One of the common misconceptions about Black Lives Matter: Cincinnati is that we are a black culture group or black civic organization. In reality, our organization is focused on the struggles of black people (as well as other oppressed people) BUT we are also a revolutionary political organization that believes mass action is the way forward. This difference between our organization and several others locally can seem unimportant, but it shapes all the work that BLMC carries out.

On February 10, 2018, our Outreach and Recruitment Committee delved into this distinction at their second Saturday discussion event. Cassandra Sallee chaired the event while Walter Smith and Brian Taylor explored how and why we empower black people and other oppressed people to lead (BLMC Principle 7), we practice independent, revolutionary political action (BLMC Principle 9), and we are in solidarity with all oppressed people (BLMC Principle 10).

Recently, our political stance in favor of mass action and against focusing on electoral politics has received a great deal of attention. In his presentation, Walter explained that while we do not tell people to never vote, we do not support Democratic candidates, Republican candidates, or candidates from any current U.S. political parties because they are all rooted in capitalism and imperialism. He pointed out that in Congress while there is partisan disagreement about changing immigration laws for undocumented people, both major parties are supporting a massive military budget. BLMC realizes that current political parties are always willing to put aside alleged moral differences in favor of decisions that put profits and global military dominance over people, so the public cannot trust any party to fearlessly fight for justice. However, as Walter noted, “we can seek justice using the powers within us through mass action.”

Speakers Brian Taylor (left) and Walter Smith discuss mass action

In the U.S. and worldwide, mass action has produced powerful results. Both speakers shared their experiences with successful mass advocacy efforts and protests. Brian described striking with fellow coal miners in Alabama, where owners tried to force them to work in potentially deadly conditions. These workers were able to temporarily shut down the mine by banding together. Walter reflected on how mass action affected the local trials of Ray Tensing (former UCPD officer who murdered Sam DuBose) and Earl Jones (Colerain man who killed Kevin Neri in a racially motivated shooting). He reminded the audience that in both cases Greater Cincinnati residents came together in mass protest and other collective action to put pressure on the courts to deliver justice. Walter concluded that these actions led to clear successes – Earl Jones was convicted and Ray Tensing was tried twice for murder.

Later in the presentation portion, Brian also explained BLMC’s commitment to fighting institutional oppression by building black confidence and encouraging black leadership. “Historically, black people’s issues are left behind in liberal movements,” Brian said. “We’ve seen recent examples of this with the Women’s March, and the anti-Trump and capitalism protest at the Super Bowl.” Our organization instead seeks to highlight topics that intensely affect black people, remind the world about the rich history of black resistance and creativity, and encourage black people to be leaders in our fight.

Additionally, Brian spoke about the importance of empowering women to lead in BLMC. He described several ways that women, especially women of color, have been silenced, devalued, and shut out of leadership roles. BLMC encourages women to lead in our organization because we know that as long as women remain oppressed, black women are oppressed, and there can be no true black liberation if any black people are oppressed. Similarly, he noted that in addition to empowering black people and women, our organization believes we must show solidarity and support the fights of all other oppressed people.

Following the presentations, event attendees were invited to ask questions and examine the arguments of each speaker in smaller group discussions. Many attendees pondered whether mass action could be used for all political issues or if there were limits. Others reflected on their personal experiences organizing for and as oppressed people.

Group discussion

The Outreach and Recruitment Committee presents political discussion events on the second Saturday of every month. The next discussion event coming up this April will examine recent racist incidents in the Greater Cincinnati area. Check our website or Facebook page in the next few days for more details.