"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Goodbye Mrs King
Coretta Scott King is one of the most influential women leaders in our world today. Prepared by her family, education, and personality for a life committed to social justice and peace, she entered the world stage in 1955 as wife of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and as a leading participant in the American Civil Rights Movement. Her remarkable partnership with Dr. King resulted not only in four talented children, but in a life devoted to the highest values of human dignity in service to social change. Mrs. King has traveled throughout our nation and world speaking out on behalf of racial and economic justice, women's and children's rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, the needs of the poor and homeless, full-employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament and ecological sanity. In her distinguished and productive career, she has lent her support to democracy movements world-wide and served as a consultant to many world leaders, including Corazon Aquino, Kenneth Kaunda, and Nelson Mandela.

Born and raised in Marion, Alabama, Coretta Scott graduated valedictorian from Lincoln High School. She received a B.A. in music and education from Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and then went on to study concert singing at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a degree in voice and violin. While in Boston she met Martin Luther King, Jr. who was then studying for his doctorate in systematic theology at Boston University. They were married on June 18, 1953, and in September 1954 took up residence in Montgomery, Alabama, with Coretta Scott King assuming the many functions of pastor's wife at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.

During Dr. King's career, Mrs. King devoted most of her time to raising their four children: Yolanda Denise (1955), Martin Luther, III (1957), Dexter Scott (1961), and Bernice Albertine (1963). From the earliest days, however, she balanced mothering and movement work, speaking before church, civic, college, fraternal and peace groups. She conceived and performed a series of favorably-reviewed Freedom Concerts which combined prose and poetry narration with musical selections and functioned as fundraisers for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the direct action organization of which Dr. King served as first president. In 1957, she and Dr. King journeyed to Ghana to mark that country's independence. In 1958, they spent a belated honeymoon in Mexico, where they observed first-hand the immense gulf between extreme wealth and extreme poverty. In 1959, Dr. and Mrs. King spent nearly a month in India on a pilgrimage to disciples and sites associated with Mahatma Gandhi. In 1964, she accompanied him to Oslo, Norway, where he received the Nobel Peace Prize. Even prior to her husband's public stand against the Vietnam War in 1967, Mrs. King functioned as liaison to peace and justice organizations, and as mediator to public officials on behalf of the unheard.

Since her husband's assassination in 1968, Mrs. King has devoted much of her energy and attention to developing programs and building the Atlanta-based Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change as a living memorial to her husband's life and dream. Situated in the Freedom Hall complex encircling Dr. King's tomb, The King Center is part of a 23-acre national historic park which includes his birth home, and which hosts over one million visitors a year. For 27 years (1968-1995), Mrs. King devoted her life to developing The King Center, the first institution built in memory of an African American leader. As founding President, Chair, and Chief Executive Officer, she dedicated herself to providing local, national and international programs that have trained tens of thousands of people in Dr. King's philosophy and methods; she guided the creation and housing of the largest archives of documents from the Civil Rights Movement; and, perhaps her greatest legacy after establishing The King Center itself, Mrs. King spearheaded the massive educational and lobbying campaign to establish Dr. King's birthday as a national holiday. In 1983, an act of Congress instituted the Martin Luther King, Jr. Federal Holiday Commission, which she chaired for its duration. And in January 1986, Mrs. King oversaw the first legal holiday in honor of her husband--a holiday which has come to be celebrated by millions of people world-wide and, in some form, in over 100 countries.

Coretta Scott King has carried the message of nonviolence and the dream of the beloved community to almost every corner of our nation and globe. She has led goodwill missions to many countries in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Asia. She has spoken at many of history's most massive peace and justice rallies. She served as a Women's Strike for Peace delegate to the seventeen-nation Disarmament Conference in Geneva, Switzerland in 1962. She is the first woman to deliver the class day address at Harvard, and the first woman to preach at a statutory service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London.

