Dear CCDS members and friends,
The CCDS Peace and Solidarity committee recommends the following concerning the ongoing horrific, criminal Israeli bombing of Palestine:
1) join or help organize one of the many local protests in the coming period,
2) call your Senator to oppose S. Res. 498 introduced by Lindsey Graham, which justifies the Israeli bombing as self defense,
3) lobby your congressperson to say, "No US aid to Israel," the billions of dollars are needed for jobs, healthcare and education at home, not killing Palestinians;
4) support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (CCDS resolution at 2013 national convention)
5) those wishing to donate funds to aid the Palestinian refugees may check out the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which is calling on Israel to stop attacks on Palestinian civilians and civilian infrastructure. 47 UNRWA buidings have been damaged by Israeli airstrikes. http://unrwa.org
6) keep up-to-date by visiting the website of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, http://endtheoccupation.org
Below is an appeal direct from Palestine:
ACT NOW! AN URGENT APPEAL FROM PALESTINIAN CIVIL SOCIETY
We Palestinians trapped inside the bloodied and besieged Gaza Strip call on conscientious people all over the world to act, protest and intensify the boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel until it ends this murderous attack on our people and is held to account.
Read more of this article »
Ruby Dee with Ossie Davis and their children.
Statement from the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
I have longed to see my talent contributing in an unmistakably clear manner to the cause of humanity. Every artist, every scientist, must decide NOW where he stands. He has no alternative. (Paul Robeson, Royal Albert Hall, June 24, 1937).
It has been one of my great blessings in life to work with two of the finest artists and activists. Ruby and Ossie served as a living example that one could be an artist and an activist, too: that one could be an artist and still deal with what it means to be a Black woman and a Black man in these United States. (Spike Lee quoted on NPR, June 12, 2014).
We used the arts as part of our struggle. (Ruby Dee in Jackson, Mississippi, 2006, cited in Mark Kennedy, “Ruby Dee’s Legacy of Activism, Acting Mourned,” Charletteobserver.com, June 12, 2014).
A powerful link in the chain of great African American scholars, artists, and activists from the twentieth century, Ruby Dee died June 11, 2011. Dee was born in Cleveland Ohio in 1924 and as a child was moved to Harlem. Growing up she studied romance languages at Hunter College, gravitated toward the American Negro Theatre in Harlem and began long collaborations with fellow actors such as Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and her husband of 57 years, Ossie Davis.
She appeared in 50 films, 40 television shows, and 35 stage performances. She received numerous awards for these performances and as recently as 2008 was nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a motion picture, “American Gangster,” She was recognized by nominations for Screen Actors Guild and Image Awards in 2009 and 2010. Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis received Kennedy Center Honors Awards presented by President Clinton in 2004.
Ruby Dee came from that generation of artists who. inspired by Paul Robeson, believed that she had to take a stand for human liberation. She was an active supporter of anti-colonial struggles abroad and civil rights struggles at home. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She and her husband, Ossie Davis, were friends and collaborators in the struggle for the freedom of African Americans with both Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. Dee was a contributing editor to the great journal of African American thought, Freedomways.
Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis’ participation in peoples’ struggles were life-long. As recently as 1999 the couple was arrested at the New York City police headquarters protesting the brutal police shooting of Amadou Diallo. In addition, Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis were members of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS) advisory board.
Ruby Dee, her husband, Harry Belafonte, and their mentor Paul Robeson articulated often their beliefs that there was a connection between the arts and politics and that the arts could serve as a weapon for social justice. In addition, these artist/activists believed that their engagement required combining struggles against the exploitation of the working class, the sexism of the patriarchal system, and institutionalized racism.
During her lifetime Ruby Dee was a participant and supporter of movements for human liberation. CCDS and all progressives everywhere will miss her determined activism and her artistry as an actress and poet.
Calls for Civilian Police Accountability Councils
By Pat Fry
In response to a national epidemic of police and vigilante killings, a two day “National Forum on Police Crimes” took place in Chicago, May 16-17. With some 250 people attending, the Forum called for legislation establishing a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) in Chicago and elsewhere.
The Forum was organized by the Chicago branch of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression on the occasion of the organization’s 41st anniversary. Founded in May 1973, the NAARPR developed out of the national and international campaign to free Angela Davis from a racist and politically-motivated frame-up. Over the years, numerous celebrated cases were won through the organizing efforts of the NAARPR including on behalf of the Rev. Ben Chavis, Joan Little, the Wilmington 10, and the Charlotte 3.
