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Black Lives Matter Movement Is Fracturing As It Grows In Power


Just who owns the future of the Movement for Black Lives, a movement that began as a decentralized grassroots network that's fracturing as it grows in power? Ten local chapters of Black Lives Matter, including groups in Philadelphia, D.C. and Chicago, are cutting ties with national leadership. Maya King is a demographics and politics reporter at Politico. She's been following this in detail and joins us now. Welcome back to the program.

MAYA KING: Hi. Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So what was the catalyst to the tensions? What happened between national leadership and local chapters that kicked this off?

KING: So a series of decisions that the Black Lives Matter Global Network made really were the - really started the tensions that we were starting to see - the appointment of Patrisse Cullors to executive director, the formation of the political action committee and the formation of Black Lives Matter Grassroots, which was an activist arm of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. And from there, we saw a statement that was released a few weeks ago from local Black Lives Matter chapters calling for accountability and saying that these decisions that were made were done without their consent and without conversation with these local chapters that had been organizing with Black Lives Matter from the beginning.

CORNISH: Help us understand, though, the infrastructure here. I'm under the impression that this was kind of a leaderless movement, so to speak. So how does the BLM Global Network kind of interact with these local chapters, and what does it mean to have a leader in Patrisse Cullors?

KING: The Black Lives Matter movement has always considered itself, in the words of its activists, leader-full, meaning that no one person has entire say over the direction of the movement or major decisions and that everything is done with the full consent and agreement of all of the members from the local level up to the top. Patrisse Cullors is the founder of Black Lives Matter and in a statement has said that, you know, she had - she did assume the role of executive director with the consent of chapters, yet local chapters said that's actually not the case.

CORNISH: In an open letter, these local chapters raise concerns about financial transparency. And this is important because a lot of money was poured into the national leadership - right? - in donations by the end of June. Just how much money, and what are these local organizers objecting to?

KING: And so we know that by the end of June, Black Lives Matter had brought in about $13 million in donations. Yet at the same time, local organizers were saying that they hadn't seen any of the funds that were raised over the summer and that they were crowdfunding among one another, struggling to eat, struggling to afford everyday expenses. And it was something that they were really compelled to make public because they were saying, look; we've been the face and the ground troops of this movement, and yet they're not taking part or seeing, really, the fruits of their labor as it relates to their finances.

CORNISH: How much of this can we look at as the normal growing pains of a grassroots political movement - right? - as it grows in power? Or do you see something different in this moment?

KING: Well, I think it's really a very familiar pattern that a number of social justice organizations go through, from the civil rights movement to today, which is this fundamental question of whether they work within the system and try to affect change actually within these systems that they want to fight or if they push from the outside. And so that's, you know, if that's - that's really what's at the core of this issue, though what makes it different, of course, is all of the different topics that have all kind of come together in 2020 - racial justice, public health with the coronavirus, economic turmoil with the economic crash that's impacting communities of color. I mean, these are all things, of course, that we've dealt with, you know, across history but have really been pronounced this year and I think make it - make this choice that Black Lives Matter is facing much more difficult and also, you know, just more elevated.

CORNISH: That's Maya King, demographics and politics reporter at Politico. Thank you for sharing your reporting.

KING: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.