You can’t proclaim
a mass movement into existence - but if you can bring together
hundreds of thousands
of people to hear the proclamation, you may be part of the way
Haitian-American singer Wycliff Jean regaled
the throng on Washington’s
Capitol Mall with a hook deployed by speaker after speaker last
Saturday: "This is not a march, we are building a movement,
the Millions More Movement." After an early morning to dinnertime
marathon of repetition, many in the vast crowd seemed convinced
the proclamation was in effect. If a mighty movement could have
been willed into being, the Millions More Movement participants,
drawn from the broadest political spectrum of African American
thought and activism, would have finished the task by noon under
a clear blue sky. But of course, it’s not that simple.
What the organizers did achieve was a mass reaffirmation of the
existence of an African American polity, a form of Black nationhood
that yearns for unity and autonomy in the struggle against white
supremacy, and for its own sake. In this sense, the gender and
(slightly) ethnically integrated Millions More Movement succeeded
in making much the same statement as the significantly larger Million
Man March, ten years before, although the current incarnation aims
This general yearning for unity across class and religious
lines is proof that Black Americans share a "distinct"
worldview, a prism quite unlike not just whites, but other ethnic
minorities as well, as concluded in a recent study by University
of Texas sociologist
George Yancey. The quest for independent political action -
which includes the option of forging strategic or tactical alliances
with other groups - is a Black historical constant. African Americans
embrace the "concept of black autonomy as both an institutional
principle and an ideological orientation," writes University
of Chicago political scientist
However, "operational unity" - Saturday speaker
and Kwanza founder Dr. Maulana Karenga’s phrase - requires that
the component parts of the Black American polity share more than
a general desire to "Rebuild, Restore, and Renew the
Black Community," the Millions More Movement’s slogan. No
one should expect that the diverse activists, politicians, professionals,
entertainers and preachers that were on display at the Capital
Mall (see Final Call.com News, October
17, 2005 for the full list of speakers) will ever agree on
movement priorities, much less specific strategies and tactics,
except in the case of catastrophic events such as the one-word
horror, Katrina and, possibly, a clear and present threat to the
Voting Rights Act.
Katrina was the great MMM unifier, an issue around which substantive agreement
could be found, as opposed to the generalities of the Covenant with
God, Leadership and Our People and a 10-point Issues
statement. The two overlapping documents do serve the very
useful purpose of assembling those issues-areas that constitute
the main arena of Black political and social concerns: unity among
Blacks everywhere and with other oppressed peoples, quality education
and housing, economic development under African American auspices,
independent Black political power, reparations in some form, an
end to police abuse and mass incarceration of African Americans,
universal health care, autonomy and responsibility in the Black
cultural sphere, an end to U.S. aggression in the world, and an
affirmation of the African American spiritual legacy.
It is around these issues that a broad, progressive and longstanding
Black political consensus revolves. However, there is no consensus,
either among the speakers on the Mall or in Black America at-large,
on how to achieve these highly generalized goals, and it is in practice that
the fault lines (that have always been there) emerge.
False Unity or Internal Struggle?
Not only is it inevitable that there be internal
Black struggle over ways, means and priorities, such conflict
is the necessary
evidence that a real movement is in the making. There is no such
thing as a politically homogenous nation. Within the bounds of
a shared world view, the various components of the Black national
polity will wrestle with one another. That’s politics. A politically
healthy, energized Black America will be the arena for many non-lethal
What, for example, is the meaning of "autonomy"? The
NAACP, the two congresspersons in attendance on the Mall (Congressional
Black Caucus chairman Mel Watt (D-NC) and Maryland Rep. Elijah
Cummings), Christian clerics, New Black Panthers and the Nation
of Islam certainly envision different versions of an autonomous
Black America. Programmatically, their lines of march toward "autonomy" will
diverge by varying degrees. The same applies to quality education,
economic development, the nature and form of reparations, drugs,
crime - virtually every issue of importance.
If Black America has evolved over the generations as a true national
polity - and it has - and if the various components of that polity
are vigorous in pursuit of their version of Black progress, then
there will be clashes. But that is a good thing, because in order
to clash, one must be moving.
We are not there yet. A healthy Black national
polity will function like an accordion. At times the sections of the instrument come
tightly together - for example, the MMM’s demand for a New Orleans
Citizens Bill of Rights: the right to return, to rebuild and to
thrive in the "new" city. At other times, the various
sections of the polity will draw away from one another like an
expanding accordion as they follow different programmatic paths.
The result is the music of a healthy polity.
However, there are also those Blacks who act
as front men, pretending to be part of the band while playing
other people’s songs on gold
plated instruments. Here’s a scene from the Mall: a vendor is hawking
red-black-and green American flags, a clever nationalist souvenir.
His wares are stuffed in a tote bag emblazoned, "5th Annual
Symposium BAEO" - the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Are
the vendor and his customers aware that the BAEO is an invention of
the rich, racist Bradley Foundation and the Walton family, heirs
to the Wal-Mart fortune? Is the lavishly funded BAEO, which is
now also subsidized by
the Bush regime through the No Child Left Behind program, to be
allowed a seat at the Black table of autonomy?
