The Movement for Black Lives Platform Has the Vision We Need

August 5, 2016

This week the Movement for Black Lives released a comprehensive and intersectional policy platform that aims to radically alter the rules—i.e., the policies, practices, and institutions—that undergird the persistent inequities and injustices experienced by black Americans. The new platform is the product of a collaboration between more than 50 organizations representing thousands of individuals from across the nation, and provides both a policy roadmap and a broad articulation of the vision and values we should strive toward in order to right historic and current wrongs.

As my Roosevelt colleagues and I describe in our recent report, Rewrite the Racial Rules, the yawning gaps in opportunities and outcomes across every domain of life lay bare the unjust rules that are baked into our economy and society. Consider this economic snapshot: The black unemployment rate is twice that of white workers at nearly every level of education. As of 2011, black households earned only 59 cents for every dollar of white median household income. The median white household had $111,740 in wealth compared to $7,113 for the median black household, and black Americans had only $200 of liquid assets while whites had $23,000. The disparities in educational attainment, health access and outcomes, and experiences with the criminal justice system are just as stark.

For decades naysayers have peddled a “deficits” narrative to explain these persistent disparities: If only individuals made better and different choices, they would experience more positive life outcomes. This false narrative ignores and upholds the systemic nature of racial inequities while blaming those disparities and injustices on communities that have long been forced to play by a vastly different—and unfair—set of rules. These rules—what we at Roosevelt call the racial rules—are rooted in our nation’s history of slavery and the era of Jim Crow. That history of racism has been reinforced over the past two centuries in our policies, practices, and institutions and continues to shape the opportunities available to communities of color in this country.

The Movement for Black Lives platform is not only a response to what they refer to as the “sustained and increasingly visible violence against Black communities,” but also to these underlying racial rules. It rejects a tinkering-around-the-edges approach and provides a clear roadmap for rebuilding the social and economic foundations that have, for two centuries, upheld and reinforced racism (and misogyny and xenophobia). The platform calls for the following:

  • An end to the decriminalization and dehumanization of black youth by broadly reforming our education and criminal justice policies; an end to capital punishment, the money bail system, and the privatization of police; and the end of discrimination and violence against black immigrants and black LGBTQ and gender non-conforming individuals.
  • Reparations for past and current harms, including expanded access to educational opportunities, a guaranteed basic income, and a congressional effort to examine the ongoing impact of slavery.
  • Targeted investments in the education, health, and safety of black Americans and divestment from historic and current exploitative forces such as prisons, surveillance systems, and exploitative corporations.
  • Economic justice for all, which includes restructuring the tax code, investing in a federal and state jobs program, protecting worker rights, and restoring the Glass-Steagall Act, among many other measures.
  • Expanded community control of law enforcement agencies, schools, and budgeting processes.
  • Increased political power through public financing of elections, full and guaranteed protection of voting rights, and full access to technology for all black communities.

Some of these demands are feasible in the short term, while others are more aspirational in nature, particularly given our current political climate and the nearly decade-long gridlock in Washington. Some seek to transform our social and economic structures in the long term, while others aim to improve the “material conditions” of today’s black communities and better equip them to “win the world we demand and deserve.” But the contribution of this platform is not just in the numerous concrete policy proposals it outlines; it is also in the vision it articulates for a more just and equitable nation and the values it asks us to adhere to as we rewrite the rules of our economy and our society. As the M4BL platform states:

We have created this platform to articulate and support the ambitions and work of Black people. We also seek to intervene in the current political climate and assert a clear vision, particularly for those who claim to be our allies, of the world we want them to help us create. We reject false solutions and believe we can achieve a complete transformation of the current systems, which place profit over people and make it impossible for many of us to breathe.

The platform will be a critical tool for those who write the rules, and for those individuals and organizations—like the Roosevelt Institute—who aim to shape the ways those rules are written and ensure that the people who write them include those most affected by them.