Bill Fletcher, Jr.: Lessons From Black History: Understanding How Change Happens





[Bill Fletcher, Jr., is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the International Labor Rights Forum, Executive Editor of The Black Commentator and founder of the Center for Labor Renewal.]

...If there is one critical lesson from the last year, it is that in the absence of social movements -- and particularly social movements with dynamic and audacious leadership -- political change does not happen in a progressive direction irrespective of the intent of elected leaders. This is a lesson that emerges from the history of the Black Freedom Movement and the challenges that it offered to both Democratic and Republican office holders....

The Black Freedom Movement's history demonstrated that irrespective of whether there is a "friend" in the White House, the movement itself must have its own independent program and agenda. This agenda must be advanced in such a way that it puts heat on those in power even to the point of being excluded from the halls of power. The Black Freedom Movement, or at least major sections of it, recognized that it does no good to be in the halls of power if all one is doing is collecting autographs.

The second lesson we can draw from our history is that racism is hard-wired into U.S. capitalism and is not easily removed -- certainly not simply or solely through the election of a person of color to even the highest of offices. The immediate "post-racial" discourse following the election of President Obama collapsed in the face of the racist, irrational attacks that emerged from the political right as it maneuvered to energize an anti-Obama and anti-progressive movement. Using coded phrases and narratives -- exemplified by the activities of the idiotic conspiracy theorists of the so-called "Birther Movement" (which challenges the legitimacy of President Obama's claim to U.S. citizenship), or the Voodoo posters of President Obama that surfaced at anti-Obama rallies, or the rapid accumulation of guns and ammunition by whites in fear of the future, or the chant from largely white audiences that it was time to "reclaim America" -- the political right has made race central to their organizing approach and message....


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