By Carl Davidson, Bill Fletcher, Jr. and Pat Fry
Download as PDF HERE
Introduction: The following eight-point proposal is designed to initiate both a discussion and a process. The points can be further refined, and subtracted from or added to. Given the scope of the challenges ahead of us, there is a certain degree of urgency, but it is also wise to take to time to start off on a sound footing, uniting all who can be united. The main things it wants to bring into being at all levels—local, regional, national or in sectors—are common projects. Some of these already exist, such as the Left Labor Project in New York City, a good example of what we are advocating here. It brought together organizers from CCDS, CPUSA, DSA, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and other independent left trade unionists and activists. Over a few years work, it was able to build a far wider alliance bringing together the city’s labor organizations and allied social movements to bring out tens of thousands on May Day.
We know that many of us are already involved in a wide variety of projects. But is there any compelling reason we have to do this separately, behaving like a wheelbarrow full of frogs trying to win a common goal? A good case in point is Chuy Garcia’s mayoral campaign in Chicago. Wouldn’t this campaign be better served if we worked together in a planned way to draw in and skillfully deploy even more forces? Or take the labor-community alliance projects building solidarity for labor strikes or the campaign for an increase in the minimum wage? We can all make a long list here, but the core idea should be apparent, at least for starters, and we invite your responses and queries.
1. We need something new
. The left is not likely to find critical mass through mergers of existing groups, although any such events would be positive. But a new formation to which all would be equally cooperative in a larger project—call it a Left Front or Left Alliance—would have a greater impact. Groups participating in it could retain whatever degree of autonomy they desire, such as keeping their own newspapers, national committees, local clubs meeting separately, and so on. Every group involved can exercise its own independence and initiative, to the degree it finds necessary. But all would be striving in common to help the overall project succeed. While the US situation is not strictly comparable, the Front de Gauche in France, Die Linke in Germany, PODEMOS in Spain and Syriza in Greece serve as examples.
2. We need a ‘project based’ common front.
At the grassroots level, it would be comprised of joint projects—electoral, union organizing, campaigns against the far right, for a living wage or reducing student debt, for opposing war, racism, sexism and police violence, and many others. The existing left groups in a factory, a neighborhood, a city or a campus, would be encouraged to advance the joint projects.
3. We need a ‘critical mass’ at the core that is both young, working class and diverse.
While people from all demographics are welcome, the initial core has to be largely drawn from the Millennials, those born after 1980 or so. And the core also has to be a rainbow of nationalities with gender equity, and well-connected to union and working class insurgencies. If the initial core at the beginning is too ‘white’ or too ‘1968ers’, it will not be a pole with the best attractive power for a growing new generation of socialist and radical minded activists.
4. We need a common aspiration for socialism.
That’s what makes us a ‘Left Front or Left Alliance’ rather than a broader popular front or people’s coalition. We are strongly supportive of these wider coalitions and building the left is not done in isolation from them. But we also see the wisdom in the concept: the stronger the core, the broader the front. Moreover we do not require a unified definition on what socialism is; only that a larger socialist pole makes for an even wider, deeper and more sustainable common front of struggle.
5. We do not need full agreement on strategy.
A few key concepts—the centrality of fighting white supremacy, the intersection of race, class and gender, the alliance and merger of the overall workers movement and the movements of the communities of the oppressed—will do. We can also agree on cross-class alliances focused on critical targets: new wars, the far right and the austerity schemes imposed by finance capital. Additional elements, perspectives, nuances and ‘shades of difference’ can be debated, discussed and adjusted in the context of ongoing struggle
6. We need a flexible but limited approach to elections.
We can affirm that supporting our own or other candidates is a matter of tactics to be debated case-by-case, and not a matter of ‘principle’ that would exclude ever voting for any particular Democrat, Green or Socialist. We see the importance for social movements to have an electoral arm that presses and fights for their agenda within government bodies.
7. We need to be well embedded in grassroots organizations.
Especially important are the organizations of the working class and in the communities of the oppressed—unions and worker centers, civil rights and women’s rights, youth and students, peace and justice, churches and communities of faith, cooperatives and other groups tied to the solidarity economy, and other community-based NGOs and nonprofits.