Concluding the two day Forum, a public rally with Angela Davis was held at the Trinity United Church of Christ with 1200 attending. In her address, Davis said mass incarceration and police killings stem from “structural and systemic racism rooted in the failure to fully abolish slavery.” Global capital expansion and its pursuit of profit, she said, fuel the prison-industrial complex. While money is spent on building prisons for profit, public education and affordable housing deteriorates, she said. Davis called for the abolition of prisons, disarming of police and freedom for all political prisoners held in U.S. jails from Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier to Chelsea Manning and the Cuba Five.
Frank Chapman who headed the organizing committee for the weekend’s events introduced Davis and talked about his own freedom from prison won through the efforts of the NAARPR in 1973. Chapman who is Field Organizer and Education Director for the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said that the NAARPR is needed now more than ever and urged rally participants to join. Chicago and Louisville are the two branches of the NAARPR active today.
The Forum, held at the University of Chicago, opened with a panel discussing the various aspects of police crimes and the initiatives underway to end them. Lennox Hinds, founding general counsel of the NAARPR, framed the discussion and said “Police are legally permitted to use deadly force. They have access to firearms 24 hours a day, on-duty and off-duty. They are free to kill anytime they suspect someone is guilty.” Black and Latino people are the most likely victims in cities with populations over 100,000, he said, making police abuse a fact of life in African American and Latino neighborhoods.
Rob Warden of the Center on Wrongful Convictions said Chicago is “the false confession capital of the world.” Recantations by people who have given false testimony are routinely rejected by the courts,” he said. Warden called for adoption of a public policy to encourage recantations.
Bernadine Dohrn, Professor of Law at Northwestern University and immediate past president of the Children and Family Justice Center, urged support for a lawsuit that would make public all complaints of police misconduct. Of the 19,000 complaints filed of police misconduct, said Dorhn, only 18 led to a police suspension of a week or more. For 85 percent of complaints, police were never interviewed, she said.
Warden, Dohrn and others talked about the police use of torture to solicit “confessions,” citing the case of Jon Burge, a Chicago detective who was convicted of torturing more than 200 suspects between1972 and l991. The exposure of Burge’s crimes led Illinois Gov. George Ryan to impose a moratorium on the death penalty in 2000.
Panelist Jeff Baker, candidate for Alderman representing Chicago’s Southside 21st Ward, called for enactment of a Civilian Police Accountability Council in Chicago. The CPAC model legislation would establish a democratically elected authority with power to directly present evidence of police crimes to a federal grand jury.
Among the participants at the Forum were victims of police crimes and family members. Danelene Powell-Watts talked about her son, Stephon, who as a 15 year old autistic youth was killed by police in February 2012 because he held a butter knife. Powell-Watts is an autoworker and member of UAW Local 551 in Chicago. Members of her union local’s Solidarity Committee organized protests of the police killing of her son.
Mike Elliott who chairs the UAW Local 551 Solidarity Committee is also Labor Secretary of the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression. Elliott was one of several Local 551 members who participated at the Forum, including at a Labor breakout where discussion centered on how to strengthen the labor movement’s role in building a national movement against police crimes.
Hatem Abudayyah, Executive Director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN), highlighted rampant police profiling and harassment of Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. A case in point is Rasmea Odeh, Associate Director of AAAN, who the Department of Homeland Security arrested in a politically motivated charge of giving false information on a naturalization application 20 years ago. Ms. Odeh faces a 10-year jail sentence with a trial set to begin June 10 in Detroit. Conference participants were urged to circulate a protest petition at (www.stopfbi.net).
Police violence against women was highlighted in remarks by Crista Noel who spoke about her friend, Rekia Boyd, who was murdered by police in March 2012 at the age of 22. Boyd was talking with friends when Chicago Police Det. Dante Servin approached the group and opened fire after allegedly mistaking a cell phone held by one of the youths as a gun. Noel launched a campaign for justice that led her to the United Nations where she filed a complaint before the UN Human Rights Commission. Responding to national and international pressure, charges were brought against the police officer, the first charged in a police murder in Chicago in decades. The case has yet to come to trial.
Nelson Linder, President of the NAACP branch in Austin, Texas, spoke about the increasing rate of racist police crimes in his city. In the four year period between 1999 and 2003, 10 of the 11 people who died at the hands of Austin police were African American or Latino in a city with an overwhelmingly white population. In 2004, said Linder, the Austin NAACP and the Texas Civil Rights Project invoked Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and filed a complaint detailing the systemic and widespread police misconduct of Black and Latino communities. The campaign led to demands that the U.S. Department of Justice cut off all federal money to the Austin Police Department.
Lexington, Kentucky and Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism lost a strong leader with the passing of April Browning. Her strong voice for justice and equality could be heard on many fronts, often the one holding the megaphone and leading chants.
