Notes from a Conversation with Julian Bond

Julian Bond, one of the greatest movers and shakers of the modern Civil Rights movement passed away on Saturday. I have neither the words nor the ability to write something that could portray how much he meant to movement. This past April, I had a once in a lifetime opportunity to sit down with and speak to him. While he spoke briefly about his experience with SNCC and the NAACP, he was much more interested in speaking about modern-day movements and the current state of social justice work. Here are some notes and reflections from our conversation:

Speaking with Julian Bond yesterday was absolutely mind blowing. Just the thought alone that he sat there and worked alongside people like Ella Baker and walked the line between academia, social service, ground work, etc.

Bond on organizing and the Black Lives Matter movement: I think one of the more interesting things he brought up was this notion of what prevented Occupy Wall Street from making a real impact and what could hinder Black Lives Matter. He spoke about how Baker advised them not to model themselves like the older organizations, yet they still had to have some structure and leadership.

He said it worked because “we all sat down in a room together and decided what we were going to do. We fought, we argued, but in the end we walked away with actions and goals and were united in that.” Bond spoke on social media, saying that it was “overrated” as an organizing tool. He suggested that social media had hindered, more than helped, our ability to coordinate and create action.

I think that when we talk about decentralized power, we often associate it with disorganization. In SNCC, power was decentralized yet the organization was highly structured. The “top” of the structure served for coordinating purposes, not decision-making purposes. So, in order for Black Lives Matters to work, there must be coordination. Specifically, Bond pointed towards three things that must happen in order to make Black Lives Matter work. He said the movement needed “a central message, a physical meeting, and consensus building.”

Bond on social justice: Bond noted that throughout his life he had held roles ranging from activist to politician to academic and that while the work looked different, the purpose and goal remained the same.

Bond drew a distinction between social service work and social justice work. He explained that you’re either working in the margins to help people get the things that they need or you’re working to change the system that creates the inequity. He said, “If we had more social justice, we would need less social service.”

Before he left, I told Bond my brother received his middle name, Julian, after him. He smiled and said, “Tell him to hold up the name.” I think that advice applies to all of us. Julian Bond’s work has impacted us in ways we take for granted. As we continue to forge this path towards justice and freedom, let’s remember to hold high the names of those who fought before us.

Brother Bond, thank you.

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