8. We need to be internationalists.
But we do not have to require support for any particular countries or bloc of countries and national liberation movements, past or present. But we do oppose the wars of aggression, occupations and other illicit interventions of ‘our own’ ruling class, along with the hegemonism, ‘superpower mentality’ and Great Power chauvinism it promotes. That is the best way we can promote world peace and practice solidarity and assistance to forces beyond our borders.
[Carl Davidson and Pat Fry are national co-chairs of Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Bill Fletcher Jr. is a member of several socialist organizations and author of ‘They’re Bankrupting Us! And 20 Other Myths about Unions’ Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org ]
The National Coordinating Committee met at its quarterly meeting September 28th and took stock of the current worldwide crises brought on by U.S. imperialism and the growing repression and protests at home. Opening with a presentation on the “Political Time of Day – At Home and Abroad,” Carl Davidson discussed the new round of U.S. “crusader” wars on Iraq, Syria and Yemen. Referring to Tom Hayden’s writings on what he calls “The Long War,” Davidson said it is part of a wider framework – “a war that will go on for decades and involve more than the Middle East but also Yemen and other areas of Africa.”
Davidson noted that the “Occupy Central” uprisings in Hong Kong were, in part, aimed at breaking it away from China. “While many protestors have legitimate concerns, we should be very wary about being sucked into any attempts to break up China,” said Davidson.
On the home front austerity continues, said Davidson. Finance capital has recovered from the 2008 recession but another bubble of debt is building. The “racist bloc” in Congress blocks everything President Obama tries to do, and racism is behind the attacks on Attorney General Eric Holder, he said. “While Holder left a lot to be desired, the attacks on him have been based on racism like the attacks on Obama,” said Davidson.
The ongoing protests in Ferguson, said Davidson, are drawing important attention to the epidemic rise of racist police killings of Black youth in Missouri and many cities around the country.
On the 2014 elections, Davidson said that if the Senate remains in hands of the Democrats, it will be by one or two seats and is too close to call at this point. “We have to go all out to get out the vote, organize around the local issues that will bring people to the polls, utilize social networking,” he said. “We need to weaken the Republican bloc in any way we can,” said Davidson.
In discussion, several NCC members commented on the issue of the racist police crimes in Ferguson, New York City and elsewhere. Carl Redwood (PA) spoke about the protests organized in Ferguson, MO for Oct. 10-13. Police attacks on Blacks are continuing and not reported by the media, he said. “A number of activities are being linked – from the Ferguson protests to the new trial in December of Marissa Alexander in Florida,” said Redwood. CCDS members in Pittsburgh and Lexington are organizing with local coalitions to bring car loads of people to participate in the Ferguson protests.
Ted Reich (NY) noted that the police “stop and frisk” is still a reality for Black and Latino New Yorkers. “This year arrests of minorities are at the same percentage – 86% – as last year under the previous mayor.
Pat Fry (NY) urged everyone to read the speech by AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka at the Missouri labor federation on the issue of racism and why it is in labor’s interest to speak out on the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Fry said that the entire speech should be read because stories about it have omitted some of the most important passages; for example, Trumka’s recounting of the 1917 labor-led racist attack on Black workers as an example of how racism divides and hurts all workers.
Zach Robinson (NC) drew attention to the Ebola crisis used to extend the U.S. global war in Africa. He also noted a poll showing that satisfaction with U.S. governance has reached the same low level as during the Watergate crisis.
Randy Shannon (PA) said that much of the continuing financial crisis that began in 2008 is being ignored. Long-term unemployment continues and the global crisis of capital is intensifying, reminiscent of the situation before WW I and II, said Shannon. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries are developing an alternative economic structure not based on U.S. dollars which is bad for U.S. finance and in the past has led to wars, he said.
Local Area Developments
Brief highlights of developments locally were presented by Tina Shannon (PA), Harry Targ (IN), and Kathy Sykes (MS). Shannon spoke about working in Western PA on issues of Climate Change and the fight against fracking with the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Members are using the recently issued CCDS pamphlet, “System Change, Not Climate Change” in local coalition work.
