The energy of Ferguson reached Western Massachusetts but the possible movement was hijacked by self promoters masked as leader organizers.
Vanessa Lynch of BLM413 emerged in the position of leader/organizer of the Black Lives Matter effort in Western Mass. Many young people eager to get involved in a movement gravitated to her enthusiastic claim of “the revolution is happening!”
While we were marching screaming “not one more” it felt right. I fell behind in classes as did my roommate Keysha. Homework seemed like a distraction compared to working to make a world where black lives actually matter. My skepticism began to rise as we continued to answer the calls of BLM413. What were we actually doing to ensure “not one more”?
The following is a critique of Vanessa Lynch’s leadership. Vanessa has great qualities that can be used in a revolutionary movement. I have been to multiple events where she was the only speaker who connected the struggle for Black liberation to Palestine and to the struggle of indigenous people of this land. And still her leadership style indicates that right now she is more committed to making herself a public figure than being involved in a real movement.
Red flag #1: There was a glaring absence of political education in the movement. Energizing people with solidarity protests is fine and has its time and place.To build the foundation of a powerful radical organization that brings change, comprehensive political education has to be a focus.
“The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: he or she has become a threat.”–James Baldwin
A real movement is not possible without political education. A lot of people know that the situation that we are living under is messed up and needs to be changed but don’t know where to start. A lot of people feel powerless to change these hostile condition we live under. A lot of people know the basic oppressors but don’t know the ins and outs and the intricate layout of the system. This is a vulnerability because we can’t fight and win against enemy that we don’t know. The objective of comprehensive political education is to understand the intricate layout of the system on the local, national, and global basis and to be able to identify the people who are stealing our wages, lives, and futures. When we understand this, ideas flow and we can plan strategically how to end the assault on working class Black people* world wide.
- a) Vanessa talked about the system of White supremacy but capitalism was not discussed. It is vital to have a comprehensive understanding of capitalism because we live under a capitalist system. Millions of people are killed every year from dangerous work conditions. Millions more are seriously injured because of unsafe work conditions. Billions of workers suffer long term health deterioration from constant exposure to carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and neurotoxins all while earning slave-wages. Who is subject to the most dangerous working conditions and slave-wages? Capitalism is the number one threat to our safe, healthy, and happy existence. It is the number one cause of war and conflict. The number one cause of displacement, illness, starvation, and death of Black workers* world wide.
Besides subjecting workers to dangerous work conditions and slave wages, capitalists are destroying the environment we live in. Millions of people die from polluted water every year. Who is subject to the most toxic living conditions? The communities of the Black workers* who get toxic waste dumped on them, are targeted for the building dangerous factories, landfills, and generally suffer the toxic side effects of oil and mineral mining in their communities.
Understanding capitalism is empowering because we gain a consciousness of ourselves as workers. The capitalist ruling class is fooling us by having us do all the work while they take all the profits because in reality workers are the people who make the world go round. The Big Boss may ride high by stealing wages and subjecting workers to unsafe work conditions but if the workers took control of the means of production and refused to work to make him rich, he would fall flat on his face. The wealth accumulation agenda of the capitalist ruling class is unattainable without our labor. Workers have the power to shut shit down. It the goal of making revolution our role as workers is our strongest asset.
Red flag #2: Vanessa’s style was more dictator than organizer. Vanessa disregarded step up step back, a method that allows everyone’s ideas to be heard. At gatherings after protests she dominated conversations. If others managed to get a word in, it wasn’t for long. Vanessa would interrupt by saying “just cutting in” while making it clear that “cutting in” was a privilege just for her.
There was no collective decision making for the protests. The protests were unorganized. We didn’t present demands to the local city governments–the people who decide the funding for the local police departments. There were no discussions prior to the protests to collectively decide 1) Should we avoid getting arrested 2) Can we afford to get arrested 3) Is making bail (enriching the police state) the best use of our resources?
One night, a couple of us opposed Vanessa’s decision to move the protest from Holyoke to Westfield. Instead of listening to our reasons, Vanessa promptly shut us down. We ended up protesting inside of an empty Walmart where the only people there were tired workers on the night shift. A Black worker told Keysha that Walmart was denying them their bonus because of missing inventory. I relayed this to the group and suggested that we should add ‘Walmart workers deserve their bonus’ in solidarity with the dispossessed workers. Without so much as a show of hands, Vanessa shut it down with “I think black lives matter is enough”.
Once, I suggested a film by the League of Revolutionary Black Workers as part of a political education agenda. Vanessa turned it down saying people “wouldn’t get it”.
These are just a few incidents where this “leader-organizer” disregarded people, alienated people, and empowered only herself. What kind of leader organizer doesn’t want to listen to the people and yet assumes the authority to dictate what the people are able understand? A counterrevolutionary one.
When Vanessa left the area sometime in January it was quiet in the activist circle. When there wasn’t a call from BLM413 there was no action. This should reflect very badly on any leader-organizer. Vanessa’s actions show that she wants uncritical followers who won’t challenge her and a movement that is dependent on her.
Revolutionary leadership is collective leadership where the masses are empowered thru political education so we all have the agency to act and have power to change these circumstances. A movement where political education is disregarded, only a few voices are held up, and the masses are silenced, will not work to the best interests of the people.
This critique of the black lives matter movement leadership also applies to organizers like Kahlile Rodriguez whose “womanizing” behavior is straight out of Why Misogynists Make Great Informants. It applies to mealy mouthed professor Chris Tinson who calls himself a feminist but has been described as misogynist by multiple women of color who have worked with him. And as a mentor to Vanessa Lynch, this critique applies to him and her leadership style should reflect negatively on him.
There are others in positions of influence in Western Mass who need to be called out. Rapists, rape apologists , victim shamers. It isn’t my place to do it but I hope it happens.
This letter came about from what I witnessed of the movement and from conversations with other people who are disheartened by their experience in the Western Mass movement. There was a culture of respect of authority in the movement that made being critical of leaders taboo so people whispered their discontent. We need to be critical of leadership and we need to be loud about it. Being a leader is not a game that revolves around egos. It is a job. And when a job isn’t being done right these people need to back off and make room for others who will work for the best interest of the people’s movement.
Venture out on a political education project on your own. Become a regular reader of Black Agenda Report. Build on what you know and expand your knowledge on what you don’t know. If you want more resources comment below.
“The greatest weapon in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed”–Steve Biko, Afrikan Revolutionary