Dear Brother John Lewis,
I am a Black woman, who, like you, was born in Alabama at the dawn of the modern day Civil Rights Movement. My parents supported the Montgomery Bus Boycott. I, like millions of others, suffered through the indignities of Jim Crow, including watching, as an adolescent, my mother being “escorted” out of a white-only public bathroom by the police.
So I understand firsthand and respect your bravery and your contribution to the Black freedom struggle.
I know that half a century ago, you were nearly beaten to death when state troopers and Klansmen attacked the march from Selma to Montgomery.
Back then, you faced the reality of racist violence and the possibility of your own death on a daily basis. Back then, you were in the vanguard of the Civil Rights revolution. Nobody can ever take that away from you.
With all due respect, however, what you did the other day during the announcement of the Black Congressional Caucus Political Action Committee’s support for the candidacy of Hillary Clinton was counterrevolutionary.
The problem isn’t that you didn’t see Bernie Sanders at the 1963 March on Washington or during the freedom rides. The problem is that you are not seeing the millions of young people, especially young Black people and other people of color, who are using the Sanders campaign to send a message to the capitalist political establishment.
They are using the Sanders campaign to say they are tired of waiting for justice. They are using the Sanders campaign to say they are sick and tired of young people of color being murdered for the crime of walking, talking, or driving while Black.
They are saying they are tired of the police war on Black America, and they are tired of mass incarceration.
They are saying they are not willing to support establishment politicians merely because some of us have known them.
They are saying they don’t want to be told to stay in their place, to be patient, to be realistic and support the status quo. They are saying they want more than the false promises of incremental change; they demand radical, revolutionary change and they want it NOW.
Bernie Sanders refers to himself as a socialist (that’s good because it has people talking about socialism). Actually he’s more of a New Deal liberal.
I’m a real socialist, a revolutionary socialist with a capital S. I believe that the Democratic Party is a political prison for the workers and oppressed, because, just like the Republican Party, it is controlled by and serves the interests of capitalism.
Frankly, Sanders is not great on racism. He’s said that he opposes reparations for Black people to compensate for the crimes against them dating back to slavery. It’s taken considerable pressure to get Sanders to take the struggle against racism seriously. And he still has a long way to go.
But within the narrow confines of the Democratic Party, next to Hillary Clinton, who personifies the political establishment, Sanders looks radical.
Sure, Clinton has felt the pressure to give more lip service to fighting racism, sexism, and LGBTQ oppression.
But Clinton’s real campaign message is that radical change is unrealistic and she’s the realistic candidate.
I’m sure, Brother Lewis, that when you were young, you were on the receiving end of many lectures about the need to be “realistic” and to be “patient.” You remember when older Civil Rights leaders made you tone down your speech at the 1963 march on Washington because they felt it was too militant.
You remember your just criticism of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 because it did not address the prevalence of racist police brutality. Surely you remember all the times you were told to slow down, cool down, and follow the lead of the older leaders.
Indeed, 50 years ago this year, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was formed in part because old guard Civil Rights leaders were not doing anything to stop police violence against Black people.
On the surface, this all seems like a generational struggle, and to some extent, it is. But it’s more than that. It’s a struggle between those who stand with the capitalist establishment and those who demand radical change.
I still respect your contribution to our struggle for freedom. But this time, Brother Lewis, sadly, you are standing on the wrong side of history.
Workers World Party 2016 presidential candidate