Radical Black History Month

This diary should more rightly be titled ‘Radical Black and Other Radicals History Month’, as it would reflect not only its contents, but the contributing catalysts that led to its almost inadvertent creation.  I hope they’re of interest to you, but if not, and you’d rather look at my bird or four-legged photos, help yourself, but don’t say there weren’t alternatives.  ;o)

It may be that I’m a bit obsessed by drones, though the military prefers to call them ‘unmanned aerial vehicles’, and torture myself a bit by keeping current.  Since Wired’s danger room keeps up with the latest police state and war technology, I peeked in recently and first saw and read their exclusive: ‘U.N.’s Drone Investigator Backs Brennan for Top CIA Job’.  For those of you who were tickled that the Special Rapporteur would look without bias or preconception into the ‘legality’ of the Obomba/Brennan program, never fear; it’s all good:

It’s an unlikely endorsement. Emmerson, a British lawyer, has put the U.S. on notice that he won’t hesitate to investigate U.S. “war crimes” if he uncovers evidence of them.

But aha; I did find ‘5 Homeland Security ‘Bots Coming to Spy on You (If They Aren’t Already)’.  On the right side of the page was a link to a ‘Batman and Occupy Comics’ piece; as a major fan of the Democracy Movement, I read and liked it.  An excerpt:

Matt Pizzolo’s new project, Occupy Comics, is an arty protestation of similar mind built around the movement that has spread from New York City to the rest of the nation, shining a spotlight on widespread unemployment, government bailouts for banks and other toxic issues.

“It’s a great conversation to be having,” he said. “The Occupy movement is a paradigm-buster. Anyone who tries to impose a left-right paradigm on it winds up looking out of touch and irrelevant.

Comics as progenitors of illuminated thought; I love it.  On the cover of one of the issues was artist Anna Muckraker’s red-haired-lioness-heroine protester holding a black flag with this message:

“It isn’t the rebels
who cause the troubles of the world;
it’s the troubles
that cause the rebels.”

~ Carl Oglesby, SDS

Wow.  Think about the relevance of that truth across the decades of the last century.  Not remembering Oglesby, I went a-searching, and found this trailer for the 2002 Rebel with a Cause documentary.

From the blurb under the video:

“At its peak in 1968, SDS had over 100,000 members and 400 chapters — but in 1960 there were just a few dozen members, inspired by the civil rights movement and initially concerned with equality, economic justice, peace, and participatory democracy. Then came the war in Vietnam, and SDS grew rapidly as young people protested the destruction being wrought by the US government and military. Although most activity focused on the war, SDS members were also involved in organizing in local communities around economic and social issues, were early activists in the women’s movement, and helped start many of the ‘counter-institutions’ that flourished in that period and since.”

The full length version of the film can be seen on youtube (1:49:19); Tom Hayden’s scary long Port Huron statement is here.  But at it’s finest, it sounded like OWS, no?  And…the more things change, tra la la…

But back to Oglesby; it turns out that he’s a Kent State alum, and in 1968, he was asked by Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver to serve as his running mate on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket in that year’s presidential election, although he declined the offer.  He was reportedly thrown out of SDS in 1969 for being too stuck in a bourgeois mentality and not embracing a Marxist-Leninist perspective.

Yow; Eldridge Cleaver, early leader of the Black Panthers turned Mormon.  Zing to: February is Black History month. That’s why the LUV newsletter sent this Keith Feldman piece, , ‘A Haunting Echo: W.E.B. Du Bois in a Time of Permanent War’.

Feldman asks us to look deeper than the March on Washington and its archives, and cites the vast amount of ink given to Du Bois’ life’s work, and the path it took past what he later saw as ‘the foreshortened horizon of liberal integration’ as per his 1903 The Souls of Black Folk, and:

“…his persistent commitment to effectively understand the meaning of race, blackness, freedom and democracy, inclined always towards justice for the “world’s darker peoples”.  He resolutely refused America’s Cold War limitations on forms of political thought that described freedom solely through US capitalism’s market-based lexicon, drawing instead on the thick political vocabularies of African and Asian anti-colonialism and Soviet communism. (In the preface to the 1953 reprisal of Souls) Du Bois underscores the deep cleavages around who has access to conditions of peace and who is subjected to conditions of war. Such divisions draw on, even as they transform, those lacerating circuits of oppression, dispossession and dehumanisation that centuries of European imperial violence and trans-Atlantic chattel slavery have carved into the world. (Again, more is here.)

