Well over 1,000 activists and community members converged in Philadelphia Jan. 7-10 for the conference “Reclaiming Our Future: The Black Radical Tradition in Our Time”. Held at Temple University and the historic Church of the Advocate and Mother Bethel AME, the event aimed to further political dialogue and ideological clarity in the emerging movement for Black liberation. Several members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation spoke alongside prominent leaders such as Angela Davis, Cornell West, Pam Africa, Anthony Monteiro, Vijay Prashad and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Below we are reprinting the Call to Action, which lays out the goals of the conference.
IT’S WINTER IN AMERICA. Our nation is on the edge of socio-economic collapse and is consumed by moral decadence and confusion. From inside a decaying hegemonic power we look out into a world ravaged by full-spectrum imperial war, capitalist economic meltdown and unspeakable human suffering in places like Haiti, Syria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia and Greece; environmental devastation threatens life as we know it. At home, we’ve seen the decimation of the American working and middle classes, and the destruction of working class communities of color by real estate speculators and bankers who in collaboration with local governmental officials are ruthlessly gentrifying neighborhoods. Mass incarceration of Black and Brown young people continues to be the ruling elite’s answer to the collapse of the real economy and of public education.
Amidst continued economic insecurity there is the intensification of violence against women and people who don’t fit gendered normality and a return to the most rabid forms of racism. In the face of growing social distress, the state is unleashing hatred and repression against immigrants and Muslims and a rein of racist police terror against people of color.
While radical young people are being spied on and imprisoned for their activism and progressive and radical teachers and professors are being fired, all Americans are today under some form of surveillance by the National Security State.
Increasingly, democratic government in the US is exposed as a fraud and fiction. The Democratic and Republican Parties are shown to be self-serving instruments of the billionaire class and the war makers. Meanwhile, a new Black elite class has been anointed by US corporate planners to obscure the contradictions of a world in crisis, the worsening plight of the poor and to advance neoliberal rule across the globe. Within other communities of color and the labor movement similar new elites – “misleadership” groupings – have formed.
At this moment of world crisis and renewed struggle by people of conscience –from the Palestinian Resistance and Occupy Wall Street, to the Black Lives Matter movement –we seek to amplify the ideas, politics, morals, lessons, and legacy of Black radical leadership in the US and its historic challenges to white supremacy, imperial war, neoliberal capitalism, and all manner of oppression.
THE VOCATION OF THE BLACK RADICAL TRADITION IS THE LIBERATION OF BLACK HUMANITY AS PART AND PARCEL OF THE LIBERATION OF HUMANITY. We call this conference to raise the politics and lessons of the Black Radical Tradition in our time. It is our understanding that all great movements must be inspired by great ideas. And that ideological clarity is vital to sustained movements. Grounding ourselves in the great traditions of Black Radical thought and practice and situating those traditions for today and our time is strategic to building a sustainable people’s movement for justice and democracy.
NEW MOVEMENTS HAVE EMERGED AS SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC INEQUALITY DEEPENS AND POLICE VIOLENCE AND TERROR INTENSIFY. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter are signatures of our time. These are movements of a new type, propelling into activism thousands upon thousands of young and old. A new leadership is being forged. The hegemonic power of the State is deployed to divide it, buy off parts of their leadership and to crush others. In the face of the power of the State some have concluded that movements don’t need leadership; or that a few individuals working through social media can operate as leaders. The Black Radical Tradition insists the people’s leaders must be organic to the people, in the words of W.E.B Du Bois, “flesh of the flesh and bone of the bone” of the oppressed. It must be forged from the poor and working class, from women and young people, the LGBTQ community and the gender and sexually marginalized. A new type of leadership must emerge to address the crisis of this time.
The Civil Rights and Black Power movements produced leaders that addressed the liberatory aspirations of the people at that moment. Are the leaders from these earlier movements exemplary for our times? Does there remain today an importance of the notion of “vanguard” leadership? Is it ever helpful for leadership to be concentrated in a specific group or groups? When and how? One thing is clear: in our time new leadership must seek principled unity. It must be democratic and collective. It must be formed in and 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. Intellectuals, artists, writers, scholars and professionals must join with the people and offer their knowledge and abilities to them. Academic and intellectual snobbishness and class elitism are intolerable and must be rejected. The new leadership must see the people as the ultimate agents of change, while also emphasizing the importance of specific leaders with visionary initiative and mobilizing power.
THE BLACK RADICAL TRADITION embraces commitments to the unity of the people. It has in the past and today stands with all victims of white supremacy and capitalist hierarchies and oppressions. It is part of the common resistance of all peoples of color, working people and the poor. It is internationalist, at home and abroad. It stands with all genuine efforts of Pan Africanism, Afro-Asiatic, Afro-Indigenous and Afro-Latino unity. It stands with the struggles of immigrants for justice and against Islamophobia and every manner of discrimination against Muslims. We are committed to the freedom of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. The Black Radical Tradition is welcoming and open.
BEYOND IDEOLOGY, we are concerned with the common woman and man, the poor and working classes, those who are ill and without education; we embrace their material and spiritual needs. We wish to interact with their communities and neighborhood institutions, as well as with their churches, synagogues, mosques and other liberatory spiritualities. Above all we believe in human values and human solidarity. 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, gays and lesbians, the transgender community 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.
OURS IS A TIME OF CONSEQUENCE. The conference is a gathering of honest and committed intellectuals and activists. It seeks to bring together the younger generation and seasoned activists in dialogue to imagine a different future and suggest strategies and tactics to fight for it. Its purpose is to help unite and galvanize our efforts around common values, ideological clarity and rigorous political analysis in this new moment of our movements
NOW IS THE TIME. On January 8-10, 2016 at Temple University in Philadelphia we will gather in the hundreds. Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements opposing the police state and racist violence, we seek to engage, assess, and explore radical politics and imagine a different future. The Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements, as well as the resistance of the poor, the homeless, the unemployed and youth and students fighting for education and jobs ground us and inform our vision. It is hoped that our effort will resonate from the university classroom to the streets, from the faith-based institutions to the homeless shelters and wherever our people are.