Reflecting on a Decade of New African Movement #2: Overview of our Analysis of Social Movements

Feb 19, 2024

Essay 2: An Overview of WildSeed’s Analysis of Social Movements 

This is the second essay in our series of essays about the past decade of New Afrikan organizing. See the first essay here.


A Brief Word on Our Analytical Lens(es)

Here at the WildSeed Society we use what we call a differential synthesis. Let’s break that done. First, analysis is a detailed investigation of the parts that make up a thing. Whereas analysis requires you to take a thing apart, synthesis requires you to view the parts in the context of the bigger whole. Synthesis is systematic where analysis is often [though not always] linear. 


By differential we mean that we change our approach based on the circumstance; using any tool that can further our understanding. We use the best means to get the best ends rather than dogmatically using our favorite means regardless of the circumstances. 


Specifically, this means using the analysis of different historical movements for liberation as lenses to help us understand the world and how it came to be in order to change it. Basically, we use whatever analysis, theory, methodology or synthesis that actually works for us and leave what doesn’t behind, always keeping the relational context of what we are studying at the forefront of our mind. We aren’t going to use a tool just because “people who see the world like we do” use that tool, especially if using that tool doesn’t help us see the thing clearly. 


For us, each lens is not a true understanding of the world but is, as the Buddhists say, a finger pointing at the moon. We should never confuse the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. The lens is just that, one possible way to see things, not some absolute truth. As is often said “all models are false but some are useful.” 


More specifically we pull from the Black Radical Tradition including womanism, Black Queer Feminism, Black Anarchism and Revolutionary Black Nationalism. This means drawing heavily from the analysis and praxis of Africans in the Americas trying to get the thing.  In addition we draw from the work of radical thinkers like James and Grace Lee Boggs and Social Reproductive Feminist  and Marxist scholars like Silvia Federici. We also draw from newer ideas on social change like Emergent System Theory, Somatics, socially engaged Buddhism. 


For us using a lens is different than orienting ourselves as members of a particular camp. To use a Marxist lens is to use the analytic tools that Marx used on a specific set of experiences or data then coming to our own conclusions rather than “being a Marxist” and starting from the conclusions of other people who have used a Marxist lens in the past. We tend to start with our experiences and use whatever lens we think will best support our thriving. 


The most important lens we use is that of the meeting after the meeting. That is, the conversations movement heads have after actions and after larger meetings when we are all free to say what we really think and feel. This is, at the end of the day, the analysis that matters the most. Revolutionary Theory arises through a praxis of action, reflection then theory and thus is always lagging behind action. 


This means that fundamentally, we do not look at the BLM movement as a civil rights movement or protest movement. We find these mainstream lenses to be overly narrow and without texture. First, civil rights are a matter of policy not of the thing. Second, BLM was always more than just a protest. It was always more than demanding that they “Stop Killing Us.” It was a demand, yes, but also a space where we built prototypes of worlds in which we would not be killed. 


Social movements are always more complex things than just people collectively demanding more from their government. To understand how we think about social movements, it's useful for us to define social movements and explain how we use the concept of the social contradiction. 


Movements and Contradictions

First, we should be clear about what we mean by social movements. The Encyclopedia Britannica actually gives a surprisingly good general definitions of social movements:


“social movement, a loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values. Although social movements differ in size, they are all essentially collective. That is, they result from the more or less spontaneous coming together of people whose relationships are not defined by rules and procedures but who merely share a common outlook on society.

Collective behaviour in crowds, panics, and elementary forms (milling, etc.) are of brief duration or episodic and are guided largely by impulse. When short-lived impulses give way to long-term aims, and when sustained association takes the place of situational groupings of people, the result is a social movement.”


Social movements are the process of informal sustained associations of people moving towards a shared goal of social change based on common outlook or experience. 


Social movements, by definition, are not about one organization in which people follow the leaders' marching orders. They are also not called into being by one, two or even three organizers tweeting something out on the internet. There is something spontaneous, emergent and collective about movements by their very nature. At the same time, there is a structure and pattern to their development, they are more than random acts of group think. 


