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Lessons Never Learned: Nonprofits and the State, Redux
by Raider Nation Collective
Wednesday Jun 30th, 2010 11:58 PM

Lessons Never Learned: Nonprofits and the State, Redux


“Peace after revolution”
—Erykah Badu

We were not surprised to hear of a recent meeting between the Oakland state apparatus (Mayor Ron Dellums and the Oakland Police Department) and representatives of the local nonprofit industrial complex. Nor were we surprised when the nonprofits emerged from that meeting with directives from the Mayor and the Police on how best to prevent and preemptively condemn civil rebellion in the case of the acquittal of Johannes Mehserle for the murder of Oscar Grant, or Mehserle’s conviction on a lesser charge.  Why were we not surprised? Quite simply because what we are witnessing is a virtual repeat of last year’s controversy surrounding the short-lived Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), one which shows that the lessons of 2009 have fallen upon deaf ears.

On January 23, 2010 Nicole Lee of the Urban Peace Movement distributed an email, which astonishingly focused more on preventing rebellion than on ensuring that justice be served. The Urban Peace Movement is funded by the Movement Strategy Center, an umbrella organization representing a broad swath of the Bay Area nonprofit scene: from the Ella Baker Center to Just Cause and the School of Unity and Liberation (that is, many of the nonprofits rooted in the now-defunct STORM), and with connections to the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers’ Foundation, among others. UPM also currently advertises its participation in a Pepsi-sponsored fundraising scheme. In other words, UPM is deeply embedded within the nonprofit-industrial complex, and doesn’t try to hide it.

Now, to Lee’s email—entitled “Bracing for Mehserle Verdict: Community Engagement Plan”—and whose primary aim is not demanding justice, but rather preventing any militant popular response to an unjust verdict. She urges nonprofits and progressives to band together with their “partners and allies” in an effort to create a plan to prevent an explosion after the verdict, and these “partners and allies” include not only nonprofits (i.e. The Ella Baker Center, Oakland Rising, BWOPA) but also “the Mayor’s Office and the City of Oakland.”

In Lee’s email, it soon becomes apparent that “engaging” the community is clearly code for manipulating and co-opting the popular anger that will rightly greet anything less than a murder conviction. She urges groups to “create organized events or avenues for young people and community members to express their frustrations with the system in constructive and peaceful ways,” with the implication being that constructive=peaceful (more on this below). More surprisingly, she argues that “We need to begin 'innoculating' our bases and the community at-large so that when the verdict comes down, people are prepared for it, and so that the ‘outside agitators’ who were active during the initial Oscar Grant protests are not able to incite the crowd so easily.”

She continues: “our main concern is the safety and well-being of Oakland’s young people.  We do not want to see them get taken to jail or hurt as a result of violent or destructive behavior brought on or encouraged by ‘extreme-fringe’ groups coming into Oakland from the outside.”

These claims are then followed by two sets of talking points, one dumbed-down and spiced up for a “youth audience.” The latter are replete with references to the “constructive” work of Martin and Malcolm, and end with the call: “Instead, let’s hold our heads high and throw up our fists in solidarity like Huey did!!”

Lee’s open collaboration with the state becomes shockingly clear once we visit the website of the City of Oakland, where we find a near-replica of Lee’s email coming out of the virtual mouth of the city administration itself, and crediting UPM for its contribution. And as we write this, the financial impetus for this unlikely partnership is becoming clear: there is word on the street that these same nonprofits are participating in a city-sponsored “speak-out” for which the city is paying bribes of $40 to participants and $100 to nonprofit organizers who turn people out to the event.

Several days later, a clever hoax email under the title “Keep it Cool After the Verdict” emerged which was spoofed to appear as though it had come from Lee herself. While Lee responded with indignant pleas for solidarity at an alleged identity theft, she did not address the fundamental reason that many had initially believed the email was the real thing: the fundamental points were the same. The hoax email was merely a slightly exaggerated version of Lee’s own open condescension toward the youth and willingness to collaborate with the state.

