Date: Mon, 15 Jun 98 23:03:01 CDT
What Is The Black Radical Congress (BRC)?
From the Black Radical Congress, 19–21 June 1998
On Juneteenth, 1998, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago more than 1,000 Black radicals - activists, scholars, and artists will gather to reflect on our collective past, analyze our contemporary reality and explore strategies and visions for the future. Speakers and panels will examine a variety of key topics. Black political prisoners, the eradication of welfare, police brutality, the advance of technology and the erasure of jobs, the prison industrial complex, the impact of sexism and homophobia on the Black community, and the crisis of leadership in our community. We will also celebrate the long and rich tradition of Black resistance from Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to Paul Robeson, Malcolm X, Ella Baker and Audre Lorde. There will also be cultural celebrations and remembrances: music, performance and poetry. Books, magazines, posters, t-shirts and a range of literature will be available in a virtual marketplace of radical ideas. This will be an historic gathering bringing together in the same room and on the same platform individuals who have been deeply engaged in political struggle for several decades alongside younger activists who we understand are the freedom fighters of the future.
What Is The History Of The BRC And Why Is It Being Held?
The BRC grew out of a series of discussions among five veteran activists, from very different political backgrounds about the current political crisis facing African Americans and other oppressed people in this country. This small core group then began to talk to others about how we might more effectively respond to the situation. We all were and are angered and outraged by the sharp attacks being waged against our people: the attacks on Affirmative Action, the brutal assault on services to the poor and homeless, the erosion of public affordable housing, the shrinking number of jobs and rapid growth of prisons, and the call for male-dominated families as our salvation. All of these developments combined send a signal that we are confronting an urgent situation rendered even more urgent by the growing visibility of conservative and reactionary forces within our community; forces that would have us believe that we, rather than the system we live under, are our worst enemy.
This expanded group then began to talk about the fragmented state of the Black radical movement at a time when such leadership is needed the most. We agreed that if we can learn anything from the right it was their ability to transcend ideological and organizational differences in order to mobilize around issues like abortion. They were able to successfully sustain a campaign, shift the dialogue and the underlying assumptions governing that dialogue and maximize their use of resources, including the media. It seemed to us the idea of bringing together the varied sections of the Black radical tradition - Socialists and Communists, revolutionary nationalists, and radical Black feminists and womanists - was long overdue. We began talking with others about the idea and possibilities for such a gathering. In March of 1997, some 70 activists from more than twenty cities across the country came together in Chicago to begin planning for a Black Radical Congress. Those who gathered reflected a broad spectrum of the radical tradition. Participants came as individuals but represented connections to groups ranging from New Afrikan People's Organization, Black Workers for Justice, The Labor Party, The Communist Party, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, African American Agenda 2000, The Chicago Ida B. Wells Forum and the Committees of Correspondence. This group agreed to host a Black Radical Congress and constituted itself as the continuations committee. In order to expand and diversify the planning group even further, each participant was asked to invite one additional person to the next national meeting. The discussion at the Chicago meeting was positive and energetic. The group established principles of unity, committees, and a timetable for moving forward. Three subsequent national meetings of the continuations committee were held in Washington, D. C., in May of 1997, in Atlanta in September, 1997, and most recently in New York City in January of 1998. A "Call for the Congress" was drafted and issued with the names of over 100 conveners. Some of those who endorsed the call and have participated in the process include: Abdul Alkalimat, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Manning Marable, Leith Mullings, Barbara Ransby, Barbara Smith, Cornel West, Salim Muwakkil, Charlene Mitchell, Angela Y. Davis, Amiri and Amina Baraka, Sonia Sanchez, Sam Anderson, Evelynn Hammonds, Julianne Malveaux, Jarvis Tyner, General Baker, Ahmed Obafemi, Cathy Cohen, Robin D. G. Kelley, and many others. As this effort gained momentum, 300 plus people have participated in the planning process.
Why Do We Need To Look At Radical Solutions To The Problems Facing People Of African Descent?
