On June 4-5, the Uhuru Solidarity Movement held its founding national convention under the theme, “Resistance is the Future: Solidarity with African Liberation,” in Philadelphia, PA.
The convention drew participants from around the country including San Diego and Oakland, CA; Columbus, OH; Chicago, IL; New York City, NY; Providence, RI; Salt Lake City, UT; Boston, MA; and Miami, Palm Harbor, Brandon, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota, FL.
The convention was mobilizing and informative, and participants left the convention armed with the confidence and the tools to build branches of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement all over the country.
Musician and poet Joseph Xavier Mack kicked off the convention with three powerful songs including a cover of a song by the recently deceased African cultural worker, Gil Scot Heron.
National Chair of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, Stephanie Midler, gave the opening address, laying out the goals and basic principles of the USM. Midler defined the significance of this convention as establishing USM as its own organization, not just as a synonymous mass functioning of the APSC but as its own self-sustaining revolutionary mass organization with a constitution and elected officers.
“Our mandate from the African Liberation Movement is to be a visible presence in the world, saying we do not unite with imperialism, we want to give back the resources that we have at the expense of the rest of the world through reparations, and we want you to join with us. We are going to break up this monopoly of power in the white community,” said Midler.
What makes USM different?
“What makes the USM different from any other organization? We are under the leadership of the African working class. You can find a ton of solidarity organizations out there. What you won't find is a principled organization where the white people are held accountable. USM is held accountable by the African People's Socialist Party. We have a timetable that is accountable to the Party. It makes our work real. It doesn't depend on what we feel like doing. It means uniting in genuine solidarity and jumping in, doing in the work, and being held accountable.”
“The Uhuru Movement says that solidarity means jumping in and saying, 'I unite with what you are saying. What do you want me to do? What can I do?'”
This convention is historically significant because it offers North Americans an opportunity to reverse the historical failure of white leftists to take a principled stand in solidarity with the African Liberation Movement.
Chair Midler summarized the history of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee whose African leadership called on the white activists to go back to their own communities to neutralize the reaction and violence coming from the white community and open up the resources and the white people in SNCC refused to take up this call and turned their backs on the African movement. USM has taken up that call.
“We take responsibility for our history,” said Midler. “It's not about feeling guilty and talking about how bad white people are. It's about recognizing the truth and taking the real stand to change it. It's very optimistic, humbling, and empowering to be part of this organization.”
This convention offered members and supporters of the USM to hear about all of the work that USM has carried out over the past year, from the radio programs on Uhuru Radio to the position papers, blog posts, press conferences, book tours, political studies, participation in a US-wide fundraising tour for a midwife from Sierra Leone who is building a birth clinic with AAPDEP, Earth Uprising events, participation in Oakland rallies against gang injunctions and Philadelphia town hall rallies on education and so much more.
“We've done incredible work, but it's not enough,” said Midler. “And that's why we are here today a the convention formally putting this organization on the ground and asking you to join, sign up, become a part of this movement. When white people see the motion of African resistance, that is when we are moved to join because it gives us a glimpse of the future. And we have to be in place for people who are coming into this movement and wanting to participate.”
Confronting the violent legacy of the oppressor nation
Penny Hess, Chair of the African People's Solidarity Committee, gave a dynamic and powerful multimedia presentation that detailed the violent legacy of the Euro-American white oppressor nation. Citing statistics on the staggering numbers of Africans exploited in privately owned prisons in rural white communities, Hess demonstrated how the ongoing colonial exploitation and mass incarceration of African people inside the US continues to serve as economic stimulus for the white community “as the ones who inherited the legacy of the slave master.”
Hess described the white American lifestyle under imperialism as an “empty, meaningless life that we are expected to live. If it was such a good life why would so many young white teenagers be addicted to drugs? Why would so many white people see no future?”
Hess called on white people to get not bogged down in feelings of guilt but instead to take responsibility for our history and take a stand to overturn that relationship of white people to Africans and the rest of the oppressed peoples of the world. Chairwoman Hess emphasized that instead of sitting around in coffee shops in passive contemplation, white North Americans are being called upon by the African Liberation Movement to get organized and take action.
“This system, capitalism, imperialism, US power, was built on a pedestal of the oppression of African people, on the genocide of the Indigenous people, and on the colonial plunder and domination of practically the entire planet,” said Hess.
“USM is unequivocally against imperialism. It has to go. Our participating in that is through solidarity with African people who are right here and around the world struggling for their legacy, to liberate the continent and its resources, and by extension, with all of the oppressed peoples of the world who are struggling for their lives.”
Stop the U.S. wars on African people at home and abroad!
