[sixties-l] Fwd: BLACK COMEBACK

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: 12/06/00

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    >From: "L.A. Kauffman" <lak@free-radical.org>
    >Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2000 10:15:34 -0800
    >Subject: [freeradical] BLACK COMEBACK
    >FREE RADICAL: chronicle of the new unrest
    >           by L.A. KAUFFMAN
    >           www.free-radical.org
    >[to subscribe, write freeradical-request@lists.riseup.net with the word
    >subscribe in the email subject or body]
    >An interview with KAI LUMUMBA BARROW . . . . .Issue #11
    >What if there was a revolution and nobody noticed?
    >OK, "revolution" is too grand a term, but the event in question is
    >undeniably historic: the creation, in the United States, of a
    >direct-action-based alliance across racial lines, between the predominantly
    >white movement against corporate globalization and the predominantly people
    >of color movement against criminal injustice.
    >You won't read about it in the mainstream media, but then, they didn't see
    >Seattle coming either. More troubling is how little discussion there seems
    >to be in radical and progressive circles about this nascent alliance: its
    >necessity, potential, and pitfalls.
    >Kai Lumumba Barrow has been a major figure behind the recent resurgence of
    >direct action within movements of color. She works fulltime as an organizer
    >for SLAM!, the Student Liberation Action Movement, based in the City
    >University of New York, especially Manhattan's Hunter College. Since the
    >mid-Nineties, SLAM! has been a pioneering activist force on the East Coast,
    >mobilizing working-class students of color in a series of savvy and daring
    >campaigns for educational access, economic justice, and other issues.
    >This past summer, SLAM! brought the largely white New York City Direct
    >Action Network (NYC-DAN) and other groups together to plan a joint action
    >against the Republican Party Convention in Phildadelphia, focused on
    >questions of criminal injustice. The process was a bumpy one -- in
    >particular, there was resistance within NYC-DAN to what some felt was a turn
    >away from the group's focus on corporate globalization, resistance that many
    >activists of color viewed as racist -- but the coalition held, and holds to
    >this day.
    >In this frank and wide-ranging interview, Kai Lumumba Barrow places this
    >development within a broad historical context, focusing particularly on the
    >troubled state of the black liberation movement over the last 25 years and
    >its current revitalization. She sheds light both on why African-American
    >radicals moved away from direct-action protest beginning in the mid 1960s,
    >and why she and other activists of color are experimenting with it anew
    >                    -----------------
    >Kai Lumumba Barrow: I was raised by a black nationalist family, so I came to
    >activist struggles early. It's difficult for me to say when I was
    >politicized, because it seems like it's always been there. But I guess
    >probably '68, the Democratic Convention, stands out for me.
    >I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents were involved in various
    >organizations and we lived in a co-op building where a lot of Panthers and
    >Yippies and so forth came and stayed during the Convention. I was about 10,
    >and I remember feeling close to some of the folks who were staying in our
    >house before the Convention began. You know, you're a kid, and you're the
    >homeowner's kid, so you get a special kind of attention. People were nice to
    >me, and I felt they were my friends.
    >So when Daley turned his pigs on the people, and the people came back to the
    >house, bleeding and beat up, I felt personally hurt. I felt like, they did
    >this to my friends.
    >After that I read Malcolm X, and I wanted a revolution. That's it, I
    >thought, we're going to do this. In high school, I was a knucklehead:
    >conscious, but not active. But I went to college thinking, this is where the
    >revolution is going to happen. I went to a historically black university in
    >Atlanta, and I was really taken aback: It was the Carter years, and Reagan
    >was beginning to show his ugly head, and there was no movement.
    >COINTELPRO had done a serious job on the Panther Party and then also the
    >Black Liberation Army. There was underground stuff happening but it was way,
    >way submerged. There wasn't any real movement specifically in black
    >communities any more. And I was on this campus with the bourgeoisie, the
    >black bourgeoisie, and I was really freaked out. Like, what is going on?