As participants in the rebellions of January 2009, most of us residents of the City of Oakland, we must respond to this condescending whitewashing of our history with five points:

1.) The “Outside Agitator” Soundbyte

We had hoped that this one was dead for good, as many participants had clearly debunked it, but Lee shows that, despite all evidence to the contrary, some people will insist on repeating discredited and condescending arguments despite how totally implausible they may be.

In the immediate aftermath of the first Oscar Grant rebellion on January 7th of 2009, OPD took their message to the press: this was all the fault of “outside agitators.” Echoing Bull Connor’s attack on those who went to Selma, Alabama to fight for civil rights, the police sought to discredit the rebellion while sowing division among those struggling for justice.

To some degree, they were successful. Despite not being present themselves for the rebellion, nonprofit leaders working under the banner of the Coalition Against Police Executions (CAPE), immediately began to parrot the police line, attacking “outside agitators” for leading the Black youth of Oakland astray, and tacitly (if not explicitly) suggesting that those who tore up the streets were white anarchists from the suburbs.

As participants in those rebellions, we saw something very different:  a multiracial crowd of primarily Black and Brown youth expressing righteous anger at the state’s refusal to indict one of their own (we encourage readers to consult the various images from the rebellions to get a feel for their makeup). The “outside agitator” soundbyte was also thoroughly discredited in street-level reports by JR Valrey of the SF Bayview, George Ciccariello-Maher of Counterpunch, and Minster Keith Muhammad, among others.

But some soundbytes die hard, especially when these are so useful to governing elites seeking to divide our movements. Thus when a large and multiracial group protesting cuts to and privatization of public education took over and blocked the 980 in Downtown Oakland, we found it necessary to yet again combat attempts to trot out the “outside agitator” story in an effort to erase the many people of color who took to the highway.

2.) Nonprofits and the State

Eventually, many in CAPE backtracked, but not without attempting to defend the state by becoming movement police and kicking those same youth they claimed to represent off the street on January 14th. CAPE’s obvious efforts to stabilize the state and prevent rebellion (while offering no real strategy for achieving justice) brought about harsh critiques from Advance the Struggle and the Oakland chapter of Bring the Ruckus. As our Advance the Struggle comrades put it:

Through their “buffer” tactics and diversions from confrontational struggle, Bay Area nonprofits effectively acted as an extension of the state. Nonprofit funding from foundations suffocates the development of a real revolutionary formation, keeping the politics of the nonprofit organization safely within the bounds of the rules of the system…. Despite frequent references to the radical legacy of Oakland, CAPE behaved as an extension of the state, “organizing” people to be peaceful, go home and not take militant action in the streets.

CAPE eventually splintered over these same questions, with a handful of coalition members rightfully recognizing the critiques before them. To their credit, many from CAPE learned an important lesson and we applaud that. Some in the nonprofit community clearly have not, as Lee’s email makes more than obvious.

3.) Condescending to the “Youth Audience”

One of the most galling parts of Lee’s email—and the nonprofit approach to their “community” more generally, is the sheer condescension it displays toward the members of that community, especially the youth. This appears in two ways in Lee’s email.

Firstly, the claim about “outside agitators” itself implies that Black and Brown youth are incapable of making good decisions or analyzing their situation, and are easily swept up into following “outside agitators” (again, read: “white anarchists”), who lead them, like a black-clad Pied Piper, down the path of destruction. As we will see below, this claim is the only way the nonprofits have to divert attention from their lack of a strategy for social change.

Secondly, we see this same condescending and patronizing attitude in Lee’s email itself, with its two lists of talking points, one for adults and one for a “youth audience.” This is an openly manipulative ploy which implies, again, that young community members cannot possibly understand the proper path to social change if it isn’t dumbed-down for them.

