Chokwe: Reflections on a Fallen Warrior

Chokwe Lumumba with his children Antar and Rukia.

Chokwe Lumumba with his children Antar and Rukia.

It is surreal.

Instead of welcoming the impending celebration of Chokwe Lumumba’s first year in office as mayor of Jackson, we are struggling to put his son into the mayor’s vacated seat. Chokwe Antar Lumumba was hastily drafted to run in a special election after his father’s shocking death on February 25.

Just over a month before Chokwe’s death, the Black Liberation Movement and the international progressive community was mourning the sudden death of Amiri Baraka. Renowned poet, playwright and activist, Baraka died of natural causes at 79 years old. I was still reeling from the death of my friend and mentor when the news of Chokwe came like a wound-up punch to the stomach. It has taken time to process it all.

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Posted in Oppressed Nationalities, Presente!

A Note to Socialist Union Staffers: Build Working Class Power!

Many of our friends and members hold staff positions in unions.  In some cases, comrades who were rank and file union members lost their jobs due to plant closures and layoffs and migrated into staff jobs.  In the 1990s, the AFL-CIO and some of its affiliate unions launched a recruitment drive for young progressives and leftists to become staff organizers.  They started an Organizing Institute which recruited heavily on college campuses.  Young socialists continue to become staff organizers as a way of earning a living and making a contribution to the labor movement. Unions have also recruited new staff from among their rank and file.  Sometimes union staff have become radicalized by the experience of organizing workers under extreme opposition, both in workplaces and in the legislative arena.

But too often, when socialists become union staffers, they reduce their practice to just being hard working trade unionists.  They devote themselves to trying to defend union members’ rights at work or organizing more workers into the union. They start to adopt the prejudices and narrowness of their particular union. They shrug their shoulders about the broader attack on workers and stop reading and studying about Marxism, labor history, social justice movements, international politics, etc. As they retreat into the demands of their jobs and their personal lives, their leftist politics become muted or disappear.

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Posted in Labor

Fast Food Workers: Giving Juice to a Revived Living Wage Movement

Fight For Fifteen - Workers rally in the rain in MemphisOn the morning of December 5th, 15 fast food workers and 30 supporters gathered outside the McDonald’s on Highland in Memphis, Tennessee. After some picket-line discussion of tactics and their risks, one worker, Reese, said “I didn’t come here to stand around outside, we’re taking over that store!”1 In the blink of an eye, 45 people, mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, mostly African American men and women, piled into the McDonalds. Another worker, Lee, jumped onto a table, joined by others, to the swinging bass rhythm of chanting: “We can’t survive! On seven twenty five!” Then, riffing on Drake’s hit, we switched to something new:

We started from the bottom, now we’re here
Seven twenty five, just ain’t fair!

Workers on the clock bobbed their head and put hands in the air while we danced on tables and in between the aisles. After 5 minutes we rolled out and headed to another McDonalds on Elvis Presley Blvd where the same thing happened again. We added exterior signs and an adjacent highway to our temporarily occupied territory, and rocked even harder: after all, it was Elvis Presely Blvd.

Photo by Daniel Arauz - http://www.flickr.com/photos/danielarauz/8701465434/

We in Memphis were part of a much broader day of action, the “Fight For Fifteen,” focused for the most part in cities across the Midwest and Northeast. The Memphis workers, along with workers from Nashville, TN, Columbus, Missouri, St. Louis, MO, and Lexington, Kentucky, had voted on the strike two days before at a regional meeting in St. Louis. Community supporters from Organization for Black Struggle, Jobs with Justice, and other groups took the stage, one after the other, to pledge support to a movement that was “picking up where MLK left off when he was struck down.” When Memphis workers took the stage they did it in a bumping group of two dozen people. From the lectern they broke into a spontaneous chant: “What do we want? More money!” while Carlos, a leading Memphis striker, bellowed “This is history in the making! History in the making.” The decision to strike was passed unanimously, 96 – 0.

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Posted in Labor, Oppressed Nationalities

Official Slogans for Comrade Valentine’s Day 2014

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Toilers! Tillers! All who yearn and fight for a better world!