We think that a fundamental lesson to be learned is that social movements get their energy from tension of contradictions in society that propel them through movement cycles where they grow, change their own environment and must adapt to that environment to continue growing. 


A contradiction, in this social sense, is the tension between different social factors or social forces that either pull society in different directions or collide to create major social upheavals. 


The tension between the idea of “America” as the land of the free and the reality of its existence as a slave society was one of many contradictions that helped bring about the civil war. In the same way the contradiction in Feudalism between the desire for control of medieval European societies by religious and aristocratic elites and the autonomy that peasants achieved after the population crashes of the black plague was resolved by the emergence of capitalism. 


The fact that the civil war and capitalism were ways of resolving a contradiction does not make them inevitable.  The civil war could have been avoided in several ways, including the U.S giving up its empire as a way of life or abolishing slavery in the constitution. Similarly, the modern conception of communism arose during the crisis of feudalism as an alternative to capitalism. History could have gone another way. Crucially in both cases, the resolution of one contradiction created other contradictions. 


So when we say that movements get their energy from contradictions we mean that they are fueled by the social friction that arises as different social forces and trends run up against each other in ways that make continuing business usual for wide swaths of a society no longer tenable. 


Typically, societies try to tamp down those tensions as soon as they arise without resolving the underlying contradictions. This causes the pressure to build until an exciting incident kicks off a movement (or fuels its revival) like a volcano.  


Movements then seek to actually resolve the underlying contradiction that sparked it in the first place. We believe that the goal of social movements should not to create a society without contradiction however–such a society be stagnant and stale–but to consistently resolve contradictions in the most liberatory way we are capable of. In that way, social movements should make society more capable of meeting the needs of all its members with dignity and joy over time. 


The goal of a movement, in our opinion, is not utopia but a society collaboratively learning how to more effectively and pleasurably get The Thing.


Movements always start with those most impacted and thus sensitive to the contradiction. This is merely a fancy way of saying the people who start moving first are people close enough to see it. Yet movements always expand to include more groups directly and indirectly impacted. This expansion gives rise to backlash and polarization. 


For many, they are more directly affected by people’s response to the problem than the core problem itself. Thus reactionaries “react” to response of the directly affected and generate backlash movements to return to time when it wasn’t their probrem. This response and backlash changes the social landscape on which movements operate and helps determine how society holds that particular contradiction. 


While each movement is as unique as its circumstances, they are fundamentally people trying to get their needs met and running against institutions of control and tradition. So while the parts might all be unique, there tends to be certain patterns in the interaction of the parts. Through studies of history we know that, for the most part,  cycles of movement growth, polarization, mainstreaming, reform, latency and reignition will continue until the contradiction that birthed the movement is resolved. Our friends at movement net lab have a great graph of that cycle below. 

Again we believe it is ultimately a social movement's responsibility to resolve that contradiction in a way that makes life better for the most exploited and marginalized members of the community and acceptable for everyone else. The goal cannot be to merely pass some singular piece of legislation like marriage equality or change some superficial aspect of society like school integration. 


Those solutions only address the symptoms of the contradiction, for instance how marriage inequality is merely one obvious symptom of the conflict between the myth of “American” liberal-democratic freedom and the reality of its cultural and structural opposition to the ability to freely choose your social relationships. By only addressing the symptoms you risk making a change that makes resolving the contradiction harder or more fraught while the unequal realities  remain. 


It's harder to make the case for racism being a central facet of society after integration but the integration did little to change the vastly different life outcomes between Black and white people. Similarly, marriage equality actually makes it harder to galvanize support for the ways in which LQBTQIA people are exploited, attacked and marginalized. One could argue that the current troubles of the U.S stem from a failure of the founders to resolve the contradictions of the European societies they fled (race, gender and class.) 


