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The Oakland, California-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights (EBC) is a self-described “strategy and action center” founded in 1996 by the revolutionary communist Van Jones and San Francisco criminal-defense attorney Diana Frappier. Named after an influential civil-rights leader and avowed socialist who had ties to the Communist Party USA, the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, and the Weather Underground, EBC emerged out of Bay Area Police Watch (BAPW), a bar-certified hotline for victims of police brutality that Jones launched in January 1995 as a project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. BAPW's purpose was to identify and track police officers suspected of wrongdoing, and then refer them to a network of some two-dozen attorneys for possible legal action. On September 1, 1996, Jones and Frappier established EBC as a new parent organization for BAPW.
That same year, EBC led a community-based campaign that eventually forced the San Francisco Police Department to fire a white officer who had killed an unarmed black man named Aaron Williams. Building upon this victory in the Bay Area, EBC began a period of rapid growth, launching such projects as:
a youth group called the Third Eye Movement
New York City PoliceWatch
the transgender activist collective TransAction
the pro-open-borders INSWatch
To combat what it viewed as institutionalized racism in America, EBC in its early years developed four principal campaigns:
The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign: Rooted in the premise that the carbon emissions associated with human industrial activity are a primary cause of potentially catastrophic global warming, this initiative “promoted solutions to pollution and climate change that would restore the planet and create opportunity and prosperity for all.”
Books Not Bars, which “fought to close the Division of Juvenile Justice, end solitary confinement in California's youth prisons and jails, and enact sentencing reform”
Soul of the City, which instituted “voter mobilization” and “leadership development” programs in Oakland
Heal The Streets, which “trained Oakland youth to become community leaders and peace advocates”
Condemning the “long history of racial discrimination and its present-day manifestations in the [American] criminal-justice system,” EBC charges that contemporary “prisons, policing, and punishment-based approaches” target “people of color” with “disproportionate” aggressiveness, thereby rendering nonwhites “less safe” and preventing them from “influencing policies that impact [their] lives.” And while “excessive, racist policing and over-incarceration” have “led to despair and homelessness” among blacks and Latinos, says EBC, public spending on “punishment and prisons” has siphoned vital funds away from safety-net welfare programs, thus causing “decades of disinvestment in our cities.” To address this problem, EBC calls for eliminating most criminal-justice expenditures and “reinvest[ing]” those funds in “low-income communities and communities of color that have been hardest hit by mass incarceration.”
In defining its mission, EBC has identified several core “Principles of Unity” that guide its work. Chief among these are the organization's commitment to: (a) “buil[d] the power, leadership, and capacity of people of color, low-income people, young people, LGBTQ people, incarcerated people, formerly incarcerated people, victims and survivors of law enforcement abuse”; (b) “expose, disrupt and change the societal, cultural, and institutional beliefs and practices that subordinate and oppress people of color”; (c) “change policies and practices to ensure that resources and opportunities are distributed in an equitable way”; (d) “addres[s] the causes and consequences of gender inequality for people of all gender expressions and identities”; and (e) “buil[d] the capacity of communities to respond to violence and harm, with restorative and transformative practices that do not rely on policing and imprisonment.”
Over the years, EBC has been directly affiliated with Van Jones’s environmental powerhouse, Green For All, and its allies, including Joel Rogers’s Apollo Alliance, Center on Wisconsin Strategy, and Emerald Cities Collaborative, as well as the labor-green coalition Working Partnerships USA. EBC has also worked collaboratively with Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, an affiliate of many of the most powerful open-borders organizations in the United States.
While Van Jones headed EBC from 1996-2007, George Soros’s Open Society Institute was a leading funder of its operations. The Ella Baker Center has also received grants from such philanthropies as the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, the Columbia Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the New Progressive Coalition, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
In 2007, when Van Jones left EBC to co-found Green For All with Joel Rogers, the anti-capitalist Jakada Imani became EBF's new executive director. That year, both EBC and Green For All coordinated a strategy to push for the “pathways out of poverty” provision in the federal Green Jobs Act of 2007, which authorized $125 million annually for green-job training. From 2007 onward, Imani focused a majority of EBC’s efforts on directing the crusade for a green economy in California. Following the passage of the $831 billion "stimulus bill" in 2009, EBC strove to funnel some of that money toward green-jobs initiatives and "environmental-justice" crusades.
Since the fall of 2013, EBC's executive director has been Zachary Norris, a former Soros Justice Fellow and onetime board member at Witness for Peace.
EBC is a member organization of the United for Peace and Justice anti-war coalition, and an ally of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors is a Fellow with EBC.