are bigger than simple complaints about individual leaders, but about the ways liberalism and capitalism have manifested in BLMGN and the current iteration of the Black liberation movement as a whole, co-opting and deradicalizing this critical historic moment of revolutionary possibility.
They are about how nepotism , proximity to power, and access to resources became more important to the Network than making sure that they had a radical vision, objectives, and strategies created through a transparent, democratic decision making process and a solid foundation of shared governance and political alignment.
We write this statement because any movement that shields those with power from accountability cannot free us. It is our hope that this statement will inspire people to build a movement for Black Liberation designed to protect the masses of Black people who have risked it all to organize and protest, instead of a movement designed to defend the visible and powerful that are taking advantage of our struggle to enrich themselves.
Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation has taken different organizational forms and used different names over the years. We recognize that it can be difficult to fully engage in discussions about the Black Lives Matter Global Network, #BLM, Black Lives Matter, and BLM Chapters because there are multiple entities involved and few if any details have ever been offered publicly about the differences among them.
But here is something the public might not know: details about the BLM network (legal organization names, the total number of entities, how the entities relate to one another, who is in charge of each entity, what agreements or contracts those entities have made with other entities, etc.) were not offered to organizers of BLM chapters either. The little we do know, has come from persistent requests for transparency over the years. We have only known some of the staff and contractors for BLMGN and the little information we received about their roles has been inconsistent. The salaries, such as those of Patrisse Cullors, other founders, and staff have never been reported to Chapters. A guide to Black Lives Matter Network entities as we know it is provided here. For these purposes, however, we will refer to this web of entities as BLMGN, unless specifically referring to a particular entity.
The chapter model offered by the network has never been effective. Chapters were often referred to internally as official, unofficial, or rogue. However, BLMGN never provided a consistent definition of what qualifies as a chapter, created an application process, eligibility requirements, etc. This became a critical distinction the few times BLMGN informed some chapters there was funding or other opportunities available. The capricious designation made it easier to arbitrarily distribute resources and opportunities and to make them accessible only to a few. The most alarming use of official and unofficial chapters was BLMGN’s willingness to position a chapter as unofficial if the chapter did not align with their personal political interest. Chapters were often referred to as official in cities BLMGN was seeking to court prominent individuals and high visibility opportunities. There has always been a large number of individuals and groups seeking applications or affiliation with the network. Many of these inquiries went unanswered.
As we labored to build grassroots movements in our communities, our engagement with BLMGN was always problematic and unsupportive. We never knew who made decisions or how decision making processes were determined. Chapters had different levels of access to information based on their proximity to BLMGN leadership. For example, when Patrisse Cullors stepped down from BLMGN the first time, she announced it via a call on December 31, 2019. Part of her transition included the work of a Transition Team facilitated by Makani Themba and adrienne maree brown. But access to that call was by invitation only. The excluded chapters heard of the call only by being in community with other chapters or seeing the public statement afterwards. The same was true for Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza’s transition.
BLMGN intentionally discouraged or made communication difficult between chapters. That perpetuated internal distrust between chapters that fueled the unconfirmed beliefs that some chapters were getting more support than others. When chapters demanded accountability and transformation internally these processes would continually be disrupted or derailed. A recent example of this dynamic played out in the formation of BLM Grassroots. At the time Grassroots was conceptualized and introduced, chapters were discussing publicly separating from BLMGN, demanding accountability, and launching another network. Grassroots was understood to be a potential alternative to, rather than a collaborative arm of BLMGN.
In order to avoid duplicating the problems experienced with BLMGN, the Chapters clarified that Grassroots, or any new formation developed for the chapters, must have democratic development and governance and the proposal for any new structure must be accepted by the collective before becoming official. One of our chief concerns with BLMGN was the politics, priorities, and ideology that was being presented in our name and against our will. We also were aware that funds were being amassed on our behalf and sadly concluded that we would only learn how much and how they were being used through a public process.
But even as we finalized a public statement, we were redirected to try yet another internal process as Melina Abdullah wrote an internal accountability letter with 11 demands for accountability. 19 chapters signed the letter and Patrisse agreed to the terms. It was also clearly and directly communicated that we did not want Patrisse to take any leadership role or function, beyond being a member of BLM Los Angeles, a demand she accepted. As a result of these developments, many chapter organizers felt we were on the verge of a breakthrough that would produce a democratic structure in BLMGN. Some chapters were told, incorrectly, that Grassroots was not in further development.
The body working on the alternative to BLMGN, who halted their work in good faith to engage in the internal process, soon learned via public announcement that BLM Grassroots had been launched by a handful of chapters and that this launch separated the processes and resources of BLMGN from the majority of chapters. Most surprisingly of all, we learned that Patrisse Cullors, who previously agreed with the demand that she have no role in the new formation outside of being a member, installed herself as the Executive Director of BLMGN Foundation.The announcement immediately fractured the network, leading many chapters to leave, some ultimately forming the BLM10. Chapters were informed they could join this undemocratically established new entity, and were financially incentivized to do so. There was no mention of the accountability process in which we were engaged.
The public launch of BLM Grassroots and Foundation without the input of the majority of chapters effectively ended our internal accountability, transparency, and democratization process. Furthermore, those few outliers who continually derailed internal democratic and accountability processes over time, are now all public paid staff of BLM Grassroots.
