Iowa Inmates Discuss Impact Of Million Man March

By Mark Curtis, The Militant, Vol.59 no.42, 13 November 1995

FT. MADISON, Iowa—A large number of Black inmates here demonstrated their support for the Million Man March held in Washington, D.C., by fasting and “taking it easy” on the job the Monday of the march.

Prisoners gave diverse reasons for supporting the march. A coworker of mine said he thought the march was for “racial equality.” Another man said it was a protest against the U.S. Congressional plan to slash Social Security, Medicare, and welfare programs.

Someone else pointed to the racist police and the statistic that one third of young Black men are under the control of the prison system—that is either facing charges, already in prison, or on probation. This particular man thought this was a conscious policy of genocide against Blacks and that the gathering would be a good opportunity to make a stand against that; but also turn youth away from drug abuse and violent gang wars.

The fast was widely observed and few Blacks entered the chow hall that day. I respected the fast, too, out of solidarity with those who wanted to make a stand against racism, and also to be in a better position to talk about the big political questions that were raised by this event.

Like others, I watched the march on C-Span, which broadcast the speeches. I wasn't impressed by Louis Farrakhan's speech, though. He began with his theory that the United States is ruled through a Masonic conspiracy and offered mystical interpretations of numbers, the heights of buildings in the capital and the symbols on the back of a dollar bill.

Although he slammed “white supre-macy,” but not racism (a subtle difference), Farrakhan said nothing about defending affirmative action and welfare for those who need it. Neither he nor other speakers mentioned solidarity with Black and other workers involved in strikes, like the one at Caterpillar, or called for a jobs program to ease unemployment that is especially ravaging Black youth.

One thing was for sure, this march was big, undoubtedly much larger than the U.S. Park Service estimate of 400,000. Even bigger, though, is the question of what strategy to defend Black rights was presented to those whose attention was grabbed by the march.

In the majority of discussions I've had here, most guys stress that they don't agree with most of Farrakhan's views. However, they do like his idea of raising money to start schools, factories, and businesses that will be “controlled” by Blacks. They don't trust the government to ensure a decent livelihood to the people it has used and abused for so long. And why should they?

Capitalist system in depression But can economic progress and self-sufficiency for most Blacks and other workers occur by starting business up under conditions that exist today? I don't think so. We don't see today a robust economic picture with expansion and the room for a new capitalist class to grow and pull others forward in its wake. Instead we see the capitalist world getting more competitive, filled with corporations downsizing and with smaller businesses getting squeezed, absorbed, or driven into bankruptcy. Class conflict between the owners and employees of businesses is getting sharper, with bitter strikes as one result. On a world scale, and on an historical scale, the system of capitalism is in decline.

If the American system is unwilling to grant the oppressed nationalities equal treatment and democratic rights, then it is even less willing to let them in on the economic action and economic “self-determination.”

The alternative is to fight uncompromisingly against racism today and at the same time against the system of capitalism that produces racism and exploitation and for a socialist society based on human solidarity instead of profit for the wealthy few. Fighting for such a program, would be a great step forward. Registering thousands to vote when the ruling rich and the Democrats and Republicans own the playing field will be a dead end.

A strategy that that leads to class independence from the parties of the ruling rich and to a working-class course was not presented at the march. But millions around the world—Black, brown, and white—can be attracted and won to such a perspective.