First National M4BL Convention a Beacon of Hope

The Movement for Black Lives poster hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center

The Movement for Black Lives banner hung on upper level balcony of the Student Center.

I attended the first national Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) Convening in Cleveland, Ohio and return to say that the movement is alive and strong. This past weekend’s events called into memory our Black elders and youth, our LGB, Queer, and Trans brothers and sisters, and all others whose lives were taken along the way as we struggle for the right to Black humanity. The movement breathes because we breathe, and we work, and we sacrifice.

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Attendees celebrate after taking time to heal together on the Student Center Atrium. Healer [center right] cleanses the space with burning sage [out of frame] as she dances.

That said, revolutionary work is being done because M4BL was a huge success. Nearly one thousand beautiful Black faces showed up in downtown Cleveland for the weekend of July 24th to find community and collectively re-imagine the future of Black society. Culture, organizing, healing, and imagining were some of the focal points of the broad range of activities available for attendees. I had the pleasure of participating in dialogues on Black workers, self-determination through food justice and agriculture, anti-Blackness, and a panel discussion with four ex-Panthers.

What was profound for me at this Convening was the power that emanated from the space, brought on by the union of passionate Black individuals across generations. I felt this energy from my very first session, “#BlackWorkersMatter: The State of Black Worker Organizing in the U.S.”  The fact of our very presence, a collective of black people organizing together when our communities are so often divided, was a sentiment that I heard many in the room echo. Panelist Kimberly Freeman Brown took a moment to publicly acknowledge the intergenerational space, a rarity in her work as a labor organizer, and let the feeling simmer for a while before beginning. One woman exclaimed in a small group discussion that she was experiencing culture shock, seeing so many young people in a space organized around the labor movement.

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Packed classroom full of intergenerational organizers at the Black Workers Matter dialogue.

What made this workshop so powerful, and this held true for the Conference as a whole, was the collective memory generated by the display of ages in the room. We had elders who were more closely touched by the labors of the 20th century civil rights movement, retired union workers, veteran leaders, students, educators, young community leadership, and laborers themselves. Each of us brought our own segment of the Black existential condition from which we came. The result was a lively and impassioned discussion about the kind of labor movement we need to enable economic justice and ensure the health of Black communities. Our conversations were cut short in the interest of time, but we had built up so much momentum that most stuck around to build connections with other community organizers and share experiences. What happened in the #BlackWorkersMatter session was not a rarity. Each of my four sessions, as well as those I observed in passing was pulsing with that same creative, productive energy that will be essential in our next strides towards liberation.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

Attendees work together to install activist textile art between organizer sessions.

A moment ago I mentioned that the Convening was a place where “collective memory” arose. Collective memory refers to a people’s understanding of the world and themselves throughout time as formed by the group’s constituents. The refusal of Black collective memory by White supremacist colonial power has been laden in the fabric of global societies since the origins of the African Diaspora. Our people have been systematically enslaved, colonized, sterilized, incarcerated, mis-educated, and murdered. Our children are born targets for law enforcement and government agencies like Foster Care. Black society is entangled in a world of social deaths that prevent our masses from attaining the cohesion and stability necessary to reconstruct that collective memory which has been withheld from us. With a revived collective memory, we may learn to know and love ourselves as ourselves and not through the lens of Whiteness.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation's past and present movements.

Ex-Panthers [left to right ]Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones reflect on Black liberation’s past and present movements.

So, when I say that was an essence of collective memory at M4BL, I foresaw a future of opportunity for our communities to grow and heal as we work across generations in solidarity. When I attended the panel led by former Black Panthers Ashanti Alston, Pam Hannah, Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, and Hank Jones (San Francisco 8), they expressed to us that they were not certain they would live to see “the movement” live like this again. This nod from our elders in the struggle is a sign that we have “connected the dots” throughout our history and are on the path to building something great.

M4BL was as educational as it was inspiring, and it reminded me of the need for Black Studies programming in communities. What better way to build collective memory than to educate the masses about Black history, culture, and ideology? When the Black Panther Party was still active, one could not be granted general membership until they had completed a political education class. In their Ten-Point Program, a declaration of ideals, the Panthers wrote, “We believe in an educational system that will give our people a knowledge of self. If a man does not have knowledge of himself and his position in society and the world, then he has little chance to relate to anything else.” The Panthers were active in one of the nation’s peak moments of Black resistance, and they knew that education would be vital the integrity of their struggle. The M4BL Convening was a step towards this reality, as organizers shared their understanding of the Black condition. Black Studies programming with be another step towards the reification of our humanity.

