Cleveland Black Lives Convening: ‘One of the best experiences of my life’

Imani Henry

Imani Henry

Imani Henry, an organizer of the People’s Power Assembly, attended the Movement for Black Lives National Convening at Cleveland State University from July 24 to July 26. Henry reported on this historic occasion at a Workers World Party meeting on July 31 in New York City and described it as “one of the best experiences of my life.”

Nearly 2,000 people participated. They came to Cleveland on buses or airplanes from all over the country. A busload of activists came from Los Angeles, as well as from Harlem and Brooklyn, N.Y. There were international representatives from Africa, with others traveling from Canada, the Dominican Republic, England and Germany.

Henry explained that the event commemorated the two-year anniversary of Black Lives Matter’s founding, amidst mass outrage at the July 2013 acquittal of racist vigilante George Zimmerman, for killing African-American youth Trayvon Martin. The organization, which describes itself as a national network, mobilized to support the movement in Ferguson, Mo., protesting the police killing of Michael Brown, another African-American youth. BLM now has chapters all over the country which have organized and joined protests against racist killings by police and vigilantes.

The Movement for Black Lives blog explains: “This historic event comes at a pivotal time for the growing movement for Black lives in the United States. Black people are facing unabated police violence, increasing criminalization, a failed economic system, a broken education system, and the loss of our communities to gentrification and development. Our trans and queer communities face the increased risk of physical and economic violence.

“Many have taken to the streets in response to this ongoing state of emergency. … Black people from across the country have led a wave of resistance that has spread around the world. A new crop of freedom fighters has emerged and urgent desire for Black victory has been rekindled in the hearts of seasoned activists. …

“This convening presents an opportunity for us to reflect on our histories of struggle, build a sense of fellowship … and begin to heal from the many traumas we face. … We will strengthen a budding community that is diverse in voices, origin, perspective and strategy.”

This gathering was held in the city where 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down. Henry told the meeting that the night before the program began, its participants demonstrated against the racist police murders of Rice and so many other African Americans.

Henry stressed that BLM’s co-founders and leaders are Black women — Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullers and Opal Tometi — and that two are queer-identified. He told of BLM’s “Day of Action” in solidarity with Black trans women under the slogan “Black Trans Lives Matter.”

There was a strong youth presence. Many who came have been activists for the last two years, since BLM began. Among the many communities who attended were Black-identified Latinos and Latinas — or “Blatinas,” as they call themselves. The Dream Defenders, led by Black and Brown youth, were there. Ramona Africa was there. Freed four-decade prisoner Eddie Conway and other former political prisoners participated, including Dhoruba bin Wahad.

‘All Black Lives Matter!’

There were many highlights of this monumental event. Before a standing-room-only crowd, the conference opened with its first panel. Up on stage were family members of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other African-American victims of police and vigilante violence. The audience leaped to their feet chanting, “Black Lives Matter!” for 15 minutes. “Black Trans Lives Matter!” was another strong chant as was “All Black Lives Matter!”

During much of the weekend, Henry participated in the Ella Baker Freedom School, a “liberated space” with revolutionary child care. The Cleveland Freedom School participated, too. They discussed the Civil Rights and Black Liberation movements. Recognizing that youth and children are part of today’s movement, they talked about their experiences and thoughts about police brutality and activism in Ferguson and other cities. Songs of freedom and struggle rang out.

Among the many workshops was a popular one organized by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, which discussed creating people’s power in the U.S.

At the closing session, everyone was urged to take care of themselves. The theme prevailed that “We believe we can win!” Everyone was reminded to join in actions in Ferguson on Aug. 8 and 9, the anniversary of Michael Brown’s death — or to participate in solidarity actions in New York City, on the West Coast and elsewhere.

Yet, the day was not over, stressed Henry. Convention participants rushed to defend a 14-year-old Black youth who had been stopped, frisked and arrested by Cleveland police at a bus stop near the venue. Activists surrounded the police car in which he was being held, locking arms in a direct action protest and chanting, “Let him go!” Police officers then responded by pepper-spraying everyone on the line.

Then, 75 New York City activists took over a restaurant’s parking lot in solidarity. Some people rushed back from the airport to help.
Suddenly, medical and legal advisers appeared. The young man’s mother was contacted, and he was ultimately released. People’s power prevailed.

Among representatives of the many organizations which attended were other members of the People’s Power Assembly, the revolutionary youth group Fight Imperialism, Stand Together (FIST), and Workers World Party.