Posted on December 14, 2020

Black Lives Matter Power Grab Sets Off Internal Revolt

Maya King, Politico, December 10, 2020

The Black Lives Matter movement is buckling under the strain of its own success, with tensions rising between local chapters and national leaders over the group’s goals, direction — and money.


{snip} After a summer of protests that made Black Lives Matter a household name, those atop the movement are making a series of moves to alter its power structure: organizing a political action committee, forming corporate partnerships, adding a third organizing arm and demanding an audience with President-elect Joe Biden.

The moves have triggered mutiny in the ranks. Ten local chapters are severing ties with the Black Lives Matter Global Network, as the national leadership is known. They are furious that Patrisse Cullors, its remaining co-founder, assumed the role of executive director of the group and made these decisions without their input. That’s a move, that, to some, signaled a rebuke of its “leaderful” structure, which gave every member an equal say and kept anyone — including a founder — from overreaching.

The operations of Black Lives Matter have always been opaque, with thousands of members and dozens of affiliates. Two of its three co-founders are no longer affiliated with the movement — even as they continue to represent Black Lives Matter on TV. Local Black Lives Matter activists say national leaders cut them off from funding and decision-making, leaving them broke and taking the movement in a direction with which they fundamentally disagree. And as the Black Lives Matter movement grows in influence, with millions in donations and celebrity endorsements, local organizers argue they’re the ones in the streets pushing for change — and they’re not getting their due.


The fallout follows an all-too familiar trajectory of other grassroots movements. And how its leaders respond to the call for accountability could have major implications for Black Lives Matter’s long-term influence — just as an administration potentially more sympathetic to its goals comes into power.

With Cullors at its helm, Black Lives Matter this year positioned itself as a new leader in activism and politics at the forefront of the national reckoning on race. After forming the PAC, which helped fund its ad campaigns to mobilize Black voters, it formalized its third arm, Black Lives Matter Grassroots, to focus entirely on activism.

But the spotlight on these changes is now exposing fractures in its operation and leadership structure as its ground troops go public with their complaints.

“We became chapters of Black Lives Matter as radical Black organizers embracing a collective vision for Black people engaging in the protracted struggle for our lives against police terrorism,” 10 local chapters wrote in an open letter last week. “With a willingness to do hard work that would put us at risk, we expected that the central organizational entity … would support us chapters in our efforts to build communally.”

The 10 chapters that signed the letter, the self-proclaimed #BLM10, laid out a half-dozen points of contention and long-standing grievances. Cullors is chief among their complaints, they said, arguing she made a power grab when she appointed herself executive director of the Black Lives Matter Global Network.

They also said there’s a lack of transparency over money the movement has raised and how chapters can access it. Since Black Lives Matter formed in 2013, the chapters complained they’ve received scant financial support, despite repeated promises.


Things came to a head this year when the confluence of several crises — the coronavirus, systemic racism and economic turmoil — highlighted both the gravity of the work that Black Lives Matter does and discrepancies in its execution. By the end of June, the Black Lives Matter Global Network had raised more than $13 million in donations and cemented its role as a political power and organizing force. But local organizers said they saw little or no money and were forced to crowdfund to stay afloat. Some organizers say they were barely able to afford gas or housing.


This is not the first time Black Lives Matter faced internal conflict. The Black Lives Matter Global Network and Movement for Black Lives are made up of thousands of organizers and dozens of associated organizing groups. While united in their main goals, getting consensus on key decisions has been tricky, particularly as the audience for their work has grown exponentially along with the appetite for solutions to the issues they are fighting.

Keeping track of new developments within the Black Lives Matter movement can be confusing even for insiders. Its structure purportedly gave organizers equal say in decision-making. But ultimately, that sowed confusion about who was formally affiliated with the movement and therefore eligible for funds raised by the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation.

This frustrated a number of longtime Black Lives Matter members. It’s what prompted leaders from stronghold chapters like Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia to sign the letter. They say they didn’t receive guidance or support from the movement they helped build, despite voicing their concerns as early as 2016.


In July, affiliate chapters were invited to apply for funding the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation received in the form of unrestricted, multiyear grants up to $500,000. But the #BLM10 say it wasn’t clear which chapters were “legitimate” affiliates. As a result, few qualified for help. That stoked tensions within the ranks, particularly as public opinion toward Black Lives Matter began to slip.

They also disagreed with the new focus on national politics over local fights for police reform. There was “absolutely no way” they would have agreed with those decisions if local chapters were consulted, they said.


Dickerson, of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma City, cited the famous scene from “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” when Tina Turner tells Ike Turner the only thing she wants from him in their divorce is her name.

“People recognize our power within our communities,” she said. “We’re not a brand. We are a revolution.”