‘Leaderful’ movements

May 7, 2016

From the May-June 2016 issue of News & Letters

Minneapolis—A predominantly white group of about 50 Midwest activists, invited by the Rye House collective, participated in a four-day retreat led by Black facilitators from the local Black Lives Matter (BLM) chapter.

The retreat concluded with a protest organized by BLM and carried out by the mainly white activists. We blocked traffic at two intersections next to Target Field, the Minnesota Twins’ baseball stadium, on April 11, the first home game of the season. Twenty-five of the white activists were arrested and released later in the day.


We also unfurled two banners inside the stadium during the playing of the National Anthem. The banners summed up the three main messages of the day’s action: “White Silence = Violence”, “Justice for Jamar” and “Target Field: End Slave Labor.”

Jamar Clark

Jamar Clark was a Black resident of Minneapolis fatally shot by police. Prosecutors have refused to press charges against the officer who shot him. Slave labor refers to Target Field’s practice of hiring people intermittently to help clean the stadium. There is no guarantee of work and no benefits, and the workers are nearly exclusively Black and Brown people.

One of the main ideas of the weekend was that white people are socially conditioned to be heard, to assume leadership, to act individually. (We can also say the same for men, heterosexuals, cisgender people, college-educated people, etc.) Recognizing this, people of historically dominant groups can choose to sometimes “lean out” and open space for others to “lean in” during group discussions and in organizing.

This approach lets a movement benefit from new perspectives and strategies that could not otherwise be imagined by the perennial “leaders,” and it allows the usual leaders to practice “followership.” One retreat session posed an overview of the history of Black activism from the Haitian revolution and the Amistad takeover to the Underground Railroad, from the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Black Lives Matter rallies of recent years.

This history demonstrates how successful movements for social progress truly have been “leaderful” movements, not just a few savior figures, but a vast and diverse array of initiative-takers.

–Buddy Bell

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