Throughout the history of the United States, African Americans have catalyzed movements for the expansion of democracy, social justice, and economic and political reform.”
This is Omar’s first sentence in a remarkable book that details the many ways that African Americans, since the founding of this nation, have marched for “Liberty! Liberty” (the call for freedom by four African Americans in 1773 on behalf of all enslaved people in Massachusetts).
In the Balance of Power brilliantly illuminates this righteous struggle; the people of different backgrounds of class, religion, national origin, race and politics who have waged it; and the myriad of ways they have taken on the effort to end enslavement, oppression and injustice.
This past summer, the massive movement for racial justice brought millions into the streets and into contact with one another. New kinds of conversations were being had and new kinds of relationships were created. In his introduction, Omar says we will be changed by this in unforeseeable ways. He poses the question/challenge as to whether we will take this opportunity to reconstruct, remake and reimagine our country and suggests that if we do, it will be African Americans and independent black leadership who play a key role.
I was involved in some of these conversations and have been excited by the emergence of independent young leaders. In a phone call with a young activist in Portland, I was asked, as someone who had participated in previous struggles, to share in a letter my perspective on what was happening. Inspired by both the current movement and by Omar’s wonderful book, I thought I might share a part of this letter with all of you in Politics for the People.
What a surprising and inspiring conversation! Two strangers at opposite ends of the country and two generations apart, with very different backgrounds and life histories, discovering that they have a shared parentage: the movement for racial justice.
As someone who has been a participant in the struggle for justice all my life, the marches and demonstrations that are happening now are both a thrilling continuation of its history and something new and powerful.
I am overjoyed by the emergence of a third wave, which you and others on the streets in Portland and throughout the world represent. I am awed by the flowering of Black Lives Matter envisaged and created less than a decade ago by three African American women and so many others from whom they learned and who they have taught.
As we march, I have been thinking about the kinds of conversations we need to have to change the culture and politics of domination and oppression. I think it’s appropriate to ask how we need to develop as a people so that we can have these conversations. What does inclusion look like? How do we pursue our democracy?
As we discussed, I see Dr. Lenora Fulani as leading an effort to address these issues in her historic independent run for President and support for the building of a new kind independent politics, and through her leadership of organizations such as the All Stars Project.
In response to your question “What should the current generation know? (that their parents knew),” there was a conversation in 2009 between two great figures in the fight for civil and human rights, Angela Davis and Julian Bond, in which they discussed the significance of Brown v. Board of Education, which was seen as a great victory that did not produce the expected societal transformation. Angela Davis says:
“And so I see the Brown v. Board of Education victory as reconfiguring the terrain of our quest for freedom….And sometimes we cannot even imagine the possible struggle until we’ve achieved victory in one area and then, rather than resting … we need to ask ourselves …what do we now know that we did not know then and what can we now imagine and struggle for.”
I believe that both Malcolm X and Dr. King exemplified this. They grew in the struggle. Their development and their growing independence from established institutions and parties was a challenge to others to do so as well – Malcolm most dramatically after his hajj to Mecca and Dr. King as he moved from the South to Chicago to build a poor people’s movement that included, but went beyond, voting rights to embrace housing and jobs for all. They did not stop to rest as they began to reimagine the struggle. It would be an understatement to say that this growth was not welcomed by all, including by many of their comrades. Some who had originally embraced them felt abandoned or threatened by the radicalness of their revisioning. As well, this was a personal challenge for them as leaders. In the face of real opposition, often from close friends, they asked themselves where and to whom did their responsibility lay?
It has been noted by many that the current national movement is broadly multiracial and on a scale that is new in American history. In some cases, as in your town, you mentioned that it is primarily white. I believe that Dr. King and Malcolm would have celebrated this. It must be a national project that includes people from all backgrounds. While the fight to end systemic racism has been and should continue to be Black led, doing this is going to require the contributions of many – giving all that we have to give. And as we grow, giving even more.
Our history is a “mighty river” with many and various political, social and economic streams combining together. We are still in the early stages of a long march. And each of us needs to be thinking how we will continue to fight for a just society even if/when the necessary demonstrating and voting produce immediate wins.
In solidarity with you, your neighbors and all those demonstrating for racial justice in Portland. I and so many of us around the world are deeply proud of you – and we are marching with you.
Jeff Aron has been a supporter of the independent political movement for more than 40 years. He is the child of immigrant Jewish parents who, as young political activists in the 1930’s, entered the struggle for civil rights and justice and remained in it throughout their lives.
Politics for the People Zoom Event
With Author Omar H. Ali
Sunday, February 21st
Click here to RSVP!