    >But then I got active around anti-apartheid work, building student
    >organizations on campus, and doing a lot of work at that time around Assata
    >Shakur and Joanne Little and other political prisoners.
    >I also became a member of the Republic of New Africa, whose full name was
    >the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa. It focused on
    >establishing a nation for black people in five states in the South. Doing a
    >lot of institution-building, in that sense. We started a school, a Saturday
    >school, did a lot of political prisoner work, and a lot of political
    >education work. Training and that sort of thing.
    >I stayed with that in different capacities for several years. I went back to
    >Chicago and started doing a lot of police brutality work there, still doing
    >prisoner support work, and ended up here in New York in the early 90s, still
    >staying with the same issues, around police brutality and prison work.
    >LAK: In the U.S., the tactics and techniques of direct action were really
    >pioneered by the black freedom movement of the Fifties and Sixties, but by
    >the early Seventies, those tactics are rarely seen in movements of color,
    >especially in black movements. How did that come to be?
    >KLB: There was a major shift in the political expression of the black
    >liberation movement in the mid-Sixties. I have recollections of looking at
    >the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and the dogs and that sort of thing,
    >and I have recollections of my family saying, Why are they allowing
    >themselves to be beaten and attacked by these pigs, by these racist pigs?
    >Why are they not fighting back?
    >So there were two predominant tendencies regarding which way forward for our
    >people. It's reductionist to say it, but it was primarily Malcolm X versus
    >Dr. King, and you choose your camp. And I tended to be in the Malcolm X
    >camp - still do, frankly.
    >The Black Panther Party, as the heirs of Malcolm X, said we're not going to
    >just stand by idly, we're going to utilize self-defense in order to get our
    >movement forward. And at that time the Party did engage in a lot of direct
    >action, from taking over the state capitol in California - that was a direct
    >action - to various activities that were going on in communities around the
    >Now, though, the black liberation movement is at a really crucial stage in
    >its development. We've seen a lot of our leadership and a lot of our
    >comrades killed and imprisoned and driven crazy, exiled, because we stood up
    >against oppression. And at this point there seems to be a reassessing of
    >which way we should we go. We've engaged in a critique around the standard
    >leadership model, the hierarchical leadership model; we've done a critique
    >around the party model; we've done a critique around every possible model
    >that we know exists, and at this point we're in the process of re-building.
    >So as a people, within different movements, we've been stunned to some
    >degree for a really long time. Since the early to mid Seventies. I think the
    >experiment with armed struggle models, underground models, hit us really
    >hard. The Party as a large movement kind of stopped at that point. There
    >have been smatterings of different things that have occurred since then, but
    >I don't think we've really been able to capture the imagination of our
    >communities in any broad way since that period.
    >So we've been kind of in this stalemate, and I think what's happening is
    >that we're starting to look back to, well, the Fifties. (laughter) This
    >dawned on me maybe about a year or so ago, and I was really pissed.  I was
    >like, damn it, we're going backwards. (laughter)
    >So we're starting to reassess the utilization of direct action and civil
    >disobedience, but we're coming at it, I think, more militantly than in the
    >Fifties. We've seen it as a way to engage more of our community. Primarily
    >what we've been doing since the Seventies is rallies and permitted protests
    >and those sort of things, that have been more or less non-confrontational. I
    >think we're starting to say, wait a minute. We've been using a multitude of
    >non-confrontational tactics, and I think at this point some of us are
    >starting to escalate some of the tactics that we're utilizing, understanding
    >that we're also the most victimized by the state for participating in those
    >We took the position in the past that nonviolent civil disobedience placed
    >us in a very passive position, so we started engaging in armed struggle or
    >at least self-defense. We didn't have enough experience with that perhaps,
    >or we didn't have enough support for that, and we were beat. We were beat
    >pretty badly.
    >We're trying to come back from that, get it together and figure out how
    >we're going to move forward. Taking the best of both self-defense and
    >militancy while still being accountable to our communities.
    >LAK: What were your feelings about Seattle when it happened?
    >KLB: Why the hell am I in New York at a SLAM! meeting? I had planned to go -
    >I was so mad!