April was born in Flint, Michigan but grew up in Central Kentucky. She understood first hand the struggle of low income parents in Kentucky. She understood first hand being denied right as a former felon for a mistake long past paid for. She understood the struggle of the 99% against the 1%. Because of all of this, she was committed to working for a socialist future.
April always put her beliefs into action. She was the inspiration behind and one of the founders of Occupy Lexington in 2011. She was passionate about the issues raised in the Occupy movement. As part of her work with Occupy, she led a “Mic Check” at local auction of foreclosed homes and a flash mob at a local Walmart. She loved being on the frontline.
April didn’t let her advocacy end when Occupy disbanded. She joined CCDS and continued working with comrades from Occupy to found Kentuckians Against the War on Women, lead two marches against Monsanto, and be a prime mover in local movement against a war with Syria.
Notably she was also spokesperson for the restoration of voting rights for former felons in Kentucky. Kentucky is a state that takes voting rights away for life if convicted of a felony. While fighting to change the law in Kentucky, April was also petitioning the Governor to get her rights back so she may vote for the first time in this year’s elections. In her own words, "I am politically active and I feel that my voice as well as thousands of other Kentuckians’ voices should be heard. … I’m fighting for progress across the board and this fight is personal.”
April and her partner, John Blickenstaff, both CCDS members, attended the CCDS Youth School and Convention last summer. Comrades from across the country sent messages to Lexington to express their remorse at the news.
Will Emmons, a Lexington CCDS member and participant in the school, said, “April was dealt a rough hand but sought to play it in a way that contributed to the liberation of humanity.” He stated he met her at the first CCDS meeting he attended in Kentucky. He said that when he met April and the other CCDS comrades he felt had “found the community of people here in Lexington who wanted to work for the things I want to work for.” He added, “Unfortunately, that community is a lot poorer today for the stupidly tragic loss of. . .April.”
While April was a committed revolutionary, she was also a dedicated mom. Whenever April’s made a speech about herself she began, "First and foremost, I’m a mom," In an interview with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth she said, "My son Elijah . . . makes every day worth living and special . . . That’s the first and most important thing you need to know about me." She went on to explain, "But after that, it’s really important to me to take initiative to make my community a better place – for Elijah and everyone else."
We mourn the loss of her leadership and activism but her spirit will remain with us as the struggle continues.
Statement of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
March 5, 2014
Sensational headlines in the U.S. of opposition protests in Venezuela amid escalating violence have dominated the coverage of the corporate mainstream media over the past three weeks. This is part of a multipronged strategy by the U.S. government and multinational corporations to destabilize Venezuela politically and economically and pave the way for another coup attempt as was the case in 2002 during the Bush administration. These same policies have continued with the Obama Administration despite denials that it is backing the opposition. Such denials lack credibility given the results of extensive investigative reporting on U. S. funding for and training of leaders of the Venezuelan opposition and recent leaks of extensive communication between U.S. officials and right wing opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez.
None of the mainstream media narrative accurately reflects the complex reality of Venezuela. U.S. news and analyses are routinely distorted, manipulated, and even manufactured to support the corporate media’s narrative which is that student-led protests have been violently repressed amidst severe government repression of speech and press in Venezuela. Anti-government protests that appear to engulf the country are in reality mainly in the wealthiest neighborhoods of Caracas.
According to a report by Mark Weisbot of the Guardian, there have been eight confirmed deaths but no evidence that they were caused by a repressive government crack-down. Actually a number of security officers have been arrested for crimes. And there has been random protestor-on-protestor violence, a far cry from a government policy of brutal force to squash dissent.
The mainstream media’s narrative also includes sensational distortions and misinformation regarding Venezuela’s economic situation. The economy is portrayed as being on the verge of collapse, due to bad policies and mismanagement of the Venezuelan government. The fact is that the government of President Maduro has continued the humanitarian “Bolivarian” policies of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, whose untimely death one year ago, is commemorated today, March 5th. Their government policies have reduced poverty dramatically and channeled the country’s resources to improve employment, education, health care and housing for the majority of Venezuelans.
Maduro’s government has won two national elections within the last year including 75 percent of municipal government offices two months ago. It is a legitimate, democratically-elected constitutional government. The policy of the U.S. government is an attack on democracy and constitutional government in Venezuela.
The Venezuelan government faces many political and economic challenges. The CCDS stands in solidarity with the heroic workers and poor of Venezuela as they tackle these challenges.
The CCDS joins with peace and justice organizations in demanding:
- An end to all U.S. government support, overt and covert, for the Venezuelan opposition as it constitutes an unacceptable and immoral intervention in the politics and economy of a sovereign nation
- An end to all covert efforts to sabotage Venezuela’s economy and cause suffering among the Venezuelan people.