If not to manipulate the youth, then why are talking points necessary in the first place? If not to manipulate the youth, then why the dumbed-down version for a “youth audience”? And if not to manipulate the youth, then why the opportunistic references to Martin, Malcolm, and Huey, references which, as we will see below, do not accurately reflect history? 

Clearly, what Lee and others fear from so-called non-existent or imagined “outside agitators” is not the manipulation they claim to oppose, but a viewpoint that differs from their own.

4.) The Uses and Abuses of the Panthers

The most infuriating part of Lee’s email by far is her references to Martin, Malcolm, and especially to Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party. To put it bluntly: what the hell does she think Huey was doing, or Martin and Malcolm for that matter? What does she think the Panthers stood for?

Let’s start with what they didn’t stand for: collaboration with the state and ruling elites. And the Panthers had a phrase, adapted from Mao Tse-Tung, to express this position: “Contradictions among the people are reconcilable, but contradictions between the people and the state are irreconcilable.” What is it about “irreconcilable” that Lee and the nonprofiteers don’t understand? The Panthers were not all free breakfast programs: they were also about organizing the youth in a non-condescending way to fight the very same state that Lee would see as an “ally and partner.”

But in reality, this isn’t about what the Panthers did or didn’t say. It’s about a strategic attempt by the nonprofits to perform their function of protecting the state, something which they do all the more effectively the more radical their rhetoric. By saying radical-sounding things, they are able to present themselves as the voice of the people, which makes them all the more powerful when they decide to sell us up the river.

5.) The Master’s Tools?

We can’t end without responding to the underlying premise of Lee’s email, and indeed of the entire state-entangled nonprofit “strategy,” one which evidently attempts—in the words of Audre Lorde—to use only the “master’s tools” to build the new world (and indeed to even recruit the master himself into this process).

Nonprofit efforts to harness and channel popular anger down “constructive” pathways and Lee’s insistence that Martin and Malcolm were examples of “constructive” approaches to change are deceptively deployed to prop up the idea that working with the state is the only truly “constructive” way of approaching social change. This is the lure of the nonprofit: they promise access to the levers of power if we behave correctly, and it is only by convincing us to behave that they prove to the state and their corporate masters that they can be trusted with that power.

But now as before, we must return to the single fundamental truth of the Oakland rebellions: nothing has been more “constructive” than the popular fury unleashed in January. Without these intermittent explosions, Mehserle would never have been arrested, would never have been indicted, and most certainly wouldn’t be facing a murder charge. Our power lies not in opportunistic deal-making with Dellums behind closed doors: it lies in the streets and it is homegrown, while the “outside agitators” line is an ideological construct meant to stifle rebellion.

Before and during the rebellions, the nonprofits were telling us that taking to the streets wouldn’t be “constructive,” but they were wrong then and they’re wrong now. The young people of color who took to the streets, the “youth audience” for which the nonprofits emit mindless “talking points,” they knew what was “constructive” all along and they’ve recognized the fruits of their efforts in the current trial of Johannes Mehserle.

It is this sort of constructiveness that will build the new world!


For more analysis from the Raider Nation Collective, see our recently-released pamphlet, “Raider Nation Vol. I: From the January Rebellions to Lovelle Mixon and Beyond,” available now from AK Press or by emailing


Comments  (Hide Comments)

by P@isley
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 12:27 PM
so effin' rad. Ya'll said all the things I wanted to say about Lee and the City of Oakland, etc., but didn't have the chance to put the words together. THANK YOU, and I hope everyone in Oakland and beyond takes the time to read this incisive essay!
by me
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 1:52 PM
Well it's clear to me the Oakland community, particularly the black community, is not for tearing itself up, regardless of what so-called "raider nation" says. Davey d put up this youth uprising video calling for cooler heads on his blog here:
by PSA part of same non-profit BS
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 2:27 PM
"The Black Community" is not one monolithic whole... There are a wide range of even opposing views within the Black community on this issue...