At the same time, practically, the resolution of the contradiction has to be acceptable to the rest of society. When we find a solution unacceptable, it's usually because it contradicts something we are unable or unwilling to let go. Thus unaccepted solutions will cause new the tensions to build into a reactionary movement, one that often seeks to go back to a previous state of invisible tension [“how things used to be before people got so sensitive.”] This does not necessarily mean compromise. 


As Cuba showed at the end of its revolution, sometimes it means chartering a flight for your opposition to simply leave the society. Cuba also shows that resolving one contradiction always leads to another, as those refugees then lobbied the U.S government into blockading Cuba so the contradiction within the society became one between Cuba and its bigger neighbor. 


Importantly, as creatures of the contradictions, movements are not outside of its dynamics. In fact, if they do not resolve the contradiction internally and offer a path for the broader society to do the same, they will find themselves subject to and defined by the dynamics of the contradiction rather than of their proposed solution. 


Gay marriage didn’t resolve the contradictions of the nuclear family or hetero-normative standards for relationships in general, meaning gay couples now face most of the same problems and tribulations that straight couples did. This might have been the goal for professional class white gay couples, but for poor, BIPOC queer folks for whom marriage is not financially viable and family is not supportive, it does little. A marriage certificate does not help healing from broken family ties, lead directly to acceptance in the workplace, gender affirming care, a raise or a protection against homophobic violence. 


Without this perspective, it can often feel like compromise is the most reasonable solution. After all, we agree that you can’t always get everything that you want, we are not utopians. Yet once you understand how social contradictions actually work in regards to social movements, you can see how compromise might actually ensure that while you might get something you never get the thing. Even “the right compromise” at the wrong time can release the tension fuelling the push for a better society, killing any chance for meaningful change. 


Oftentimes, the only way out of a contradiction is through it. This means deepening the contradiction by investing in the most liberatory social force involved to ensure that it comes out as the most influential force reorganizing the landscape. 


This is a radically different way to view social change. We do get to mold history or people into the exact shapes we want them to be. Large scale social engineering projects always fail for this reason. No one is capable of being a society's master planner. For wherever there is an attempt to control there is resistance and all resistance transforms ALL sides of the power dynamic. We become what we we seek to control and change all who seek to control us.  


All we can do is water the seeds of the world we want to grow and be transformed as those worlds blossom. 


With this understanding, we at the WildSeed Society are concerned that social movements in the U.S are not seeking to resolve the contradictions that fuels their growth. While the BLM movement is not alone, this reality is the movement we can speak most authoritatively about and the one which we have been most invested in. 


Throughout this series, we will use our collective experiences within this movement ecology to illustrate why we think that is and how it traps local ecologies like the ones in Louisville and DC into rigidity and poverty traps.


That is, traps where the organizations and communities are unable to change in response to changes in the environment because it is stuck in outdated modes of operating (rigidity) or because it is too under-resourced to make the change sustainable (poverty.) 


This stems from our belief that these movement cycles mirror the cycles of growth, maturation and decay that all living things go through. We believe we can better understand them as eco cycles. 


Movement and Ecocycles

Once you understand social contradictions, there can be no question of compromise within a movement. Movements cannot compromise and live to fight another day like a discrete campaign with defined leadership might be able to. To compromise is to release tension that fuels the movement. Yet, it does not follow that in the absence of compromise we must run ourselves until the ground without pause or be dogmatic extremists.


 To recognize that the liberatory seeds we seek to water are over-saturated or lack the conditions to thrive is not to compromise but to understand our limits. 


The key here is to understand that movements have natural cycles just like any other entity made up of living beings. There is a time in which pushing against the contradiction will be fruitful and time when it will be in vain. There is also a time to collect the fruits of your labor and time to contemplate the end of a particular strategy, tactic or way of organizing ourselves. We call understanding this truth, using an ecocycle perspective. 


Most importantly we have to recognize that there must be a season of rest and recovery. 


With an ecocycle perspective we are more able to be spiritually grounded in our strategy. It removes us from using the trauma strategy of whiteness-inspired-urgency that keeps us going through the motions or investing in strategies that no longer fit our context. An ecocycle perspective also reminds us that part of the process means creative destruction, releasing the organizational forms that no longer serve us so that the broader ecology can metabolize those resources into something new.


