Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, and W.E.B Du Bois are names we know. We are accustomed to these names. You even have some basic idea of what they believed in your head. Martin Luther King Jr. equates to nonviolence. Malcolm X believed in segregation and violent opposition to oppression. Garvey wanted us all to go back to Africa and escape America’s oppression. Du Bois was a socialist who believe capitalism creates racism. They are just four examples of leaders from the Civil Rights Era. They are some of the better-known ones too. James Baldwin, Dorothy Height, Fred Hampton, Elaine Brown, and Bayard Rustin are a few less spoke about names. They are no longer with us. So in this day in age who are our leaders? Who leaders our movements today when they are so decentralized. Why are we so against centralized leadership?
I have seen and heard many argue that a decentralized leader or leadership will make the movement tougher to target. This is true. Plainly and simply history shows that civil rights leaders and leaders pushing for reform are targeted. They are easily identified when they are out in front. COINTELPRO was an FBI program that specialized in it. They targeted progressive leaders in the civil rights movement, women’s rights movement, and antiwar groups. Using various means to cause contention within groups, threaten the leaders with information they gained, slander, misinformation, and even assassinations. COINTELPRO is probably the leading cause of the downfall of the Black Panther Party. Arresting Newton and assassinating Fred Hampton. Effectively, spreading fear and misinformation about the group. Once the leadership was removed the movement is then would see a steady decline or lose steam. Having smaller localized leaders makes this harder to do. Less they have known about them the less weight their name holds when they are coerced or defamed.
Another argument I have heard is that decentralizing a movement allows more localized leadership. This allows individuals in the local community to feel empowered. Decentralization also allows the movement’s membership is much laxer than in centralized organizations. Thus makes being apart of the organization easier. There is no “gate-keeping” or initiation because it is a loose organization or group of organizations. This empowerment is easy to understand with a simple phrase. MILLENNIALS AND GEN Z DO NOT FUCKS WITH NAACP OR OLDER CENTRALIZE BLACK GROUPS.
Since the time of the Black Panther Party and Malcolm X most African Americans have had doubts and dislikes about the organization. Those in it tend to be conservative and filled with “well-off” black members. In the past, they even stop backing MLK for his antiwar stance. Ask them a question and get talked down to for your lack of knowledge. No one wants to feel inferior when trying to promote empowerment. These groups are so large that bureaucracy built-in. “Does anyone, other than the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, really take the NAACP seriously anymore?” The answer is no. They do have members. However, if you are the Walmart of the Civil Rights Movement that is a given. This disenchantment with groups like the NAACP causes younger blacks to move towards less centralized and more localized movements. However, with this loose structure, it misses out on some of the benefits of a centralized organization.
When the movement is centralized the goals and methods of the organization are rigid. The movement’s members do not share a few ideas or complementing one another. Instead, the ideas are homogeneous. They believe in A and do B to achieve it. An example would be the Ten-Point Program created by the Black Panther Party. The goals and demands of the movement are made known and are clear. Making information sharing and organization planning easier. Fred Hampton organized the Rainbow Coalition as the leader of the Chicago chapter of the Black Panthers. Centralization allows the movement to ally itself with like mind movements. It also allows it to separate itself from groups. Look at Black Lives Matter and its “relationship” with Antifa. I put quotes around relationship cause I am not sure if there is one. Antifa is attached to BLM through the media. Thus it appears the two go hand and hand. Whether this is a wanted connection or not, I am unsure. Bringing up my next point. Centralized movements have control over their message and identity.
Centralized movements tell their narrative. They control the organization’s stance and can defend it with precision. In the past leaders could be seen in interviews, news coverage, and debates. It was public relations. It allowed someone to handle the PR of the movement. Black Lives Matter has no PR person. Anything and everything has been claimed about BLM. There is no leader to denounce it. In an age with the internet, social media, and opinion news, PR is required. There are around 300 million people in America. Only 40 million are black. PR is important. There are 260 million other individuals in this country that are not black. If local leaders can not get in front of the false reports and accusations then it leaves BLM open for misinformation and the hijacking. While it may not look like a problem if one of the loosely organized chapters does something out of “character” there is no centralized leadership reject their actions and take accountability. Thus the whole movement is under fire.
So in terms of centralized and decentralized, they both have flaws. Pros and cons can be written up all day. Only time will tell the effectiveness of the decentralized movements. Smaller leaders seem to be inspired by what I can see. To the masses, however, many aren’t well known. It may be what the movement wants. If that’s the case, then it is working. In my opinion, I would prefer a centralized movement with a plan and proper funding ideas to help black communities in more ways. I would love to see the age of debates come back. Where it’s not some paid Black reporter or token Black individual speaking. Some may say its there. However, it’s not accessible to the masses lost to the sea of click bait news titles. Maybe I want to see a strong leader not afraid of consequences again. Who speaks and is up and on the front lines. Shooting verbal hands with the media narrative of us on evening television. Changing the field of play through action not request. Even then though the change has to start locally within our communities and our cities. Maybe that’s the point of the decentralized movement. Maybe that’s just me being Black in my opinion.