A life-long advocate of interracial coalitions, in 1974 Mrs. King formed a broad coalition of over 100 religious, labor, business, civil and women's rights organizations dedicated to a national policy of full employment and equal economic opportunity, as Co-Chair of the Full Employment Action Council. In 1983, she brought together more than 800 human rights organizations to form the Coalition of Conscience, sponsors of the 20th Anniversary March on Washington, until then the largest demonstration in our nation's capital. In 1987, she helped lead a national Mobilization Against Fear and Intimidation in Forsyth County, Georgia. In 1988, she re-convened the Coalition of Conscience for the 25th anniversary of the March on Washington. In preparation for the Reagan-Gorbachev talks, in 1988 she served as head of the U.S. delegation of Women for a Meaningful Summit in Athens, Greece; and in 1990, as the USSR was redefining itself, Mrs. King was co-convener of the Soviet-American Women's Summit in Washington, DC.

Always close to her family, in 1985 Mrs. King and three of her children were arrested at the South African embassy in Washington, DC, for protesting against apartheid. And, in 1995 she turned over leadership of the Center to her son, Dexter Scott King, who served as Chairman, President & CEO until January 2004. On that date, Mrs. King was named interim Chair and her eldest son Martin Luther King, III assumed the leadership position of President & CEO.

One of the most influential African-American leaders of our time, Mrs. King has received honorary doctorates from over 60 colleges and universities; has authored three books and a nationally-syndicated column; and has served on, and helped found, dozens of organizations, including the Black Leadership Forum, the National Black Coalition for Voter Participation, and the Black Leadership Roundtable.

She has dialogued with heads of state, including prime ministers and presidents; and she has put in time on picket lines with welfare rights mothers. She has met with great spiritual leaders, including Pope John Paul, the Dalai Lama, Dorothy Day, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. She has witnessed the historic handshake between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yassir Arafat at the signing of the Middle East Peace Accords. She has stood with Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg when he became South Africa's first democratically-elected president. A woman of wisdom, compassion and vision, Coretta Scott King has tried to make ours a better world and, in the process, has made history.
posted by R J Noriega at 9:40 AM | Permalink | 4 comments
Friday, January 27, 2006
Public Education and Black Empowerment pt 2
By Manning Marable

Part Two

A vigorous defense of public education is directly connected with the struggle for black community empowerment. Despite the many arguments now circulating in favor of privatization and "school choice" in many African-American neighborhoods, only a strong public schools system will produce real results for our children.

Any reviews comparing the scholastic performance of students in public vs. nonpublic schools can be misleading for a number of reasons. Many "choice" schools achieve their levels of excellence by limiting access to the most "competitive students." Indeed, what researchers are frequently measuring may not be the effectiveness of an educational program, observe education scholars Gary R. George and Walter C. Farrell, Jr., but the process of selectivity "along even more rigid lines of race and class. Private choice schools often recruit differentially, pursuing students from middle-class public schools and other private schools aggressively and in person while sending only promotional brochures or booklets to students in low-income schools." George and Farrell also note that private schools frequently "do not provide services for handicapped students, and limited-English-proficient students often are discouraged from applying."

There is a widely held belief that students generally do better in private schools, but the evidence for this is at best mixed. One 1992 study assessing the results of private vs. public schools with statistical evidence taken from the 1990 National Assessment of Educational Progress actually found "the longer students stay in private schools, the worse they do, and the longer students stay in public schools, the better they do."

What is clear, however, is that public schools have the greater potential for creating culturally diverse environments, that measurably enhance the critical intellectual skills of young people. One 2000 study sponsored by the Harvard Civil Rights Project, in partnership with the National School Boards Association's Council of Urban Boards of Education, found that "high school students in metropolitan Louisville-a particularly diverse and integrated urban school system-reported that they benefited greatly from the diversity of their schools."

The survey, which was administered to over 1,100 students, found that "strong educational benefits" were observable in three key categories: "critical thinking skills, future educational goals, and principles of citizenship." About 90 percent of all students surveyed reported "that exposure in the curriculum to different cultures and experiences of different racial and ethnic groups has helped them to better understand points of view different from their own."