As we hope this series will make clear, we believe that the time for the Black Lives Matter movement has passed and the time for a new set of movements willing to address the key contradictions of U.S society has come. 


We say this as people who come from the Black Lives Matter movement; organizers who are proud of what we and our comrades accomplished. We also say this as people who have learned from their own many many mistakes in the movement and have been transformed into more grounded, compassionate, fierce and capable agents for the liberation of our people because we decided to embrace the lessons those mistakes taught us. 


Yet this is not a call for the wide scale destruction of organizations in the Black Lives Matter movement. Contrary to the U.S imagination, endings need not be violent final confrontations and scandal ridden lawsuits. In nature, like in a forest for instance, beings that are in their death/decay cycle have important roles to play for years to come. Forrest often collaborates to keep tree stumps alive so that the underground roots systems of mutual exchange can extend for miles. Even dead wood plays a crucial role in local ecologies. 

Thus when we suggest that the time for Black Lives Matter Movement has come, it means that we need to understand that it is time for us to resource the gestation over another movement capable of addressing the contradictions of the U.S and global society.  Many, though by no means all, of the existing organizations formations from the beginning of a cycle have reached a point in which it is no longer reasonable to expect them to innovate and adapt to new circumstances at the pace and scale that it needed. 


Thus their role needs to change. Most of these organizations have three value aligned and strategic options: 

  1. They can transform themselves into movement institutions that use resources to support new movement ecologies gestation and growing. Movement institutions follow the work on the ground rather than coordinating it. They train, they resource, they initiate new organizers into communities of practice and they offer spaces for healing and restoration. 
  2. They can sunset and allow their resources to flow back into the movement ecology. These organizations can release their resources into their local chapters to help them escape their own poverty traps and evolve into what the moment and local conditions need them to be. 
  3. They can transition into being defensive institutions. Defensive institutions help maintain the gains of social movements while remaining as entry points into new movement ecologies for young organizers to cut their teeth. Examples of defensive institutions include socially active Churches, mainstream Unions, Civil Rights organizations like the NAACP and local community groups where many of the organizers in the Black Lives Matter Movement got their start. These institutions have transitioned from leading movements to make change to defending their gains. While this switch is often maligned, defensive institutions are crucial to movement ecologies. The problem is when they are given the power to starve, co-opt or counter-organize the next cycles of pushes for more gains. 


Again, this is not meant to shame those groups who we suggest time has come to transition. As we, the authors of this essay series, get older we too have had to transition. We recognize that as hard as it is to admit it, we no longer have the energy to be on the frontlines in the ways we could in our early 20’s. We also do not have the same optimism that we had nor the same level of social freedom. We have families and social obligations that make late night strategy sessions and jail time less feasible. We have gained a bit too much pessimism of the intellect and lost too much optimism of the will to be on the frontlines. 


Just like each organizer is different, each organization is too. There are elders still on the frontlines. There are mothers and fathers and cynics on the frontlines too. There are also young people whose role was never to be on the frontlines or in the streets. There are movement organizations that remain vibrant for decades and institutions whose relevance is only a handful of years.


The difference remains how we and our bodies orient ourselves to contradictions as we respond to the rigidity traps and poverty traps. Those elders who remain on the frontline must often be constantly open to being transformed by the energy and politics of each movement wave. They have to be willing to be quasi nomadic in their lives in order to flow with the changing front lines. They must see the contradiction clearly and shift to water the most liberatory forces in contestation with that contradiction. 


These elders also have to be well resourced emotionally, socially and often financially to maintain themselves over decades. This generally requires a supreme ability to metabolize the toxins of subverting empires. That is to turn the stress and trauma of organizing into medicine that heals us and those around us. 


While it is always hard to know when it is time for ourselves to transition to a new stage, the signs are usually clear to others early in process. 



