SPEECH JANUARY 8, 2016 AT OPENING PEOPLE’S ASSEMBLY OF THE RECLAIMING OUR FUTURE: THE BLACK RADICAL TRADITION IN OUR TIME CONFERENCE
Welcome to Philadelphia, Welcome to North Philadelphia, Welcome to Temple University. Welcome to the city, where as Professor Mark Taylor eloquently put it, the myth of American democracy and origins was invented and where the rituals and symbologies of that myth continue to be practiced and visited.
Sandra Bland and Tamir Rice your young beautiful lives still matter, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Nine your lives matter, Reckia Boyd, Michael Brown, Eric Garner your beautiful lives still matter. Our gay, lesbian, transgendered and drag queen family your beautiful black lives matter. To the 1.5 million Black men who have literally disappeared from the American social landscape, your beautiful lives matter. To the over two million Black people in prison, or in some way under the control of the criminal justice system, your beautiful lives matter. To our Muslim family As-salamu alaykum. TO THE DISABLED YOUR BLACK LIVES MATTER. To the army of black poor, unemployed and underpaid your beautiful lives matter.
WE ARE GATHERED HERE THIS WEEKEND AS A CONGRESS OF THE PEOPLE TO THINK AND TALK ABOUT WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE.
We are at a turning point in the history of this nation. It is increasingly apparent to millions of people the deaths and brutalization of tens of thousands of African Americans and other people of color by police and racists thugs is not random or merely the acts of rogue cops, but the policies of a police state. In 2015 in 14 major cities only black folk were killed by the police . In 2015 police killed at least 1,190 people. These are targeted murders. Their objective is to terrorize and intimidate the African American people, especially in poor communities where the police are in fact an occupying army. This cannot be uncoupled from the horrific incarceration of over a million black people, creating a new epoch in the history of the United States, THE EPOCH OF MASS INCARECERATION. Add to this the collapse of public education, especially in large cities, the rise and intensification of poverty, unemployment, homelessness and gentrification. AN ENTIRE PEOPLE ARE TREATED BY THE POLICE, THE COURTS, THE SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES, POLITICIANS, INTELLECTUALS AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS AS CRIMINALS. WHAT IS THE CRIME OF THESE MILLIONS OF BLACK FOLK ONE MIGHT ASK? THEIR CRIME IS THEIR BLACKNESS. Their unforgiveable blackness. In America it is the crime of crime. Punishable by death.
This situation constitutes a crime against humanity and a vast human rights violation. It fits the international legal definition of GENOCICE. International law contends, “Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, such as: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. (Article 2 CPPCG). WHAT WE ARE WITNESSING FITS THIS DEFINITION.
IT’S WINTER IN AMERICA. The nation and Black people face a crisis of unprecedented magnitude. The nation is on the edge of social-economic and systemic collapse and is consumed by moral decadence and confusion. Two completely opposite worlds exist: one of the oligarchic 1% and the other of the people. Four hundred individuals have more wealth than 150 million American citizens; over half of our population earns under $30,000.00 per year. Which means that half of the US population lives either in poverty or on the verge of it, with growing numbers in extreme poverty; looking across the color line this translates to 80% of African Americans living in or very close to poverty. Since the 2008 Great Recession the vast majority of US people live under harsh government enforced austerity policies with cuts in every thing from food and welfare to education, social security, housing, unemployment relief, Medicare and medicaid. In this same period the government has doled out close to 30 trillion dollars to the financial oligarchs, large banks and corporations. Trade Deals are signed which ship jobs out of the country and permit so-called offshore tax havens for the billionaire class.
The 1% have taken complete control of the economy, the political system, academic and intellectual life and turned art towards superficial entertainment and profit: all of this has produced a culture that upholds war, white supremacy, police terror and murder, repression, economic inequality, violence against women and people who don’t fit the gendered normality. The horrific mix of white supremacy, class oppression, neo-liberal economic policies , a huge and growing g military budget, poverty and despair has produced in the United States a nation of poor and extremely poor people. Actual unemployment and poverty are way beyond anything government statistics acknowledge. Government services to the people are slashed in the name of balancing the budget.