HOARDING RESOURCES FROM OUR COMMUNITIES
BLMGN often repeated their firm opposition to operating in ways that replicated the harm and exploitation of the nonprofit industrial complex. But the result was not a new, innovative, and transparent organizational structure. There was, instead, no discernable structure at all. This has proven to be a disastrous mechanism for managing, with transparency, accountability, and equity, the influx of untold millions of dollars over the years. With the way resources, guidance, and decision making were rarely or inequitably distributed to chapters, and the deliberate under-resourcing and exploitation of the labor of chapters and organizers, BLMGN has come to reflect the “problematic” nonprofit industrial complex it criticized.
Much of the public origin story positions BLMGN as the center of our current movement. This revisionist narrative of BLM as the center and driving force of Black resistance misrepresents the reality that what is commonly referred to as the Black Lives Matter movement started in Ferguson and that grassroots struggle was already happening there and across our communities, despite the media’s focus on the Black Lives Matter founders.
The only reason BLMGN has been able to amass millions of dollars from grants and donations is because of the pain of families who have lost loved ones to state violence and the grassroots campaigns we as local chapters and organizers have waged across the country without their support. The reason control of those resources was able to be hoarded from families, chapters, and organizers is that those referred to as founders, and those close to them, allowed themselves to be elevated by the corporate media and other tools of the system that perpetuates ongoing violence against our communities.
While BLMGN acted as a convening space for local chapters engaged in on-the-ground organizing and resistance against capitalist, white supremacist and patriarchal violence, it was not where the organizing work people associate with BLM was happening. Chapters were created by organizers not BLMGN. Chapters are autonomous and have their own infrastructure, governance, and are organized based on the uniqueness of their local contexts. Our Chapters each base our work on changing the material conditions of Black people where we are. Member chapters have been fully entrenched in their own local struggles, confronting municipal power brokers and doing the dangerous work of facing off against the police.
Because BLMGN was not engaged in direct organizing, it had resources available to do other things, such as engage with media, foundations and power brokers of the systems we are fighting against to present our local work as their own.
With their time and resources, our local campaigns were co-opted under the BLMGN banner, which assumed credit for our work, and consolidated credibility, power, and resources into an opaque institution. As a result of our statement last year BLMGN released an Impact Statement for the first time in its existence. The Impact Statement exposed what we have long argued: the primary “liberation” operations of BLMGN are currently social media campaigns and corporate partnerships, not on the ground organizing, campaigns or protests.
The BLM10Plus believes the funds donated to the Network were intended to be used to support families victimized by state based violence–police murder in particular–and for organizing strategically to transform the conditions of the Black community so that we no longer suffer continued structural violence. Social media is a helpful tool in such liberation work, but we do not believe it is appropriate that it be the bulk or whole of the work of an organization like Black Lives Matter that claims to be struggling for Black liberation. BLMGN claims to have distributed $21 million dollars to chapters and Black organizations. However most of these funds were not offered until after our call for financial transparency in November of 2020. As of the date of publication of this statement, not all of these funds have even been disbursed.
The timing of this distribution suggests that it is an effort to hide the fact that BLMGN hoards resources from the chapters doing the grassroots organizing work and our communities. The release of the impact report is also an attempt to mitigate the concerns of donors who gave to BLMGN under the impression that the funds were being distributed to chapters all over the country that they saw doing the work. Our chapters have never been appropriately or equitably resourced by BLMGN.
THE IMPACT OF LACK OF ACCOUNTABILITY
BLMGN made the production of social media and presentations about campaigns more important than the work of the frontline chapters and the human lives behind that work. In the process, the Network ignored the needs, concerns, and critiques raised by chapters and our communities, all while describing themselves as a “chapter based, member led“ organization. They blamed issues on a lack of understanding, or attributing it to staff, or the Managing Director for a brief period, Kailee Scales, who was appointed by Patrisse without transparency. Despite full awareness of the complaints and issues, BLMGN continued to act publicly as if they were speaking for us, making decisions without consulting chapters and accepting awards for the work we powered and victories we won in our communities.
After the BLM10Plus went public with our private calls for accountability, certain movement leaders responded to these calls in a disappointing fashion. Some of these Black leaders have grouped all critiques of BLMGN together, conflating our calls for transparency with rightwing attacks. Some have condemned our approach, some published doting sentiments of support for Patrisse, centering her and thus deflecting from more important, movement-centered concerns we have raised.
We support and advocate for processes of restorative and transformative justice that result in restoring and healing for all parties involved and impacted. After a harm is committed and called out, however, these processes must go through three sequential steps: first is the Acknowledgement of Harm, which can include a holistic examination of the situation that led to the harm. Second is Accountability, where the wrong is corrected and the harmed are made whole. And third is Healing.
After hearing about the years of harm caused by BLMGN, any movement leaders who seek to jump directly to Healing, ignoring and skipping the steps of Acknowledgement and Accountability, are not advocates of Restorative or Transformative Justice. They are merely using those legitimate practices to shield themselves or their benefactors from accountability. We must be weary of those calling for Healing without Accountability.
BLMGN has still not formally responded to our demands and this lack of principled response to our demands for accountability show that BLMGN as an organization is incapable of being transformed from within. Even with the recent resignation of Patrisse Cullors, the foundation of this organizational formation is broken and cannot rise to the needs of revolutionary struggle. After 7 years seeking internal accountability, it was no surprise that Patrisse would leave in a manner that continued to evade accountability and shield BLMGN from it.
Black communities deserve better.
In the near future, we will be releasing subsequent statements to our people and the Black Liberation movement community describing who we are becoming, and making clear what our vision and demands are as we move forward together.