And it should be made CLEAR that AT LEAST two of the brothers in the PSA were asked generally about the Oscar Grant case and footage of them is being used by non-profits w/o their knowledge of what the PSA was for...

for more on Nicole Lee and the non-profits check out:
'Nonprofits Defend the State – Need More Proof?!'
by Me too
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 2:30 PM
Many in Oakland have already shown their position on this issue several times over the past year: they took to the streets and it resulted in Mehserle's arrest. What happens on the streets will be decided by the people on the streets. Militant action is not equal to being "hotheaded". Those who want to channel their energies into other avenues other than militant protest should not deride and chastise those who do. If you don't have a good analysis of the role of riots in social movements, then expect to get checked. I think that is one of the main points the Raider Nation has been trying to put forward--how do we build on and from the popular gatherings that have spontaneously formed over the Oscar Grant murder? When folks come out to the streets to protest, do we engage them or condemn them? I say we are with them, let's engage each other.
by stuck
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 3:30 PM
I can't view it

What's the deal?

I thought PSAs were public service announcements.
by me
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 5:10 PM
1. raider nation called that serial rapist and cop killer Lovelle Mixon a "hero", which puts them in league with the nutcases over at uhuru house.

2. the panthers were against rioting. Bobby Seale was on KPFA block report and said he opposed rioting over Oscar Grant.

3. In the black community, here's just a few that have come out publicly against tearing up Oakland:

Bobby Seale
Ishmael Reed
Davey D.
Ella Baker Center
Youth Uprising
Jakada Imani
Minister Keith Muhammad
Rev. Dr. Harold R. Mayberry
Rev. Zachary Carey
Hon. Darleen Brooks
Hon. Kathy Neal
Hon. Marlon McWilson
Bishop Keith Clark
Rev. Dr. Kevin Barnes
Hon. Darryl Moore

Raider nation your asses are just about to get checkmated.

by History for change
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 6:28 PM
Malcolm X overcame the thug life. He discovered how to win other men out of it, too, and do what revolution requires.

Sad to see today's anarchists choosing to make a symbol out of a guy who just wasn't ready to leave the thug life.
by curious
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 8:31 PM
Where does Raider Nation Collective call Lovelle Mixon a "hero"?

Their article on Mixon, like this article, was a well-balanced analysis that refused to glorify.

Are nonprofits on these boards to smear revolutionaries?
by Just sayin'
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 8:59 PM
As "curious" said, the Raider Nation Collective does not say Lovelle Mixon was a hero, but they do have a compelling analysis of what happened that day. Check it out for yourself:

The interview with Ishmael Reed is very interesting and his commentary on the Oscar Grant rebellions is (unfortunately) the last thing he says. He doesn't offer any systematic analysis of what happened last January or of the historic nature of Mehserle's trial so, disappointingly, it doesn't offer us much guidance in this moment--but the interview is worth listening to:

The interview with Bobby Seale is also very interesting where he offers his critique of "riots" (rebellions), which differs significantly from the analysis of the Raider Nation Collective. A debate of similar issues was had between CLR James, Grace Lee Boggs and Raya Dunayevskaya in the 1950's, so if you're interested, read them for more insight. Seale's brief debate with the Minister of Information JR gives a glimpse of a couple of generational and political differences between the two (and both make good points). Definitely worth listening to!
by confused
Thursday Jul 1st, 2010 10:15 PM
wtf do you mean checkmated?

you gonna snitch em out to the pigs or something?
by me
Friday Jul 2nd, 2010 12:25 AM
To just sayin-- I'll check up on the forest-Johnson thing. Otherwise the raider nation "analysis" is garbage. Here's my one sentence analysis of Lovelle Mixon. He was a piece of shit. From wiki:

...On March 20, 2009, the day prior to the police shootings, Oakland police learned that Mixon was linked by DNA to the February 5, 2009 rape of a 12-year-old girl who was dragged off the street at gunpoint in the East Oakland neighborhood where Mixon's sister lived. On May 4, 2009 a state laboratory confirmed this link and also said Mixon had robbed and raped two young women on the morning of March 21, 2009, the same day he murdered four police officers. Investigators said that Mixon may have committed several other rapes during recent months, although no convictions had been secured before his death.[11][12] If Mixon had been arrested for his parole violation, he would have faced at most six months in prison; if convicted of rape, he faced a life sentence.

