By Malik Yakini
Young people across the United States have recently set off a wave of resistance to police murders, and a “justice system” that doesn’t value Black life. Direct action campaigns in and around Ferguson, Missouri, the site of the Michael Brown murder, are impeding business and traffic. Similarly, New York City has experienced massive demonstrations in response to the decision not to indict the police officer who murdered Eric Garner. Protestors have shut down freeways, trains, and public spaces in Oakland and Washington D.C. Young people have waged die-ins in Detroit, Boston and other cities throughout the United States. Marches and demonstrations of solidarity have occurred in many cities internationally.
The protests against the decisions not to indict white police who murdered Black men have brought to the fore the longstanding issue of racial inequality in the practices of the American “justice system” and increasingly militarized police forces. The widespread use of cell phones with video cameras and access to the Internet have allowed people across the United States to capture and post incidents of police abuse, maiming and murder on social media sites. We can now all stand as witnesses to a pattern of white on Black violence against Black men, women and children that is rooted in the history of the system of white supremacy, and continues unabated to this day.
I applaud the young people who have reinvigorated our movement! I am not among those who will criticize those who are marching, dying-in, walking with their hands up, chanting “I can’t breathe” or setting fires and throwing rocks. It is unintelligent and unhealthy to have a foot on your neck, and not use all means available to remove the foot. All resistance to oppression is healthy for the oppressed. The writings of Frantz Fanon are instructive in this regard. In his classic book, The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon, speaking of the oppressed, says, “Once their rage explodes, they recover their lost coherence, they experience self-knowledge through reconstruction of themselves…”
I am encouraged by this latest wave of resistance. But, while this activism is encouraging, and protesting is significant, it is clearly not enough. We need a long-term strategy guided by a clear vision of the society that we seek to bring into being. If we are to move this strategy forward, as our revered ancestor Kwame Ture (formerly Stokley Carmichael) advised, we must belong to an organization. “The only way you can help your people is by helping to organize them, and the only way you can do that is by joining an organization.” We need to build principled, working-relationships, between organizations, in order to create broad coalitions and alliances. We need real united fronts aimed at fundamentally shifting power and wealth relationships, ending white supremacy and fostering self-determination and justice.
Changing a society that is deeply mired in systems of oppression is protracted work. It is not quick or easy. In requires lifetimes of commitment. It requires political education and the study of recent revolutions and resistance movements. It requires discipline, sacrifice and the willingness to put the interests of the group over our individual desires. This critical work is full of both challenges and joys.
Equally important, is the transformative work that we must do on ourselves, our relationships and our communities. Ushering in a new era of self-determination, justice and equality will require us to go beyond changing who controls state power or which economic system we use. It will require us to change ourselves, and how we relate to each other, the earth, and the plants and animals with whom we co-inhabit the planet. The hard, cold reality is that either we make these changes or humanity won’t survive!
Without a fundamental change in our consciousness, we will replicate what we have struggled against. We will simply change the players, with the game remaining essentially the same. The parameters of our thinking will continue to be defined by the experiences of the past. We will not be prepared for the challenges of the future.
We have witnessed how the people of China waged a revolution, but in many ways replicated the industrial models of the west and now live in a country that is one of biggest polluters on earth, contributing significantly to the global climate chaos. We have witnessed how, after a celebrated armed-struggle for independence, Guinea-Bissau, in its quest for income, has become a toxic waste dump for European nations. We have seen the New Jewel Movement in Grenada lead a revolution that put young, charismatic, Pan-African, socialists like Maurice Bishop in power only to fall to prey to internal divisions that lead to infighting, assassinations and ultimately occupation of the island-nation by the United States military.
Transforming ourselves is a fundamental part of, and interwoven with, the process of creating a new, just society. We transform ourselves in order to take our humanity back! While individual practices such as meditation and yoga can help us transform by realizing our inner-essence, it is also true that we evolve and transform by engaging in changing the world around us and being supported by others striving for the same transformation. The first President of independent Mozambique, Samora Machel, said “ struggle is the best university.” We learn about ourselves, and the world we live in, by engaging in the struggle for liberation. Transformation of the self is a group process. None of us live in a bubble. We are part of a matrix of human relationships that defines who we are. “I am because We are.” The reality is that there is no I outside of the We.
For African people this transformation also includes reconnecting with our own historical and cultural continuum that was interrupted by the experiences of enslavement, colonialism, miseducation, economic exploitation and ongoing campaigns of terror. Studying, and extracting the essential lessons from, our history and adopting useful traditional cultural practices are necessary components of our liberation. Knowing and loving ourselves is mandatory if we are to move into the future in a way that is sane.
We have the responsibility of transforming our communities. Key to this is building institutions that embody the values that will serve as the foundation for a new society. Our institutions must, in fact, serve as a microcosm of the society that we seek to bring into being. We need to create institutions that educate children and adults, address community health and wellness, help us adapt to and address planetary climate chaos and otherwise prepare and equip us to meet our own needs. We need institutions that promote and facilitate cooperation and foster the development of local economies in which community members are interdependent, collectively responsible and mutually supportive.
The bottom line is that we need a holistic, comprehensive, revolutionary approach to change. It is counter-productive to create a false dichotomy between those who are struggling to overturn systemic oppression and those whose work is focused on personal and community transformation, visioning, healing and institution building. It is absolutely necessary that we build a framework that is broad enough to embrace all of the principled ways in which we resist oppression. We must avoid the trap of either or thinking! We have the tremendously delicate responsibility of building a movement, container, that can hold, embrace and nurture multiple possibilities simultaneously. One that allows us to be grounded in history yet future focused; to have both roots and wings!
All resistance to oppression is important! Don’t criticize resistors who use different tactics than the ones you prefer. All forms of struggle don’t resonate with all people. Maybe you don’t want to lie in the street for a die-in. Don’t criticize and demean those who do. Maybe you don’t want to walk around with your hands up. Don’t criticize and detract from those who do. Maybe you aren’t an institution builder, urban farmer or natural healer. Don’t criticize those who are. Most of all don’t be a silent capitulator who does nothing to advance our movement while criticizing those who are at least trying to make change!
History and destiny demand that we move beyond being mere consumers of shiny things and antiquated ideas. We are compelled, by ancestral examples and the yearnings in our own hearts, to seize the moment and usher in a new era of self-determination, justice, cooperation and planetary stewardship. This will require us to have wisdom, integrity, courage, fortitude and visionary minds, big enough to conceive a future beyond the limitations of the present. Stay encouraged, and however you’re doing it, keep resisting oppression!
Black Lives Matter!
Malik Yakini is an educator, activist, musician and urban farmer who is committed to freedom and justice for humanity in general and African people in particular. He has helped to establish and lead important institutions and organizations in Detroit’s African American community.
# # #