The advocates of school choice fail to comprehend that the purposes and functions of profit-making businesses and public schools are fundamentally different. Education scholar Alexander Astin of UCLA makes this point brilliantly: "Successful profit-making businesses grow to accommodate the increasing demand for their products or services because growth tends to increase profits." What happens when a particular public school becomes very popular or highly successful in the market for students? It doesn't increase its enrollment to accommodate demand, Astin observes, "It becomes 'selective.' Notable examples of such schools would be the Bronx High School of Science, Bronx, New York, or the many 'magnet' schools.. In short, since the size of successful schools in the educational marketplace does not usually increase, the least successful schools seldom go out of business. Students have to attend school somewhere.

This process of selectivity concentrates the "best students"-those who are highest achieving and highly motivated-in the elite schools. These are also usually the children of the wealthiest and best educated households. The net affect of what Astin calls "differential selectivity is thus to stratify schools" by socioeconomic status and academic achievement. "These realities suggest that one highly likely consequence of implementing a policy of choice would be to magnify the existing social stratification of the schools." Vouchers will only be financial incentives for more middle-class families to take their children out of public schools; many private schools will simply respond to this increased demand by becoming even more "selective," or by raising their tuitions, or both.

I believe that real academic excellence can only exist in a democracy, within the framework of multicultural diversity. Indeed, our public school systems, despite their serious problems, represent one of the most important institutional safeguards for defending the principles of democracy and equality under the law. There is, in effect, a dual function of public education. As Diane Ketelle, a professor of education at St. Mary's College of California, recently wrote: "A public school has both internal public purposes and external public purposes. The internal purpose is learning, but the external purpose is to build community."

Public education alone has the potential capacity for building pluralistic communities, and creating a lively civic culture that promotes the fullest possible engagement and participation of all members of society. In this sense, the public school is a true laboratory for democracy.

More than a century ago, African Americans understood this. For the new freedmen, after Emancipation and the celebration of Jubilee, desired two things above all else: land and education. The formerly enslaved African Americans were absolutely clear that knowledge was power, and that the resources of the government were essential in providing the educational context and social space for their collective advancement. It is for this reason that so many of the decisive struggles against Jim Crow segregation in the twentieth century focused around our access to quality public education.

It makes absolutely no sense to divert billions of dollars away from struggling public institutions to finance privately owned corporations that consider education merely as a profit-making venture. The fight to preserve and enhance public education, is inseparable from the struggle for black empowerment and black freedom.

Dr. Manning Marable is Professor of History and Political Science, and the Director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies, Columbia University.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:42 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Public Education and Black Empowerment
By Manning Marable

Part One

I recently was keynote speaker at the National Caucus of Black School Board Members, held during the sixty-first annual National School Boards Association in San Diego. I met hundreds of dedicated, progressive African-American community leaders who serve tirelessly on public school boards throughout the country. The Black Caucus functions as a national forum for problems faced by African-American school board members at the local, state and national level. The keynote gave me an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between public schools and the struggle to empower black communities.

Few issues are more controversial in American politics today than the debates over privatizing the management of public schools, and the conservative campaign favoring school vouchers, in which public funds are used to pay for all or part of students' tuition at either public or private schools. Most advocates of public education fear, with considerable justification, that these moves toward privatization will do nothing to enhance the actual quality of education especially for black, brown and poor children. Conservative Republicans, from President Bush to New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, preach that market-based initiatives will provide the necessary incentives to promote higher levels of educational achievement. Millions of African Americans who usually support most progressive and egalitarian public policy positions, are increasingly divided over these issues. A growing and vocal constituency has become convinced that public education has failed, and that privatization is the only hope for our children.

Nationally, public opinion has also shifted during the past decade toward privatization and "educational choice." In 1990, only about one-fourth of all Americans supported school vouchers. By 2000, nearly one-half did-but only depending on the way pollsters asked the question, of whether public funds should be used to pay the tuitions of children attending private schools.

Opinion surveys among African Americans and Latinos have indicated for a number of years that there is a widely held perception that minority students perform better in private schools, and especially in parochial schools. One 1990 educational survey of over 100,000 students reported that African-American Catholics attending parochial schools were "more likely to complete high school and college." It is also significant to note here, that African Americans, Latinos and Asians now comprise more than one-quarter of the 2.6 million children attending Catholic schools in the U.S.

