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Black leaders link issues to building united front

Published Oct 25, 2005 11:01 PM

On Oct. 22 in New York, the Workers World newspaper staff hosted an important forum called "Katrina: A Challenge for the Movement: Forging a united front between the Black liberation, workers' and anti-imperialist struggles." The forum attracted an overflowing multinational crowd of progressives and activists from New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston and other areas.

The panel featured prominent African-American representatives based in New York, Raleigh and New Orleans. These leaders talked about the issues of the day from anti-racist, pro-labor, pro-community and anti-war perspectives. The following are excerpts from each of the speakers' presentations. Go to www.workers.org/2005/us/oct22_podcast/ to hear and see the talks in their entirety.

Workers World newspaper is hosting this forum because our weekly newspaper is very proud to have covered the ideas and struggles of these speakers, especially those with the Million Worker March Movement. Having these leaders contribute to our newspaper has made our paper so much stronger in helping to provide political clarity to the movement and broader sectors of people in general.

We hope that this forum will play an important role in showing why it is critical to build this type of unity, especially in light of the Katrina disaster, which tore away any doubt that may have lingered that racism and poverty do exist inside the largest imperialist country. We hope that this forum will help bring a greater understanding of the relationship between unity and solidarity, and of the pivotal, strategic and genuine role that Black leadership must have when we talk about national liberation, fighting against war and for workers' rights.
Monica Moorehead, Workers World newspaper staff

The U.S. government has become much more repressive since 9/11. The Black working class, therefore, does not feel strengthened by our membership in the trade union movement unless we are also organized as part of an African American liberation movement which has historically been the catalyst for a broader democratic and anti-imperialist movement. The impact of this working-class crisis, particularly the failure of the trade unions as its most organized sector to defend the most oppressed and exploited sectors, has hastened the need and consciousness for a national Black united front.

The Millions More Movement demonstration that was organized by a national Black united front shows that the African American liberation movement is capable of building and anchoring a broad peoples' front against U.S. imperialism. The Black working class must become an organized sector of the national Black united front as it continues to develop leadership in a worker's fight-back movement that seeks to push forward and radically transform the U.S. trade union and workers' movement. The Million Worker March Movement was the only conscious and persistent effort to agitate for organized labor's participation in the Millions More Movement.
Saladin Muhammad, Chairperson, Black Workers for Justice in Raleigh, N.C.; Southern Region Coordinator of the Million Worker March Movement

I have been in New Orleans for 27 years, leading many, many struggles of the working-class, oppressed African American nation there. I compare what happened to us in New Orleans to what happened to my ancestors when we were kidnapped and stolen from Africa. The method and means that they got us out was like us on the auction block once again. Men and women, mothers and children, sisters and brothers were split up. When you got on the bus, you didn't know where you were going. They had officers with guns and soldiers with guns on the bus. You couldn't get off of the bus.

Many of us who have been active in New Orleans decided to pull together as a united front all of those who had been active in fighting on behalf of the working class and poor people of New Orleans. And we had a meeting a week after the storm, in Baton Rouge, where we began to talk about the necessity of building a movement with supporters around the country to allow our people to get back on their feet and to return home. We have to build an action to take on the inaction of the government, which has exposed itself
Malcolm Suber, Katrina survivor from New Orleans; People's Hurricane Relief Fund

Workers World has presented all of us a critical opportunity to address a lot of questions that will not be addressed at the forum today. We will have to have an ongoing discussion. I started out being involved in the national liberation struggle and tended towards revolutionary nationalism. Been a worker since I was 14, but not a conscious worker in terms of the labor movement. But at some point in my life, these two struggles converged together. I am an African American woman; I am oppressed here in the United States as part of an oppressed nation and I'm also part of the working class. These two struggles are entwined. I consider myself a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary nationalist.

We must never be misguided that our ultimate aim is to bring down the regime of this country, not only for ourselves but for people internationally. That's what they depend on us to do. If people are in agreement that we are in a prisonhouse of nations, then the question of rebuilding a united front is talking about building principled unity and solidarity based on an anti-imperialist agenda amongst all those nations.