Let us surge forward together, wave on wave, illumined by the bright red rays of Comrade Valentine’s revolutionary romanticism!

Decisively demolish the saccharine commodity fetishism with which the bourgeoisie attempts to smother the proletarian character of Comrade Valentine’s Day!!

Joyously celebrate the deepening rejection of heteropatriarchal homophobia by the masses in their millions, a victory for Comrade Valentine’s Communist line!!!

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Posted in Culture

Bridging the Chasm between Environmental and Economic Justice: A Conversation with Bill Fletcher and Bill Gallegos

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said about the choice between a clean environment and good jobs, “You can have both, or you have neither.”A rift exists between those good trade unionists who fight for decent jobs and a just economy, and those good environmentalists who fight for a planet where all human beings can be healthy.

In the Appalachian coalfields, the same corporations who deliberately keep non-coal jobs out of the region and blast the mountains apart for greater profits lie to mining communities that the reason for layoffs is the Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called “War on Coal.” An eastern Kentucky retired miner writes, “I prefer dirty coal over ‘Christmas in Appalachia’ pity,” not recognizing greater options.

And so three activists decided to have a conversation about jobs and the environment. Bill Fletcher is committed to economic justice and working class solidarity. Bill Gallegos is dedicated to the environmental justice and climate justice movements. Anne Lewis is a documentary filmmaker with deep interests in labor and environmental justice.

We decided not to hold back from material and political divisions, or from the imagination that has built concrete experiments for unity.

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Posted in Ecological Crisis, Labor

Appreciating what’s been said: Reflections on Amiri Baraka

Jamala_Amiri“Appreciating what’s been said and if I understand correctly…”

That was the routine and respectful phrase we used in the Congress of African People when we were about to engage in some serious discussion. As I faced the reality of Amiri Baraka’s death, I couldn’t help but reflect on his impact on my life.

As a young radical, heavily influenced by the Black Student and Black Power Movements, I was looking for a political home when a group of like-minded young people from St. Louis made a trip to New Ark, New Jersey to visit the headquarters of the Congress of African People (CAP). The rest is history.

The enthusiastic group came back to St. Louis and established the St. Louis chapter of CAP. We were not just swayed by the ideology of Black Nationalism or by Kawaida doctrine; it was the material manifestations that was inspiring. We saw the practical applications of Kwanzaa Principles such as Cooperative Economics and Collective Work and Responsibility with the internal restaurant and daycare as well as public enterprises like bookstores. We saw what organization looked like.

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Posted in Presente!

Now that Madiba is Dead…

beware the icon makers
they will say he was great
they will laud his calls for peace
they will wring their hands and cry
speaking only of the man
disregarding the people
explaining away the movement
pretending the revolution was won
they will deny their guilt
denying their privilege
obscuring his birth in the pains and the blood of his people
denying the capital crimes
of neoliberal friends of apartheid still alive
now that Mandela is dead

they will say no one else will come
they will wink that we still organize
they will pretend that de Klerk was his friend
they will ignore the birth pangs in Jo’burg today
pretending to honor him with deceitful silence
in the face of Capetown shanties and Manenburg misery
and Durban oppression
while former murderers still prey
and bougie negros still play
while lying bishops still pray
and corporations still rape
and the people in South Africa still die
like people across the Global South
as the Revolution dies as Madiba’s children live in squalor
as the wine growers awake in shacks
as the homeless sleep beneath the floors of stores—after hours
when they will not be seen while they are still being sold

beware the speakers of phrases that lie
they will disremember liberation struggles
that have yet to be won
they will pretend that Mandela belonged to them
denying the people to whom he belonged

remember to remember Chris Hani
remember to remember Robben Island
remember to remember the South African Charter
remember to remember that icons created by oppressors
will never liberate the people
remember to remember that they are still killing Martin
remember to remember that they are still killing Malcolm
remember to remember that Assata still lives
remember to remember that our liberation will be sold to us for profits
unless we work for it with our minds and our actions
then we will remember Mandela as he was
for he will live inside us
and the lies will no longer deceive
because the struggle will continue
and the last will be first at last

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Posted in Poetry

Overcoming ‘Overburden’: The Climate Crisis and a Unified Left Agenda

Author and journalist Naomi Klein speaking at the founding UNIFOR convention in Toronto on Sunday, September 1, 2013. (Photo: UNIFOR website)

The following remarks were delivered on September 1, 2013 at the founding convention of UNIFOR, a new mega union created by the Canadian Autoworkers and the Canadian Energy and Paper Workers Union. It was previously published on Common Dreams.