Targ reported on the newly launched Indiana Moral Mondays and the success of a mass meeting in Indianapolis with Rev. William Barber, President of the NC NAACP and leader of the North Carolina Moral Monday movement. Targ represented CCDS in the coalition that organized the events.
Sykes reported on the “Moral Movement Mississippi” that held a rally and march in downtown Jackson shortly after she returned from the People’s Climate March in NYC. On October 9th, Sykes reported that the Mississippi Alliance for Fairness at Nissan, a community labor coalition of which she is a member will host a visit by union leaders from seven countries organized by IndustriaALL Global Union in support of the UAW organizing campaign at Nissan. Sykes spoke of efforts to build a CCDS chapter in Jackson and said there is interest in joining among activists she works with.
Paul Krehbiel (So. CA) said “there are organizations that we work with that are open to CCDS and open to socialism as they define it. We have an important opportunity to talk about what we mean by socialism.” Krehbiel proposed that CCDS produce a pamphlet on the topic.
Other areas have launched CCDS organizing initiatives. In Greenville, NC, Zach Robinson reported on the “Socialist Social Hour” dinner and discussion gatherings which bring together some 20-25 people regularly. Not all identify as socialists, said Robinson, but they are people active in organizations with socialists. Ira Grupper (KY) reported that there is a CCDS study group started up in Louisville. Janet Tucker (KY) said that the local CCDS chapter in Lexington continues to hold monthly “Socialist Brunches” with good discussion on issues of the day.
People’s Climate March
Anne Mitchell (NY) and Ted Reich (NY) reported on the successful People’s Climate March on September 21st in NYC. They noted the important aspects of the march including the participation of the labor movement, indigenous communities, large numbers of young people and those impacted by “Superstorm Sandy” that devastated NY and NJ coastal areas. The CCDS contingent had participation from members in NY, Boston, and Pittsburgh. The CCDS pamphlet was distributed in good numbers both at the “Convergence” workshops the day preceding the march as well as at the march itself. CCDS member David Schwartzman of Washington D.C. presented at one of the workshops and promoted the CCDS pamphlet.
Marian Gordon reported that CCDS was active with others in a Los Angeles left unity group to build a march of some 2,000 people in conjunction with the People’s Climate March in NYC the same day. Steve Willett (N. CA) reported that CCDS and others on the left played an important role in organizing a People’s Climate March in the Bay Area with eventual participation by 350.org and the Sierra Club. He said the initial push and organizing were undertaken by the Bay Area Eco-Socialist Project.
Cole Harrison (MA) attended the NYC march as part of the Peace contingent which held a pre-march rally. The peace movement did its part with a strong turnout and participation, said Harrison.
Finance and Membership
Treasurer Steve Willett presented the following report on membership and finances: As of September 27, CCDS had $30,533.40 in cash assets. Reserves declined somewhat over the year. The cash flow shows that we have spent about $4,000 more than we have taken in this year to date. This is mainly attributable to increased spending in two areas – conference expenses this year, primarily travel, and the printing of D&I and the Climate Change pamphlet, even though we raised almost $2,000 to support the pamphlet. Our membership continues its long-term decline, although there are fluctuations during the year. The net affect each year has been the loss of a few dozen members, and currently our national membership stands at around 450.”
Carl Davidson and Steve Willett reported that the CCDS web site was hacked and had to be taken down and rebuilt. Courtney Childs (OR) volunteered to help with the project. Long time CCDS webmaster Senora Amos retired from the position after building the organization’s first web site and working on it for several years. The Administrative Committee thanked Senora for all her dedicated work in a letter of appreciation together with a small severance.
The Future of CCDS: Paths to a New Organization
Carl Davidson reported on discussions within the Organizing Committee on the future of CCDS in the context of efforts at building left unity. Davidson talked about new organizing initiatives of socialist youth including LeftRoots, Jacobin study circles, Young Democratic Socialists, Young Communist League, Philly Socialists, and the Kentucky Workers League. The Organizing Committee will offer more concretes and a guide for NCC discussion in the coming weeks on how CCDS can help build these initiatives and work toward left unity. Carl urged NCC members or local CCDS chapters to consider becoming a financial sustainer to LeftRoots, called “compas” (short for the “compañeras”). Some CCDS members already participate in Jacobin study circles and YDS youth conferences in various areas of the country.
