Pan-Africanism takes center stage in discussions at the People’s Summit for Democracy

Photo: Journalist Hermela Aregawi speaks at the panel “Pan-Africanism in Today’s World” at the People’s Summit for Democracy alongside human rights activist Kambale Musavuli. Credit: Midia NINJA

“They told you and me we came from the Congo. Isn’t that what they told you? I mean, isn’t that what they taught us in school? So we came from the Congo. We are savages and cannibals and all that kind of stuff from the Congo; they’ve been teaching me all my life I’m from the Congo. I love the Congo. That’s my country. And that’s my people that your airplanes are killing over there.”

This quote, authored by Malcolm X, is how human rights activist Kambale Musavuli opened the discussion on Pan-Africanism at the People’s Summit for Democracy in Los Angeles.

The People’s Summit was held from June 8 to June 10 in opposition to the Summit of the Americas, also in Los Angeles. The Summit of the Americas, organized by the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States and the Biden administration, has historically functioned as a venue for the United States to impose its own agenda on the rest of the Americas. 

This year, the United States excluded from the Summit three countries that it has long targeted for regime change: Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela. Those three countries, however, are not the only ones being excluded from the Summit of the Americas. Biden’s Summit is physically fenced off to the working people of the United States, who have no input on the discussions.

The People’s Summit for Democracy is being organized as a forum for analysis and collaboration between all those who were excluded from the Summit of the Americas. As People’s Summit organizer Manolo de los Santos said, “The importance of the People’s Summit is that it is giving voice to millions of people in the country and in the continent who are often excluded from mainstream spaces and narratives. We want to create a space that encourages debate, discussion, and dialogue between different forces in our society that actually want to transform it for the better.”

It is in this context that the People’s Summit, which is bringing together people’s movements and all oppressed peoples of the Americas, decided to host a panel on Pan-Africanism. 

“I use that sentence to bring us to understand Pan-Africanism beyond just the rhetoric.” Musavuli continued. “Why a young man in Harlem felt that something in Mississippi and Alabama is also connected to what’s happening in the Congo.”

The panelists each explained the strong connections that the Americas have always had to Africa. Scholar James Early highlighted the history of Pan-Africanism in the countries that were excluded from the Summit of the Americas. “Pan-Africanism then emerges first in a discourse in the most important region of the Americas,” Early said. “Which continues today to be the signal region, not for the new world coming, but for the new world which has already arrived and is still maturing, which is socialist Cuba today.” 

Early also underscored the Haitian revolution, carried out by enslaved Africans and which played a pivotal role in liberation struggles all across the Americas. Speaking of revolutionary Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, Early said, “He understood Bolivar, Venezuela, the Gran Colombia region, the first country to defeat Spanish colonialism. [While fighting against the Spanish] Bolivar went where? He went to Haiti, to ask for men and boats.” 

Eugene Puryear, activist and journalist, who was moderating the panel, also highlighted Haiti as an example of revolutionary Pan-Africanism.

“Haiti is one of the most Pan-African places I’ve ever been in my life,” Puryear said. Puryear described his experience of seeing a mural in Port-au-Price in honor of George Floyd, which depicted a Black Haitian woman choking killer cop Derek Chauvin, and how Haiti has a street named after American anti-slavery revolutionary John Brown. 

Ethiopian journalist Hermela Aregawi described her frustration with how mainstream American media were portraying the conflicts in Ethiopia. “It was essentially a democratically-elected government that was fighting an ethno-fascist armed insurgency,” Aregawi said. “If you look at the mainstream media narrative on this story, they would tell you that this ethno-fascist group is the victim of a genocide.”

Aregawi, a co-founder of the #NoMore movement, describes how this misinformation makes it difficult for Africans in the continent and African diaspora to understand each other. Speaking of the lasting effects of colonialism, Aregawi says, “It’s as if a stranger invades your home, and they don’t let you talk to your brother and sister without them mediating. So of course you’re not going to get the story of each other in that way.”

Los Angeles-based community organizer Channing Martinez spoke about the struggles that he was involved in against police militarization, an issue that is deeply tied to the struggle of Black Americans against racist police. 

“We’ve been essentially reforming the police in the LA schools for years … We got rid of military-grade weapons, the LAUSD was part of the Department of Defense and got a MRAP tank, they got 61 M-16 assault rifles, they had three grenade launchers.” Martinez said. “One thing [the school district] said to us was, they would not use the grenade launchers to shoot grenades at the students. They would shoot tear gas at the students during fights.”

Martinez and his fellow organizers at the Labor Community Strategy Center successfully defunded the LA school district police by $25 million. 

Speaking of the discussion of Pan-Africanism, Martinez asked, “How do we then take those theories and take them into the streets?”

As the People’s Summit comes to a close, it is up to the attendees and presenters, organizers and future organizers, to continue to come up with creative answers to this question.

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