The Los Angeles chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM-LA) is demanding the National Rifle Association (NRA) pull two controversial “propaganda videos” they say encourages violence against activists. On Friday, BLM-LA posted a highly-produced message to the gun rights organization on YouTube – a strategy that illustrates the group’s evolution from public disruptions to more sophisticated organizing tactics motivated by the election of President Donald J. Trump.
“When the NRA issues a public call to their constituents, inciting violence against people who are constitutionally fighting for their lives, we don’t take that lightly,” Funmilola Fagbamila, representing BLM-LA, says in the video response.
Many people subscribe to a popular misconception that Black Lives Matter is passé, apparently unaware that the group does more than just block traffic and taunt police officers nowadays. Much of the movement’s progress of late, which often goes unreported by mainstream media, has been made by its local chapters.
In Los Angeles, a team of academics creates innovative strategies to recruit new members and dismantle the systems they say keep some people oppressed – such as policing and capitalism.
Fagbamila, a founding member of Black Lives Matter with a compelling style of oratory, is also a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University-Los Angeles (CSULA). That department is chaired by Dr. Melina Abdullah, who is BLM-LA’s lead organizer. Abdullah advertises the CSULA program she heads as “the intellectual arm of the revolution.” Dr. Anthony Ratcliff, another member of BLM-LA, is also on her staff. Last month, he organized the chapter’s first Youth Activist Camp for black adolescents ages 10-18.
“What people are seeing is that there are less demonstrations,” Alicia Garza, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter, told the Washington Post. “A lot of that is that people are channeling their energy into organizing locally, recognizing that in Trump’s America, our communities are under direct attack.”
Even before President Trump was elected, BLM-LA leaders had already started to expand their organizing efforts tactically. Over the past year, the chapter partnered with a bank to generate revenue, allied with a teachers union to reach public school students and pressured Mayor Eric Garcetti to appoint two BLM-friendly police commissioners to oversee the LAPD.
Now, the movement’s original chapter has added professional video production to its playbook.
“We will continue to produce media, teach students, march and protest to not only protect the First Amendment as fiercely as the NRA protects the Second but to protect our lives from gun-toting racists,” Fagbamila says in the video.
The spot, which showcases relatives of black people who have been shot and killed by police officers, was produced by another activist group called Dignity and Power Now (DPN). The nonprofit receives funding from a foundation led by the most recent appointee to the LAPD Commission.
Meanwhile, one of BLM-LA’s closest partners has been working with politicians at the California State Capitol to pass criminal justice reform legislation. According to the Los Angeles Sentinel, “the Youth Justice Coalition delegation held more than 70 meetings with legislators to push their focused bills, plus those championed by their allies.”
Black Lives Matter’s transformation has led to the group lobbying for, and against, new laws and policies. Earlier this year, BLM-LA fought a police reform ballot measure that was backed by Mayor Garcetti and the City Council which passed with 54% of the vote.
Activists from Black Lives Matter are also part of a national push to end the current cash bail system – reforms currently being considered by California lawmakers. In May, it was part of a broad coalition which raised money to post bail for more than 100 incarcerated moms released in time to spend Mother’s Day with their families. The bailouts took place in several cities, including L.A.
As the Washington Post reported:
Activists note that these efforts rarely make local news, let alone receive the national attention given to Ferguson protests after the fatal police shooting of a black teenager, Michael Brown.
“It’s not because we’re not organizing,” said Shanelle Matthews, a spokeswoman for the Black Lives Matter Global Network. “I think the media companies, vying for the very little brain space in people’s minds, are reporting on what they think people want to hear about right now. And that’s Trump.”
Black Lives Matter was born on July 13, 2013, after a jury acquitted George Zimmerman of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. As the organization approaches its four-year anniversary, seasoned activists keep the movement alive through its local chapters - perpetually adjusting to a new political climate that has emerged since the Democrats lost the Executive Branch.