    >For all the obvious reasons, I thought it was great. I was really
    >disappointed by the coverage - I don't know if there were more people of
    >color in Seattle than the none I saw in the media.
    >The morning after, my partner and I were on the train, reading the paper.
    >And we were smiling and high fiving each other. I lived at the time in Bed
    >Stuy, so the train was filled with black folks - and everybody was
    >smiling.(laughter) I had some good conversations with a couple of folks on
    >the train, about how this is necessary, and it's about time, and this
    >reminds me of the old days. People were overwhelmingly supportive. Nobody
    >said, "Oh, they shouldn't have thrown the rock at the Starbucks." (laughter)
    >But, in terms of their weaknesses, Seattle, D.C. - even Philly and L.A. -
    >these mass convergences require a week's worth of time in order to
    >participate, dollars in order to travel, support. If a whole group of people
    >go somewhere for a week, there's a whole lot of work that's not getting
    >done, and who's going to do it? Whether that's taking care of the children,
    >or working 9 to 5. It's very difficult for people of color, even young
    >people of color, young working-class people of color, to participate in mass
    >I thought Seattle was a great experiment, and it was great that labor came
    >out. But there was clearly a class distinction between the people who
    >organized and participated in Seattle versus where I come from. Access to
    >cell phones? Please, we're just getting walkie-talkies. The utilization of
    >technology, organizing on the Internet: What's that phrase, the digital
    >divide? It's there. Make no mistake about it, it's there.
    >So the organizing and the building for that action clearly indicated that an
    >intelligentsia, a bourgeois class, had organized it. They had the equipment,
    >they had the contacts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's really
    >important to acknowledge that.
    >So to some degree, I thought it was great to see it, and I felt really
    >heartened that people were in the streets. I also felt disconnected, and I
    >felt envious - player hate. (laughter) I felt like, you know, why don't we
    >have the resources to do this kind of work?
    >If we look at the Vietnam War protests, we see how those protests - because
    >of a capacity to utilize the system, and money, and resources - tended to
    >overtake and coopt the black liberation movement, the American Indian
    >Movement, the Chicano movement and the Puerto Rican movement. I'm worried
    >that this network of people doing
    >direct action around corporate globalism is going to do the same thing to
    >emerging movements around criminal injustice. These are issues where people
    >of color are saying no, this is genocide, and we're building a movement. I
    >worry about globalization issues knocking that out of the box.
    >That's why I think the predominantly white anti-globalization movement has
    >got to engage in a domestic anaylsis of corporate globalization and what
    >effect it has on disenfranchised communities of color. The movement against
    >corporate globalization has to engage in an ongoing analysis about race and
    >imperialism, and how they play out in the United States, or else it will
    >completely undermine our work and continue to propel a racist and classist
    >That's why I wanted to really look at how we could unite with the Direct
    >Action Network, or build a parallel alliance or network of people of color
    >that were focused on issues that affect people of color, and unite the two
    >major issues - corporate globalization and criminal injustice - as a place
    >that we can spring from.
    >FREE RADICAL is an e-column on the current upsurge in activism, written by
    >L.A. Kauffman (lak@free-radical.org). It aspires to weekly publication but
    >in practice appears irregularly.
    >This issue is archived at http://www.free-radical.org/issue11.shtml
    >L.A. Kauffman (lak@free-radical.org) is perhaps the first person in U.S.
    >history to be arrested for allegedly committing a crime by fax machine. (The
    >Manhattan D.A. declined to prosecute.) She is currently writing DIRECT
    >ACTION: RADICALISM IN OUR TIME, a history of U.S. activism since 1970. A
    >longtime radical journalist and organizer, she is active in a number of New
    >York City direct action campaigns. Her work has appeared in the Village
    >Voice, The Nation, The Progressive, Spin, Mother Jones, Salon.com, and
    >numerous other publications.
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    >Back issues of FREE RADICAL are on the web at http://www.free-radical.org
    >All contents Copyright 2000 by L.A. Kauffman
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