On the other hand, vouchers have not done well to date when placed on the ballot. In November, 2000, California's voucher initiative, Proposition 38, was overwhelmingly defeated. Even California's Catholic Bishops refused to campaign for the passage of Proposition 38, complaining that the initiative failed to "serve the poor."

How did we reach this point in the national discourse about public education? The roots of today's debate about privatizing schools and vouchers actually go back a half century, when the Supreme Court in 1954 outlawed "separate but equal" public schools. According to education scholars Robert S. Peterkin and Janice E. Jackson, one response to the Brown v. Board of Education decision was the creation of magnet schools, which were originally designed "to draw students across segregated residential areas to desegregated school environments."

In the late 1970's, the idea of "controlled choice" emerged in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which "was not only an attempt to voluntarily desegregate the schools but also one of the first district-wide plans to promote parental choice of schools as a major goal." Liberals and many radicals also began advocating the concept of "charter schools," public educational institutions that were given much greater flexibility in administration and curriculum. These alternative, public choice models of education rapidly proliferated across the country.

The Reagan administration got behind magnet schools in a big way. In 1984, the Magnet Schools Assistance Program as part of Title VII of the Education for Economic Security Act was passed. According to the research of Peterkin and Jackson, the magnet schools grew "from 14 districts nationwide in 1976, to 1,000 schools in 138 districts in 1981, and to 2,652 schools offering a combined total of 3,222 magnet programs at the end of the 1991-92 school year." By 2000, there were also about one thousand charter schools nationwide.

Criticisms about public school choice reforms began surfacing as early as twenty years ago. Critics argued that magnet schools created privileged learning environments primarily for middle class white students and a much smaller percentage of minority students, at the expense of lower income black and brown students. Others pointed out that these educational reforms did relatively little to stem the growing exodus of white middle class children from predominantly minority urban school systems.

By the early 1990's, the racial demographics of America's public schools were almost as striking as the racialized patterns of apartheid in South Africa. According to the national Center of Education Statistics, as of 1993, of the more than 15,000 school districts in the U.S., the 100 largest districts enrolled more than 40 percent of the nation's total minority student population. In 19 of these school districts in 1993, more than one-half of all students were African American, and in six, the majority were Latino.

African-American and progressive educators and school administrators are increasingly confronted by a conservative political establishment, corporate interests, and the media, that all overwhelmingly favor privatization schemes, of one type or another. It's time to take a stand for our children, and for public education. Because the fight to defend and enhance our public schools is a struggle that black folk cannot afford to lose. When one objectively analyzes all the different arguments for vouchers and for school privatization, they fall apart, one by one.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:40 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Hunting Ammari Saifi
In the early months of 2004, a lone convoy of Toyota pickup trucks and SUVs raced eastward across the southern extremities of the Sahara. The convoy, led by a wanted Islamic militant named Ammari Saifi, had just slipped from Mali into northern Niger, where the desert rolls out into an immense, flat pan of gravelly sand. Saifi, who has been called the "bin Laden of the Sahara," was traveling with about 50 jihadists, some from Algeria, the rest from nearby African countries such as Mauritania and Nigeria. There are virtually no roads in this part of the desert, but the convoy moved rapidly. For nearly half a year Saifi and his men had been the object of an international hunt coordinated by the United States military and conducted primarily by the countries that share the desert. Soldiers from Niger, assisted by American and Algerian special forces, had fought with Saifi twice in the past several weeks. Each time, the convoy escaped. Now it was heading further east, toward a remote mountain range in northern Chad.