IN THE FACE OF THE GROWING DISTRESS OF THE PEOPLE the ruling oligarchs have unleashed a rein of police terror, murder and violence upon ordinary people, disproportionately upon the Black poor and working class. Black communities are under assault by the vast police state and local police forces operate as an occupying army. Mass incarceration of Black and Brown young people is the ruling elite’s answer to the collapse of the real economy and of public education. Communities of working people are being destroyed as real estate speculators and bankers with the connivance of local governmental officials ruthlessly gentrify neighborhoods and displace their residents in large cities; creating not just a crisis of affordable housing, but growing homelessness.
The same elites propose global policies of what they call full spectrum warfare: by which they mean endless war on all continents. They have brought the world near to all out nuclear war. Along side this a vast secretive and lavishly funded unaccountable “government” known as the Nation Security State , which spies upon almost every US person, is in place. Radical young people are spied on, progressive and radical teachers and professor are fired and calls for socialism are called unpatriotic and threats to social order.
A growing and significant part of the US elites sees fascism and dictatorship as their answer to rising people’s anger and militant resistance. Billionaires, like the Koch Brothers and Donald Trump are financing racist and armed thugs.
Democracy, meaning the rule of the people, has all but disappeared from the United States. We are ruled by a dictatorship of a small group of plutocrats in the unapologetic interest of the billionaire class. The Democratic and Republican Parties are merely self-serving instruments of this billionaire class and the war makers.
The people, in the face of all of this, are powerless and confused. As a counter to the historic role of Black leadership as an oppositional challenge to white supremacy and corporate greed a new Black misleadership class of apologists for neoliberal rule has emerged. Within other communities of color and the labor movement similar misleadership groupings have formed.
The political and economic elites have failed the nation and the people. THE PEOPLE MUST ACT IF THE NATION AND DEMOCRACY ARE TO BE RESTORED, AND IF PEACE AND JUSTICE ARE TO PREVAIL. THE PEOPLE CAN NO LONGER RELY UPON THEIR RULERS TO SOLVE THE CRISES. Their answers have impoverished the working class, undermined the middle class, destroyed futures for an entire generation of young people and transferred trillions of dollars of people’s wealth to the 1%. The needs and the interests of the people must be put before profit and society and humanity above the 1%.
Martin Luther King Jr asked, “Where Do We Go From Here: Community of Chaos” W.E.B Du Bois pondering the same question put it somewhat differently, “Whither Now and Why?” , he asked. Today and for this conference we will explore the possibilities of the Black Radical Tradition: the historically most significant tradition of radical thought and practice in our nation’s history; a tradition of world historic significance. Its purpose is THE LIBERATION OF BLACK HUMANITY AS PART AND PARCEL OF THE LIBERATION OF HUMANITY. It emerges from the idea of the centrality of the struggle for Black freedom and equality to the fight for democracy, social progress and the socialist remaking of the US economy. This tradition emerges from the antislavery struggle, but crystallizes in the 20th century and is identified with names such as Ida B Wells Barnett, Anna Julia Cooper, W.E.B Du Bois, Fannie Lou Hammer, Ella Baker, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It is fiercely anti white supremacy, democratic and advocates for socialism over capitalism.
BEYOND IDEOLOGY, its concerns are for the common woman and man, the poor and working classes, those who are ill and without education and their material and spiritual needs. It is organic to communities of the poor, their churches, synagogues, mosques and neighborhood institutions. Above all it believe in human values and human solidarity.
WE HAVE ENTERED A NEW EPOCH WITH A NEW CONSCIOUSNESS AMONG THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. This new stage requires a new level of ideological clarity and ideology that is commensurate with this new time. But it also requires a new stage of organization. Our movements must become increasingly organic to the people, especially the 150 million whose lives are precarious and in perpetual crisis.
We must begin to think in new, creative and bold ways about the future. To change the situation we must begin a new phase of massive civil disobedience. That is civil disobedience of thousands, rather of a few. Massive civil disobedience, work slow downs, refusal to work, shutting down institutions of oppression and affecting the economy is what is called for. In some ways Chicago is an example of the start of where we must go.
