Thursday, October 28, 2010

Southern Conference Calls for Socialism, Class Unity

DURHAM, N.C. WWP Southern conference calls for socialism, class unity

By LeiLani Dowell and Abayomi Azikiwe
Durham, N.C.
Published Oct 27, 2010 8:31 PM

A standing-room crowd of some 80 people participated in Workers World Party’s Southern Regional Conference, held Oct. 23 in Durham, N.C. The conference was hosted by the Durham WWP branch which was formed a little more than a year ago. It is the first public conference on socialism in recent memory held in this region of North Carolina, an anti-union, right-to-work state.

From students to trade unionists and lesbian/gay/bi/trans/queer activists, the multinational, multigenerational crowd came together to reflect on the history, present and future of the struggle for world socialism and its economic and political impact on the U.S. South. Activists traveled from Miami; Atlanta; Huntington, W. Virginia; Norfolk; Boston; Detroit and New York City to participate in the conference.

In the days before the conference, the cities of Raleigh, Chapel Hill, and Durham — known as the Triangle area - were covered with flyers announcing the conference. Organizers handed out flyers on several area campuses, engaging in conversations with students and inviting them to attend. Posters were put up throughout downtown areas, and leaflets were dropped off at businesses, parks and transportation centers around the event’s location.

Atlanta WWP members set-up a peoples’ history of struggle display with banners, pictures, posters and t-shirts which draped the walls of the third floor of the conference site, depicting the various struggles WWP has engaged in over the past 50-plus years. A banner proclaiming “Avenge Fred Hampton” was signed by Youth Against War and Fascism, the Party’s youth wing founded in the early 1960s. Others demanded gay liberation, saluted South African women, and called for the freedom of political prisoner, Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Panther 21.

Elena Everett, representing the Durham branch of WWP, opened the conference. She welcomed the delegates and asked the audience to honor fallen freedom fighters by calling out their names. Later, closing the first plenary, Everett noted that the gap between the rich and poor is greater today than it was during the Great Depression. “Today we must pledge to win,” she urged.

Teresa Gutierrez, a member of the WWP secretariat, discussed the immigrant rights movement and environmental degradation under capitalism. Gutierrez stated that the crisis in immigration policy reflects why socialism is needed worldwide.

Saladin Muhammad, a founding member of Black Workers for Justice and a member of the Black Workers League, stressed that the struggle for African-American self-determination is a vital aspect of the revolutionary struggle for workers power. He called for greater organization in the South, explaining that as a major region for the U.S. military complex, a major region for foreign direct investment, and a region with the lowest rate of unionization, the South is key to struggles for liberation.

Fred Goldstein, a member of the WWP secretariat and author of the book “Low Wage Capitalism,” reflected on the staggering current unemployment figures — 15 months into the capitalist “recovery” — to argue that the entire social system is running aground. He said that the working class has a glorious history of struggle from which it has been cut off, and that this history can inspire and inform the intense struggles that are sure to come.

Building class solidarity, defending right to self-determination

After lunch, four workshops were held on U.S. imperialism; capitalist terror on communities of color inside the U.S.; the state and special oppressions and socialism. Participants in these workshops included Khalilah Sabra, Director, Muslim-American Society Freedom Foundation and advocate for Palestinian self-determination; Naeema Muhammad, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network activist and BWFJ founding member; Dianne Mathiowetz, Atlanta WWP member; Rebecca Fontaine, Raleigh FIST member and immigrant rights activist; Andre Powell, a LGBTQ activist and Baltimore WWP member; and Durham WWP members, Ben Carroll, Sue Kelly, Dante Strobino, and Scott Williams.

The final plenary was moderated by Monica Moorehead, WWP secretariat member and a managing editor of Workers World newspaper. Moorehead described the Leninist principle of the right of oppressed nations to self-determination as an essential aspect of the ideological view of a socialist party. She described WWP’s support for the Freedom Party in New York — which draws on the experience of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the South during the mid-1960s — as a reflection of this perspective.

Kosta Harlan of Freedom Road Socialist Organization talked on forging principled unity amongst socialist organizations. He cited the joint work of WWP and FRSO in organizing protests against the G-20 in Pittsburgh and the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis. Harlan, who was recently questioned by the FBI as part of a grand jury witch-hunt against anti-war activists, said that the raids and subpoenas were designed to silence the struggles in solidarity with the oppressed around the world. “The attacks are not just against 14 activists,” Harlan stressed, “but the entire class. If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan have not been silenced, then we cannot be silenced.”

Peter Gilbert of the Durham WWP branch stated the awakening of our class requires the building of a revolutionary party, especially at a time when the economic crisis is forcing many in the working class to reconsider their role in history. Gilbert discussed his own political evolution and the role of the Party in his development, and urged all present to join WWP. Gilbert stressed the need for a genuine Marxist party to consistently put its theory into practice and to always be in the struggle.

WWP secretariat member Larry Holmes provided a summation of the conference, emphasizing the need for supporting and being in every struggle of the workers in the U.S., and infusing the struggle with the necessity of putting socialism back on the agenda. “As it becomes clearer that the system has no future, we must have an answer,” Holmes stated. He commended the Durham WWP branch for being firmly rooted in the working class.

At the end of the conference, participants joined in the singing of the Internationale. Mike Martinez and Myia Campbell, WWP members and workshop speakers, provided cultural performances during the plenary sessions.

Seasoned comrades and new activists alike left the conference feeling inspired, motivated to fight and preparing for the upcoming WWP national conference in New York City Nov. 12-14.

LeiLani Dowell is a LGBTQ activist and a managing editor of Workers World. Abayomi Azikiwe is the Pan-African News Wire editor and a Detroit WWP member. Both writers were panelists in workshops.
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