An evening with Patrisse Cullors from Black Lives Matter

About the event

WOW presents a very special evening with Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, author, educator, artist and abolitionist, to launch An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World.

Cullors is in conversation with Afua Hirsch, broadcaster, film-maker, former barrister and award-winning author of Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging. The duo discuss Cullors’ groundbreaking book as they imagine a world where communities are treated with dignity, care and respect.

Cullors gives us the tools to equip everyday activists to effectively fight for an abolitionist present and future, leading with love, fierce compassion and precision.

Join us to learn the history of abolition, reimagine what reparations might look like for Black lives and get the tools to envision change and healing.

An Abolitionist’s Handbook is published by OWN IT! a Black and Brown-owned and -run storytelling lifestyle brand, publishing, producing and representing powerful stories across books, music, art and film.

Patrisse Cullors has been on the frontlines of abolitionist organising for 20 years. Since she began the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013, it has expanded into a global foundation supporting Black-led movements in the US, UK and Canada and been nominated for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize. Time Magazine named Cullors as one of the one hundred most influential people of 2020. 

Part of WOW – Women of the World Festival.

From the blurb on Southbank website


Two years ago in March 2020, just as the corona virus pandemic began to hit, the WOW festival at Southbank was awash with trans-themed events. So many, in fact, it was difficult picking. The packed intersex activist talk was probably a superspreader event, Munroe Bergdorf was on the main stage sporting a brand new face and the odious Katy Jon Went and Jane Fae did a double act in the evening (the only double act I’ve ever seen with two straight men). This is the first time since then that the WOW festival has been held in person, and disappointingly not a single trans activist was on the bill. At a women’s conference! Can you believe that?

Resignedly then I went instead to see Patrisse ‘Four Houses‘ Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matters, which she had to resign from in May 2021, because of the scrutiny incurred over her property development activities. Black Lives Matters has received billions of dollars in donations, but no one quite knows where the money is. Who better then to preach to us than Cullors, who was here to promote her new self-help book An Abolitionist’s Handbook: 12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World.

Just one hundred tickets at £10 were available for this event, otherwise prices went from £18 to £38. Very intersectional. You would think a Marxist would want a level playing field, after all Cullors is promising, black people in particular, complete liberation.

Cullors identifies as ‘queer’ and I’m grateful to a tweep who pointed me towards this video about Cullors and this archived article, which illustrates the connection between BLM and LGBT politics.

Interestingly, BLM’s impact report lists far more transgender-advocacy organisations as its recipients than organisations promoting black civil rights. The list of organisations to which BLMGNF pledged at least a six-figure grant includes: Trans United, the Audrey Lorde Project (Trans Justice), Black Trans Circles, the Transgender District, the Black Trans Travel Fund, the Okra Project, For the Gworls, the Trans Justice Funding Project, the Trans Housing Coalition’s Homeless Black Trans Women Fund, Black Trans Media and Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.

From the Spiked article –

The room

As suspected very few people coughed up the cash to be nearer Cullors but the audience size was pretty reasonable, given the utter gubbins we were about to hear. It was mainly women, about half were black women, with a few men accompanying girlfriends. It was late starting as people were late arriving – an indication of apathy I wondered? But no, when Cullors was finally introduced it was to rapturous applause and – that most un-British of all things – whooping.

The host

Afua Hirsch, the host and interviewer, has led an incredibly privileged life if her wikipedia entry is accurate. Interestingly her time as a practising barrister was at Doughty Chambers, whose LGBT network group has very publicly aligned itself to the queer agenda. She fawned over Cullors throughout, wearing a carefully chosen orange dress and orange stilettos, no doubt designer, to go with the cover of Cullors’s book, a fact wryly noted by Cullors.

It’s quite amazing that a professional journalist would have no interest in money being misappropriated for personal use by a leader, when it was meant for the black community. Hirsch only hinted indirectly at the controversy that had befallen Cullors and made it very clear that she thought such questions improper.

I began making TV in earnest in 2014 when I joined UK news channel Sky News as the Social Affairs editor, a role I held until 2017. I reported on stories ranging from the return of slums in the UK’s deteriorating private rental sector, to the girl born into and trapped in a cult until her 30’s. 

In 2017 I began working for myself. Here are a few of the things I do now:

I’m the Wallis Annnenberg Chair of Journalism at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles – an incredible school raising the next generation of journalists.

From Hirsch’s own website –

Hirsch was rather enamoured with the phrase ‘showing up’; we were thanked for ‘showing up’, it was important to ‘show up’, ‘showing up’ is activism. ‘She is a verb,’ Hirsch said of Cullors, ‘she is change’. She asked Cullors to begin at the beginning.

Patrisse’s background

Cullors prefaced her story by alluding to her property development activities, characterising the criticism as a straightforward case of victimisation. She had been through a ‘special hell’.

