As Karl Kumodzi, also with BYP 100 and a member of the platform’s core policy development group, explained, “In the aftermath of Ferguson on the Ferguson Action site, there were a set of six broad visionary demands,” he said. “A lot of them were pulled from the Black Panthers’ Ten-Point Program.” That program demanded education reform, an end to police brutality, fair housing, legal self-determination, and a host of other reforms from politicians. While it was unsuccessful, its influence on black politics in the world after the civil-rights movement is clearly reflected in the Movement for Black Lives platform.
One Black Lives Matter-affiliated group with an existing, nationally recognized platform was not among the signatories of the Movement for Black Lives platform. Campaign ZERO, whose planning team includes the well-known activists Johnetta Elzie, DeRay McKesson, Sam Sinyangwe, and Brittany Packnett, released a platform in August of 2015 that focused mostly on criminal-justice reforms—including calls for body cameras and community policing—and has since influenced the Democratic Party’s own platform. Their vision diverges from that of the Movement for Black Lives policy, especially on issues like body cameras, which the platform holds as one of several “technologies that criminalize and target our communities.”
That divergence is characterized by the decision among Movement for Black Lives participants to expand its scope beyond criminal justice. “What this platform aims to do is address more than police violence,” Kumodzi said. “We do recognize that police violence is one manifestation of state violence. And what the movement is trying to do is address state violence in all of its manifestations. So health care, education system, in addition to police.”
Those differences and the platform’s own diverse and loosely-connected coalition of members are reminders that “Black Lives Matter” is an imprecise umbrella based on a hashtag and rallying cry that is used mostly for its simplicity. There are dozens—perhaps hundreds—of groups that have been associated with it, and they often disagree with one another. Several groups existed before the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown kicked off the current wave of protests, and even the platform’s namesake organization, the Black Lives Matter Network, is one group among many that signed the platform, and in itself is composed of many semi-independent groups. If measured against the civil-rights movement, to which the Black Lives Matter movement is often compared, the diversity of ideas is not necessarily a sign of fractiousness—although it can be—but an indication of a proliferation of ideas about how to ensure racial equality.
Nevertheless, the minds behind the platform are aware of the stereotypes about young black activists espousing a rudderless, cacophonous sort of anger, often offered by the president himself. “We’ve never been a movement that was just mad out here in the streets; just wanting to make noise,” Bonsu said. “We’ve always known what we want, and this is a way of articulating it in a way that is accessible and can be viewed by other organizations and other people that are trying to make the changes. It’s never just been about, ‘Oh, we’re mad and we just want you to stop killing black people.’ It’s been about way more than that. I do think about those critics, but we didn’t do this for them.”