Glen Ford, executive editor of the Black Agenda Report and founding member of the Black is Back Coalition, provided an incisive analysis of the NATO invasion of Libya, characterized by Ford as Obama's “most recent and most savage war.” Ford noted the parallels between the US strategy of supporting reactionary anti-government forces in Libya to the US funding of the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan during the war against the Soviet-backed government in the 1970s. “This war will be a benchmark when we look back at the imperial response to its own decline,” said Ford.
Ford put the war on Libya in the context of the overall US colonial domination of Africa. “Obama's objective for Africa is total military domination,” said Ford. “This is AFRICOM's war and it was announced from the very beginning. And this is white man's business in Africa.”
Diop Olugbala gave a brief presentation calling for the participants of the convention to register for the upcoming Freedom Summer Project of the Uhuru Movement to be held in St. Petersburg, FL from July to August. Linking this project back to the history of SNCC in the 60s and the Oakland Summer Project in the 1980s, Olugbala held up the Freedom Summer of 2011 as an initiative “to send revolutionaries, students, and cultural workers into St. Petersburg to learn how to organize and heighten our ability to organize for revolution all around the world.”
Chairman Omali Yeshitela invites us to join organization to change the world
The Keynote Presentation of the national convention, “Resistance is the Future: African Liberation In Our Lifetime!” was delivered by Chairman Omali Yeshitela, the leader and founder of the Uhuru Movement and the Chairman of the African Socialist International. Chairman Yeshitela's presentation was incredibly profound historical overview of the destruction of the Black Revolution of the Sixties and the urgency of the ongoing struggle to rebuild the Black Revolution and advance the struggle to win liberation and self-determination in the hands of African workers. Chairman spoke as the international leadership of the African movement as well as the solidarity movement.
"Philosophers of the past made a great task of explaining the world, but the real task is to change the world. That is why organization is so important,” said the Chairman. “That is why the Uhuru Solidarity Movement is so important. The critical factor in the change of human society is conscious human beings who organize to change it. We take this analysis as conscious human beings to change the world and make it a place fit for living. That's what we are about. That's what the USM is about.”
Chairman explained why the Uhuru Movement struggles not to end “racism,” an ideology, but to end colonialism, a social-economic system. He said, “We don't suffer because white people don't like us. We suffer because our right to be a self-determining people has been taken away from us. We suffer because we don't have power over our lives. When you don't have power over our lives, then people can do whatever the hell they want to do to you.
Uhuru Solidarity Movement wins members & sustainers!
USM organizers Wendy Craig and Rebecca Dillow presented on the sustainable membership drive of the USM and the struggle to build a solid financial base of support for the USM and its capacity to generate resources for the Party.
Over the last year since June of 2010, USM won 45 new Uhuru Solidarity members, 19 of those from the west coast region. The presentation showed the many ways that the solidarity movement raises resources through the fundraising institutions of the Uhuru Movement such as the furniture store, flea markets, Uhuru Pies, holiday auction, and Uhuru Foods. A mobilizing call was put out for everyone in attendance to determine their level of support, from the $5 a month Steve Biko sustainership up to the $25,000 a year Omali Yeshitela level! Participants in the convention responded generously to the call, collectively contributing over $4600 through donations and sustainer pledges over the next year, with 14 people becoming sustainers and 4 people becoming new members!
Stop the other U.S. wars!
Rhone Frasier, Director of Education Committee for InPDUM Philly, gave a brief presentation on the struggle for African community control of education in the city of Philadelphia where public education has faced major budget cuts.
A workshop discussion entitled “Stop the Other US Wars” featured panelists Diop Olugbala, President of the International People's Democratic Uhuru Movement; Pam Africa of MOVE and the International Concerened Friends and Family of Mumia Abu Jamal, Sharon Williams, the mother of Kwende Williams; Nellie Bailey of the Harlem Tenants Council, Jesse Nevel of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, and Teresa Shoatz of the Human Rights Coalition. Each panelist exposed the US government's war on the African community from different perspectives– in the struggle for decent housing, life on the streets and in the prisons, and testimony from the front-lines of the revolutionary movement to push back the war on the African community.
The first speaker was Sharon Williams, who shared a powerful and eye-opening testimony about the vicious beating and shooting of her son, Kwende, by Philadelphia police officers in an incident that was witnessed by dozens of bystanders. Her stirring testimony illustrated the harsh and inhumane treatment of Africans by the US colonial government. Ms. Williams was denied the right to visit her son in the hospital to check his vital signs after the shooting. She has since joined up with InPDUM who have taken up the demand for justice to Kwende Williams and advance the struggle for African community control of police.