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
March 15, 2014
A dangerous situation continues to develop in Eastern Europe and Ukraine. With no solution in sight, there is major tension with potential for long-term instability and war. Many protesters in the Ukraine’s Maidan Square understandably are demanding democracy, clean government and economic justice. The repression and use of force by the Yanukovich government was reprehensible. However, rightwing nationalists and fascistic groups gained leadership in the movement. With the backing of the European Union and U.S. neo-cons, attempts at compromise were thwarted and a coup was staged. Russia responded with military action to safeguard its perceived national security interests including its naval base in Crimea, and is thus supporting a Crimean referendum to secede from the Ukraine.
The Obama administration, confronted by U.S. involvement engineered by Bush appointed State Department officials, sided with the neo-cons to back the new Ukrainian regime. Thus the president greeted the coup-installed Prime Minister Yatsenyuk on March 12 at the White House in a highly publicized meeting. The U.S. increased its military maneuvers on Russia’s borders and is threatening visa restrictions, economic sanctions and various other ways to isolate Russia.
The Obama administration immediately proposed a billion dollar aid package for the new government, even as U.S. cities and pensions are going bankrupt and food stamps cut. U.S. energy companies savor the thought of huge deals to supply Western Europe with newly fracked natural gas if Russian supplies are cut. The IMF is contemplating various sorts of structural adjustment in the Ukrainian economy to benefit the rich. Meanwhile, there is no sign of Russia backing down or a resolution to the crisis.
Thus, the Obama-led centrist Democrats formed a block with right-wing Republicans and neo-cons. Anti-Russian propaganda is nearly universal in the mainstream media. Russia’s response has been universally condemned with no mention of the U.S.-European role in fomenting the illegal coup. Criticism of U.S. policy is confined to questioning whether the Obama response is too weak. These developments have increased the danger of war.The Progressive Democrats of America, however, issued a statement condemning US collaboration with fascist forces and thus split with the dominant US narrative.
After the collapse of the SovietUnion, the West pledged to respect Russia’s national security concerns, advancing NATO’s “not one inch east” statement. Breaking their promises, U.S./NATO incorporated one Eastern European country after the other into NATO and the EU. An anti-ballistic missile system was installed in Eastern Europe, ostensibly to stop an Iranian attack, but obviously targeting Russian missile systems. The Western attempt to bring Ukraine into its orbit transgressed Russia’s most important “red line,” according to Prof. Stephen Cohen, and the Russian reaction was entirely predictable.
The Ukrainian situation is a clear example of the U.S. “Deep State” (http://ouleft.sp-mesolite.tilted.net/?p=1682) determining foreign policy – a combination of financial, corporate and military-industrial interests, motivated by anti-communist and now neo-con ideology. Formed at the end of World War II, the Deep State is the actual power center of U.S. capitalism and imperialism. The Deep State has the loyalty of many key government officials and has been able to push its policies with various successes over the last few decades, regardless of what party wins national elections. Thus the Obama administration is not fully in control of its own foreign policy. Influential neo-cons within the Deep State are currently putting forward a far-right agenda in not only Ukraine but also in Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Japan and other places, trying to substitute confrontation and military action for diplomacy. The neo-con objective is to persist in constructing the so-called “new American century” of regime change not only in the Middle East but eventually in Russia and China to facilitate their long-term goal of U.S. global hegemony.
The U.S. peace movement was strong in responding to the Syrian crisis last summer, surging to stop war. However, the response to the Ukraine crisis has been slow.
This is due in part to the shifting strategy of U.S. imperialism from a strategy of invasion and occupation during the Bush years to covert and high tech operations today. How does the antiwar movement oppose a covert program that is all but invisible? Organizing a consensus response to the new imperial strategy of mainly covert operations is a major challenge to the peace and justice movement.
- No U.S. intervention in the Ukraine situation and no economic or military support for a government with major fascist participation.
- Support for negotiations, demilitarization and a peaceful resolution of a dangerous situation.
- Balanced and objective education to counter the rightwing mainstream narrative.
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
The Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism are deeply saddened by the news that Amiri Baraka will no longer be in our midst. He leaves the world a rich, deep body of revolutionary work as poet, activist, writer and mentor to many.
In 2006, Amiri keynoted an evening of culture, politics and youth at the CCDS 5th national convention in Chicago. He spoke passionately about the role of art and culture in affecting social change.
Pictured with Amiri above are other panelists who also spoke – Sam Lewis of the Elastic Arts Foundation and SW Youth Collaborative, and Andrei Mills of the University of Hip Hop.
Following is a remembrance of Amiri Baraka posted to the CCDS member list serve by Keith Joseph.