On the closing of the second day of M4BL, after hearing words from the families of our recently slain, trans activist Miss Major, and other community organizers, we entered into a chant. Together we repeated, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love and support one another. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” We shouted this aloud a few times and on our last round, Kendrick Lamar’s Alright began to play on the auditorium speakers. The crowd burst into celebration. While there is much work to do, I left Cleveland excited for what is to come. I am hopeful and optimistic, because in time, I know “We gon’ be alright.”

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

A child runs through a large circle of attendees performing a ritual of healing and solidarity.

by Rhyston Mays
rhyston.m@progressivepupil.org

Every 28 Hours

Trayvon Martin against the backdrop of others killed by police or vigilantes. Image courtesy: socialistworker.org

Trayvon Martin against a backdrop of others killed by police or vigilantes.
Image courtesy of socialistworker.org

Last month, the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin stunned communities throughout the U.S. and around the world. The gross miscarriage of justice which allowed Zimmerman to face no consequences for stalking and murdering a teenage boy prompted outrage, confusion and sadness. Trayvon Martin was the latest victim in a lengthy history of racist terror against Black people in the U.S. From the horrors of enslavement, to Jim Crow era lynchings, to present day policing and vigilantism, Black bodies in these United States are haunted by the ever-present threat of assault.

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Glossary: Black August

Former Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur. The first woman on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Image Courtesy of breakthechains.info.

Former Black Panther Party member Assata Shakur. The first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Image courtesy of breakthechains.info.

“August is a month of meaning, of repression and radical resistance, of injustice and divine justice, of repression and righteous rebellion, of individual and collective efforts to free the slaves and break the chains that bind us.” – Mumia Abu-Jamal

Happy Black August! This month, we celebrate the men and women who have performed brave acts of anti-racist resistance that have contributed to the freedoms we have today. Originating within the confines of California state prisons in honor of the San Quentin 6, this month-long celebration and includes community and cultural events, activism, fasting, reflection, and education.  Throughout Black August, organizations such as the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and Critical Resistance also shed light on efforts to free political prisoners and end mass incarceration.

New York’s Brecht Forum is hosting a Black August Film Festival that includes a showing of the global anti-apartheid documentary, “Have You Heard from Johannesburg.” More details about tickets and location can be found on their website.

by Lauren Silver

Secrets of PanAfrican Unity

Black and Cuba at the World Social Forum

On day two of the World Social Forum, we were excited to attend a discussion called “Building PanAfrican Unity in the 21st Century” hosted by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. This event was of particular interest to us because even though the forum is being held in Africa, there are only a few programs that directly discuss race, PanAfricanism and the African diaspora – including a program on the ideas of Thomas Sankara and a workshop for Black Tunisians.

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No Justice, No Peace

Today marks Stop Police Brutality Day, a day of action used to expose the lasting effects of police abuse. As many people of color know, police brutality often goes beyond the context of excessive physical force and can also include verbal intimidation or degradation. A study performed by Steven A. Tuch and Ronald Weitzer, titled “Race and Perceptions of Police Misconduct” shows how African American communities have different perceptions of police presence:

…verbal and physical abuse, unwarranted stops—are likely to be experienced as unfair, disrespectful, and intrusive “procedures.”

Unfortunately, cases of verbal abuse or everyday intimidation are not likely to be in the news. Weitzer and Tuch point out that “…more Americans believe that police verbally and physically abuse citizens than the number who report a personal experience with these actions.” With only a portion of police brutality getting noticed, extreme cases, like Rodney King’s, make headlines. The public is only being made aware of a fraction of this epidemic.

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Spring Awakening 2012

Black and Cuba features photographs taken at Zucotti Park during the Sankofa Day march last fall organized by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Last weekend, we dropped in on the Spring Awakening NYC General Assembly in Central Park to share information about the May 17th screening of Black and Cuba at Cinema Village.  There was an interesting medley of activists working on HIV prevention in the African American community, transforming US policy towards Latin America and a group conducting a teach-in about “The Roots of Racial Prejudice”.  The teach-in was based on a public class offered Mondays at Freedom Hall (113 W. 128th Street between Malcolm X Blvd and 7th Avenue) in Harlem called “Overcoming Racism: A Radical Approach”.  Texts include “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander and one of my personal favorites “Black Reconstruction in America” by W.E.B. DuBois.

by Robin Hayes