Source: The Real News Network | Author: Jared Ball | Original publication date: March 7, 2016
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a columnist, activist, author and labor organizer. He is the executive assistant to the national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees. Bill is an editorial board member of BlackComentator.com, as well as the chairman of the Retail Justice Alliance. He is also the co-author of “Solidarity Divided”; and the author of the newly released book, ‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions . He is a co-founder of the Center for Labor Renewal, and has served as President of TransAfrica Forum and was formerly the Education Director and later Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.
Revolutionary, political commentator, activist, lover of books, author of Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America.
Tom Porter among many things, is a former member of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality) and SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). He was a longtime friend of Coretta Scott King and at one point was the head of the King Center in Atlanta. Porter has been an adviser to Jesse Jackson, has been a longtime radio host, jazz critic, and author. And as we will discuss a bit later, he was also a longstanding close friend of Amiri Baraka.
Porter is among our leading elect intellectuals, philosophers, and has been the head of the Antioch College Graduate School, served in the U.S. Navy, and once showed Stokely Carmichael (or Kwame Tour�) what a real gun was. He is my /ˈjɛgnə/ and godfather and a man of many quotes, among them two of my favorite: I don’t mind when my ideas are stolen–I am a thinking man; I will have others: and I am never surprised when I’m asked to leave; only by how long I’m allowed to stay.
Jennifer Bryant works at Right to Income and involves the development of a DC Black Workers Center. Jennifer is co-host of Voices with Vision on WPFW 89.3FM and does Cuban solidarity work with the Venceremos Brigade. She holds a B.A. from Howard University and an M.A. from St. John’s University.
Lawrence Grandpre is the Assistant Director for Research and Public Policy for LBS. He is a graduate of Baltimore City College High School where he was a recipient of the International Baccalaureate Diploma. His primary extra curricular focus on high school was debate, where he was Chesapeake Regional champion and 4 time qualifier for the National Championship tournament. He continued this focus on political scholarship at Whitman College in the state of Washington, where he was the recipient of the William O. Douglas Scholarship and the Maxey Award as top student in the politics department. He has worked at Towson University, coaching their debate team to 2nd in the nation in 2011 and is creative director for the �New Timbuktu� website and cell phone app, an upcoming LBS digital archive project.
Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action, the Events Coordinator at the Institute for Policy Studies and radio producer and host for Voices With Vision on WPFW 89.3 FM, Washington DC.
JARED BALL, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome to this special edition of imixwhatilike! here at the Real News Network.I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore, and what we’re doing in this special edition is, with my cohost here, Bill Fletcher, formerly of the Global African, we’re going to have a conversation with this august panel of experts, activists and artists about the role of race and class in this moment, the moment of Black Lives Matter and more. So, Bill, do you want to?
BILL FLETCHER, JR.: Yeah. I want to welcome everyone to this, and certainly welcome our panelists. And let me just begin by just a little context, but also, first, an apology: It doesn’t take a great deal of analysis to look at our panel and realize that there’s a gender imbalance, and I want to apologize in advance. The invitations had gone out quite equitably, and we expected to have a very balanced panel, and unfortunately things didn’t work out that way. So I want to just apologize in advance to everyone that’s watching this, and apologize to the panelists.In the last couple of years there’s been an explosive change in Black America and the rise of the movement for Black lives, and specifically organizations like Black Lives Matter. But it’s been within that context that various trends have started to surface, and trends of thought, and within those, there’s this odd situation, at least something that I’ve found odd, which is that there is increased attention about what’s been described as anti-Black racism, but very little attention to matters of class. Very little attention to the issue of capitalism and, to some extent, an ambivalence about other forms of racism that permeate US society.And so we thought that it would be a good time to have a discussion about, well, like, what exactly is going on? What do we make of this, and, actually, what are the implications for the future of the Black freedom movement in the 21st century? So with that kickoff, let’s start with how you all see this moment, and do you think this observation that I’m offering is on point, or am I missing something?
LAWRENCE GRANDPRE, LEADERS OF A BEAUTIFUL STRUGGLE: Yeah. I think the allusion to Black history is very interesting to me, because when I think Black history, it wasn’t intended to be just a month. If you look back to Carter G. Woodson, it was a larger pedagogical apparatus, but what’s important about Carter G. Woodson is that he was using Black History to literally go town to town selling his books that he wrote to fund his independent Black scholarship from the Black community.
So I think right now we have a paucity in terms of people’s, even, understanding of the possibility to build independent institutions that are not tied to the nonprofit industrial complex. And I think that that’s a manifestation of the academic and cultural limitations of how people even encounter their understanding of racism today.
Just look at social media. We use Facebook a lot, and to get up on the Facebook timeline, you’ve got to pay for that, or you have to have some really clickbait-y, sort of, really pop culture-y type of framework, so even how people see social media, which they think is just neutral, they think this is just what people are talking about, is mediated by systems of capital. So we have a very thin understanding of antiracism in our younger generation because of the academic limitations and how social media is manufacturing a very much performative understanding, cultural understanding.
That’s not to say that’s inherently bad. There are different ways that culture manifests itself into politics. Everything can be political. That doesn’t mean that all political strategies are equally effective.
BALL: So, what I wanted to ask you all, sort of piggybacking of that last question, is: How does the issue of class come up within the work you all are doing? Obviously a little more clear on the Party for Socialism and Liberation, but Lawrence, starting with you with LBS and this focus on independent Black institutions disconnected from the nonprofit industrial complex. How does class come up, and how do you all address it?
GRANDPRE: I think it’s a very complicated issue, because our intellectual genealogy brings us through the Black radical tradition that includes Black socialism but also includes things like Black nationalist scholarship in a way that makes us wary of folks, obviously like Hillary Clinton, but also of Bernie Sanders. When I look at folks like Bernie Sanders, in terms of their economic plans, I know I was doing a written piece about Sandtown-Winchester which actually got millions of dollars of federal investment in the early 90’s. And the mechanism for how that investment happened literally destroyed organic, Black institutions like Arabber stables, where young, where people in the community actually sold fruit with this new vision of bringing in this alternative economic infrastructure.
I don’t think Bernie would do something in a similar way, but fundamentally, in terms of the ideology of that approach, he’s saying pump money into the cities. And as a good scholar would, I look empirically at the nature of folks who have a class-first analysis and their understanding of what that means. I don’t trust that that would happen in a way that’s organically connected to the people in that community. They would go to the unions. They would go to the established nonprofits that may have Black and brown spokespeople. But I fear that, even under Bernie Sanders, these mechanisms of investment would produce a civil society that’s fundamentally anti-Black.
Just look at his call: please, more infrastructure investment. Well, as we all know, if you bring in more infrastructure, the nature of the market is going to make those bases open for gentrification. So even with things like the [unintelligible] plan, we’re saying if you don’t have strong, locally controlled economic institutions like a collective, Black business incubator that focuses on collective solutions in a manner that maybe doesn’t focus on the factory or traditional socialist mechanisms of economic advancement, because the reality is that economics have changed so much that so many people in Sandtown-Winchester aren’t workers in the traditional sense.
They don’t fit into the Marxist vision of history because they have not entered into the struggle between the worker and the boss. Like, they are their own business. They hustle on the streets. Is there a mechanism of economic empowerment that can go beyond a Marxist framework and organically empower individuals in their communities? I think that maybe we have to combine different strains of economic and political scholarship.
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