By YahNé Ndgo
Questions about finances at the Black Lives Matter Global Foundation made headlines, but political impropriety is at the heart of the matter. Revolutionary politics would proscribe self-dealing and co-optation.
On January 31, 2022, New York magazine published an article by Sean Campbell, “The BLM Mystery: Where did the money go?” A core demand of the article is one that many have made for many years: Show me the money! People have questions. I have a lot of answers. I am a former, and still supportive organizer in a legacy chapter (my own term) of Black Lives Matter – BLM Philly. I represented the chapter in the national network – the place that BLM Global Foundation in its several formations curated. Up until my separation from the chapter in late 2021, BLMGN was the owner/manager/user of the primary website BlackLivesMatter.com, along with the social media and the newsletter. Those who claimed leadership of BLMGN managed its resources and received millions in donations with complete autonomy and no accountability to the hundreds of BLM organizers across the globe who gave them their street cred. However, what is most heinous is that this autonomy was never revealed to any of the organizers.
Over the many years since its inception, BLMGN brought organizers together from various chapters for retreats and held regular meetings that were generally no less than once per month to work through concerns and organize together. Concerns included political clarity, reaching consensus on priorities, transparency about money, and democratic decision making about campaigns, public discussion, and use of resources. Organizers worked in earnest to address these concerns, and to achieve the understood goal to empower the chapters of BLM to be an effective, collective revolutionary force. The chapters were composed of organizers on the ground in cities around the world. The “leaders” misled the organizers, asserting they were seeking to accomplish the same goals, insinuating that they were simply failing. Organizers are typically overwhelmed, and often take on responsibilities beyond their capacity. It’s the nature of the work. So the community accepted and acted in faith that the problem was capacity and maybe a bit of ego, yet nothing nefarious. That was our mistake.
Not until July 2020, after an ultimatum in the form of a demand letter, were organizers finally positioned to collectively decide who would manage the funds and communications platforms that represented us, who would work with the fiscal sponsor, the process for driving ourselves forward in a way that aligned with the larger movement, and clarifying our politics so that there was harmony between the organization and organizers on the ground around the country. The story of this moment is, I think, among those most important to anyone attempting to understand the place BLM truly takes within the Black Liberation Movement, and any movements for equity, justice and freedom today.
I am glad people are asking questions about the money. However, the money, though the most sensational part, is actually the least important in my opinion. Money is important for resourcing the work of the movement, of the organizers and of communities, and to support the families of victims of police murder, and of state violence in it’s many forms. However, more significant than the potential use of funds held in an organization is the potential influence of those who provide those funds. And more important than that, is the process of propaganda.
A common agreement among most seasoned organizers is that to function effectively, an organization needs to have clear politics, processes and procedures. Throughout the nearly ten years that BLM existed, organizers never were informed of the finances, including where finances came from. We were undermined in our efforts to establish processes – we never even had a solidly established decision making process or organizational structure in spite of many proposals and processes led by hired facilitators. We also made efforts to establish clear politics. Are we abolitionists? What does that mean? Do we organize in the electoral political arena or not? Do we ever work with police, and if so under what circumstances? Are we anti-capitalist? Are we anti-imperialists? What is our organizing relationship to the effort to bring home our captured Freedom Fighters, the US held Political Prisoners? What should be the core of our political education activities? What campaigns should we take on at the national, cross chapter level? This effort to establish politics was also foiled, and created conflict and confusion not only at the national level, but the chapter level as well.
Often, when assessing the integrity of the BLM “leadership” and their decisions, people look at the performative, public facing actions these self appointed leaders choose to take. If the people find no serious problems with those choices, they accept and even support those leaders. Maybe, for example, people feel getting engaged with the democratic party and influencing the work of elected officials is important. Maybe they feel that Martin Luther King day should be marked with a person twerking in front of Washington DC monuments on Instagram. Maybe they feel that the organizations they gave money to are doing good work.
My hope is that people will consider the actual issue: it was not their right to autonomously decide. Maybe we would have agreed with everything they did (we wouldn’t have). We still had the right to agree first. We were entitled to offer alternatives, to contribute to the development and implementation. Even more basically, we were entitled to know it was happening.
