December 28, 2020
Pearl River The Black Lives Matter movement erupted after the killing of George Floyd, as demonstrations, perhaps as many as 8500, occurred throughout the country and the world. BLM, prior to the Minneapolis uprising, was a loosely-knit, unstructured, network of local chapters with a somewhat leaderless structure nationally. In many ways that works for a movement, but since May a river of money has flowed towards BLM-related causes. The Economist estimates that donations exceeded $10.6 billion dollars, that’s billion with a B! Not all of that money is going to BLM of course. Corporations and the rich have been greenwashing their brands like wild. Walmart and Apple each announced $100 million racial equity efforts over the coming years to try to get right no matter how white their pasts have been. They are not alone.
What does all of this mean, especially what is bound to be a major amount of money, to a movement? Change is certainly coming. It is unclear exactly how much money went directly to the BLM forces specifically, because the numbers haven’t been released yet. The back office and accounting are handled by the Tides Network of organizations based in San Francisco that includes both the Tides Foundation and the Tides Center. Tides is acting as the BLM fiscal agent. The organizations specialize in providing professional and supportive services to a host of organizations and donors and has done so since 1976, when founded by Drummond Pike. I know the organizations intimately, having been one of the three incorporators and on the board of the various organizations for over thirty years until roughly a decade ago. The Tides Center filed its 2019 IRS 990 in November 2020. An audited report on the amalgamated organizations was released on June 30th for 2019. In short, don’t hold your breath for the final answer. It takes time. It is worth nothing that the 2019 report showed an increase in revenues to Tides over 200 million, a 40% increase over 2018. Count on the 2020 numbers approaching one-billion if BLM got a fair share of the post-Floyd support.
Reportedly one of the three founders, Patrisse Cullors, is pulling together the national network into a more structured, centralized organization with herself as the primary leader of BLM’s Global Network Foundation which would also direct funding of the local chapters through a new outfit called BLM Grassroots. Some of the larger chapters in ten cities including Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, and Washington have rejected this effort as undemocratic and a less than transparent power grab. Cullors has big plans, but they are a long way from the history of BLM on the streets, but likely reflect the big bank account now at the network’s disposal. She’s talking about political action, economic development, and legislative agendas.
No one ever owns a movement, and that is likely truer of Black Lives Matter than many others in our history. There was never a driving organization behind the movement and much of the original claims for the movement were opposed to institutionalization. BLM has been a slogan without a trademark, all of which may make the transition to a more structured organization more difficult, although the money now in hand will likely sustain the organization for a number of years.
When I worked as an organizer for the welfare rights movement, and more specifically the National Welfare Rights Organization, the old salts of that effort used to note the paradox that the organization would raise more money in the years after the movement was dead, than it did when it was alive and kicking. We have to hope that the Black Lives Matter movement escapes this bitter irony.