It really hit me the
other day that there is a major crisis brewing “out there.”
It is not just one thing but a number of things coming together
that some people have described as a “perfect storm.” For me
it was just the realization that I am feeling more and more
squeezed financially. And, like so many other people, I first
tried figuring out what I was doing wrong. I then had a revelation:
hey stupid, I said to myself, the problem is not you (even if
you have some problems); the problem is that the system is stomping
harder and harder on people.
mortgage crisis, compounded by the credit crisis, compounded
by the declining dollar, compounded by the rise in the cost
of fuel, compounded by the environmental crisis, compounded
by the sense of endless war says that not only is our living
standard eroding but that the overall conditions under which
we are living are deteriorating. While this is happening the
upper 20% of society seems to feel that things are basically
ok. After all, if they run into trouble, the government will
bail them out. The rest of us? Well, you know how that story
Black America, however, the crisis is actually not new. Our
unemployment rate is always double that of whites, and for quite
some time we have been facing a particular housing crisis in
the cities related to gentrification. Yet over the last year,
the crisis that has been facing Black America has been deepening
within our communities, but also spreading to others.
people seem to think that we should wait and see who is elected
President of the United States, i.e.,
if the right person is elected we can rest easy. History teaches
us that such a course would be a disaster. A new president,
be they Democrat or Republican, will be watching to see how
the populace moves or does not move. If there is no anti-war
movement, for instance, it is less likely that they will feel
any imperative to withdraw from Iraq
If working people are not up in arms about home foreclosures,
unemployment and healthcare, again, the new Administration will
move forward based upon the pressure that it does receive from
other, more powerful, sectors. Certainly we will hear rhetoric
from the new Administration, but time and again it is demonstrated
that without a social movement that is committed to struggling,
very little happens.
years ago (June Teenth weekend, 1998) approximately 2000 Black
activists gathered in Chicago to found the Black
Radical Congress. Tired of deteriorating conditions in our
communities compounded by our own lack of unity, we set out
to build an initiative that would bring together those of us
to the left-of-center who were committed to fundamental social
change in the USA. The idea was not to create a talk-shop -
though talking with one another rather than at one another is
very important - but to build a level of working unity so that
we could start pushing, first within Black America, and then
more broadly for deeper changes that address the long standing
racist oppression under which Black America has suffered.
ten years have been difficult. Local organizing committees (chapters)
were formed in about a dozen cities, and several organizations
affiliated to the BRC. Local campaigns were launched dealing
with police brutality, education, worker’s rights, as well as
attempts at working with various organizations on reparations.
Yet building an institution like the BRC, which is essentially
a coalition, is very complicated. Nearly everyone wanted the
BRC to have a national campaign; the problem is that we could
not agree on which one. We also have had generational challenges,
with different forms of organization and leadership styles reflective
of different generational and ideological experiences.
all of this, the BRC continued forward and, interestingly, Black
activists continued to seek it out to join. Many of us in and
around the BRC would jokingly say that if the BRC did not exist
it would have been created in either case. The BRC has filled
a need that exists in Black America for an organization or pole
that actually speaks truth to power; and more than that, takes
on the power that is crushing Black America, with action and
ideas reflecting this new century.
20-22 the BRC is convening a critical gathering in St.
Louis (for info, see blackradicalcongress.org).
Particularly in the years that have followed the Katrina disaster,
as well as in the midst of this historic Presidential campaign,
along with the crises mentioned above, the question on the floor
is a simple one: how can Black progressive and left-wing activists
become more than the sum of our parts? How, in other words,
can we have an impact on real-world events such that we are
pushing for structural changes in U.S.
domestic AND foreign policies?
the coming weeks leading up to the BRC conference I will be
writing about some of the issues that will need to be confronted.
I look forward to hearing back from you, the reader, on these
matters. It is clear that we have to figure out how to bring
together disparate groupings. We need to figure out how to successfully
link with other social movements, including social movements
that are not mainly Black. And we need to identify a means to
create a "safe space" where we can debate issues without
devolving into factional stances. This is a mighty challenge,
but one that is both exciting and daunting.
BlackCommentator.com Executive Editor, Bill Fletcher, Jr.,
is a Senior Scholar with the Institute
for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of
TransAfrica Forum and the co-author of the forthcoming
book on the crisis of organized labor, Solidarity Divided (University
of California Press). Click
here to contact Mr. Fletcher.