Patrisse Cullors left BLM in 2019 with short notice. I attended the “Thank you for your service, we celebrate you moving to the next chapter of your life” party in January 2020. Only after the aforementioned demand letter sent in July 2020 did we organizers learn that Patrisse was the one and only Board Member of BLMGN, though we had been asking about board members for years. We clearly communicated that we did not want or need her to take leadership, that if she returned to BLM it should be as a member of her chapter and if she returned to the network it should be as an equal representing her chapter in the way that I, for example, represented mine. In a small meeting with Patrisse in which four of us were chosen to represent the network and discuss our demands, Patrisse expressed to us, including me, that she understood that we did not want her to take leadership, and told us she would connect us to the new fiscal sponsor. Per her direction, we began actively developing a board for BLMGN to meet the requirements of the new fiscal sponsor we hadn’t learned about until that small meeting. We were also preparing to take over the website and social media processes. In the midst of this, we learned that Patrisse had stopped the process, reasserted control of the finances and started creating other organizations (first BLM Grassroots then BLM PAC). She did this in collaboration with Melina Abdullah from LA, Dawn Modkins from Long Beach, Jordin Giger from South Bend, Angela Austin-Waters from Michigan, and Karlene Griffiths Sekou from Boston, which finalized the split in the Boston chapter as it happened also without the knowledge of half the chapter, during a restorative justice process.
Understand that this is theft – and not only of money. They stole our voice, our insights, our contributions, and our labor. And more significant than the thievery is how dangerous their actions are. These individuals lack political clarity or accountability. This is what, from the beginning, empowered a few organizers to compromise the entire movement by making BLM a tool of counterinsurgency for the U.S. government.
Out of responsibility and accountability to the community we organize for and the rest of the Black Liberation Movement we consider ourselves a part of, ten of the chapters that were betrayed by these actions felt forced to make collective public statements. These can be found at blmchapterstatement.com . The chapters that align with the statements and the call to accountability are known as the BLM10+. After the statements were published, we sat for many interviews with both print and video outlets. We told them of these actions and many details with receipts and analysis, and the details were never published. Members of the organizing community spoke out in defense of the betrayers, breaking our hearts. They never contacted us and instead demonstrated a willingness to act without information or analysis. We remained committed to protecting the people with the truth.
As just one organizer who went through this experience, I am glad people have not stopped asking questions. As time has passed, and the facade is beginning to crack, I encourage people to ask why these outlets didn’t tell the second half of the story, and instead provided cover for BLM. Ask yourself if there’s any integrity in taking credit for work you didn’t do or receiving and using resources you didn’t earn. The organizers have all the receipts. Support their efforts for restoration and accountability. Ask yourself if you should trust people who have behaved in that way, or if we should protect our community and movement from them. Most importantly, seek out the lessons that are embedded in this moment of our collective history, lessons that can only be learned by uncovering the entire truth.
We speak often about Cointelpro, the FBI’s CounterIntelligence Program. We must also study COIN, the US government’s program on Counter Insurgency. You know the difference between covert racism and overt racism? That’s the difference between Counterinsurgency and Cointelpro. Rather than an extreme violence that creates martyrs, the “Host Government,” as they referred to themselves in their own manual, uses methods of cooptation. Their approach is to take revolutionary forces, deradicalize them, and reroute them from a force against governmental violence and oppression into a force for the government. They gain “the support of that relevant population through political, psychological, and economic methods.”
When we examine the actions of the so-called “founders” of the “BLM Movement” we must also identify the ways those actions were supported and elevated by media and social media applications (tools of the government). We should remember that there has never been a time when there weren’t protests against their actions by organizers on the ground in all the communities they swooped into including Ferguson and Los Angeles, the very first city they received national recognition through and the city they operated from, respectively. There is a common theme in the narrative of organizers in cities across the country and in other countries: the streets were hot, the “founders” showed up and redirected attention from the organizers on the ground, they left and took the visibility with them, the streets cooled down. Subversion. Counterinsurgency. They practiced it at the local level repeatedly and had perfected it by the time the state murdered our siblings George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. They took over every moment of deep, passionate, fearless, heartfelt radicalization and used it to transform the primary, mainstream “liberation” narrative into one that is focused on registering voters and winning seats for the democratic party. Our radical, abolitionist, revolutionary response to them killing our family in the streets on behalf of the state is to vote. It’s Black Votes that now Matter to Black Lives Matter. Except, only, actually, to a small few. Minority rule. Very radical.
The rest of us now had another entity to protest and organize against. As we wrestled with the question: reform or abolish this entity, we had the responsibility, also, to not undermine the movement with public facing critique. This is why we worked so hard, quietly for years. When we spoke out, we had to. Not because of the money. Because of the deradicalization of one of the most revolutionary moments in generations. Because while people were setting police stations on fire, BLM was sending newsletters that said we’re moving from Protests to the Polls.
Currently, the chapters of the BLM10+ are meeting to build the very network they were driving BLMGN to become. Every one of these organizers are also working in their own communities, confronting the system, being targeted, arrested, and hospitalized, supporting people who suffered a violent attack by agents of the system, meeting the basic needs of community members, and so much more. Building a network with clear politics and processes of transparency and democracy takes time and resources. Anyone who wishes to support BLM organizers and their liberation work can visit blmchapterstatement.com to read their (our) statements, the aligned statements of others, and to donate directly to the chapters.