Professor Ron Walters, Black America’s best known political scientist,
rightly called upon African Americans to create "our own political
formations…. Any nation of 40 million must have its own political
institutions." The Congressional Black Caucus, although entirely
Democrat, is certainly a "Black" institution. Yet ten
Caucus members voted for a harsh Republican bankruptcy
bill, despite the plague of predatory lenders that infest their
districts ensnaring constituents in bankruptcy-creating loans.
The ten Black lawmakers were playing the credit card and finance
companies’ tune. Should "unity" preclude us from denouncing
these politicians and upbraiding Caucus
leadership for silently tolerating such defections? Is the Black
polity ready to finance Black candidates to run against African
American incumbents who serve other masters? Are we collectively
prepared to draw "bright lines" for legislative behavior,
as the recently founded CBC
Monitor has done?
In other words, at what point is "unity" both
false and counterproductive?
The Ministry of Us
Nation of Islam (NOI) leader Min. Louis Farrakhan
is The Man with the Plan, the prime mover of the Millions More
Movement and the
1995 Million Man March. Neither event could have possibly taken
place without the leadership and organizational skills of the NOI,
which occupies a unique position in the African American polity
- by default. The NAACP is by far the largest Black organization;
it has the masses, but not the will, to bring hundreds of thousands
of Blacks together in one place. Rev. Jesse Jackson remains the
most popular figure in Black politics, but has never built a standing
organization. That leaves Min. Farrakhan as the Indispensable Man,
the only Black leader with a large national cadre organization.
The Millions More Movement was, deservedly, his show.
Farrakhan envisions the creation of Black ministries,
a kind of shadow government paralleling federal agencies. The
include Ministries of Agriculture, Education, Defense, Art and
Culture, Trade and Commerce, Justice, Information, and Science
and Technology. Most of these ministries would be funded through
a formula that shifts tax dollars from federal agencies to their
shadow Black counterparts based on the Black percentage of population.
For example, since African American children make up about 14 percent
of the school population, the Black Ministry of Education should
be allocated 14 percent of the federal education budget. "Give
us back a percentage so we can educate our own," said the
NOI chief, as evening came to the Mall.
There is no doubt that Farrakhan’s undistilled
Black separatist proposal would mean the death of public education
in cities across
the country - an outcome that would be welcomed only by the voucher-peddling,
public education-hating Black Alliance for Educational Options
and its reactionary white patrons. Essentially, Farrakhan is dreaming
of a huge school voucher, to be dispensed yearly to the Black Education
Ministry by Washington. Presumably, the states and localities that
provide the vast bulk of education monies and are legally obligated
to educate children, would use the same formula to rebate funds
to local Black Education ministries. The devolution of African
American schooling to the Black ministries would inevitably dilute
or even sever government from its responsibilities to Black children,
including the obligation to redress generations of substandard
education - except for the annual voucher/check.
Could the NAACP, the Urban League or any member of the Congressional
Black Caucus unite with such a project? Indeed, is the scheme remotely
palatable to any group or individual that operates within the historical
Black Consensus, which has always maintained that the government
is obligated to make good on its contract with all Americans?
It’s a rhetorical question; there’s no need to answer. The Farrakhan
formula is true to the logic of separatism, and is also the best
(or worst) example of where an uncritical quest for "unity" can
take us. Few of the component parts of the African American polity
would seriously entertain Farrakhan’s proposal for even a second.
Yet there it was, the climax of a long and often joyous day.
It is good to rally
Nonsense aside, this past weekend’s massive display of Black humanity
was valuable in its own right. For those assembled on the Mall
or watching the ritual remotely, the constant invocation of the
words "us," "we," and "our" in the
bright sunlight from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial was an
experiential counterweight to those forces bent on smothering independent
Black thought and action. Barack Obama’s Democratic National Convention speech notwithstanding
("There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino
America and Asian America - there’s the United States of America!"),
the vast majority of African Americans understand that history
has made them one people - unique upon the Earth.
After generations of institution building and collective struggle,
there is much more to the Black polity/nation than just a bunch
of folks who are despised by another, larger and more powerful
bunch of folks. The Black polity/nation exists for its own reasons,
not merely to facilitate resistance to racism. It is a better,
more human and moral nation than the one that surrounds it.
Essentially, the Millions More Movement event
was a giant rally. People need rallies, which are only harmful
if too much is expected.
Hopefully, the organizations that collaborated to make the event
happen will forge some degree of "operational unity" on
their own, in their various projects. The unfolding rape and theft
of New Orleans confronts Black America with a common project, around
which all can rally. In the absence of any other universally endorsed
African American campaign - and in an era in which corporate media
threaten to destroy any semblance of political sobriety - the simple
exhortation to work harder, to "do something" was the
best directive available for the assembled activist/citizens.
So, we’ll let the architect, Min. Louis Farrakhan,
have the last word:
"We must go back home and organize as never