Often, the darkest hours reveal the greatest openings. After being essentially ignored for over three years, the Black Lives Matter movement has predictably turned to a more confrontational phase. Those frustrated by the utter lack of progress are now deploying a wider diversity of self-defense tactics against occupying police forces. Protest is broken. Yet our vision for the future doesn’t have to be. Contrary to what some have suggested, now is certainly not the time for the Movement to accept token peace offerings of “reform” or “jobs” (especially within the state police machinery itself). Now is not the time to beg the state for change. Now is the time to seize power and do the hard work of building something new without asking for permission. Waiting on broken hierarchical institutions to solve the problems they created is foolhardy at best.
Imagining a world without policing is the central task for activists. A complete take-over of the criminal justice system and the police force should be the preliminary demand. Building a new system to replace the old is essential. But it is not enough. Ending policing and abolishing prisons are just the tip of the iceberg. Now is the time to think big.
As we take to the streets and chant “This is what democracy looks like,” we must remember that marching in the streets is not ALL that democracy looks like. Real democracy is much more boring. It involves governing and building new horizontal institutions from scratch. It involves going to meetings, consulting with others, and making tough collaborative decisions. It involves executing. But before that we should take a moment to reflect on what a real revolution might look like—in its holistic, utopian completeness. In other words, we must first imagine the thankless, un-heroic, drudgery ahead.
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the great global shortcomings of the so-called “radical” Left (or, more accurately, the sensible Left) has supposedly been the lack of a unified, coherent alternative to multinational capitalism and the sham democracies that harbor it around the world. Yet Marx, Lenin, and all Soviet-style planned economies—with their heavy totalitarian states at the helm—have always had their detractors from the even-more-radical-Left. We must now look back to the beginning. Many of these ideas emerged first in traditional societies among people of color.
They were later taken up more formally by the likes of Peter Kropotkin, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, and Lucy Parsons. These alternatives may hold the key to a successful Black Lives Matter/Occupy Wall Street revolution. Another world is possible. Here’s what it might look like.
1)Policing Replaced with Conflict Mediation and Violence Interrupters
Policing is backwards—by design. Rather than stop crime it manufactures it. Policing criminalizes people; it doesn’t catch criminals. It does nothing to prevent violence. Instead, it is violence. Preventative conflict resolution and violence interrupters, on the other hand, do it right. Pilot programs based on these ideas have been run by community members in schools and local neighborhoods with great success. We must demand that all money currently allocated to police forces be turned over to community controlled and operated organizations focused on building peaceful communities. Conflicts between persons should be resolved before escalating to violence. Conflicts over private property can be prevented by economic justice (see below) or by transitioning away from private property altogether (also see below). These panels will further offer much needed income to community members and encourage everyone to participate in building a grass roots sense of community. Black women will likely take the lead.
2) Prison Industrial Complex Replaced with Restorative Justice
So what happens when harm still happens? Here we need a parallel justice system that diverts black bodies away from state violence. When a wrong occurs despite our best efforts to prevent it, justice must be restored to victims, communities, and offenders. When coupled with violence interruption, restorative justice can turn tragedies into community building opportunities. The key principle is that those who are wronged must be made whole by those who wronged them. The community at large must come back together to unite and support all those effected by a breach in justice—including the offender. Rather than individualize, criminalize, and punish, this system of restorative justice becomes a modus operandi for communities and individuals to build lives together, establish trust, and iron out the wrinkles along the way.
3) Capitalism Replaced with Worker Owned Cooperatives
Economic empowerment must be part of any demand for justice. Activists, however, must stop demanding “jobs” or higher wages. These are simply desperate cries begging to be exploited less brutally. Instead, workers must take over their workplaces just as they take over their justice system. Workers should create worker-owned cooperatives on their own while demanding that the state support their efforts with legislation banning for-profit, privately-owned corporations. We must demand full democracy in the workplace. One worker, one vote. We must end corporate tyrannies. Workers should elect their managers and decide upon working conditions, production strategies, salaries, benefits, etc. So long as the private property regime exists, workers should own their companies collectively. All existing companies can transition tomorrow to worker owned cooperatives either by federal legislation or direct action taken by workers where they are. If NBA players really want to help Black Lives Matter, they can knock this one out yesterday. Players should fully own and control their own teams.
4) State Power replaced with Hyperlocal Democracy
Black communities have long appealed to federal authorities to protect them from local governments and private racist tyranny. Organized labor has also seen a strong federal government as the only force with sharp enough teeth to oppose the massive concentration of corporate power that currently rules the world. But what happens when democracy dies and corporate power controls the state that might ideally be able to oppose big money in the name of the people? While wrestling back control of federal, state, and local governments might be useful, the real demand today should be for a hyperlocalism built upon neighborhood democracy. As was shown in Ferguson, when black voters get involved in local elections things can change on the ground quickly. Going one step further, we need to restructure collective decision making away from the state and into direct hyperlocal democracy. Truly disadvantaged black communities need to stop thinking like bourgeois white consumers and be willing to selectively adapt best practices from other colonized people around the world who are finding creative ways to both survive capitalism and, in certain instances, build alternatives to it. Metro Manila in the Philippines, for example, with a population of 11 million people, is broken up into over 1,700 different barangays or semi-autonomous self-governing neighborhoods with approximately 6,500 residents on average in each micro-city within the city. While far from insuring perfect governance, this idea may be successfully deployed in American cities to redistribute money and power directly to local black neighborhoods. Stop building nations. Stop building states. Start building neighborhoods.
