New York — A public meeting on Oct. 14 on the theme “Do It Like Durham” lived up to its promise of bringing the revolutionary spirit of the struggle against white supremacy to New York City. The two main speakers — Takiyah Thompson and Loan Tran — had come from North Carolina with other activists to explain the significance of the movement there that is shaking the foundations of racism implanted in this country through the capture and enslavement of millions of African people to be super-exploited by rich Southern plantation owners.
Thompson is the iconic figure in videos viewed around the world. She climbed up a tall ladder on Aug. 14 and placed a rope around a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood in front of the old Durham County courthouse.
A crowd of anti-racists then toppled this symbol of the Confederacy and the war to preserve slavery — the bloodiest war in U.S. history. Thompson and 14 others were arrested within days and given serious charges, including felonies.
Thompson received a standing ovation as she explained how talking about the struggle is therapeutic and enhanced her “desire to learn and understand the pathways to freedom — and the pitfalls.”
“I always fall back on friends and comrades,” said Thompson. “Revolutionary love is for the liberation of others and oneself. It’s all the same.” Her modesty in not talking about her own courageous conduct was deeply felt by the audience.
Loan Tran, another person arrested after the symbolic act against slavery and its virulent heritage in the U.S., emphasized that those arrested are proud of this struggle and “have done nothing wrong.”
Tran, who had been asked by many journalists why so many of those arrested are queer and/or trans people of color, said: “What I know, as a queer and gender nonconforming person of color, is that many of us fight because, materially, we have much to lose if we don’t fight — our safety, our jobs, our homes, our lives because of capitalist oppression. On the other hand, many of us fight because, materially, we don’t have much to lose — our safety, our jobs, our homes, our lives are already in jeopardy or stolen from us because of capitalist exploitation.”
Tran added: “Another key lesson from Durham that I’ve been sitting with is that while we must never underestimate the power of state repression, the answer is not paranoia or fear but to get organized. During the first week following the statue toppling, as organizers were targeted, arrested, getting their homes raided — not to mention being followed, doxed and threatened by white supremacists while the state turned its back on us — we had to make sure we were getting organized broader and deeper.
“One strong example of this was an action on Aug. 17, which called for anti-racist fighters in our city to show up at the jail to turn themselves in, to say: ‘If you target some of us for tearing down white supremacy, then arrest us, too!’
“Hundreds showed up for this action, with over 70 people turning themselves in. One after another, they were turned away by the sheriffs.” Tran’s entire talk is online at workers.org.
The meeting blended in reports from New York on related struggles. Imani Henry spoke about the struggle in Brooklyn for affordable housing led by Equality for Flatbush. Teresa Gutierrez announced efforts underway to send a brigade to Puerto Rico to support the people there battling the Trump administration’s criminal neglect and insults after the devastation of Hurricane Irma.
William Camacaro gave a brief update on the new threats by the U.S. against Venezuela. John Steffin reported on a struggle at Columbia University to cancel speaking invitations to far-right ideologues.
The program was further enlivened by a powerful rap and hip-hop number delivered by Vijou Bryant of Gabriela New York, a Filipina women’s group. Bryant is also co-coordinator of the International Working Women’s Day Coalition and is of both Philippine and African-American heritage.
(WW photo: Brenda Ryan)
(WW photo: Brenda Ryan)