Instead of a pyramid of different departments topped by a leader, there is coordination and a set of shared values spread across a decentralized structure that prizes local connections and fast mobilization in response to police violence. Over the last eight years, the movement has steadily built a modern infrastructure on top of decades-old social justice institutions like the Highlander Center.
The distributed setup has at times contributed to tensions. National Black activists have feuded over which policy programs put forward by different organizations best represent the goals of the movement. Some admitted the decentralized system can confuse the public at times and leave the movement open to misconceptions in the press. But none of the 10 activists POLITICO spoke to from across the country said they wanted a hierarchical structure instead, as the movement seeks to turn its newfound momentum into policy changes at the local and national levels.
“There were explicit decisions around building the movement in a way that would be both coordinated and decentralized,” said Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party and an organizer with the Movement for Black Lives. “There’s no way that you could have these many actions with the same demand if there wasn’t a level of high level coordination.”