5) Fossil Fuel Dependency Replaced with Decentralized Local Clean Energy Production
Following hyperlocalism, current technologies to produce wind, solar, biofuel and other clean energy can be organized according to local conditions. Neighborhood workers can form worker owned cooperatives to generate power and fuel for their neighborhoods. Some techniques may work better than others given local conditions and this will be far less efficient than a large scale nationalized system. But that’s a good thing. As part of making it disappear, capitalism needs to become less efficient and see production as part of a community building process not merely a means of maximizing commodity creation.
6) Housing Recognized as a Human Right
Mortgages payments and rent should be abolished. This is not unprecedented. Germany hit the reset button on all debt after WWII and the same can happen in the US today. Every human being has the right to occupy the space they live in regardless of their ability to pay. We already have this for health care. Abandoning the landlord-tenant relationship is critical today, just as refusing the master-slave relationship was in the past. From rent strikes to community land trusts to urban squatting to home sharing to microhousing to intentional communities–better ideas are everywhere. Safe, adequate, shelter is not a privilege but the foundation of strong neighborhoods. As chronicled by UMASS professor and observer-participant Toussaint Losier, groups like Chicago’s Anti-Eviction Campaign (drawing inspiration from South African activists) now insist upon housing as a basic human right guaranteed by Article 25 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yes, this involves rejecting the logic of capitalism, rent seeking, and private property. But so what.
7) Industrial Schools Replaced with Citizen Empowerment Education
Our current public school system functions as a mechanism of state control. It is designed to reproduce existing social hierarchies. Just ask Pink Floyd. Public schools began as 19th century colonial projects and evolved quickly into corporate readiness programs. Schools are structured like assembly lines to prepare workers to work on assembly lines. Student-workers learn to sit down, shut up, follow orders, and not question authority. While this may have worked well for capitalists in the 19th century it utterly fails for workers in the 21st century. Schools are thus fatally flawed and (like police forces) are beyond reform. They need to be completely re-imagined. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed should be our starting point. Schools should train students in the ways of revolution—the lies around them exposed for what they are. Some brave teachers are already doing this. But they do so in spite of our educational system not because of it. Black homeschooling networks and alternative Afro-centric charter schools are already emerging. Parents and children are starting to come together to take over their local schools and critique their design from top to bottom.
8) Banks Replaced with Credit Unions
Banks should not be nationalized. They should be hyper-localized. We should obviously demand that all for-profit banking charters be cancelled immediately. Banking should only be permitted on a not-for-profit basis with any surplus earnings returned to its members. Credit unions have much lower rates of failure than their corporate counterparts and are a no-brainer compared to our current model. To the extent that we remain within a market economy, access to capital should be open to all so that individuals, families, and local communities can have the resources to fund the projects (i.e. the worker owned cooperatives) they deem most urgent in their local conditions. All financial services can be run this way with many mutual life insurance companies already functioning as non-profits (at least in theory). Communities should immediately begin pooling resources and demanding an end to corporate banks.
9) Industrial Food Pathways Replaced by Community Kitchens and Gardens.
Abandoned farmlands dot postindustrial America. Cities like Detroit, Chicago, and Cleveland may not have mules for every black resident but they do have a few acres. Adverse possession laws mean that abandoned land belongs to those who use it (at least in principal and after paying taxes on it). Farming ain’t sexy but it puts food on the table. It also sidesteps corporate food consumption. Imagine fast food restaurants replaced with community kitchens like they have in Denmark. Imagine liquor stores replaced with farmers markets. Imagine water and other beverages produced at a fraction of the cost at decentralized neighborhood bottling stations like those I saw everywhere in the Philippines where water quality is likely safer today than in Flint, Michigan.
10) For-Profit Health Care replaced with…
We need health care. Like housing, it is a human right. The current system is, again, broken (do we see a pattern yet?). Prevention is better than treatment, exercise is medicine, and food should promote health not harm. Profit must be removed as a factor. While hyperlocalism can play a part and democracy should prevail over technocratic management, our major problem is not with healthcare itself but with its so called delivery via various free market mechanism. Single payer may sound like a quick fix but I have to believe there is a better way.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot…
11) Reparations—Because They are Due
If we need the state for anything, it is to redistribute wealth and make black America whole. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. demanded in his “I Have a Dream” speech, we must force the state to cash the check that the bank of justice has currently returned citing “insufficient funds.” We must support H.R. 40. We must think expansively about the need, the execution, and the legal case for reparations. We should think creatively about different forms of reparations (which will be much easier to administer with smaller units of administration) and how the other ideas above might be infused with the spirit and function of reparations. The Hawai’ian idea of kamaʻaina and kanaka pricing (where locals and Native Hawai’ians pay lower prices than foreign visitors) is also something worth sharing. So is the Hawai’ian soverignty and reparations movement. Systemic police violence is currently swept under the rug with individual reparations but this must now become much larger communal reparations that the state must pay for its current terrorizing of black communities. And then there’s that thing called history we need to talk about. Don’t demand ‘justice’ for the next hashtag victim. Demand reparations for all.
To be clear, these are not answers. They’re only ideas. Some may work. Some may not. What they say is not as important as what they are. At this moment, it’s not a question of what to demand but how to demand. Only our horizons can limit our possibilities. Please think big, family. Please talk about your wildest dreams. Work together. Find a way. Take over. Build anew.