Cullors spoke about her past history of activism. She says she grew up in a ‘heavily policed community’ and spent ten years in grass roots activism. She frequently witnessed police brutality and joined the Bus Riders Union. In 2012 she found out that the American Civil Liberties Union had raised a law suit against the Los Angeles sheriff department (I believe this is the action to which she referred, deputy on inmate violence). Her brother was in prison at the time and had ‘almost been murdered by the department’, and when she told him about it, his single word guttural response made her realise the urgency of the abolitionist mission. A year later Black Lives Matter was founded and Cullors was launched onto the world stage.

Cullors is also an artist

Abolition is my religion

Abolition is my belief system, my value system, and, dare I say it, it’s my religion.

Patrisse Cullors in response to the question, ‘What is abolition to you?’

Cullors actually said that. And I’m glad she did because it was one moment of honesty we might otherwise have missed. Yes, she does want to evangelise, she told us, all over the world. She wants to get rid of all police, prisons, detention centres and surveillance. These things to her represent slavery. Moreover abolition was a model for ‘self-health’ and the book had been modelled on the 12 Steps approach made popular by the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. Her father had been a drinker, so she had seen up close how he had been helped by the programme. It was a place where criminalised people could repair themselves and atone for the harm they had caused. She noted that more Christians were getting involved in the abolitionist movement.

Cullors is not calling for reform

She really is calling for the closing down and emptying of jails.

Cullors believes that once the funding is cut to the police, housing issues will be resolved through the simple transference of money (though to be fair, this is something she has some expertise in).

Cullors believes the police should not be called to assist ambulance drivers who are tasked with transporting potentially violent and psychotically ill patients to hospital, describing it as ‘dangerous and ridiculous’.

Ultimately though Cullors appears to be arguing for more state interference, not less, but just doesn’t want those people to be wearing uniforms.

Using Sarah Everard

The number of people who have used the murder of Sarah Everard for political purposes is truly despicable. Hirsch, making an oblique reference to her, used it as an opportunity to attack the police – if only people had listened to black women, Hirsch asserted to a round of applause, implying the murder wouldn’t have happened.

But what about the baddies?

But given Hirsch had bought up the subject of Wayne Couzens, the man who will never be released from prison because of the threat he poses to the public, Hirsch weakly asked Cullors, ‘What about paedophiles and terrorists?’

Simples, responded Cullors, we don’t want to dismiss people’s fears, but equally we don’t want to affirm racist fears. Change doesn’t happen in the brain, but in the body. The people who best understand fear are black people, she continued enigmatically, and they had a better capacity for change. (Unfortunately Cullors brain cells aren’t sufficiently charged to understand what this might imply.)

Is the system keeping everyone safe? And what is actual safety? Is safety caging human beings?

Patrisse Cullors, dismissing the need for prisons

Let’s be clear what we are talking about here, if the jails were turned out tomorrow, men like Lonnie Franklin, a black male serial killer who targeted black women, would be free to roam the streets once more. It’s an indefensible position, and it’s why I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that Patrisse Cullors is a liar.

Angela Davis, who has been speaking about abolition for longer than Cullors has been alive, was also appearing at the WOW festival, and Cullors acknowledged her. Capitalism was at fault, and in order for abolition to succeed, capitalism needed to fail. Well you know what they say Patrisse, charity begins at home – so which home, if any, are you prepared to share with the community?

Abolition is a practice

But back on the topic of her self-help book, Cullors was keen to emphasise that abolition was a practice and that it was ‘alien to our bodies’. She was rather short on the details, but she mentioned she had written an essay for the Harvard Law Review when they did their first ever edition on abolition. I haven’t read the essay but I couldn’t help but notice it appears to set out the 12 steps.

From Cullors Harvard Law Review essay – Abolition And Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, And Accountability

Emotional reading from her book

One day Cullors’s mum sat her down and told her, ‘Your dad is not your dad’. As she told what she believed was an emotionally impactful story, I’m sorry to say the only thing running through my head was this clip of Sylvia Browne from the Montel Williams show. And that’s all I have to say about it.

In turn, Cullors has also had to have a difficult conversation with her mother when she told her that she was going to write a memoir. Her mother wasn’t happy, being a Scorpio, but moreover a Jehovah’s Witness. This seems like a hugely important factor in Cullors’s own evangelising, and of course the Witnesses have a ‘heavenly policy’ of concealing the truth for those who they consider God’s enemies, and an insatiable appetite for armageddon and its imagery.

Video produced by an ex-Jehovah Witness

Cullors had to take out take out a lot of stuff about Kingdom Hall and described her mother as hardworking and failed by the state. Her respect and love for her mother was clearly evident and Cullors capitalised on this, knowing it was her trump card.

Are you treated differently because you’re black?