To confused: you're an imbecile.
by same ole shit!
Friday Jul 2nd, 2010 2:09 AM
As expected, the allegations of Lovelle Mixon as a rapist were bound to come up here and they have....

To recap a LONG OLD DEBATE THAT HAS LONG AGO BEEN HAD AND ENDED: The rape allegations were just that, ALLEGATIONS... The two sources cited above are from SF Chronicle, whose very headline was "Cop-killer raped 2 on day of attack, police say." Here is the key: "police say"! Police say a lot of BULLSHIT to save their asses, and the SF Chron prints it all verbatim without doublechecking their sources... To put it bluntly, the SF Chron was the OPD mouthpiece throughout this time... To this day, OPD has never produced conclusive evidence as to their allegations since they know they don't have to. This was all a play for the media when the officers actual language was a "probable DNA match" NOT a conclusive match. What does this mean? It means they knew that to just throw out the words 'rape' and 'DNA' would be enough to distract folks away from the real issue of police violence and growing tensions after the killing of Oscar Grant, the Oakland rebellions, and the Mixon shooting.

The fact was, is and remains that the media tried to play up a narrative of an "Oakland united in mourning" but that narrative quickly crumbled as live news reports "from the scene of the shootings" in East Oakland spouting the "unity in mourning" line were repeatedly interrupted by folks in E. Oakland shouting "FUCK THEM FOOLS" with one young guy even pissing on the cops' memorial.... ONLY ONCE THE "UNITY IN MOURNING" LINE FAILED DID OPD DEPLOY THE RAPE ALLEGATIONS TO MAKE MIXON INDEFENSIBLE SINCE MANY IN OAKLAND WERE RALLYING BEHIND THE SHOOTING OF THE OFFICERS.


Most importantly, if these allegations were true, it means that OPD had a series of at least 5 rapes of young Black women showing similar patterns (a necessity to be able to ID him as a possible suspect in all these cases), and YET OPD HAD NEVER RELEASED ANY WARNINGS TO OAKLAND'S YOUNG BLACK WOMEN. OPD, AGAIN IF THE ALLEGATIONS WERE EVEN TRUE, HAD A SERIAL RAPIST ON THEIR HANDS, YET NEVER CARED FOR OAKLAND'S YOUNG BLACK WOMEN ENOUGH TO ANNOUNCE A SERIAL RAPIST WAS ON THE LOOSE. The attempt to tie Mixon to these rapes (if they even happened, or if they did, whether or not there were similarities in the cases), was clearly about writing off any support his actions were genuinely garnering in the Oakland community and to sidetrack us from his actions which showed that cops bleed and die too...


Let's be clear, attempts on here to raise the 'Mixon was a rapist' narrative again are clearly about not wanting to grapple with the reality of the Raider Nation Collective's analysis themselves, both of Mixon and of the current Non-profit policing of rebellion.
by "me" is stupid
Friday Jul 2nd, 2010 10:07 AM
@ "me":

Yeah, Davey D put the "simmer down" PSA video on his blog. True that. But most recently, he carried the full video of Tony Coleman's press conference, which was a call to assemble at 6PM the day of the verdict at 14th & Broadway:

Are you so dense as to think that just because Davey D, a hip hop journalist, posts something on his blog, that it automatically implies his endorsement of whatever the message of that thing is? That's hella juvenile. Davey D is posting any and every point of view in the community and letting his readers judge for themselves. Davey D is a REAL journalist.

You're just lame, "me".