The movement for Black liberation began in the early 1500s when Africans were lined up and prepared for Brazil by the Portuguese at slave ports in what, today, is known as Angola. At the time, Blackness was conceptualized differently. Much like now, Africans were divided on the basis of identity. Then, it was tribal or national identity based on geographic location and cultural variance throughout the continent. Now, it is identity based on socioeconomic status, proximity or lackthereof to whiteness, education, and access. Geographic separation and diversity in culture have persevered as factors of division, but where Africans were and, sometimes, still are unwilling to see themselves as one people, Europeans very quickly did the opposite. They saw pan-Africans as one people, as one resource ripe for exploitation and their subsequent and systematic enslavement of Africans and theft of our home continent was indicative of just that. But when resistance to that enslavement and exploitation erupted, it was not organized across the continent in a way that counterbalanced the widespread European pillaging of Africa. In fact, it was not a pan-African movement because pan-Africa did not exist in the minds of those who inhabited the continent. So, when Africans resisted, they resisted as Kongolese led by their King, Nzinga Mbemba. They resisted as Angolese led by their Queen, Nzinga, who waged a hundred year war against Portuguese slave traders. They resisted as Beninese led by their King, Agaja. They resisted on slave ships, commandeering vessels and killing the crews tasked with bringing them to the Americas. Our ancestors resisted, but none of those instances of rebellion involved support from a united or connected home continent. Europeans, on the other hand, benefitted from unity in both intention and impetus. Collectively, irrespective of their cultural or geographical differences, European countries were interested in expanding their respective empires through African resource theft and so themselves, as one, into accomplishing their goal.
The movement for African liberation continued once African captives reached The Americas and began their tenure as slaves. There were ancestors like King June, a former Akwamu (Ghanaian) chief turned field slave who led captives in St. John to knife down slave owners in acts of resistance. There was Jemmy, an Angolan man who organized twenty fellow Africans in the Stono Rebellion in South Carolina in 1739. Five hundred slaves burned down sugar plantations in New Orleans and armed themselves with hand tools in an attempt to take their freedom in the German Coast Uprising of 1811. In 1831, our Brother Nat led one of the most famous slave rebellions of his time. Nago slaves, who were Yoruba/Nigerians taken from the continent, were led by a man named Ahuna who, inspired by the Haitian Revolution, attempted to overthrow Portuguese slave owners. But just like their continental predecessors, the Afro-American and Afro-Latina revolutionaries who resisted the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade lacked the broader support they needed to end it. At the time, there were over 10 million African slaves in the Americas and an estimated 100 million on the continent. Historians estimate that the European and colonial population did not match either. And yet, due to many factors, some within their control and some outside, slave revolts almost never involved more than a few hundred Black folks. The white response to these acts of rebellion; however, were always swift, systemic, and enacted with European solidarity. The British, Spanish, French, and Portuguese crowns were almost always ready to send military support to their colonies to ensure that African labor remained free and European pockets fat. Slave-owners in the United States, after the American Revolution, always had their government to tangibly support their tyranny with military backing and nationwide collaborative suppression of Black abolitionist uprisings.
Post-slavery efforts to overcome white despotism not only lacked collective impetus, but cohesive ideology as well. After four hundred years of trauma and persecution, Africans, now dispersed across the globe, were no closer to a chosen pan-African political identity than they were on the continent. The difference was that, now, an identity, shaped and informed by white hegemony, characterized by subjugation to economic deficit, violence, and dehumanization had developed for them. Both Africans in the Americas and Africans on the continent were now faced with the task of resource reclamation, cultural rebuilding,and general resistance to white violence without the resources they’d had access to and possibly taken for granted on the continent. With the Ku Klux Klan, European imperialism, theft and depletion of natural resources in Africa, Haitian debt and, later, Jim Crow and Apartheid to contend with, Black people did not have the space or capacity to develop political or economic strategy en masse. Not unlike their physically enslaved ancestors, Africans navigating this era were forced into positions of political and economic stagnancy. With racial and economic oppression developing rapidly as a global system, pan-Africa couldn’t possibly put its mind on collective Black prosperity while the issue of Black survival, alone, remained uncertain. This problem persists today.
Today, what we once called slavery, we now call homelessness.
What we once called slavery, we now call food insecurity.
What we once called slavery, we now call hunger.
What we once called slavery, we now call wealth disparity.
What we once called slavery, we now call maternal mortality.
What we once called slavery, we now call mass incarceration.
What we once called slavery, we now call health disparity.
What we once called slavery, we now call mass incarceration.
What we once called slavery, we now call the exploitation of Black militant potential by United States imperialists.
What we once called slavery, we now call wage theft.
What we once called slavery, we now call capitalism.
What we once called slavery, we now call police brutality and excessive force.
What we once called slavery, we now call state imposed violence.