In Memory of Amiri Baraka: The First, The Last, The Only Poet Laureate of New Jersey!
In April of 1994 I attended a speech given by Amiri Baraka at the Douglass College Student Center; my life changed dramatically. He said, “We are here to tell you that there is still a revolutionary movement in the United States.” I became Baraka’s student, what used to be called a disciple. He knew the things that I wanted to know, he said the things that I wanted to say, he did the things that I wanted to do. I listened carefully to everything he said and read everything he wrote. When I met Amiri he was in his sixties. He was hunched over and gray bearded, but wiry and quick witted– always with a can of Lite beer from Miller. I, along with many others, worked with him on the revolutionary newspaper Unity & Struggle throughout the 90’s.
During this time, Amiri churned out political essays and political programs that have never been correctly gathered, organized or published. They were photocopies passed around among those in the local movement. Essays that are truly avant-garde: deep expressions of what is happening NOW. A wild mix of Marxism-Leninism, the Afro-American tradition, and modernist poetry, essays with titles like: “Revolutionary Democracy needs an Anti-Imperialist Cultural Revolution,” “The International Business of Jazz and the Need for Cooperative and Collective Self-Development of an International People’s Culture.” Essays describing the future RAZOR project – “Revolutionary Art for Revolutionary Culture,” essays describing organizations to sustain the creation of Jazz, essays describing the relation of urban institutions to revolutionary politics, essays describing the building of revolutionary organization and movement in the United States, along with cultural criticism and agit-prop poetry like: A Modest Proposal for Guiliani’s Disposal in 41 Verses which are also Curses. Baraka’s writings dazzle because he never allows his thinking to be constricted by the formality of language. Instead he forces the language to bend to the will of his thinking. He is an innovator of necessity. He isn’t an avant-garde writer for the sake of being avant-garde. The content of his thinking requires the formal innovations of his literary style.
Hopefully whoever the forces are that care about Baraka’s political legacy can work together to organize this stuff, and put it out as something like: “The Collected Political Writings of Amiri Baraka.”
Amiri often pointed out that as a Black Nationalist he had a much easier time getting his work published then when he began to call for working people of all races to fight capitalism together. Indeed, Baraka’s mature work as a Marxist is little known. The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka Reader edited by William J. Harris includes a “Third World Marxist Period” but the work included is confined to the mid-eighties and a few poems from the early nineties. Baraka remained prolific until the end of his life. A huge body of work remains little known. Even ostensible allies played games around the publication of his later works and important book length analysis like Jessie Jackson and Black People remain unknown and of limited availability. So this is a call to gather and publish all of this stray work (I am working on a list of what I have and I hope others will do the same).
So much of what is coming out about Baraka around his passing is about his style or form. They say he was “offensive” or “controversial,” his legacy was “contradictory.” This obviously misses the point. I want to point out the crucial lessons I took from Baraka’s later work in the hopes that it will be intriguing enough to create some demand for original.
First, the objective of revolutionary struggle is taking power. Taking power is not an event in the future. We organize to take power today wherever we can touch it, “Wherever you can put your hands on it.” School boards, PTA’s, city councils, little leagues, public library’s, student governments, tenants associations, trade unions etc . Revolution is this process of taking power not a distant event. This is the process of creating “dual power” an idea that Baraka developed from Lenin — the power of working people existing and growing side by side with the power of capital until the former can defeat the latter. We take power by any means necessary. Baraka pointed out over that the promise of democracy is the Achilles heel of capitalism. A promise it cannot deliver but a promise we should insist on and here electoral politics are a crucial tool. Amiri’s son Ras Baraka is currently running for Mayor of Newark, NJ. The election of Ras Baraka as mayor of Newark was a long standing goal of Amiri’s efforts. A victory for Ras Baraka in Newark would also be a victory for the majority of people of Newark and fitting tribute to Amiri. Socialists have also won important elections recently in Seattle and Florida. Baraka actively encouraged this type of struggle.
Amiri insisted that we understand the Russian and Chinese revolutions correctly. They were democratic revolutions. In the parlance of Marxism, they were the bourgeois democratic stage of the revolution. This understanding was the basis for Baraka’s insistence on the centrality of the struggle of oppressed nations in general and the Afro-American nation in particular in the United States. Baraka was critical of Manning Marable’s book on Malcolm X for this reason. Baraka understood Malcolm X to have gone through a transformation similar to his own — a clarification of the enemy more so than a change of basic tasks. In other words, because of slavery, because of Jim Crow, because of the continuation of “separate but equal” and because of mass incarceration of Afro-American people the democratic revolution in the United States was and is incomplete. The relation of Black people to the United States is still the basic political question informing the history and politics of the country. It was the question struggled over during the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the writing of the Constitution, the Civil War—it is the central issue of U.S history. So, the struggle for Afro-American self-determination, equality and democracy remains the cutting edge of the revolutionary struggle whether you are a Black Nationalist or a Marxist-Leninist as Baraka would become. The difference is a better understanding of allies and the enemy.