A friend sent me this piece on Du Bois’ relationship to communism and his views on capitalism; here is his essay, Socialism and the Negro Problem, one line of which is: “No recent convention of Socialists has dared to face fairly the Negro problem and make a straightforward declaration that they regard Negroes as men in the same sense that other persons are.”

In this recent piece, Ron Jacobs extols the need to look past the well-meaning, acceptable themes and heroes of Black History Month, and synopsizes two new books on the Panthers, and states their importance as ‘objective and radical’:

Despite the efforts of historians to obfuscate and obliterate the party from history, describing it as a hate group and gun-obsessed when mentioning it at all, the fact is the Panthers legacy is unique and important to not only the history of Black America, but to the history of the entire United States.  It is best described in the words of Mumia Abu Jamal: “we didn’t preach to the people, we worked with them. “The relationship between the primarily white New Left and Panthers is explored in a fair-minded and realistic manner, as is the relationship between the Panthers and other Third World revolutionary organizations both in the United States and around the world. 

Discussing Black Against Empire, Jacob notes:

The book concludes with a chapter speculating as to why the Black Panthers developed when they did, why they commanded the support they did, and why their influence waned so quickly.  Of course, the role of the government counterinsurgency program called COINTELPRO is discussed; the frameups, misinformation, jacketing and murders.  In light of current concerns about domestic “terrorists”, one wonders if the Panthers would be considered drone assassination targets under the current Justice Department guidelines if they were around today?

And in another bit of sublime synchronicity, came Louis Proyect published ‘Dancing to Ferllinghetti’s Beat’, subtitled America‘s Revolutionary Poet, and includes a few of the author’s memories of the heady days of the beat poets.

As you watch the 93-year-old Lawrence Ferlinghetti with shoulders squared back like a 21-year-old athlete striding briskly through the streets of San Francisco in the marvelous new documentary “Ferlinghetti: a Rebirth of Wonder”, it might occur to you that poetry and radical politics are the magic elixir that Ponce De Leon was searching for in vain.

As a seminal figure of the Beat Generation, Ferlinghetti is still going strong as are a number of other poets who pay tribute to him throughout the film, including Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and Amiri Baraka (who started out as a beat poet named LeRoi Jones.) Though having departed to higher spiritual realms, Allen Ginsberg makes a striking appearance as well, sitting side by side with Ferlinghetti as they are interviewed on art and politics. The connection between the two is particularly intimate since Ferlinghetti risked prison time for publishing “Howl” back in 1956 through the auspices of City Lights Books, an offshoot of the bookstore he had launched a few years earlier.

A portion of a poem from Ferlinghetti’s ‘Coney Island of the Mind’:

In Goya’s greatest scenes we seem to see

                                           the people of the world   

       exactly at the moment when

             they first attained the title of

                                                             ‘suffering humanity’   

          They writhe upon the page

                                        in a veritable rage

                                                                of adversity   

          Heaped up

                     groaning with babies and bayonets

                                                       under cement skies   

            in an abstract landscape of blasted trees

                  bent statues bats wings and beaks

                               slippery gibbets

                  cadavers and carnivorous cocks

            and all the final hollering monsters

                  of the

                           ‘imagination of disaster’

            they are so bloody real

                                        it is as if they really still existed

There are so many others, like Richard Wright; feel free to name them, and your experiences with them.    But over and over the message has been the same:

It’s all connected.  The colour lines ‘n class lines; exclusion from democracy; unrelieved poverty; who gets the peace, who gets the war…who gets the fruits of our labor?  Who gets to live, who gets to die, and does anyone care to know?

Sigh.  From today in a piece by George Ciccariello-Maher and Mike King, The Execution of Christopher Dorner, this quote from Malcolm X, speaking of when the Master’s house was on fire:

“But that field negro, remember, they were in the majority, and they hated their master. When the house caught on fire, he didn’t try to put it out, that field negro prayed for a wind.”

It may be cheating a li’l bit, but  no essay on Radical Black History Month should leave out poet, activist, and songster Boots Riley, cuz:  history really starts yesterday, doesn’t it?  ;o)


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