Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, sitting at the Labor Monument in Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit on September 27, 2008. (Photo: Alan Pollock)., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Detroit, the US and the World 44 Years Later
Looking Back on the 1967 Rebellion to Move Forward
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Note: The following talk was delivered at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center in downtown Detroit on July 23, 2011. The occasion was the 44th anniversary of the 1967 rebellion. This event was co-sponsored by the Quality of Life Task Force headed by City Councilwoman Jo Ann Watson, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs. Other panelist in the program included Atty. Vanessa Fluker, Jamila Boyce, a former resident of the Virginia Park community, Ted Talbert, a television and film producer, Congressman John Conyers, Jr., among others.
I wish to thank Councilwoman JoAnn Watson along with my own organizations, the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) and the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shut-offs for working jointly to build this meeting today. It is important that this event is being held in the auditorium of the Detroit City Council named after the first African American and woman Council President, the late Erma Henderson.
44 years ago it would have been highly unlikely that this meeting would have taken place under the auspices of a City Council member and a progressive community organization. In 1967 there was only one African American City Council member, the Honorable Nicholas Hood II.
It was this lack of representation in City government that helped fuel the anger that exploded on July 23, 1967. Although Detroit still remained an industrial giant during this period, the growing African American population remained largely disenfranchised and subjected to blatant racial discrimination in the labor market, housing, business and politics.
Riot or Rebellion?
The ruling class and its surrogates in the city have never been able to come to grips with the events of 44 years ago. This is why the rebellion of 1967 was then, and is still now, described and characterized as a riot and not a rebellion. Even some among the people still harbor this confusion.
Nonetheless, it is important that we place the civil unrest of the period in a historical and social context. Riots are usually considered acts of criminality that have little or no political significance. Rebellions are a response to the exploitation and repression of a people, a segment of the people or a social class.
In Detroit the events of 1967 represented the aspirations of the African American people, its working class and the most marginalized and oppressed segment of this class. The rebellion took place amid similar occurences around the United States and indeed the world.
According to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder that was impaneled in the aftermath of the rebellion in Detroit, over 160 cities in the US experienced unrest during 1967 that was largely sparked by the same social factors: ongoing racial discrimination, the crisis in housing and police brutality and misconduct.
Although the civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s broke down barriers and ended legalized segregation through the passage of municipal, state and federal legislation, it did not and could not, root out the fundamental causes of the oppression of the African American people. For this to have occured it would have required a much more systematic and protracted effort aimed the fundamental transformation of the economic and political structures governing the country.
From Rebellion to Revolution: Our Task Today
Since 1967 the existing trends at the time related to de-industrialization, the widening gap between the rich, the working people and the poor and the advent of domestic neo-colonialism have reached new levels. Today we face conditions that are in many ways worst than what prevailed 44 years ago.
Even though we have achieved the symbols of African American political empowerment and representation, the reigns of social and economic power still elude us. The hard reality is that today we suffer from the highest unemployment rate in the country. Our city has been devastated by predatory lending and the broader collapse within the housing industry.
Consequently, we must wage an even broader and more conscious struggle than any other time in the past. This current struggle must be based on scientific methods of analysis, organization and mobilization.
Our only hope of survival and prosperity must lie outside the existing system of racial oppression and class exploitation. We must link our struggle in Detroit with the broader fight around the country and indeed the world.
We have seen other cities throughout the country follow the same pattern as Detroit. Many people who have left the city during the recent period have found themselves in circumstances reminiscent of what exists here.
In Europe and the African continent, working people and the poor have taken to the streets to protest the world economic crisis that threatens to engulf the planet. In Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Britain, the industrial and commercial fabric of these societies have been severely damaged resulting from the imposition of austerity and increased political repression.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal and Malawi, the working people have rose up against the impact of the global financial crisis on their societies. War is not the answer. Everywhere the Pentagon is fighting against the aspirations of the people and they are losing.
The Way Forward
Our organizations, MECAWI and Moratorium NOW!, have identified the economic crisis as the principal arena of struggle in the current period. We are calling for the creation of a national employment program that would create tens of millions of jobs for the unemployed and underemployed.
We demand the imposition of a moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions in Detroit, in the state and throughout the entire country. Until the housing market is stabilized there will be no rebuilding of society as we know it.
In addition to jobs and housing, there must be universal healthcare for all who live inside the United States. The demand for quality education, which helped spark the civil rights movement, must be reiterated without compromise.
Moreover, we must end all the illegal wars of occupation against the peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Palestine, and now Libya. The US government must end its illegal blockade of Cuba and its sanctions campaign against the southern African nation of Zimbabwe.
At present the working people of this country are subsidizing the largest war machine on the planet. The Pentagon's war budget exceeds the military expenditures of all other countries in the world combined.
Therefore, we must organize, mobilize and build for the future. Please join in the struggle for genuine liberation and social emancipation. Together we will win!