The mainstream media would have us shrink from the term "radical". Political radicals in recent years have been portrayed as religious fanatics and violent terrorists. In the most basic sense, radicalism means "getting to the root". Black radical politics means looking at some of the fundamental injustices in American society and attempting to root them out. For generations we have engaged in reform struggles that have made gradual small changes in the society. But we gain ground and we lose ground. At the present moment we see a backlash in which the victories that many people fought, marched, went to jail and died to win in the 1950s, 60s and 70s are now being systematically reversed. We need radical solutions for the 21st century because the problems we are experiencing are deep rooted, long-standing and fundamental. For starters, we have to question a profit system in which the rich get richer, with the richest 1% of the population controlling 90% of the wealth. There is something fundamentally wrong with a society in which some people live in multi-million dollar homes while others hover in tunnels and abandoned buildings because they have no home. At the same time, poor Black women are vilified as an excuse for denying them welfare benefits. There is something fundamentally wrong with a government that spends more on parties and state dinners than it is willing to spend on basic subsistence for poor families. We want to critique the political and economic realities of American capitalism on this fundamental level, at the same time that we map out strategies for day to day survival and advancement, and even more importantly, dare to dream and fight for something better.
We embrace an identification with the term "radical", insist on a radical critique of the society we live in, and celebrate the radical tradition as noble and venerable. When we look at the past we are reminded that many political leaders and visionaries who are accepted and revered today were viewed as "radical" in the past. In this category, we think of Denmark Vesey, Cinque and the Amistad rebels, Sojourner Truth, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, and even Martin Luther King, Jr. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela was labeled a radical and a "terrorist" for his opposition to Apartheid. Today, he serves as the still-troubled nation's first democratically elected president. We need to challenge negative associations with radicalism and in contrast embrace a radical tradition as our only hope for a more humane future and world.
How Can And Why Should Other Progressive Forces Support The BRC?
Historically, Black resistance to American injustice has been a catalyst for other struggles, beginning with the militant anti-slavery freedom fighters of the ante-bellum days. At the same time we recognize that Black people don't have a monopoly on oppression. The BRC sees the struggle for peace with justice, at the same time we embrace the militant slogan - 'no justice, no peace', as a global struggle. We are not narrow and exclusive in our political vision. Even the term 'Black people' encompasses a rich, diverse and international community spanning from Africa to the Caribbean to Latin America. More fundamentally, we understand we cannot assess our enemies or allies by skin color. We recognize the struggles of Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Native and Asian Americans and poor whites as parallel to our own. We understand the importance of struggling on multiple fronts simultaneously. The BRC is one such front. We invite support and solidarity from our sisters, brothers, and comrades around the globe.
What Is Going To Happen After The BRC?
There is no hidden agenda or predetermined outcome. At the same time, there are many possibilities. We can network and learn more about the many different struggles and projects we are collectively engaged in on local battlefronts throughout the country. We can identify a common ground statement of unity to connect us to one another. We can and will explore the likelihood of future such gatherings. We can endorse ongoing campaigns and perhaps identify new ones. We can and will build a national communications network to continue collaborations.
Why Should African American Activists, Intellectuals, Organizers And Artists Attend, Build And Participate In The BRC?
In Texas, California and Michigan, racist anti-Affirmative Action laws have closed the doors of higher education for thousands of students of color. From Rodney King to Abner Louima to Jeremy Mearday in Chicago, police brutality continues. Journalist and activist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, is still on death row and sister Assata Shakur is still in exile in Cuba for her role in the Black Liberation struggle. Black women are maligned as promiscuous welfare queens, quota queens, or domineering matriarchs outside of our communities, and unfortunately as bitches and hoes by a small but vocal array of forces inside our communities. The bottom line is that the Democratic Party will not save us. A 21st century messiah will not save us. We have to save ourselves. The radical self-help tradition is a tradition of collective struggle. We can only begin that process by coming together to learn, study, struggle and strategize. Please join us.
Voicemail: (312) 706-7074
P.O. Box 5766
"Without struggle, there is no progress" (Frederick Douglass)
"We cannot dismantle the master's house using the master's tools" (Audre Lorde)
Let's create new tools.
"...by any means necessary" (Malcolm X)
Let's strategize, mobilize and generate the means.
Congress Program (draft; subject to change)