Each of these, elements of the Black material condition in the 21st century, were once components of an institution that was purportedly abolished nationally in 1865 and internationally in 1888. Aspiring revolutionaries tasked with galvanizing and mobilizing their communities are, essentially, facing the same obstacle that the organizers of slave revolts encountered: fear of and dependency on the oppressor without the resources to support promises of protection and autonomy. That fear manifests as internalized racism demonstrated through the collectively fulfilled prophetic stereotype of Sambo, a character eager to assimilate to, navigate, and gain proximity to whiteness. It takes the form of post traumatic slave syndrome, which is the cause of many maladaptive behaviors in our communities such as abusive parenting, toxic relationship development, aesthetic dissatisfaction, cultural incorporation of oppressor modeled sexism and misogyny and movement sabotage, itself. To be clear, this means that not only must organizers meet the tangible and material needs of their communities to build their capacity for political and economic strategy, but also provide the emotional and psychological support that true healing, without which capacity for revolution does not exist, entails.
In addition to its material and psychological condition, aspiring revolutionaries must also contend with the spiritual condition of pan-Africa. Black people, as a whole, burdened with the mission of survival and weighted by the trauma of systemic oppression, don’t have the space for spiritual acknowledgement, exploration, care, or healing. Initially, Africans carried from the continent to the Americas were explicitly forbidden from engaging in any spiritual practice, Christianity included. They were beaten, humiliated, and shamed out of their spiritual traditions and as the years went on, a spiritual and ancestral disconnection formed. It is both a human right and need to explore one’s self and one’s environment holistically and come to one’s own conclusions. Perceived spiritual stagnancy impedes human growth and growth is a key to Black liberation.
Activists and organizers who aspire to revolution have, historically, in an effort to eliminate elitism, hierarchy and replications of oppressive dynamics and directly empower marginalized communities, taken the difficult endeavor of defining the Black political position directly to the most impacted. This bottom-up strategy used in grassroots organizing, while in line with revolutionary principles and effective in guarding against tyranny and corruption, is unrealistic when the Black experience and its resulting impact on Black capacity is taken into consideration. And, yet, revolution is not possible without the leadership of those who are most oppressed. Revolution is not possible without cohesion in impetus and ideology. Revolution is not possible without the engagement of the Diaspora as a whole.
Because we continue to engage in organizing without addressing this issue, our “revolution” is reduced to principle rich, resource poor movement work or; even worse, resource rich, principle poor reformism. Those who are principled continue, in vain, to engage communities at max capacity and those who aren’t seek support from the only well resourced institutions they have access to-institutions of white supremacy. This opens the door for unsustainable activism, infiltration, corruption, cyclical movement, division, organizational impoverishment, and ideological chasms.
What is unsustainable activism? It’s when the same five local organizers take on every police shooting, every instance of excessive force, every local policy nightmare, every natural disaster, and every community program. What is infiltration? It’s when white supremacist interests creep into Black movements, collectives and spaces; often because white supremacist funding has created space for them. What is corruption? It’s when Black leadership ceases to represent collective Black interest and moves to protect its privilege. What is cyclical movement? It’s when activists and organizers pour their hearts and souls into defeating municipal policy or state legislation only to encounter it, disguised as something else, a few short years later; when victories are pyrrhic and organizers are forced to position themselves as reactionaries. What is division? It’s when hundreds of Black organizations are founded to do the same thing because they can’t trust one another to protect collective interest. What is organizational impoverishment? It’s when the most radical of movement formations are isolated and starved of resources until survival is impossible. What are ideological chasms? They are the space that exists between organizations willing to bend to the will of law enforcement agencies and organizations who aren’t.
It’s natural for these obstacles to feel insurmountable, but they aren’t.
There have been moments in the history of our struggle when pan-Africans have demonstrated cohesion in either impetus or ideology. The demands of revolting slaves were clear and agreed upon: release from bondage. While ideology varied during the civil rights and Black power movements, Black people engaged and took action at unprecedented rates. We’ve proven that we can unite in each of these areas. The key is to do so simultaneously. Finding our way to common ground is necessary to overcome division within our movement, but completely contingent upon the development of principles that are chosen based on their potential to fulfill Black material, psychological, and spiritual need.
These principles are necessary elements of the foundation for a system of Diasporic accountability, without which the obstacles that pan-Africa faces can not be overcome. Creating systems of accountability for the Black community, its advocates, its leaders and its allies will better protect pan-Africa from infiltration and corruption, specifically, but not exclusively. Accountability also has the potential to increase the sustainability of organizing strategies and models.
A united and principled pan-Africa with duty responsive constituents is a pan-Africa prepared for the reclamation of resources the movement for Black liberation demands; the first of which must be of ourselves. As Black people, we are our own most valuable resource. Just a fraction of our global population has the potential to organize in a way that results in the accumulation of tangible and actual wealth. This reclamation will empower Black radical formations to provide moral, financial, and human support to Black individuals, communities, organizations, and movements globally.
