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Building An Anti-racist Progressive Coalition

Building An Anti-racist Progressive Coalition image Building An Anti-racist Progressive Coalition image Building An Anti-racist Progressive Coalition image
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It is hypocritical for American activists to be outraged about the crimes commited against our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world if they are not at the same time a ware of and outraged by the atrocities being commited in thcir own backyards. On Saturday, April 25 th, a rainy spring day in Washington D.C., more than 100,000 people from communilies across the nation, came togcther to particípate in a National Mobilization for Peace and Justice in Central America and Southern África. The national organizers worked tirelessly to put the event together and should be commended. At the same time, however, the event reflected a number of small political weaknesses and one major one. The minor weaknesses will take care of themselves. The major weakness needs to be seriously addressed. The relatively low number of Blacks and other people of color within the ranks of the demonstrators was disturbing to many of us, even more striking in that the population of Washingtion is overwhelmingly Black. The lack of truly multiracial participation in the March does not reflect a failure solely of the national organizing effort; it also reflects a very serious and longstanding weakness of many local progressive organizations, including many in our own community. The problem is the failure of many people to seriously and aggressively address the question of racism, both within the larger society and within our gressive movements as well. Racism has al-ways been a critical issue confronting the Ameri-can Left. It remains critical today. In light of the upsurge in violent racist attacks across the countiy, compoundcd by daily racist violence of social service cutbacks, an ecomonic military draft, the erosión of afffirmative action gains, and 50% unemployment among Black and Latin youth, every progressive activist must begin to take the issue of racism much more seriously. This means that white activists must recognize the cenlrality of racism to all progressive causes, must accept the importance of Black and Third World leadership, particularly that of women of color, and fïnally, must be willing to grapple with and confront their own racism and j that of people around them in the process. Racism and anti-racism are connected to all progressive movements today because racism has been the ideological fuel the Reagan Administration has used to propel its policies at home and abroad. U. S. support for the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua, and support for fascist policies in Southern África represent attacks against people of color struggling for self-determination. It is easier to defend foreign policy initiatives that I (see RACISM, page 1x) Racism (from page 5) lead to the murder of Brown children in Central America and the detention and torture of Black children in South África if you have already promoted the notion that those people are not really people anyway - that is, they are not rich or white or American and are thcrefore not important. To argue that U.S. foreign policy is motivated primarily by racism would be an oversimplification, but racism is used to defend and justify U.S. policy. Similarly, on the domestic front, racist stereotypes have been callcd forth to justify cutbacks in vital social services to all poor and working class people. Reagan and his associates have pushcd the nolion that lazy and undeserving welfare recipients are sopping up American tax dollars, and that "canccling thcir meal tickets "is the way to make them work harder and be more rcsourceful. These misrepresentations ignore the reality that inercasing numbers of Americans are homeless, jobless and hungry, and that economie strife has always hit poor people of color the hardest. Nevertheless, one of the chief ways such callous and inhumane policies are made palatable to millions of Americans is that, despite the fact that numerically more whites receive welfare than Blacks, the stereotypical welfare recipiënt is a poor Black woman, someone that most white Americans cannot and do not identify with, some. one who is "different" and somehow inferior and less deserving. Clearly, racism has been key in promoting, defending and popularizing unjust foreign and domestic policies. It has served to divide progressive movements and has created convenient, visible scapegoats and targets for the rage and frustration of others. For these reasons it is essential that anti-racism become a central focus in all progressive movements. Unfortunately during the intense anti-racist struggles at the University of Michigan this year, many veteran white Ann Arbor activists were conspicuously absent. However, at the same time, the organizers of the annual 'Take Back the Night" march made the decisión to turn the entire program over to women of color this ycar which was, at least, one step in the right direction, and cause for optimism. Also, more " than two dozen progressive faculty mcmbers made financial contributions to UCAR to demónstrate their support. Finally, the question that many progressives have in terms of building multiracial anti-racist coalitions is not why, but how? Thcre are three inititial responses to this question. First of all, progressive whites must take the issue of racism seriously. This mcans scnsiüzing oneself to the various manifestations of racism all around us, and also attempting to analyze and understand the complex dynamics of racism in our society. It is hypocritical for American activists to be outraged about the crimes commitcd against our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world if they are not at the same time aware of and outraged by the atrocities being commited in their own backyards. For example, when the President of Columbia University can bring New York City pólice onto campus to beat Black students; to handcuff and arrest a Black faculty member, and to place 50 students in "preventive detention" for protesting racism, as happened three weeks ago, every progressive acitivist should be outraged and mobilizing. When the Tampa pólice are accused of murdering three Black suspects over a two month pcriod, there should have been memorials and vigils throughout the country. In essence, anti-racist ideas, slogans and demands must move from the "margin to the center" of progressive politica] agendas, if these agendas are to be truly progressive. There can be no progressive feminist movement that does not deal with racism seriously. There can be no progressive peace movement that does not aggressively point out the intímate links between racism and militarism. There can be no progressive solidarity tnovements ihat do not examine the racist character of American foreign and domestic policies. The second step in forging this anti(see RACISM, page 23) RACISM (f rom page 17) racist coalition is respecting the importance of Black and Third World leadership. Those of us who have and will continue to suffer the brunt of racist attacks must define the terms of the movement to combat it. Thirdly, we must overeóme our fear of internal struggles. As Bernice Johnson Reagon once observed "all coalition work is difficult and painful work," and struggling with ourselves and one another to formúlate principie positions and effective strategies is key. Ln an effort to sustain the momentum we achieved in one anti-racist struggle on Michigan's campus this year and to begin to build an anti-racist coalition UCAR (United Coalition Against Racism) is organizing a Freedom Slimmer School. We hope to build stronger ties with other progressive organizations, campus workers, and student activists in other parts of the country. We have already met with students from Northern Illinois University where a march against racist attacks drew more than 2,000 students last term. We have met with students on the west coast who told us about a march in April organized by several coalitions of students of color which brought out more than 6,000 in Sacramento, California. And we have kept in close touch with the activists at Columbia University, dozens of whom have been arrested in the most recent round of struggle over racist assaults upon Black students and the racist eviction of Black and Latino families from Columbia owned buildings. The Freedom Summer School will be a series of in-depth discussions and debates about politics, tactics and strategy, not only for our local efforts but with the outlook of contributing to the rebirth of a national student movement. We will hopefully involve activists from other parts of the country in our dialogue as well. Obviously, the central focus of these discussion will be racism and anti-racism, but we understand the interconnectedness of various forms of oppression in our society and therefore want to probe those links as well. We invite the input and participation of all sectors of Ann Arbors progressive community.


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