AS WE MOVE FORWARD TO A PERIOD A MASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND PROTEST OUR THINKING SHOULD BE ROOTED IN A NEW ACTION SYNTHESIS THAT INCLUDES FOUR PARTS
- MASSIVE CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, MARCHES AND PROTESTS DIRECTED TO EFFECT AND DISRUPT THE ECONMOMY AND INSTITUTIONS OF REPRESSION. The object is to make the institutions of repression unworkable and the economy that support them pay a price.
- SURVIVAL PROGRAMS AS ENVISIONED BY THE BLACK PANTHER PARTY, BUT INCLUDING COMMUNITY GARDENS, BUSINESS AND CONSUMER COOPERATIVES, AFTER SCHOOL AND EARLY CHILDHOOD FREEDOM SCHOOLS, PRISON AN LEGAL AID
- BUILDING OF COALITIONS, UNITED FRONTS, RAINBOW COALITIONS AT EVERY LEVEL OF WORK AND STRUGGLE.
- THE POLITICAL, IDEOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE, RADICALS AND ACTIVISTS AS ENVISIONED BY BOTH HUEY P NEWTON AND PAOLO FREIRE—A PEDAGOGY OF THE OPPRESSED.
VANGUARD LEADERSHIP IS NECESSARY AT THIS TIME. This is the case because we are close to what could be a revolutionary crisis . Such a crisis can only be resolved through a radical change of the social system. The political nature of the crisis is defined by the fact that the ruling elites are unwilling and unable to govern in the old ways and the people refuse to be humiliated and governed in the ways they have been. In this situation a new leadership of the people is necessary: what we call vanguard leadership. The concept of vanguard leadership is unique and specific, applied to radical movements of the people. This type of leadership emerged from the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and eventually brought the apartheid system down. It was demonstrated as the Cuban revolutionaries marched on Havana and as Mao and the liberation forces took Beijing. It manifested in the 1960’s and 70’s in this country in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Vanguard leadership seeks principled unity. Vanguard leadership is forged from the people, the poor and working people. It has come most importantly from the African American people. Vanguard leadership is formed from the day-to-day hard work of understanding the world, analyzing the current crises, explaining the direction of events and coming forth with programs and strategies the people can support. Vanguard leadership rejects academic and intellectual snobbishness and class elitism. Vanguard leadership sees the people as the ultimate agents of change.
In and through all of this we acknowledge the complexities of history and the imperfections of all human life. In spite of this, however, we believe we can together imagine and fight for a future that is humane and just, that saves the planet and environment and which frees humanity from the scourges of capitalism, imperialism, neo-colonialism, the oppression of women and white supremacy. While imagining the future and fighting for it, we reject simplistic and reductionist approaches. We call for dialogue and respect among all forces fighting for our common future.
A REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT IS WEEPING THE GOLOBE. PEOPLE CAN AND WILL NO LONGER TOLERATE LIVING IN THIS WAY. HUMANKIND IS CONFRONTED WITH THE FIERCE URGENCY OF NOW. IF WE ARE TO SURVIVE WE MUST ACT. WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM MUST GET ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISOTY; THE IMPERATIVE TO ACT IS ROOTED IN A DEEP SENSE OF THE MORAL IMPERATIVE; A MORALITY THAT SYAS THAT SILENCE AND INDIFERENCE IS BETRAYAL. WE MUSST ACKNOWLDEGE WE ARE MOVING FROM THE AGE OF EUROPE, WHITE SUPREMACY AND CAPITALISM TO THE AGE OF HUMANITY.
THE COMPLEXITIES AND URGENCY OF THE MOMENT requires that we seek principled unity. We believe that the people united can win the future. In the US we live in a system that has two principle pillars: white supremacy and capitalism. Together, to cite Martin Luther King, they make America the most violent nation in the world. The system is a danger to the people of the US and to humanity itself. However, it is a system in crisis. For many elites the way out is authoritarian fascism. For us the way out is a new democracy, a radical democracy of the people, and an economic system that serves the people. We fight for a culture that reflects the strivings of the people, not the profits of the corporate culture bandits.
THE TORCH OF LIBERATION HAS BEEN PASSED TO A NEW GENERATION OF ACTIVISTS AND RADICALS. THEY ARE PROVING THEMSELVES READY TO MAKE HISTORY. THE BLACK RADICAL TRADITION IS IN GOOD HANDS.