Baraka further developed the idea of self-determination for oppressed nations. Self-determination was not simply the question of should a land area secede from the U.S. but rather “what should be the relationship of the Afro-American people to the United States.” A question for Black people to debate and decide for themselves.
Baraka often quoted Lenin’s essay “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. “
Baraka was particular inspired by Lenin’s idea of an alternate superstructure –a form of dual power. Restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, summer camps, cultural organizations linked to the revolutionary movement. Baraka led this effort by example. Amiri and his wife Amina opened their home for meetings and cultural events regularly. Kimako’s Blues was the name of the coffee house/cultural event held monthly in the Baraka’s basement. These events are among the fondest memories I have: food, poetry, and music often of the most outstanding quality in the most intimate setting. There are videos of these events out there. We need to collect them and make them widely available!
The last thing I learned from Baraka was not found in any essay. It was his example. Only those who never knew him would call him “offensive” or “controversial. “ He was accessible, generous, and warm. He loved to laugh and was always quick with a joke. Indeed, he highly prized humor. He always encouraged the younger generation. He lived his commitment to human freedom and dignity eschewing fame and fortune for the daily grind of organizing for revolution. When the horse piss started flying around his poem, “Somebody Blew Up America” and calls for him to resign as poet laureate came from opportunist politicians Baraka wrote “I will not apologize, I will not resign.” Because he was so uncompromising on principle his enemies could not defeat him they had to abolish the post of poet laureate. Thus Amiri Baraka is rightfully and forever the first, last and only poet laureate of New Jersey!
Long Live the indomitable spirit of Amiri Baraka!
The world is engaged in an unprecedented global celebration of the life of Nelson Mandela. Little-known information about his life is coming to light for the first time.
For us on the global Left, we approach the celebration of the revered freedom fighter’s life from a somewhat different perspective from what is appearing on television screens around the world.
Nelson Mandela was the first to say that the South African liberation struggle was led collectively. The decades-long alliance of the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party, and the South African trade union movement – most recently, the Congress of South African Trade Unions — worked together inside the country in urban centers and rural villages, in exile around the world, and in an armed struggle led by Umkhonto we Sizwe, over many years. While there are many reasons why Mandela came to represent the leadership of this alliance, tens of thousands of women and men collectively brought the South African National Democratic Revolution to the breakthrough of the first democratic election of 1994.
Nelson Mandela was unwavering – against severe pressure from the apartheid forces, the United States, and others — in his unwillingness to renounce his and the ANC’s association with the South African Communist Party and its leaders such as Chris Hani and Joe Slovo. His personal friendships with Communist leaders lasted for the rest of their lives.
At this time, information comes to light that Mandela was maintained on the United States’ "Terrorist Watch List" as late as 2008. A campaign has been launched to open the files of the Central Intelligence Agency concerning Mandela and his activities during the 1960s prior to his imprisonment.
CCDS demands the full truth be told about the relationship between the US Government and the apartheid regime’s suppression of the South African liberation movement.
CCDS continues to hope for the ongoing deepening of struggles for democracy and economic equality in the the U.S. in South Africa and across the globe. This is a difficult period for the people of South Africa, millions of whom face dire poverty, unemployment, illness – particularly HIV-AIDS – and racial and gender oppression almost twenty years after political democracy was won. The example of Nelson Mandela’s "ethical core" – as some have termed it — must remain alive in every nation and people’s movement and is needed now, more than ever.
Viva Nelson Mandela, Viva!
National Executive Committee, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
United States, Dec 12, 2013
[Thanks to Marilyn Albert in preparing this. A CCDS leader and a trade unionist, she was an International Observer of the 1994 election in South Africa and worked with the COSATU health care union in South Africa for about a year during 1996-97.]
August 28, 2013
A US military attack on Syria will only escalate the violence, create more destruction and loss of life, and derail efforts to work with Russia to convene an international peace conference. Such an attack will inflame an already dangerous situation and have unpredictable consequences, possibly leading to a disastrous regional war in the Middle East with US involvement. Such a war also will be a major blow to the progressive majority in our country, bringing a new wave of militarism at home and end efforts to cut the military budget to fund social programs. The solution to the Syrian conflict lies with international negotiations with full Syrian participation to achieve a cease fire and begin a nonviolent political process. A US attack only makes the situation worse and a solution more remote.
