The atmosphere was vibrant and exciting at the hall packed with young activists attending the April 8 all-day regional conference organized by the Baltimore Chapter of Workers World Party. The themes of the gathering focused on socialism, revolution and fighting national oppression.
Less than an hour into the program, organizers had to set up more tables and chairs at the 2640 Space to accommodate the 120 people who registered. Many expressed interest in joining WWP and attending membership classes.
Participants came mainly from Baltimore and throughout Maryland, Washington, D.C., northern Virginia and the Delmarva Peninsula (includes sections of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia). Delegations from New York City and Philadelphia brought new WWP members.
The conference was an opportunity to discuss revolutionary socialism with the emerging, young, anti-Trump forces who have been marching in the streets. It was also a place to strategize on the next steps given that the gathering was held three weeks before the “Global May Day Strike.”
Baltimore NAACP Secretary Sherelle Witherspoon and Archie Slade opened the conference with the Assata Shakur chant. The Rev. CD Witherspoon welcomed attendees to Baltimore. He denounced the two-party system and explained the continuing oppression of the city’s poor communities.
‘Next Step May Day’
There were two keynote presentations: Monica Moorehead, WWP’s 2016 presidential candidate and secretariat member, talked about the revolutionary history of Lucy Parsons, a Black, Indigenous, Mexican labor leader and a founder of May Day in 1886.
Larry Holmes, WWP first secretary, spoke on “Resistance in the Epoch of Trump — Next Step May Day.” Holmes emphasized the need to fight U.S. imperialism, a timely topic since the conference came just one day after the Pentagon bombing of Syria.
Rebecka Jackson and Rasika Ruwanpathirana led a special section on “The Artist’s Role in Revolution” and previewed “Up. Rise. The Film.” Both revolutionary organizers are filmmakers, artists and WWP leaders.
The conference played a special audio message from prisoners incarcerated at Vaughn Prison, site of a recent rebellion in Delaware. Steven Ceci, Baltimore WWP organizer, explained the party’s history of supporting prisoners’ struggles, beginning with the 1971 Attica prison rebellion.
In addition, there were three panels and floor discussions. The topics were: “Fighting racism, police terror and the war against immigrants — fighting for Black, Indigenous, women’s and trans liberation;” “Capitalism is at a dead end, socialism is the future;” and “Stopping the war at home and abroad.” Topics included U.S. imperialism and the war on Syria, fighting racist and neofascist forces in the U.S., the struggle at home and the impact of governmental budget cuts.
Representatives of Anakbayan-USA, the National U.S. Chapter of Filipino Youth & Students for National Democracy in the Philippines, attended. Obasi, member of Ujima Peoples Progress, spoke from the podium following a special presentation by Cuba solidarity activist Cheryl LaBash, who spoke on “Defending Cuba and Venezuela.”
Emily Fields, Towson State University student and Women’s Fightback Network representative, and transgender liberation activist Jamie Grace Alexander spoke on the opening panel. Taryn Fivek of WWP gave a presentation on the need to unite anti-capitalist forces, socialists and anarchists against state repression and capitalism. She appealed for support for more than 200 Jan. 20 protesters who face heavy charges stemming from the Washington, D.C., counterinaugural protests.
The floor discussion was lively and interesting. GG, an organizer with Sex Workers Organizing Project, challenged the socialist movement to learn more about sex workers’ issues. A student from the Maryland Institute College of Art asked about WWP’s definition of socialism versus Bernie Sanders’ “socialism.” Another young activist wanted to know about WWP’s view on armed struggle.
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Students from Johns Hopkins University reported on worker exploitation on their campus and were eager to learn more about socialism. The group connected with a presentation by Jennifer Garrison, of Philadelphia WWP, who spoke on organizing coffee shop workers to participate in the May Day strike.
At the closing session, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the rousing talk given by Tawanda Jones, whose brother was killed by Baltimore City Police. Lee Patterson, Baltimore WWP organizer, told of members’ weekly work and stressed the need for regular WW newspaper distributions.
Sharon Black ended this session with an appeal to participants to reject capitalist ideology based on individualism, which only leads to alienation and powerlessness, and to join WWP and the revolutionary struggle. She called on everyone to defend immigrants and fight racism, explaining that when a room of your house is on fire, it is critical to fight that fire or you risk the entire housing burning to the ground.
Baltimore organizers reported that even holding the conference was remarkable given that WWP members were in the streets protesting the U.S. missile strikes on Syria the day before the event. They organized two protests, one in Washington, D.C., at the Pentagon Metro Station during the day and another that evening in downtown Baltimore.
Everyone agreed: The conference was a huge success!