Tales from the Land of Hope and Dreams

Tales from the Land of Hope and Dreams I

I had quite an experience at the U.S. Social Forum (ussf2010.org) on Saturday. It came at a workshop on the League of Revolutionary Black Workers (http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/rbwstudy.html) that I attended with my friend, Marian Baker of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization(mwro.org). Her husband, General Baker, of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (lrna.org), was chairing a discussion by veterans of the League (and its predecessors, DRUM and ELRUM). The next thing I knew, Marian had hauled me  up to the tables at the front of the room and told me to pull a chair next to Gen. I felt pretty weird, the only white guy on the dais and, I think, the only male in the room wearing a collared shirt with long sleeves. Then again, I was sitting next to people I’d known for a few decades. I just could’t figure out what it looked like.  

 After I thought everyone had spoken, Marian made her own statement and then she introduced me to say something. To the extent that I could see it coming, I prepared myself to talk about something that it would appear nobody up there knew, not even my other old friend Marsha (Lynn Battle) Mickens. Which is that my first job in journalism was at the South End, the Wayne State Univ. student paper that was run by members of the LRBW, notably John Watson and Mike Warren.

 I told them that I had learned three things at the South End, in addition to an increased awareness of my whiteness, itself pretty valuable. But the even more worthwhile lessons were these:

1) White people are not a majority

2) White people are not possessed of a special dispensation allowing them to run every damn thing.

3) Items 1 and 2 are a good thing. Especially for white people.

 That’s really my case on why discussing and challenging white supremacy is the right way to combat racism. In 1969, I was already an anti-racist. I had already been introduced to the concept of white supremacy, as a member of People Against Racism , a group that directly grew out of the Northern Student Movement’s perception that supporting the Southern civil rights movement was insufficient.

 But it was far more important that I spent those few hours a week in the South End office. My way of observing the world wasn’t free of white supremacy (and still cannot entirely be, though I suppose I get by).  Nor was I capable of even attempting to judge my behavior by the reaction, or potential reaction, of black people. It made an enormous difference that some of those people were my professional superiors. And it wasn’t like there weren’t tons of white people involved in putting out that paper, and it wasn’t like I was in any way singled out. It was a process of two things: The realities of power and the self-consciousness that those power relations created.

That’s why I believe it would also make an enormous difference if the discussion of “racism” around, say, the Tea Party diverged to the question of white supremacy, for the same reason (especially on #2). I think it is psychologically so important to grapple with the question of white supremacy, to understand the myriad ways in which it affects almost everything in American life, that unless you at least make a serious effort to grasp it, your very soul is imperiled—by which I don’t mean anything so ambiguous as the religious soul, I mean the part that makes us truly creative, compassionate and understanding of our own motives and activities. (Among the “40 Reasons Why James Baldwin Was the Most Important Writer of My Lifetime,” published so far only in my head.)

Unfortunately, Saturday was the only day I got to spend at the U.S. Social Forum. I did a few more things, including attending a wonderful birthday party for Grace Lee Boggs, who appropriately turned 95 during the conference. It was, predictably, not a star-studded turnout but a room packed with activists, old and young, and children from babies to pre-teens.

Another elder activist, Vincent Harding (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/columns/how-shall-we-celebrate-martin-luther-kings-birthday) talked about the concept impressed upon him by his elders: “If you know, you owe.” The conclusion that he drew from this, for us and our time, is this: “Our calling is not just to step into the future but to create the future.” He told a story about Grace meeting some activists during the Forum, and telling them: “Stop acting like a minority. You’re part of the new American majority and that means you’re responsible for creating the new American nation.”

Grace put it to us more bluntly a little later. She spoke of lack of vision hampering us from moving forward to the new society struggling to be born. “With capitalism,” she said (I took notes on my IPhone so don’t trust those quote marks entirely), “the earth was turned into land, and work was turned into jobs. Our job is to restore dignity to labor. To do that, we need more than great numbers of people. It also means that we restore a fundamental concept. Both Jefferson and Lenin realized that revolutions are about transformation and transformation takes time.”

If this seems too complicated, you should also know the story of another of the new world’s leaders, an unnamed 9 or 10 year old boy who marched six miles during a pre-Forum demonstration, Heal Detroit (http://www.prlog.org/10700439-it-is-time-to-heal-detroit.html ), held in honor of seven year old Aiyana Jones, murdered during a home invasion by the Detroit police. During that whole march, we were told, that boy chanted the local movement’s slogan: “Put the Neighbor Back in the Hood.”

Heal Detroit wasn’t a march on the Detroit police, by the way. It was a march in local neighborhoods. This makes it perfectly symbiotic with the Social Forum, since the idea is not that the police or any other part of the current system are going to fix things. We’re going to fix them for ourselves, if they’re going to be fixed at all. My hope is that we have time for that set of transformations and that I live long enough to see them succeed. The U.S. Social Forum made me think that it is quite a realistic hope.

(There’s also a fine Grace Lee Boggs review of Julien Temple’s BBC film, A Requiem for Detroit [which I haven’t gotten hold of yet] in Linking.)

This piece now appears at http://chilaborarts.wordpress.com/ with a handsome picture of General Baker.


9 Responses to “Tales from the Land of Hope and Dreams”

  1. CJ says:

    Thanks for this report, Dave.

  2. This can be one of the most powerful discussions I ever learnt today, I’m speaking about this section of your post “… of Revolutionary Black Workers () that I attended with my friend, Marian Baker of the Michigan …” it also bring back to mind about the day I came across my wife.

  3. phil says:

    Great show today 8.28.2011 what if you and Mike Feder did a show together.
    What would that be like?

  4. Dave says:

    You tell me. I don’t get to h ear Mike’s show often enough to know, though I like what I hear when I do run across it.

  5. David says:

    Supporting your blog post style, even though experienced a new javascript error on load. Anyhow, looking good. Book-marking and will definitely have a look at often.

  6. … Davemarsh.us…

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  7. phil says:

    It was me who called about Plane State Jail for Women.
    I did some research and found the production company that
    does “Locked up” on MSNBC and asked them to go there and
    described the conditions.
    My family had two people during WWII worked to death in
    a factory in Austria. These firms were private firms.
    Corporations will always want slave or cheap labor.
    Western Digital is a mfg of hard drives in Irvine, CA.
    They moved production to a subcontractor in Malasia who
    gets young women from Cambodia and promises a job at $350 per
    month…once they get there they are told that the fee for the job
    is $250 a month and their passports are confiscated and locked up.
    The work 7 days a week for 12 hours.

  8. Dave says:

    I approved this solely so that I could point out two things:

    1. The anti-Semitism represented by this message is historically one of the greatest causes of the murder of children, many of them “brown.”

    2. I am an anti-Zionist.

  9. Cliff says:

    This gathering sound s like nothing more than a bunch of aging hippies and failed Communists, gathering to commiserate that their drug-induced “vision” for the future has failed to materialize. And it is entirely fitting that this takes place in Detroit, a once-great city that has been brought down and destroyed by its liberal administrations and their union masters that literally bankrupted the American auto industry and other American manufacturing, the very industries that once made Detroit great. This resulted in an auto industry paying out tens of millions of dollars to workers who no longer work, thereby throwing good money away on entirely unproductive former employees, which led inexorably to a massive decline in the auto industry, and its supplementary industries. People looking for jobs left Detroit in droves, and the people left behind have drained the city of its already dwindling resources, while providing little to no tax revenue.

    This is the “vision” that Mr. Marsh and his ilk have for our country — failure and poverty. Thank Heaven that this “vision” is not going to be realized. Not now, not ever.

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