From: (Flora Hooten)
Subject: Black Radical Congress meets in New Jersey
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Date: Mon, 07 Jul 2003 04:11:44 GMT

Black Radical Congress meets in New Jersey

By Sam Manuel, The Militant, Vol.67 no.24, 14 July 2003

Leaders focus on ‘defeating Bush,’ opposing Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe.

SOUTH ORANGE, New Jersey—Just over 170 people attended the national conference of the Black Radical Congress here June 20-22. Discussions spanned a range of topics, including: demands for reparations from the imperialist powers for their role in the slave trade; the AIDS crisis and fratricidal wars in Africa; opposition to U.S. aggression against Venezuela and Cuba; the foreign debt of semicolonial countries; the U.S. occupation of Iraq; and the government assault on democratic rights and the rights of immigrants. Delegates did not approve any proposals for specific actions. Campaigning for the Democratic Party slate in the 2004 presidential elections to defeat Bush became a feature of the gathering. Midway through the conference a special two-hour session was added to the schedule to discuss next year’s vote. Jarvis Tyner, a longtime leader of the Communist Party USA, said that he and others had requested the addition to the agenda because it was urgently important that the group take the lead on this issue.

The most important task facing progressive organizations and revolutionaries, Tyner said, is to build a broad anti-Bush coalition. If people don’t think another four years of Bush will be worse than the last, then they have been asleep through the last four.

I will probably end up voting for a god-damn Democrat, said Frances Beal, from Oakland, California, but we must support the most progressive voice in this election. A participant from the New York chapter of the Black Radical Congress argued that the Bush administration is rolling back all the gains won under the Roosevelt presidency.

Several delegates opposed Tyner and Beal, arguing that the group should not focus its activities on the elections. A leader of the Green Party from Washington, D.C., challenged the implication in the remarks by some speakers that the campaign of Ralph Nader caused Democratic Party presidential candidate Albert Gore to lose the 2000 ballot. We won’t just disappear because of four more years of Bush, said Jason Rayburn, a young participant. Just like we didn’t disappear following the Reagan years.

We can have Bushism without Bush, argued Humberto Brown, a native of Panama and a leader of United for Peace and Justice. In France the left threw its support behind Jacques Chirac in order to stop Jean-Marie Le Pen, but Chirac is carrying out Le Pen’s policies in attacking the trade unions.

Another participant, who identified himself as a member of Black Workers for Justice, asked, How can we be talking about an election in 2004 when our people are under attack in Michigan right now and we aren’t talking about that? He urged the group to take some action in support of the Black community, but no specific proposal was adopted.

The urgency of defeating Bush in next year’s elections ran through many of the deliberations. That was the case at a workshop on Latin America, for example, where speakers called for support to the government of Hugo Ch├ívez in Venezuela. Under that discussion, Lucius Walker, a leader of Pastors for Peace, said, Under this administration relations with Cuba have reached an all-time low. Walker said the White House was using the arrest of 75 so-called dissidents by authorities in Cuba and the execution of three armed hijackers to justify Washington’s recent escalation of attacks against Havana. The 75 were convicted on charges of collaborating with Washington in its campaign to overthrow the Cuban Revolution. Walker said that he supports the Cuban government’s right to take actions it deems necessary to defend its sovereignty but opposes the death penalty and had even said so at the May Day rally in Havana this year.

Speakers during a panel discussion on Peace in Africa and the Middle East centered their remarks on expressing opposition to the governments in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, and Zimbabwe. Panelist Abdul Lamin from Sierra Leone expressed disappointment at the refusal of the government of Ghana to arrest Liberia’s president Charles Taylor while he was in Accra for a recent conference aimed at settling the civil war in Liberia. The international court handed down an indictment of Taylor while he was attending the conference, Lamin said.

Lamin also condemned the government of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. If we had no problem with opposing Jonas Savimbi then we should have no difficulty with taking a stance against Mugabe and Taylor, Lamin said.

Savimbi was the leader of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which supported the invasion of that country by the racist army of South Africa in the 1970s after the end of Portuguese colonial rule. UNITA was also backed by Washington.

Conference participants were deeply divided over a letter signed by leaders of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) two weeks before the conference condemning the increasingly intolerant, repressive and violent policies of Mugabe’s government. It called upon the government of Zimbabwe to open up an unconditional dialogue with opposition forces.

In doing so, BRC leaders who signed the letter gave backhanded support to the imperialist-orchestrated campaign against Zimbabwe. In the aftermath of presidential elections in 2002, the British, U.S., and other imperialist governments announced sanctions against that country, accusing Mugabe of organizing rigged elections, including a yearlong suspension of Zimbabwe from Britain’s Commonwealth of Nations. London, the country’s former colonial master, led the charge, concerned that announced takeovers of capitalist farms owned by whites and their distribution to landless African peasants would undercut the ability of British imperialism to continue exploiting the country’s resources. In an op-ed column in the June 24 New York Times, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell said, The United States—and the European Union—has imposed a visa ban on Zimbabwe’s leaders and frozen their overseas assets. We have ended all official assistance to the government of Zimbabwe. We will continue to assist directly, in many different ways, the brave men and women of Zimbabwe who are resisting tyranny.

The Black Radical Congress was formed at a 1998 conference in Chicago attended by more than 700 people. Among its founders were prominent Black Studies professors Abdul Alkalimat and Manning Marable, and leaders of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and the New Afrikan People’s Organization. Neither Alkalimat nor Marable, nor any representatives of these founding groups, attended this year’s conference, registering a weakening of the BRC. In addition, none of the founding leaders of the group stood for reelection to its board.