The use of chemical weapons is a reprehensible, heinous crime. The US should fully support the independent UN investigation and join with all members of the Security Council, including Russia and China, to fashion an appropriate response according to international law. But it must be noted that the U.S. has no moral ‘high ground’ on this matter. The US is a perpetrator of the “Agent Orange” chemical war against Vietnam, whose people are still suffering from the results, and an enabler of Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war. Far from being motivated by humanitarian concerns, U.S policy is rooted in the desire to maintain strategic dominance in the Middle East and secure oil supplies.
CCDS calls for working with United for Peace and Justice, Peace Action and other peace groups to oppose such an attack before it occurs, and if it happens to follow through with actions to prevent further escalation and bring it to an immediate end. Start by putting some heat on your Member of Congress, even if it’s only a phone call or an email.
Opening Address to to the 7th CCDS Convention
By Mildred Williamson
What time is it? It’s a time of economic, social, environmental, and racial Injustice on steroids – a time of no respect for humanity.
We face a 9.3% unemployment rate (double or higher for Black people in certain communities); yet bourgeois economists and political pundits still characterize today’s economy as in recovery. Bailed-out megabanks are bigger and more profitable today than prior to the 2007-2008 meltdown. Yet millions of people, including renters, remain devastated by foreclosures, with too little help, or no help from government, or from their lenders. And while the foreclosure tragedy has affected people of very nationality, the impact of foreclosure on black communities has virtually served to wipe out what little “wealth” that had been acquired, basically pushing the income/wealth inequality gap into something not seen in this magnitude since slavery.
In fact, how far can we say we have we come from the “3/5 of a man” Constitutional definition of how Black people should be considered in US society? I say – not far enough, and if there is no sustained, organized struggle–witness the Voter’s Rights Act Supreme Court decision–we will have a more accelerated march backwards, away from making social progress, rather than forward.
As some observers have noted in the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, served time in prison for organizing dog fights that resulted in death and injury to animals. However, George Zimmerman and countless numbers of official law enforcement officers throughout the US have shot and killed numerous human beings, who happen to be people of color, including unarmed youth, like Trayvon Martin; yet they have not been convicted, served time, lost pay or prestige in their positions of power over our lives.
And lest we not forget: there are hundreds, even thousands of persons incarcerated for crimes they did not commit; and even those with evidence of committing criminal acts, having such a high percentage driven by unjust “war on drugs” laws. These translate into a war on black and brown life, into war on people of color, especially youth. Please note further that many have died in prisons of preventable causes, due to less-than-standard care provided in many cases, by for-profit correctional health care providers.
Public education is crumbling and living wage jobs are scarce, even for many with college educations. The role and proliferation of privatized pre-school, K-12 and proprietary higher education institutions is essentially assuring that working class people with aspirations of improving their lives, will have obstacles that may be insurmountable to overcome, due to profit-making at all costs, trumping everything – even human life.
In Chicago, were it not for the solid labor-community-student-parent coalition built with leadership from the Chicago Teachers Union, local residents and the rest of the nation would not have known about the vicious scheme of Mayor Rahm Emanuel to close more than 100 schools. Through a mass fightback, that number got reduced to less than 50 – still the most school closures in the history of this country. Stay tuned for the outcome of the two lawsuits pending – one based on racial discrimination (80% African American and Latino children affected); and the second based on 30% of students with disabilities and special needs affected by the closings.
What time is it? Ben Jealous (NAACP Executive Director) describes the concerns of many of his young Black friends who stated their uncertainty of living long enough to reach their 21st birthdays and then shares his Grandmother’s response, when asked:
“Our generation of Black Americans was supposed to be the first not to be judged by our race or the color of our skin. Instead, we had come of age to find ourselves the most incarcerated on the planet and most murdered in the country.
“‘Grandma,’ I would ask days later, still searching for understanding: “What happened? How did things turn out like this?”
Her response was the crux of his speech to the 104th NAACP convention this week. He said, she leaned in and spoke softly: “It’s sad but it’s simple: We got what we fought for, but we lost what we had.”
Did we really get all of what we fought for – or was it derailed?
–By the impact of the Smith Act, McCarran Act, Right to Work laws?
–By the blacklisting, imprisonment, deportation and murder of radicals and communists – particularly their purge from labor and other social justice organizations?
–By the assassination of Martin Luther King, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton & many others?
–By Deindustrialization and global outsourcing of unionized, living wage, manufacturing jobs?
–By the Nixon-led Southern Strategy, virtually unchecked, followed by the Reagan right wing surge?
–By the war on drugs and mass incarceration?
–By ‘No Child Left Behind’ and ‘Race to the Top?’