Davidson noted the resources that CCDS has built up over the years that should be utilized in promoting joint activity, i.e., Portside, CCDS Links, Online University of the Left, D&I, and our local area chapters.
A report on CCDS participation at the 2014 School of the Americas protest November 21-23 at Ft. Benning in Georgia was presented by Carl Davidson and Jim Skillman. A committee will plan content for CCDS workshops during the weekend activities, coordinate members who can participate, reserve a literature table and hotel rooms and other logistics. Davidson reported that the committee has invited the YCL, LeftRoots, YDS and Jacobin Magazine to share a “left unity” literature table.
Anne Mitchell reported on the newly established “Carl Bloice Institute for Socialist Education” youth school sponsored by the Committees of Correspondence Education Fund that will be held October 23-25, 2014 in New York City. Twenty young people from around the country are expected to participate, some of whom attended the school held during the 2014 CCDS convention in Pittsburgh. A reception will be held Thursday evening and sessions will take place the following Friday and Saturday. The classes will include Labor; Religion and Capitalism; Immigration Reform; Transnational Solidarity: US, Cuba, South Africa; Theory & Practice in The Struggle for Democracy & Socialism; Left Unity; Hereditary Poverty to Poverty Alleviation: Challenges for a New Generation of Organizers; and Healthcare As A Human Rights Issue, or What’s Capitalism Got To Do With It.
The next meeting of the NCC will be held January 11, 2015.
Part of the CCDS team at the conference: Kathy Sykes, Janet Tucker, Harry Targ, Paul Krehbiel
By Paul Krehbiel
Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
"The capitalist class is in a serious crisis without solution," said David Schweikart at the Moving Beyond Capitalism conference held in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico from July 30-August 5, 2014. "But there is a solution," he said, "economic democracy, democratic socialism." Over 200 people from 15 countries discussed how to make this happen, organized by the Center for Global Justice.
Chronic high unemployment, depression of wages and benefits, cuts in social services, and growing inequality and repression, and social and political resistance are endemic to nearly all capitalist countries, said Schweikart, a Philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and author of After Capitalism.
Schweikart’s model of democratic socialism calls for a regulated competitive market economy, socialized means of production and democratic workplaces (he advocates worker-run cooperatives as an example), non-profit public banks to finance projects, full employment, and a guarantee that human needs will be meet for everyone.
Cliff DuRand, a conference organizer, said people are creating alternatives to capitalism today all over the world. "If we’ve built these alternative institutions, the next time the capitalist system collapses…we will be able to survive without it."
Gustavo Esteva, a former Mexican government official, founder of the University of the Land in Oxaca, and an advisor to the Zapatistas in Chiapas in southern Mexico, gave a good account of how the indigenous people of this region are creating a new democratic and socialist-oriented society that they control, within the borders of a capitalist Mexico. The Zapatistas launched an armed uprising in the mid-1990’s to stop NAFTA and the Mexican government from allowing multi-national corporations to come into Chiapas to extract minerals to enrich the corporations and destroy their lives and their local economy.
Ana Maldonado of the Venezuelan Ministry of Communal Economy could not attend, so University of Utah Professor Al Campbell filled in for her. Campbell has worked in Venezuelan with the Community Councils, a new form of grassroots democracy and socialism. Created in 2006 by the late socialist president Hugo Chavez, there are 20,000 Community Councils today, each holding meetings in neighborhoods where all residents can attend, discuss, and vote on decisions for their community.
Private, for-profit banks came under sharp attack for causing the 2008 Great Recession, and for ripping off billions of dollars from people world-wide, primarily through charging high interest rates. Ellen Brown, founder of the Public Banking Institute based in California, declared, "Without interest payments, there would be no national debt," which now stands at over $15 trillion. Politicians use the debt as an excuse to cut funds for education, health care and other social programs. An example of local bank rip-offs is a bank loan for the purchase of a house, where the homeowner pays the bank 2-3 times or more than the cost of the house due to interest payments.