Brenda Stokely, Million Worker March Movement Eastern Region Co-coordinator; Co-convener, New York City Labor Against War; Troops Out Now Coalition

We don't want to leave out the [email protected], the Arabs, the Palestinians, all of the people from the Middle East and Asia, Native people—all who must come together because they have a common enemy in their struggle for liberation, and that is imperialism. The Gulf Coast has created an opportunity to revive, or at least strenghthen in reaction to this development, the Black liberation movement. A new challenge for other sectors is to show that they understand that here is the time that you can solidarize yourself with the struggle of Black people for self-determination.

The struggle in the Gulf is a struggle for Black power. We must not let the struggle in the Gulf be secondary, be isolated because the bourgeoisie is literally trying to drown it. It is for us to make sure that the militant Black trade unionists and militant Black revolutionary communists who are also nationalists, and I maintain that there is no contradiction—that they are not isolated. We can support the front but we must not allow the most advanced elements to be isolated or marginalized.
Larry Holmes, Workers World Party; Troops Out Now Coalition

I believe that with the Millions More Movement, Million Worker March Movement and the Million Woman March, that we need to build on that. We should be having these every six months. You have to render the government inoperable. If on Monday morning, there were 5 million people in Washington, D.C., that locked it down who said nobody is leaving until George leaves, George would have to go—because the capitalists would demand that he leave, because business has to go on.

How do we ensure that people come back to their places, because there is also culture in New Orleans. If you aren't careful, New Orleans will become a museum where we heard about jazz instead of hearing jazz and all the influences of African people. We don't need a nuclear bomb. We don't need a dirty bomb. We simply need to organize the people. I believe in the people. I believe that people should have the opportunity to live with dignity, to retire with dignity.
Chris Silvera, Million Worker March Movement Eastern Region Co-coordinator; President, Teamsters National Black Caucus

New Orleans came very close to being plunged into a race war that was perpetuated by an old way of thinking—a plantation way of thinking that fabricated the demonization of young African American males that are poor. Many were slaughtered and many are wasting away under the most brutal conditions. Over 2,000 African Americans are now incarcerated for looting. Maybe over 100 were killed by either law enforcement or white vigilantes.

We have surrounding parishes like Jefferson Parish, our neighboring parish that received very little damage as far as flooding is concerned, that had empty land that could have been used to house at least half of the people evacuated out of New Orleans. But the only thing they did was build bunkers on every major thoroughfare to make sure that no Black from New Orleans was allowed in that parish. That was the parish of David Duke. That was the same parish that denied Black doctors with medicines from entering Algiers.
Malik Rahim, resident of Algiers neighborhood in New Orleans; Common Ground Collective

While the ruling class feasts on the misery of the poor and the have nots, we must not despair, because the conditions created in the wake of Katrina will create an opportunity for the left that has never existed before. We have activists from the South, we have people from the North, we have people calling for a regional and national plan to deal with what is happening with Blacks in New Orleans as a microcosm of what is happening with poor people throughout the nation. Let us seize this moment to forge a united political front of Blacks, of whites, of workers, of students. Now is the time.

No matter how you feel about the Nation of Islam or the Million More Movement, 1 million people came to Washington, D.C. You cannot ignore that. You can not diminish that. What are we going to do as the left to forge an agenda within that movement to build a working-class struggle?
Nellie Bailey, Harlem Tenants Council; Troops Out Now Coalition

Dec. 1 grants us another opportunity to build the movement we've been talking about here today. With regards to youth, student walkouts are being organized, some spontaneously. About 100 youth are traveling here from the South to march on Wall Street on Dec. 1 for "educational purposes."

Youth have a special role to play in that movement. We face special attacks as well. They could call Black youth "looters" in New Orleans, but they sure did try to recruit them to the military once they got to the Houston Astrodome. I encourage everyone here to get involved in carrying today's dialogue forward and building the movement.
LeiLani Dowell, Fight Imperialism-Stand Together (FIST) youth group; Workers World newspaper staff