Black women are the most disrespected people in the world, asserted Cullors. People were trying to erase black women’s labour, including her own. Cullors cited the example of the athlete Sha’Carri having a one month’s suspension during the Olympics for breaking the rules as an example of black women ‘not being able to catch a break’.

Hirsch openly dismisses criticism of Cullors

Hirsch continued on her ill-advised excusing of the controversy which had engulfed Cullors and said she felt that the media wanted the poor to stay poor. They want to kill me, Cullors sniffed indignantly in agreement, they made me not want to be visible. And finally, ‘it’s misogynoir’. She had a lot of therapy to get over it.

Another dramatic moment

It had been ten months since the attacks had begun, Cullors whimpered, and she just wanted to fight for her son. ‘I’m going to get emotional,’ she informed us, pulling a face, and then everybody clapped. When the encouragement-applause died out, Cullors did that horrible speaking-while-crying thing. More clapping, complemented by whooping. ‘Would anyone mind giving me a tissue?’ asked Cullors, rather too brightly. A lucky audience member gladly obliged, taking the opportunity to hug her. The audience went ‘ahhh’. Another sycophantic round of applause.

Being on the cover of Time magazine

Some BLM activists, Hirsch suggested, had chosen not to be included in the article that Time magazine ran, though the ensuing conversation rather suggested they were overlooked over in favour of Cullors. Fighting over such things meant we couldn’t be unified and it’s better that we just celebrate each other, Cullors advised, inexplicably adding that we should make sure we have space in our bodies to celebrate. And then everybody clapped.

A friend had been arrested the day before

As an example of the ongoing police persecution of black people, Cullors told us that one of her mentees, a rapper called Mylen (pronounced ‘million’, must be a Marxist), had been arrested at home ‘just doing regular stuff’. Cullors had spent the entire night organising his bail money (sounds like that was a whip-round rather than a dip into her bank account) and that his bail was posted and he had returned home that morning. And then everybody clapped. Mylen now has the money to fight his case. I may have been the only person in the room wondering what his crime was and how his victim, if there was one, had been affected.

The importance of trans women, non binary and queer people

When we change systems we should look at the most marginalised of people first, and in this case it is ‘black trans women’ who are the most oppressed. We needed to change the law, policies and culture around that understanding.

When we free black trans women, we open up the freedom for so many more of us.

Patrisse Cullors

Cullors had learnt a lot from Marsha P. Johnson and that the intersectional framework was the framework for freedom (that framework being pyramid-shaped).

Cullors described herself as queer and made no mention of her female spouse, BLM Canada co-founder, Janaya Khan. She didn’t seem keen to expand on the subject, claiming she didn’t know what ‘the gay agenda’ means. She did, however, allege that having a ‘queer’ sexuality had a negative economic impact.

As an aside Janaya Khan identifies as non-binary and is also involved in the BLM property building business. She appears to have taken testosterone, as her voice is considerably deeper than it was in the videos of her back in 2015, and her face more masculinised. Still happy to share her beauty secrets with Vogue though!

Activist Janaya Future Khan shares their beauty secrets, from maintaining a fresh complexion to their top tips for taking care of natural hair. Janaya also opens up about “glow-up” skin care and the beauty of being non-binary.

Where does the joy from abolition come from?

According to Cullors, only black people can go through the worst thing and make it funny. Well that’s not true, I sat through the entire conversation – The Abolitionist Journey with Patrisse Cullors – and made it funny.

Cullors encouraged us to ‘spend more time laughing’. Certainly she is laughing. All the way to the bank. She has a deal with Warner to produce content. It was apparently a very slow process producing the content and one wonders how watertight that contract was. An expensive mistake, perhaps, for Warner.

What is your message to the young activists in the room

Practise, practise, practise! Capitalism is an individualist practice, abolition is a community practice. See the beauty in it.

An inspiring message in these times of inflation, food and energy price hikes, not to mention the brink of World War Three, we can all agree. Certainly the room did, as Cullors got a standing ovation.

Bizarre cultish moment

Cullors engaged the audience in a call and response, something BLM had been practising for the last decade. The slogans, set out below, were repeated three times with increasing hysteria.

The slogans – I personally think they could do with some more work

A pause for thought

A world without police or prisons would be anarchy. The premise should make every single person’s blood run cold. Undoubtedly in that vacuum, the very worst elements of society would have carte blanche to create their own policing system and we would simply swapping a regulated system (albeit imperfect) for a completely unregulated one. These are the fundamental questions which neither Hirsch nor Cullors had the honesty to broach and it is why the abolitionist movement is a very dangerous one, especially given its real world success in cutting police funding in the US and creating an almost blanket hatred towards police in the Western World.

Portland politician who campaigned to defund the police, calls 911 because her cab driver terminated her ride

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