Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Witness to History: The Making of the Freedom Party

A witness to history:

The making of the Freedom Party

Published Jul 30, 2010 9:15 AM
By Paul Washington
Brooklyn, N.Y.

The evening gathering on June 11 at the historic Siloam Presbyterian Church, located in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y., will go down in the annals of New York state’s Black political history as a significant revolutionary development.

Our ancestors — Ella Baker, a founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Fannie Lou Hamer, a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, who also ran for Congress in Mississippi, though because of institutional racism her name was not allowed on the ballot; and Rev. Milton Galamison, who pastored Siloam from 1949 to 1988 — are smiling down from the Heavens as the Freedom Party gathers momentum and steam to become a viable third party in New York state. (While Rev. Galamison led civil rights boycotts and demonstrations against poverty and issues centered around social justice, it was his renowned leadership in school decentralization that put both his church and his name on the map.)

The co-chairs of this newly formed party are two highly respected and prominent leaders in the Black Liberation Movement: none other than Jitu Weusi, one of the founding members and Chief of Operations of the National Black United Front; along with one of the Queens of our movement, Viola Plummer, leader of the December 12th Movement and a founder of Sista’s Place. Weusi is also the founder of the historic East Cultural Center and the Uhuru Sasa Shule (school) from which this writer was one of its first graduates. Both of these individuals are veteran activists and fierce fighters for the political and economic empowerment of African people.

Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker used to set the tone and the atmosphere for numerous meetings through song as they registered record numbers of people to vote. In similar fashion and tradition, Viola began the meeting with her fiery and uplifting sloganeering, shouting, “When I say Freedom, you say Party!” When she shouted, “Freedom!” all the people shouted, “Party!”

But more importantly, at this second major public event, the community got a chance to meet and hear from the three candidates running at the top of the Freedom Party ticket — Charles Barron for governor, Eva M. Doyle for lieutenant governor and Ramon Jimenez for attorney general. The slate of the Freedom Party is clearly composed of dedicated individuals who have a deep, abiding commitment to social justice and self-determination for people of color. Through their pronouncements, you sensed an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist worldview that is pro-working-class.

Challenging the racist status quo

The audience consisted of various sectors of New York City’s diverse communities. People were riveted as council member Barron articulated the vision and ideological themes of the Freedom Party, such as “not balancing the state and city budgets on the backs of people of color nor the working class.” Brother Barron waxed in the Black oratorical tradition, using his favorite mantra, “White men have too much power.” This truism raises its ugly head when we look at the all-white slate of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who recently selected Mayor Robert Duffy of Rochester to be his running mate.

Brother Barron’s inspiring cadence makes one realize that there could not be a better intellectual, gifted rhetorician serving as the standard barrier of the Freedom Party than Charles Barron. As I sat in the audience with my four-year-old grandson, Tyrik Jr. (TJ), I overheard an elderly Black woman say to her husband, “[Charles] makes us proud.”

The diversity of the ticket is surely its strength, with the selection of Sister Doyle as lieutenant governor. This brilliant, dynamic activist/intellectual in the tradition of Ida B. Wells illuminates her scholarship as a writer of more than 10 books and her enduring influence as a public school teacher and radio commentator.

Sister Doyle, hailing from Buffalo, N.Y., introduced herself for the first time to a number of Bed-Stuy residents. Her downhome, yet razor sharp analysis put forward the critical need for providing an Afrocentric curriculum in the New York state educational system. Tracing her political, intellectual and spiritual evolution and hearing about her husband — a member of the Nation of Islam who recently joined the ancestors — were truly a touch of grace and charm.

Finally, her vast knowledge of the historic and contemporary contributions of Black people was captivating and inspiring. As you witnessed both the young and old sit on the edge of their seats listening to her, you recognized she is truly a woman of moral and physical courage.

Brother Ramon Jimenez, a Harvard-trained lawyer and organic intellectual whose roots follow in the footsteps of the great Puerto Rican nationalist and freedom fighter, Pedro Albizu Campos, is a New York City community activist. He spoke on the imperative for Blacks and Latinos/as to build coalitions and unity, and stressed that this unity has always been based on principle and develops “from the bottom up, not from the top down.”

In speaking before this attentive audience, he stated, “We have always worked together on a range of issues, from tenant organizing to the fight for the inclusion of Black and Puerto Rican studies throughout the CUNY system.”

Brother Ramon, a former judge on the Workers Compensation Board during the 1980s, stated that there were once a number of Black and Latino judges who sat on the bench during that timeframe. Now, however, “There is only one.” This clearly speaks to the need for fighting against systemic racism in the criminal justice system. Brother Jimenez reminded us that elected officials, through their role as instruments of government, must meet the material needs of oppressed communities. Those urgent needs relate to universal education, affordable public housing, accessible health care and other essential goods and services.

The final speaker for the evening was our “Attorney at War,” Alton Maddox, chairman of the United African Movement, a brilliant legal mind and political strategist. In many ways Brother Maddox’s legal skills follow in the tradition of the great Charles Hamilton Houston, “The man who killed Jim Crow.” Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the Supreme Court during the 1930s. Similarly, Alton Maddox led and participated in almost every civil rights case in the 1980s — Howard Beach, Tawana Brawley, the Day of Outrage, etc. It was Alton’s genius and zeal during the 1990s that led the charge in the first serious attempt to create a Black-led third party, ironically called “The Freedom Party.”

In essence, Maddox’s overview of “Which Way Forward for the Freedom Party” was educative, enlightening and informative. He highlighted the nexus of the two organizing meetings taking place weekly on Tuesday evenings — one at Sista’s Place in Brooklyn, the other in Buffalo. It is clear there is a grassroots movement that is building energy and inspiring people across racial, ethnic and political lines.

In terms of political direction, numerous volunteers have come forward, hitting the streets around the state to collect the 15,000 signatures needed to gain ballot access for the formation of the Freedom Party in the November election. The Freedom Party will provide the people of this state with a choice and an opportunity to change the political paradigm in New York state and the entire United States of America.

Paul Washington is co-chair of Operation P.O.W.E.R. and the coordinator of the Black Male Initiative of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. He is also the author of the forthcoming book entitled “Black Radical Politics: A Vision for America!”
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