At the time, Saifi was by far the most sophisticated and resourceful Islamic militant in North Africa and the Sahel, an expansive swath of territory that runs along the Sahara's southern fringe. In the Sahel, the Sahara's windswept dunes gradually reduce to semi-desert, and then, further south, become arid savanna. The terrain extends roughly 3,000 miles across Africa—from Senegal through Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad, and into Sudan. It is awesome in its scale, poverty, and lack of governance. Troubled by restive minorities, environmental degradation, economic collapse, coups, famine, genocide, and geographic isolation, the Sahel has been described by one top U.S. military commander as "a belt of instability." (Last year, the U.N. ranked Niger as having the world's worst living conditions; Mali and Chad were among the five worst.) The region is also home to some 70 million Muslims, and since 9-11 there have been reports that Islamic radicals from other parts of Africa, as well as from the Middle East and South Asia, are proselytizing there, or seeking refuge from their home countries, or simply attempting to wage jihad.

Saifi seemed to belong to this final, most worrying, category. He had spent much of his adult life trying to unseat the secular Algerian government, and in 2003 he orchestrated a terrorist act of stupendous bravado: taking 32 European adventure travelers hostage in the Algerian Sahara, shuttling half of them hundreds of miles south, into Mali, and after 177 days of captivity, exchanging the tourists for suitcases filled with 5 million euros in ransom—an immense sum of money in the Sahel, by some estimates a quarter of Niger's defense budget. Most of the tourists were German, and the German government, which reportedly paid the ransom, filed an international arrest warrant for Saifi. The United States declared him a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, a classification shared by bin Laden and his senior commanders. The United Nations put his name on a roster known as "The New Consolidated List of Individuals and Entities Belonging to or Associated With the Taliban and Al-Qaida."

The hostage taking was not just brazen, it had strategic implications. Bin Laden's top lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, once noted that "a jihadist movement needs an arena that would act like an incubator where its seeds would grow and where it can acquire practical experience in combat, politics, and organizational matters," and it appeared that Saifi, with his loose connections to Al Qaeda, could make the Sahara's wild south just such a place. After releasing the hostages, Saifi remained in the Malian desert for several months, using the ransom to buy "new vehicles, lots of weapons," a U.S. intelligence officer told me. Saifi established an alliance with nomadic tribesmen by marrying the teenage daughter of a sheikh near the Mauritanian border, and soon enough his small militia had gained enough strength to give the Malian army a "bloody nose," a European diplomat in Mali said. For a decade, Saifi's organization, the Algeria-based Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, or GSPC, had killed scores of Algerian officials and soldiers; it was among the deadliest organizations in the world, with operatives in Europe and North America. Saifi appeared to be extending its reach further into Africa.

For the Defense Department, Saifi's activities became the central and most vivid justification for expanding the U.S. military presence in the Sahel. In 2004, American Special Forces and Marines visited Mauritania, Mali, Chad, and Niger to train local armies how to bring order to the desert, and that program will grow this year. Meanwhile, covertly, the American military experimented with a new form of battle. Some analysts call it "netwar"—an innovative melding of U.S. intelligence and manpower with local forces. Netwar, according to its proponents, promises to be an effective way to fight terrorists, but it also risks causing political chaos, or worse, lethal military confusion. The hunt for Saifi may be one of its most important modern prototypes.


Saifi’s activities were the central and most vivid justification for expanding the U.S. military presence in the Sahel.


While senior U.S. military commanders monitored Saifi's growing influence in the Sahel, they pressured the Malian government to take aggressive action. According to a U.N. official, the Malian government was hesitant to attack the convoy because it "feared that the GSPC might retaliate." A former U.S. diplomat in the region said the Defense Department was "unhappy because basically, the Malians haven't gone and kicked butt in the desert." Where Mali's impoverished army was too timid, or unable, to act, the U.S. military stepped in. American Navy P-3 Orion reconnaissance aircraft, dispatched from Italy, tracked Saifi's movements, and U.S. "military experts," according to a local press report, conducted operations on the ground. American military teams in northern Mali helped Algerian and local security forces chase Saifi's militia into Niger, where they engaged in several gunfights. They found that the convoy, though battered, was well equipped for desert warfare. Saifi had fitted the vehicles with GPS navigational devices that enabled his men to locate secret caches of water and supplies in the vast, uninhabited stretches of desert. In truck beds, 12.7mm machine guns and 14.5mm Russian anti-aircraft guns threatened adversaries that approached by land and air.

