Date: Sun, 3 Dec 1995 23:56:51 GMT
Million Man March: A View From The Left
Interview with Don Rojas in Green Left Weekly, #214, 6 December 1995
DON ROJAS is the former director of communications for the National Alliance for the Advancement of Coloured People and a former editor of the New York Amsterdam News. He was press secretary for Maurice Bishop during the 1979 revolution in the Caribbean nation of Grenada. Below is an abridged version of an interview conducted by STEVE BLOOM for the November/December issue of the US publication Independent Politics.
Question: You attended the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. on October 16, initiated by Louis Farrakhan. The march was controversial both in the Black movement and among a broader layer of left activists. Why did you decide to participate?
I thought it was important for progressives and certainly people of colour on the left to participate from the position of critical support. I had articulated this in a public forum about a week before the march at Columbia University and again in an article in the Daily Challenge, a New York Black newspaper, on the day of the march.
I thought it was important for the left not to be marginalised by what clearly was going to be a huge mobilisation of African Americans - mostly working-class Black males and a lot of young Black males.
In spite of the lack of political direction, and the overall orientation of the march - the emphasis on atonement and reconciliation - I became convinced at least a week before that large numbers of men would be showing up for reasons not necessarily in sync with the call by Farrakhan and Chavis.
I also had a lot of problems with the exclusion of women. I thought that was just another manifestation of the Nation of Islam's backward patriarchy. In spite of that, however, I did go.
I want to quote some excerpts from my article in Daily Challenge:
"I intend to march in Washington to make one simple statement to the world - the cancer of racism is eating away at the heart and soul of America ... I will not be marching to the drumbeat of Louis Farrakhan or Benjamin Chavis ... but rather to the clarion call of my conscience. They have their agenda and I have mine ... We will marching to demand - yes demand, not beg - for jobs with decent pay for all Black Americans, male and female ...
"The march has been so depoliticised by Farrakhan ... [that] major establishment figures from President Clinton to Colin Powell, to the leadership of the Republican Party have embraced the `objectives' of the march, if not its caller."
Question: What was the actual composition of the crowd? Some women did attend. What was the response to this?
The crowd was, probably, a majority of working-class males. A good number of middle class men were also there. There was a sprinkling of women. There was no hostility that I observed toward them by any of the men. I also saw a handful of whites in the audience and here too there was no hostility.
I vehemently opposed the exclusion of women and I think that was one of the most reactionary aspects of the march. Let me quote again from my article:
"No one who shares these concerns should be excluded or should exclude themselves from this march. Indeed, Black men should encourage their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters to absent themselves from their jobs, schools, and shopping malls and present themselves in Washington to stand with their men in a forceful demonstration of Black unity and solidarity in these critical times. Now is not the time for Black women to stay at home and pray on Farrakhan's anointed `Holy Day'."
Question: What attitude did Black women activists take?
They were pretty much split down the middle on whether or not they should support the march. Angela Davis, the most prominent opponent of the march among Black female activists, came out at a press conference in New York and very strongly denounced it. She got support from several Black feminists around the country.
But there were other prominent, and not so prominent, Black women in the NY-Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, and across the country as well, who did express critical support for the march. Some of them actively participated in organisational work leading up to it.
Question: You mentioned your objection to the main themes - atonement and personal responsibility of Black men for changing conditions in the community. Do you think this was the main reason people turned out? How prominent were these messages? What other ideas were expressed? What messages resonated most deeply with the crowd?
The ideas expressed by Farrakhan were not the main reasons that people turned out. I think they came for different reasons. Many came to protest the terrible plight of Black males. Some did come to seek bonding and a sense of community and brotherhood with other African-American men.
But I also saw how the crowd (and I was in the middle) resonated very positively to the more political points. Unfortunately the speeches were a mixed bag.
It seemed as though there were two realities that day. One on the stage, and another among the million men [who] came looking for powerful leaders. They didn't find them on the stage. They found them among themselves. That's going to be a very positive thing as they get involved in the civic and political life of their communities. New grassroots leadership will emerge.
How progressive that leadership will be remains to be seen. This is a challenge for the left, not only to monitor it closely, but to get involved and help to give it guidance and direction.
Question: Many Black elected officials, Jesse Jackson entertainers, etc. endorsed and/or participated in the march. What is Farrakhan's relationship now with these more "mainstream" elements in the Black community?
Unfortunately most of them played second-fiddle to Farrakhan. His marathon speech - two and a half hours - was rambling. There wasn't enough emphasis on public policy issues, too much mysticism and numerology.
The most powerful part was where he said that white supremacy must die in order for humanity to live. The bourgeois media ... [interpreted this as] his old anti-white racism ... which of course is nonsense. A critique of white supremacy does not translate into anti-white racism.
Farrakhan's emphasis on self-help, self-improvement, self- reliance, all solid values in themselves, are not necessarily an antidote to racial and social inequality. Inequality is systematic. In order to destroy the structures of inequality we need a broad based mass movement that challenges the power structure.
The attempt by the mainstream media to demonise Farrakhan is something positive in the eyes of most Black Americans. Given the hatred of the white power structure they will turn out in massive numbers to hear him speak as a simple act of defiance. He provides a voice for the voiceless, expressing the profound resentment that exists within the community. Clearly, he isn't afraid of what white people will think. That is why he has gained the ear of the masses in a way that no other Black leader can even hope to match at the present time.
(Source: Green Left Weekly #214 12/6/95)
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