Brown said the solution is to set up not-for-profit public or state banks — like the Bank of North Dakota. She describes how to do it in her book Democratizing Money: The Public Bank Solution. Since the 2008 economic crash, 20 other states including California have introduced bills to study or establish publicly-owned state banks.
"The US controls third world countries," Brown explained, "by putting them in debt and then forcing repayment with high interest rates," which they can’t afford to pay. Brown said the book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, by John Perkins, explains how devastating this is.
Coops in Cuba
Camila Pineiro Harnecker, a leader of the cooperative movement in socialist Cuba, explained that her country is giving much more attention to the development of worker-run cooperatives as a way to help workers create jobs for themselves, and learn how to become masters of their work and work lives. The state socialist sector dominates the economy, but coops now comprise 12% of the workforce and are expected to increase in number.
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All CCDS Members and Friends
The most important march to save our planet will take place in New York City September 21st. We urge your fullest participation. The march will be held on the occasion of the UN Summit on Climate Change two days following the march. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon will be joining the march along with tens of thousands. Trains, buses and planes will be coming in from all over the country.
CCDS is among more than 1,000 endorsing organizations. Below are March details. For more information and flyers, go to www.peoplesclimate.org.
This will be an important opportunity to distribute our new CCDS brochure “Change the System, not the Climate.” (click here)
Look for the CCDS banner and march with our contingent. Check back at this site for details of location to be announced soon.
Call or write Ted Reich of Metro NY CCDS for more information on the CCDS participation:
The March – 11:30 am, Sunday, September 21st
Assembly location: the area north of Columbus Circle.
- The march will begin at 11:30 am.
- leave Columbus Circle and go east on 59th Street
- turn onto 6th Ave. and go south to 42nd Street
- turn right onto 42nd Street and go west to 11th Ave
- turn left on 11th Ave. and go south to 34th Street
End Location: 11th Ave. in the streets between 34th Street and 38th Street
FROM REBELLION TO COMMUNITY CONTROL OF THE POLICE: A MESSAGE OFSOLIDARITY FROM CHICAGO TO FERGUSON
By Frank Chapman, Field Organizer
Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
The murder, this past Sunday, of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old African American, in Ferguson, Missouri has resulted in an uprising of the people. We send heart-felt condolences to the family and friends of Michael Brown and stand in solidarity with the sisters and brothers in Ferguson.
The media has focused on the so-called “rioting” and the police with dogs, clubs and guns ready were poised for making the usual blood bath to put down the rebellion. But the determined will of the people to stop police crimes also erupted in organized mass protest and “cries of no justice no peace!” We can say to our sisters and brothers in the struggle in Ferguson thank you for not being quiet and tame in the face of death stalking our communities like a hungry lion. Thank you for your outrage and for finding the courage to stand up to police who are more and more behaving like an organized lynch mob. Criminals who operate under the authority of the badge are the worst kind of criminals because the system will not jail them or prosecute them when they commit crimes against African Americans and Latinos. So we say to the powers that be don’t you dare counsel us about “rioting” until you stop these lawless acts of cops who kill and brutalize our people with impunity. Who do you think you are that you can murder and abuse us and spew your racist venom at us and then chide us about being outraged?
Let’s look at some underlying realities. The population of Ferguson is at least 60% African American and its poverty is double Missouri’s average. While Black people are struggling with poverty there is also in Ferguson Emerson Electric, a $24 billion company with 132,000 employees all around the world. In an area where there are billions of dollars in revenue poverty is common place and police repression rampant. This is the reality of the United States of North America which claims to be concerned about democracy in Iraq but can’t take a stand against the unwarranted violence perpetrated against its own citizens and residents.
We must make this a political struggle because we are confronted with political repression with a racist cutting edge. In our righteous anger we must not just engage in rants of rage. We must start now to organize people to force our political representatives to enact laws that will empower the people to hold the police accountability for the crimes they commit. We need a strong democratic voice through an elected Civilian Police Accountability Council. That’s what we are fighting for here in Chicago but police crimes are not confined to Chicago we must fight for this everywhere. Ferguson included.
For more information on the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, see <http://naarpr.org/>.
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.
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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.