InPDUM President Diop Olugbala spoke on the case of Kwende Williams as one incident among countless that exemplify the colonial relationship of the police to the African community. “The struggle around Kwende is tied to the overall campaign to help the people understand the law is supposed to be as far as how the police are supposed to engage our community,” said Diop. InPDUM will be carrying out a “Know Your Rights” campaign to inform the African community of their constitutional rights, but Diop explained that “that we are not living in a society where the African community has any rights. This ain't no democracy for us. We are living in a dictatorship, when you are African, Mexican, and oppressed. In a dictatorship, the US government rules without regard for its own laws.” Diop further explained the significance of organizing for state power in the hands of the African community as the only real solution to the conditions faced by working class African people.
Nellie Bailey spoke on the effects of US imperialism in the “internal colony of Harlem” where Africans face a %50 unemployment rate. Bailey, a member of the Black is Back Coalition who was one of the few progressive activists in the US who spoke about against Obama before he became president, derided Obama's presidency as representing the “neutralization of radicalism on the Black Liberation front in this country,” citing black leaders such as Amiri Baraka and Al Sharpton who have capitulated to Obama's reactionary politics. Bailey concluded her presentation by providing updates on the situation in Haiti, such as Clinton and other imperialist occupiers of Haiti profited from the money that people donated to give aid to the people of Haiti following the recent earthquake. “The US government controls both the Haitian police and the UN troops,” said Bailey.
Jesse Nevel, Local St. Pete chair of Uhuru Solidarity Movement, spoke about his experience as an organizer in the City of African Resistance after the shooting of a police officer allegedly by a 16-year-old African and laid out the theoretical basis for the anti-colonial stance of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. Pam Africa spoke about the history of MOVE, a progressive African organization whose headquarters was bombed by the US government in 1985 resulting in the deaths of 11 Africans including 5 children.
Pam Africa pointed out that the mayor who made the decision to bomb the MOVE house was an African man, so she was not surprised or fooled by the selection of Obama as a strategy of “putting a black face on the Empire.” Pam also spoke on the case of Mumia Abu Jamal, African political prisoner.
“I support the Uhuru Movement 100%, because it's the right thing to do,” said Pam Africa. “I had to be here in solidarity with this group because it is consistent. When I look back over the years, it always an Uhuru person who was there whenever there was a case of police brutality or any other injustice, they were always there, and the whites in solidarity were always there too.”
The final panelist was Terersa Shoatz of the Human Rights Coalition, an organization that was founded by Shoatz' father, Russell Maroon Shoatz, from within the prison system. Russell Maroon Shoatz is a former Black Panther and member of the Black Liberation Movement who has been locked down in solitary confinement for over 2 decades. Ms. Shoatz exposed the brutal conditions faced by Africans in the prison system who are subject to the same torture used by the military against detainees in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The first day of the covention closed with an information question and answer session and a powerful closing summation by the Chairman Omali Yeshitela who said, “Imperialism means death and destruction, and we have a right to fight for life.”
Uhuru Solidarity Movement constitution adopted; new steering committee elected
The second day of the convention was held in the Uhuru Solidarity Center and began with summations from Penny Hess and Chairman Omali Yeshitela. The USM membership had an opportunity to read through and propose amendments to the official constitution of the USM, and then vote to ratify the constitution into existence. The USM nominated and voted on a new slate of officers for the national steering committee:
Chair – Stephanie Midler – appointed
Secretary – Kefira Baron
Outreach/Information and Education – Harris Daniels
Sustainable Membership – Wendy Snyder
Reparations in Action – Ali Hoehne
International Organizer – Wendy Craig
Cyber Organizing and Recruitment – Jesse Nevel
The election of the national steering committee was followed by a series of helpful training workshops on how to organize people on the streets, how to use the internet and online social media to organize and build events, and how to win sustainable membership. All of these materials can be found on the USM website at uhurusolidarity.org.
In his keynote presentation on the first day, Chairman Omali Yeshitela defined the current period of crisis for imperialism as a critical period of tremendous social transformation where white people will have to make the determination on which side of history they are going to stand. “The old has to die out to give birth to the new. That's a law of dialectics. What we see happening is that imperialism is experiencing deep and profound death pains,” said the Chairman.
“But the death throes of imperialism represent the birth pains of a whole new world. We've got two jobs – as midwives to bring in the new world, and as gravediggers to take out the old. And in that regard, we believe in full employment, so everybody get a damn shovel!”
The Chairman's words were met with roaring applause. He continued, “Let's build the Uhuru Solidarity Movement. Let's make this revolution. Let's help to push imperialism into its grave.”
UHURU! Resistance is the Future! Solidarity with African Liberation!
FORWARD TO THE SUMMER PROJECT!