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Sixties Activists Reunite

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On April 14-16 more than SO former civil rights activists, members of the radical Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), met al Trini ty College in Hartford, Connectie ut to reminisce and share experiences and insights with a small group of 1980's activists. An Ann Arbor contingent of seven members of the United Coalition Against Racism (UCAR), including myself, were among the participants. En route to the conference we were all very anxious to meet face to face with some of the legendary figures we had rcad about. These were the courageous young people who had bravcd racist lynch mobs, been bcaten by Southcm pólice, and been jailed for thcir efforts, (e.g. lunch counter sit-ins, voter registration drives, and freedom rides to desegregate public transporta tion ), to combat Jim Cro w segregation and Black disenfranchisement. In an ticipation of meeting these personalities 20 years later, we recalled Diane Nash's resolute commitment to SNCC's Jail No Bail Campaign - expressing her willingness to serve a jail term for her poli ti cal activity despite the fact that she was eight months pregnant at the time. We recalled Cleaveland Sellers who served nearly a year in federal príson for refusing to register for the draft in opposition to the Vietnam War. We recalled SNCC organizer Prathia Hall bcing shot at during a voter registration drive in rural Mississippi. And we wondered what these individuals would bc like today. Many are still involved in civil rights work. Nash is a conununity activist in Chicago, Sellers is organizing the homeless in North Carolina, and Hall is a minister and activist They are a far cry form the cynkal media images of 60's radicals-tumed-Wall Street executives. Founded in the spring of 1960, SNCC was an outgro wth of the desegregation sit-in movement and represented an important shift in the tone and focus of the civil rights movement. These young people, mostly Black, influenced by the brüliant political strategist Ella Baker, founded an independent youth organizatkm to fight racism. Their organizalion was based on the principies of egalitarian, group-centered leadership, and recognized the importance of local, grassroots struggles. UCAR 's own structure and philosophy has been inspircd in large part by Baker, for whom UCAR 's new Nelson MandelaEUa Baker Center for Anti Racist Educatkn is named. Some of the lessons we look away from the conference involved die reality of personal transformation through political struggle. Many stories recounted ihroughout the weekend suggested that virtualry all SNCC organizers had been permanently changed by their experience in the movemenL That experience had influenced their career choices, relationships, polilical involvemcnts, and personal values . Another impression we left with was that despite their shming momenis in hislory, their admirable accomplishmcnts, and their extraordinary deeds, these people were ordinary people - flesh and blood, with imperfections like all the rest of us. While it was some what disappointing to have out political héroes and heroines dethroned, the rcalization of their weaknesses and limitations was at the same time empowering. We realized that the histori(see SNCC, page 11) RANSBY ON RACISM SNCC (from page 3) cal moment, the collective experience of struggle, is much larger than any of the individual historical actors. While we look to SNCC for inspiration and historical lessons, we also realize, as Black Power leader Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) pointed out quite sharply, "history does not repeat, and what was a radical strategy in 1968, might be politically irrelevant in 1988." As times change so do the methods by which people are oppressed, even within the same social stnicture. Consequently, our methods of strugglc and organiza tion must change as well. Anti-racist student organizing is at a critical juncture as we approach the 1990's. There has been a visible upsurge in anti-racist struggle on college campuses across the country over the past year, led largely by Black student activists. Most recently, the building occupation at U-Mass Amherst, the 90 Black studcnts arrested at Penn State, and the sit-in at Harvard Law School, are only a few ex ampies of this escalationof stniggle. However, despite the intense and increasingly confrontational nature of many of the local struggles around racism among students, there has yet to emerge a coherent national voice. Our various struggles, although parallel and at times overlapping, are basically still localized and isolated. Today, the more subtle, but equally dangerous manifestations of racism, make our task more" complex. While we grapple with the political realities of the 1980's and attempt to develop strategies and build a movement for the 1990' s, we still look to the past for the inspiration and strength that comes from knowing what is possible. To help us tap that strength and clarify the lessons of the past, a small group of former SNCC members and current student activists are exploring the possibility of a fall conference to bring together political activists from the 1 960s and 80s .


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