With the multinational force closing in, and American reconnaissance planes observing from above, Saifi's convoy raced across Niger toward the Chadian border. As the vehicles pushed forward, weapons rattled in their mountings and the roar of engines cut through the desert silence. Stray rocks and loose sand battered the vehicles' exteriors. Windshields clouded over with sediment. During a recent battle, fire had damaged some gear, and certain electrical devices began to fail. One truck broke down near a forlorn place in Niger known as the Tree of Ténéré, where an ancient and solitary acacia once stood. The truck was abandoned. Occasionally, if Saifi believed there was time for prayer, he might stop the convoy. At these moments, his men would walk some way from the trucks, lay in a row their small woven rugs over the ocher dust, shriveled scrub, and stones, and bow toward Mecca. Sometimes, as they prayed, fierce winds would blow through the folds of their desert gowns, and the sun would cast their shadows across the sand.

The American most attentively following the convoy's trajectory as it approached the jagged foothills of Chad's Tibesti Mountains was arguably Charles F. Wald, a four-star Air Force general and the deputy commander of U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany. European Command oversees American troops and military operations in 91 countries, from Europe to the former Soviet Union to Africa. Wald is a former F-15 fighter pilot who has flown missions in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Bosnia, and is known as a forward-thinking strategist and a man who is quick to speak his mind. (Recently, he announced that the Pentagon might soon begin working with Libya—a prediction that, he later kidded, provoked a reprimand from the military's public affairs office, but which he holds to be true.) In the 1980s, Wald headed a counterterrorism center for the Air Force. After the 9-11 attacks, he became a key architect in developing the Pentagon's new strategy for northern, western, and southern Africa.

The United States began taking an interest in the security problems of North Africa and the Sahel not long after 9-11. In 2002, State Department officials were monitoring terrorist groups worldwide and determined that people and money with "links" to Al Qaeda had been moving into the region. The links seemed to be small and isolated, but the State Department believed that, if ignored, they could lead to an entrenched Al Qaeda presence. After all, from 1992 to 1996, bin Laden had operated from the Sahel, in Sudan. And so the officials approached Wald and other members of European Command with a proposal to deploy U.S. forces to the region. As Wald would later recall, the logic behind the program was: "Where there's smoke, there's fire—and one of the lessons we've learned [from Afghanistan] is you can't wait for the problem to become large and then address it." Wald has called for better intelligence on African terrorism, and for U.S. operatives to "infiltrate" the countries that share the desert "so we can get into their environment."


Netwar promises to be an effective way to fight terrorists, but it also risks causing political chaos, or worse, lethal military confusion.


Some State Department officials said that European Command began with an inappropriately aggressive strategy. For instance, in 2002 the two sides fought bitterly over aerial bombing missions that the military had drawn up for the region. A Pentagon official told me that these missions were never "serious options." But on at least one occasion, military strategists in Germany clashed with the State Department over how to deal with an Algerian militant named Mokhtar Belmokhtar, "The One-Eyed." Mokhtar had ties to the GSPC, and for years had run a transnational smuggling and banditry operation from the deserts of northern Mali. The U.S. military believed that after 9-11 Mokhtar was recruiting and arming religious radicals in the area; it wanted to attack his camps. The State Department argued that the intelligence on Mokhtar was not conclusive, and the American embassy in Mali insisted that an air strike on Mokhtar would "radicalize people you don't want to radicalize," according to a U.S. government official in the Sahel. In the end, the attack was called off. Vicki Huddleston, who was then U.S. ambassador to Mali, said that rather than arming terrorists, Mokhtar was supporting the Kunta Arabs, a nomadic group that was fighting other desert tribes. Huddleston has since retired from government, and declined to discuss her official conversations with European Command, but when asked about the dispute, she said, "If you're correct that we discouraged [the Defense Department], it was a good thing. If we had bombed a bunch of Kuntas, I think the whole place would have gone crazy. They're certainly not terrorists."