–By the Vietnam war, the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan, and the Gulf wars I and II?
Each of these policies and events served a purpose for the ruling class – over time, to weaken or even squash radical thought and action to reach multiracial working class power and refuse to affirm value in Black and brown life and their right to fulfill their human potential.
Though there have been extraordinary victories in the struggle for social justice, ending wars in Vietnam and Iraq, brilliant victories in numerous key elections, some union organizing successes, freedom of many political prisoners, starting with Angela Davis – we still remain challenged by the net to get the intertwining issues of class/race/gender right in our strategy and tactics of struggle on every issue, from jobs to healthcare, immigration, incarceration, the environment and climate change. Our ability to make and sustain social progress critically depends on this. Disciplined, organized, radical leadership is essential to move us forward.
I am encouraged by the recent demonstrations of numerous low-wage workers fighting for a living wage – McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, even Foot Locker workers. Some of these have taken place in Chicago and consider the stories of the protesters: One young Black man at one of the Chicago protests reported that he worked for $10.15/hour at a Nike store in 2008, and over 2 years he got up to $11.17 an hour. Later, the store shut down for renovations; he and his co-workers were laid off. He was called back to work for $10 an hour, which he was still making at the time of the protest which took place this spring – 2013. This is a five-year period of his life. He does not now, nor did he ever make enough money to live on his own – typical of most low wage, retail work.
McDonald’s, just this week developed what they called a financial planning guide for their workers which assumed the average cost for rent was $600 a month and healthcare was $20 a month, in addition to framing the entire context of having a second job in addition to their full time McDonald’s job ($24,000 yearly on average) – to make ends meet. They also suggested that the worker simultaneously should be going to school to gain additional skills. This is insulting to their workforce, at best. It’s a plan that was proposed for workers by a corporation that consistently makes super-profits, even during the recent massive recession, (which is not over for many of us).
What time is it? As long as Black and brown lives are thought of and treated as disposable, in a 21st century-three-fifths-of-a-person fashion, it will be impossible to achieve working class power in this country.
Economic and social policies are literally destroying Black and brown lives, and simultaneously further weakening working class power. Case in point: Former President George W Bush once called a meeting at the White House with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. In an effort to persuade them to support his proposal to virtually privatize Social Security, he shared that the CBC should support this idea because:
Social Security was especially unfair to African Americans. Because their life expectancy was shorter, black workers received an average of $21,000 less in benefits than whites of comparable income levels. He said personal accounts (such as 401k), could be passed along to the next generation, and would go a long way toward reducing that disparity. Source: Decision Points, by Pres. George W. Bush, p.298-299 , Nov 9, 2010
Instead of addressing the socioeconomic determinants of why Black life expectancy is shorter than other groups in the US, then President GW Bush cynically just said to his CBC guests that it is better to just save up on your own into a plan that is beholden to the ups and downs of the stock market. How insulting it must have been for these Congressional leaders to sit there to hear that; just as it remains insulting for John Lewis and all other living participants of the civil rights movement to hear that Supreme Court decision to virtually butcher the Voters Rights Act.
To achieve comprehensive social change that shifts the balance of power toward the working class, rejecting white supremacy–embracing all disenfranchised elements of humanity–is essential. This requires radical, disciplined leadership that is organized in thought and purpose to build a movement anchored by the voice and action of organized and unorganized workers, and marginalized populations. The labor movement has the right slogan – Jobs with Justice. We need both – not either or. Though the labor movement is at its smallest in size, that which remains, must continue and grow its coalition with others for a significant rise in the minimum wage; for massive reinvestment in public education for all; for LGBTQ rights; for the right of women to all aspects of reproductive health and freedom from abuse; for the rights of immigrants; for the right to quality public education, including higher education; for the abolishment of prisons and an overhaul of the criminal justice system – and for ending all modern vestiges of slavery, Jim Crow and genocide in institutions and in human interaction.
Finally, we must fight with humility and purpose to strengthen and promote radicalized thought and action in the quest for social justice, human rights and working class power. This requires a fresh look at what it means to be “Left” in this phase of capitalism. What is the winning strategy to reduce the number of white working class people from voting against their own class interests, especially since fewer are unionized and fewer live in integrated communities? What will be the winning strategy be to achieve left unity – and just what does that mean today? How can we build respect for youth in leadership of social justice movements while still showing simultaneous respect for elders? How do we fully move our thought and action from the multiracial unity “slogan” to normalized, genuine demonstration respect for multiple cultures, gender expressions and sexual orientation? These questions and more tough ones – need answers in order to chart the path forward in the quest for working class power. Let’s work on them at this 7th CCDS Convention, and thereafter