  • When people or organizations stop being able to metabolize the changes of the world it is time for them to transition to a new stage. 
  • When we are no longer willing to ride the waves of the ocean of new movement politics and positions it is time to transition to a new stage
  • When they are no longer willing to risk jail, investigations and persecution in the press for their beliefs it is time to transition to a new stage. 
  • When our politics and energy no longer resonates with the community we are trying to engage, it is time to transition to a new stage
  • When we have lost sight of the contradiction its time to reground and rethink our strategies. 


We believe that many of the organizations in and around the Black Lives Matter Movement, in particular the Black Lives Matter Global Network, have reached the time to transition. Thus we think it is useful, and necessary, to draw what lessons we can learn from the movement into to support what needs to be gestated for the next. 

First Defining Our Terms 


First, we need to make it clear what we mean when we are talking about “the movement” or movement organizations.


Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives are both movements and sets of organizations. When we say the Movement for Black Lives we mean the portion of the Black Liberation Movement that began to crystallize on the streets of Ferguson in 2014 that is primarily concerned with state-sanctioned violence against Black people. 


Our understanding of the history of Black movements comes from Cedric Robinson history of Black political movement and from elders in Civil Rights and Black Power movements. So when we refer to The Black Liberation Movement we mean the cycles of movements of the descendants of enslaved Africans in the western hemisphere who seek liberation through the co-creation of new worlds or societies in which African people could get their needs met with dignity and joy. 


We separate the Black Liberation Movement from the racial justice movement, which we believe seeks to secure Black people’s “rightful place” within systems, societies and life-worlds that already exist. 


Liberation seeks a whole other world based on different principles, understandings of what is (ontology) and institutions. Racial Justice asks for more equitable relationships among the racial groups in some sort of conception of a racial (presumably liberal) democracy where economy is also no longer racialized (though not necessarily outside the logic of capital.) 


Booker T Washington is a great example of the Racial Justice movement and assimilation or accommodation logic at its core. Despite the way he is often characterized he was demonstrably pro-Black also demonstrably uninterested in radically reshaping American society. Rather Washington was interested in deliberately making Black people full citizens within that society.


Figures like Nat Turner or organizations like the Black Panthers were interested in radically reshaping society through the resolution of what they saw as the central contradiction of society (Spiritual and physical degradation of slavery vs the humanity of African people for Turner or the imperial capitalist nature of U.S society vs reality of Black people as a captive nation for the Panthers).  


Put simply, the Racial Justice movement assumes that this world can give Black people The Thing and the Black Liberation Movement knows that we can only get The Thing if we remake the world. 


There were a few times when these two movements merged, such as during the civil rights movement. Black people interested in Racial Justice and those interested in Liberation often found common cause and worked together towards similar short and medium term goals. Both movements fought against racist violence from the KKK and imperial violence in the War in Vietnam for instance. 


During the last upswing in Black/African movement energy, these two movements merged again. The agendas, language and organizing styles of Liberation and Racial Justice became almost indistinguishable. 


Second, we need to make a distinction between organizations and movements. There is both the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation which is an unaccountable entity with millions of dollars and Black Lives Matter 10+ a coalition of local chapter, accountable to communities who have broken away from BLMGNF.  There is also the movement of BLM that is all the actions, protests and conversations about state sanctioned violence. There is also the Movement for Black Lives which was created to seperate the movement from the organization. Unfortunately, the Movement for Black Lives also became an organization, making the situation even muddier. 


Thus now, in 2022 when we at WildSeed say BLM we mean the ecologies of organizations, organizers and activists centered around chapters of BLM in different cities. When we say “the network” we mean the Black Lives Matter Global network which was for a few years the parent organization of all BLM chapters. 


When we refer to the Movement for Black Lives we mean all the Black led groups who were formed or got to scale during the organizing against state violence (both racial justice and liberation oriented) that erupted from Ferguson. When we say M4BL we mean the organization that is a coalition of specific groups within the broader movement for Black lives. 

In our next essay, we will dive deeper into the contradictions that birthed the Movement For Black Lives. 

Stay Connected with WildSeed Society!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest updates and offerings.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information for any reason.