I’m so very happy and honoured to be able to share this historic day with you.

The energy in this room – and the hope the founding of this new union has inspired across the country – is contagious.

It feels like this could be the beginning of the fight back we have all been waiting for, the one that will chase Harper from power and restore the power of working people in Canada.

So welcome to the world UNIFOR.

A lot of your media coverage so far has focused on how big UNIFOR is — the biggest private sector union in Canada. And when you are facing as many attacks as workers are in this country, being big can be very helpful. But big is not a victory in itself.

The victory comes when this giant platform you have just created becomes a place to think big, to dream big, to make big demands and take big actions. The kind of actions that will shift the public imagination and change our sense of what is possible.

And it’s that kind of “big” that I want to talk to you about today.

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Posted in Ecological Crisis

“Remember, Struggle and Be Transformed by the Struggle!” — Reflecting on the Passing of Nelson Mandela

CAM_01_008Claire Tran asked Cameron Barron, Mary Jo Connelly, Jamala Rogers, Peter Hardie, and Montague Simmons to share their reflections after the death of Nelson Mandela. They talked about his life and the influence and lessons from the anti-apartheid movement.

I first learned of Nelson Mandela. . .

MC: … when I got to college and soon got deeply involved in the South Africa Solidarity movement that was growing on U.S. campuses. It was 1977, a year after the Soweto uprising in which hundreds of African teenagers had been murdered. Nelson Mandela was one of many imprisoned, exiled or murdered anti-apartheid movement leaders, not the face of the movement that he would later become. One of the Soweto uprising’s organizers, Steve Biko—founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and the South African Student Movement—had just been murdered. The father of a student anti-apartheid organizer on our campus had been in jail at Robben Island and was now in exile in Britain but not permitted to enter the U.S. because of his communist affiliations. JR: . . .I don’t remember when I first learned of Nelson Mandela. It could’ve been during the early 1970’s when I was a member of the Congress of African People and we studied/supported the various liberation struggles in African at that time. When the U.S. Anti-Apartheid Movement began heating up in the mid-1980s and it was clear that the release of Nelson Mandela along with the end to apartheid would take center stage. Continue reading

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Posted in International Solidarity, Presente!

Victory Is Possible Against All Odds – Nelson Mandela Presente!

Mandela and seven other anti-apartheid leaders leave the Palace of Justice with their fists raised in defiance, June 1964, after being sentenced to life imprisonment.

Mandela and seven other anti-apartheid leaders leave court with their fists raised after being sentenced to life imprisonment.

The death of Nelson Mandela, though hardly unexpected, is reverberating through the world, and especially the global left. For revolutionary socialists, this is a moment to reflect on the accomplishments and on the shortcomings of the movement whose main public face he was. This thoughtful article, written by Brian Ashley of Amandla Magazine  one of a number of initiatives to regroup people’s movements in South Africa at a certain distance from the umbrella of the ruling ANC  is a useful starting point.

“Some are born great,
some achieve greatness,
and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

— William Shakespeare

Amandla! does not believe in miracles. Mandela is not immortal. He has lived the fullest of lives. Amandla! stands with his family, the ANC (the organisation he lived and died for), his closest comrades, especially the surviving Treason Trialists and Robben Island prisoners, the South African people as well as millions of people around the world to mark the passing of a great man.

Yet Mandela was no God, no saint but a man of the people. He reaffirms that people born of humble beginnings can rise and achieve extraordinary feats. Victory is possible against all odds.

Mandela had all Shakespeare’s attributes of greatness. It is with this sense that the South African nation, such as it exists, in its divisions, polarisations and inequities pays tribute to a man that dedicated his life to the liberation of his people.

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Posted in International Solidarity, Presente!