We, as a people, can’t take these steps toward catalyzing revolutionary movement until a holistic framework is developed to support them. 400+1 is that framework. It takes the responsibilities of the traditional organizer and breaks them down into several roles that are represented by components of the structure we’ve developed. Part of an organizer’s role is to act as the face and spokesperson of an organization. Another component of the role is to develop an organization’s ideological and political orientation. Yet another component of the role is to engage in operational leadership. It’s also important for organizers to develop tangible representations of the world their collectives/organizations exist to create. Lastly, we know that organizers have to be in the communities that are most impacted by oppression.
It’s detrimental to our collective movement for siloed individuals or organizations to take on these enormous tasks on their own. We believe that there should be internationally built collectives tasked specifically with each of the aforementioned components of organizing that ultimately create more space for organizers and organizations to achieve their goals. There are four constituent formations of 400+1: L1, L2, L3 and L4. L1 is a formation that is tasked with the responsibilities of charismatic leadership: representation, political education through mass communication, ideological development, rapid response to instances of oppression, and donor relationship development. Members of L1 support the other constituent collectives of 400+1 in terms of international representation, mobilization, and revenue accumulation. L2 is a national nonprofit that focuses on providing the other branches of 400+1 operational and financial support through administrative strategy and traditional grant funding. L3 is a constellation of villages that tangibly support members of 400+1 in their efforts to achieve autonomous and self sustainable living. Finally, L4 is a network of organizations, both pre-existing and developed by 400+1, that represent the various collective and organizational responses to systemic oppression that existed before 400+1’s inception.
Though important, 400+1 isn’t defined by it’s innovative structure, but rather by its determination to distance itself from the Black survivalism that has largely been the focus of Black liberatory movements. 400+1 is committed to creating a world beyond survival for Black folks, one in which freedom and joy can ground the Black experience. 400+1 also makes possible the revolutionary dream of an inclusive movement in which there is space for every Black individual. Most prominent in our ideology is the concept that, collectively, we are the answer to systemic oppression; that we all hold the key to Black freedom.
The name 400 + 1 is a symbolic acknowledgment that our work is a continuation of those who journeyed before us. We are the embodiment of our ancestors. While, at first glance, those who belong to the movement may seem exceptional, 400 + 1 is a sacred infinite number that suggests that we all possess the magic we need to contribute to our own liberation.
The constituent formations of 400+1 are connected by a system that is meant to engender the cohesion that the movement for Black liberation is currently lacking. L1 accumulates revenue for 400+1 as a whole through autonomy and free Black expression oriented summits and festivals that is, then, equitably distributed throughout the conglomerate. L1 serves as the board to 400+1’s national nonprofit of centralized leadership, L2, is the initial development team for each of 400+1’s village sites (L3s), and mobilizes nationally for locally focused and oriented L4 organizations.
L2 is tasked with coordinating the daily operations of L3 villages (much like a city manager’s office), distributing funding to L3 villages and L4 organizations, and offering operational, marketing, and administrative support to L4 organizations.
L3 is a constellation of villages where education, health care, public safety, food, housing, immigration, and justice systems are reimagined and designed with a pro-Black, anti-Capitalist, pro-migration, climate justice and pro sustainability lense. These communities are developed to center Black joy and Black love, representing a world where exuberance trumps survival. L3 villages house Black individuals and families as well as members of L1, L2, and L4. They act as hubs for cooperative enterprise that both sustain village life and fund L4 organizations.
L4 organizations host thematically synonymous summits and events that engender movement-wide ideological cohesion. They also contribute a percentage of their grant funding or grassroots raised donations to the cooperative enterprises connected to L3 villages in exchange for membership of the cooperative and growth of their investment that results in a viable model for movement sustainability.
Members of L1, L2, L3, and L4 convene annually.
400+1 is a collaboration that transcends traditional organizational structure and creates space for every member of the African Diaspora to claim. That being said, the constituent collectives of 400+1 should be prepared to make choices that are aligned with their proclaimed commitment to developing alternatives to systems of oppression.
That means that, as a pro-Black conglomerate, 400+1 is committed to acting in the best interest of pan-Africa. It is committed to combating the imperialist agenda of the west. It is committed to developing an economic system that completely rejects capitalist and individualist values. It is committed to redefining nationhood in a way that protects the cultural shift it hopes to embody, but recognizes the humanity and preserves the dignity of every being on earth. It is dedicated to doing the work to contribute to prison abolition and the abolition of the system of policing while, simultaneously, developing justice systems that are holistically restorative as opposed to punitive and dehumanizing. 400+1 is devoted to creating a world where Black women are recognized as the brilliant, capable, influential beings that they are; in which they are protected from the ills of misogynoir and sexism. It is rooted in the understanding that true Black liberation is LGBTQIA affirming and that pro-choice and pro-migration political orientations are in the best interest of members of the African Diaspora. The vision for 400+1 is one of sustainability: environmental sustainability, emotional and psychological sustainability, cultural sustainability, and movement sustainability.
These principles are and will forever be centered in our political choices, in our structure and, most importantly, in our interpersonal dynamics as a collective.