OBV’s 22nd Birthday and still going… Please donate!


Operation Black Vote is 22. What started as a desperate idea about voter registration and civic engagement has developed into one of Black Briton’s most enduring and high profile institutions.

This longevity, particularly in the current climate, where so many of our organisations have closed down, is a true testimony to the hard work and dedication of the staff team, the board of directors and the host of volunteers that make up the OBV family, names too many to mention, but all of whom played a critical role, in the establishment and development of one of our most important organisations.

It was a bleak, cold winter's night in 1996 Operation Black Vote was dreamt into conception, in response to a series of black deaths in police custody in that year, and following a massive police brutality demonstration, held in Brixton, south London. That demonstration ended with the police violently attacking those in attendance.

The then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, was Paul Condon. He had launched a massive policing operation to ‘tackle street robbery’ known as Operation Eagle Eye. We saw that as yet another swamp, policing operation, characterised by racial profiling and enforced through the discriminatory use of stop and search.

As we considered the implications of so many deaths at the hands of the police, looking at the smouldering embers of deeply damaged, police community relations, and considered the prospect of yet another racist policing campaign, specifically targeting London's black communities, we decided we needed to do something more than demonstrate to fundamentally change the situation.

We sat there, that winter’s evening, myself, Simon Woolley (then a volunteer at Charter 88) and another incredible dynamic black man, Mr Derek Hinds from Tottenham, north London, while the sirens raged around Brixton. We concluded, that the lesson of history has taught us, that the only effective way of tackling this level of police oppression and political marginalisation, was to follow the civil rights example of Dr Martin Luther King.

We determined that evening, that we were going create a new organisation, enlisting a wider group of activists including Kumar Murshid and Rita Patel. The sole objective was to maximise our political influence and push back against racism, discrimination and prejudice.

We aimed to increase black political influence, through voter registration coupled with increased black political representation, and increased political agitation on the issues of racism, injustice and equality.

Today, the strategic significance of OBV has never been more important with Britain facing the most profound constitutional crisis, in the form of Brexit, we've seen in peacetime.

What will happen to race equality and anti-discriminatory legislation when Britain stands alone?

Will our laws be strengthened providing more protection for black and minority British citizens?

Will we have a Bill of Rights for British citizens for example?

Can we achieve a new conceptual framework of British citizenship that is inclusive to all regardless of the colour of your skin or your religion?

All these key questions, will need strong Black British institutions to ensure that the voice and political power of millions of black and ethnic minorities is both heard and felt in the corridors of power and across the country.

It’s probably, never been more important, that we ensure that any new constitutional dispensation arrived at post-Brexit, provides the security that our children and grandchildren will be treated as equals, and protected under the law from illegal discrimination. As the Windrush scandal, Grenfell Tower fire, the general increase in institutionalised racism, racial inequality and the explosion in hate crime crime shows us, these things are never certain.

This current constitutional debate provides an opportunity to ensure that strong black perspectives, on equality, justice democracy and representation, are not sidelined or marginalised in current debates about what Britain’s future should look like.

The issues of ensuring a representative and inclusive British democracy are important, however, in my experience; there are other equally important elements, to any oppressed communities struggle for equality and justice.

These are financial independence, political organisation and representation, and the adoption of a legal, civil rights strategy.

As we celebrate OBV’s 22nd birthday, it is vitally important, that as we come to terms with the uncertainty of Brexit, these three incredibly important strands of political, legal and economic power, are now brought together, in an national effort to secure the future for all our children.

We want to ensure, that we bequeath to them credible, capable institutions, that are long-standing and independent of thought and utterly committed to achieving equality and justice for black British citizens.

In order to achieve that, we need to develop a degree of financial independence. No ethnic group can be respected politically if it is entirely dependent on the state.

And let's be clear, we’re not a community that suffers from absolute poverty. We make no use of our consumer spending power and we refuse to invest in our own organisations.

It's a matter of priorities, of choosing where to invest and spend your money. We need to stop spending money on things we don't need, to impress people we don't know. We need to invest in our own organisations.

British Black communities are long on talk about the importance and urgent need for us to develop, economic self-sufficiency, and begin the process of investing in our communities and its key institutions, when it comes to the crunch we are so psychologically and culturally brainwashed, we both fear and distrust ourselves.

It's a deep, insidious and largely internalised racism that, over time has created and maintained a culture of suspicion and distrust in each other. It's that old, 20th-century crabs in a barrel mentality that keeps us in check.

As a community, we’ve become far too dependent on state/local authority funding for our cultural, economic and civil society infrastructure. Any self-respecting community that had the foresight to invest its money and resources in supporting its own institutions will be overwhelmed by its oppression and the discrimination it faces. It’s a critically important, black historical lesson from our pasty: above all be economically independent and in doing so you protect your community, whilst at the same time retaining your integrity.

As a founding and longest standing former chair of OBV, I'm always astounded at the number of people we have guided and helped throughout the years.

OBV has supported and mentored, thousands of Black and Asian people into the three mainstream political parties. We have a grand alumnus of local councillors, Members of Parliament, Euro MP’s and Magistrate’s all of whom have passed through all OBV mentoring schemes.

This is from their current page:

“Success stories for individuals include: directly elected Mayor, Bristol’s Marvin Rees, elected Mayor Sanchia Alisia in Barking and Dagenham, Leader of Haringey Joseph Ejifor, Minister Helen Grant MP, , Shadow Minister Marsha De Cordova MP, former shadow Minster Clive Lewis MP, Tan Dhesi MP, and the first Asian female for Cabinet Office Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.”

“Of course we’re proud of all these individuals, but we’re also proud of the 130 magistrates we’ve helped nurtured to deliver and dispense justice through our leadership schemes. They alone will have given over a 1000 years of public service to the courts of over a ten year period. We also celebrate the 40 or more councillors, the millions who have been encouraged to register to vote and engage in democratically demanded equality.”

What disappoints me terribly, is the extent to which those who benefited from the generous leadership programmes of OBV, have subsequently failed or refused to promote, recommend and/or invest in the organisation, now it faces some of its greatest challenges.

Yet when Black people politics face racism within their political parties, OBV is the first organisation many will call.

And so the call for support from our own community has sadly fallen on deaf ears, in particular I single out those countless numbers of people, who have benefited from OBV’s tireless commitment to opening doors, promoting and depending fairness and justice.

In some senses, it feels as if the organisation has been, and continues to be exploited, by those who seek political careers, and by whose own public admissions, entered into politics on the back of OBV.

The sad thing about our community is that sometimes people don't appreciate the things we do for them, until we stop doing them. And we all know, that sometimes you need to stop doing things for someone, when you find out its expected, rather than appreciated. Ungrateful people have the ugliest attitudes in the world and can be utterly shameless in pursuit of their own ambitions. You see a person's true colours, when they believe you are no longer beneficial to their life.

OBV has been a remarkable success, despite all the challenges our communities have faced over the last 20 years. Now this incredibly important institution needs your help in securing its longevity and sustainability in the future.

We’re asking that you donate £1 for every year OBV has been in existence. If each of the individuals, who have been supported by the organisation over these years, were to make such a donation and ask one friend to do similar, we could raise close to £100k.

Securing this financial independence, will not only allow OBV to continue to speak truth to power but will, also provide you the reassurance, that our children will have black representation, an independent, financed, institution capable of supporting them throughout the challenges of the next 22 years.

Lee Jasper

Founding Chair of OBV.
Founder Blaksox