Still, the information on Mokhtar's activities was worrying, and taken with other intelligence from the region, it said a great deal about the Sahel's vulnerabilities. In October 2002 an American counterterrorism team visited Chad, Niger, Mali, and Mauritania to invite those countries into a program called the Pan Sahel Initiative. The program was officially "designed to protect borders, track the movement of people, combat terrorism, and enhance regional cooperation and stability." Small groups of Special Forces and Marines, operating under European Command, would deploy to each state, where they would train select, 150-man companies. They would provide the African troops with equipment, such as night-vision goggles, ammunition, and communications gear. They would facilitate military cooperation by putting the region's top defense chiefs in touch with each other. (Within the Sahel, open channels of communication between militaries barely exist.) They would, essentially, lay the foundation for a network that could stymie the growth of regional terrorism. The four countries were eager to participate, and the Pan Sahel Initiative was budgeted for roughly $6.5 million for its first year. Initially, it seemed like an abstract, preventative exercise, but as preparations were under way circumstances on the ground changed. In early 2003, news emerged that Saifi had kidnapped the 32 tourists. Suddenly the initiative's planners had a real target. Wald has called the hostage taking a "blessing in disguise." It provided European Command with not only an important test case, but also the strongest argument for its newfound mission in Africa.


At first, no one knew what had happened to the 32 Europeans. The men and women—German, Austrian, Swiss, and Dutch—were traveling on motorcycles and in trucks, in scattered groups along the faint pistes that cut across badlands near Illizi, an oasis town in eastern Algeria. They were drawn to the Sahara for its savage beauty, its promise of isolation and adventure, and a chance to explore what one geologist describes as "landscapes of cliffs shaped like the bizarre towers and bridges of a dream city; valleys in which thousand-year-old trees flourish; deep lakes in whose untroubled surface palm crests are mirrored; golden sand dunes, beetles, lizards, and gazelles." The Sahara has man-made monuments too, isolated oil rigs and the military outposts that protect them. When Saifi and his men rounded up the travelers among such places, he did not announce it; the Europeans simply disappeared. Under the cover of night, as he shuttled hostages to various hideouts, he unveiled another Saharan vista—one as perilous as any sandstorm: the desert's chaotic political order.

Rainer Bracht, an engineer from Detmold, Germany, was with three companions, located about a day's journey by motorcycle west of Illizi, when the first sign of trouble emerged. It was late afternoon. Bracht and his friends had decided to camp behind a dune a hundred or so yards from the piste. ("You go away from the track so that nobody can see you," he explained. "In this area, there were bandits who stole cars from oil companies.") The setting sun cast intense hues across the sky. The men took photos. They pitched tents. Then Bracht walked a few paces from the encampment to relax beneath a tree. At one point, he peered over the dune and noticed three motorbikes and several Toyota pickups approaching the camp. The scene seemed wrong. The vehicles were overloaded with men. The men on the motorcycles were without helmets, and had "long beards and Kalashnikovs and things like this." The pickup trucks were bristling with weapons, including a large, mounted machine gun. Bracht kept still. These were jihadists, he thought. Then he said to himself, "Oh, this isn't good."

The jihadists quickly took over the camp. It was a surreally quiescent abduction. Bracht and his friends did not resist. The jihadists behaved calmly. In fact, barely anyone said a word. As the fighters confiscated the motorcycles and equipment, one man stood apart from the rest. It was Saifi. "He was tall, much taller than most of the others," Bracht remembered. "He commanded great respect. He didn't talk much, but when he gave orders, the men performed them without question." Saifi wore an orange headscarf and a long curly beard. He spoke in soft Arabic, and when he conversed with the Europeans, he insisted on using a translator, even though he was fluent in French, a language everyone understood. The first thing Saifi said was: "We have no problems." He assured Bracht and his friends that they would not find harm. Later, en route to a haven where the other hostages were being kept, several fighters explained what Saifi intended to do. "They said that they wanted money for us because they were fighting the Algerian government," Bracht said. "Their original plan was to buy weapons in Niger, but then they noticed that there were a lot of tourists in the area, and they decided to kidnap some of the tourists for money, because, of course, with more money you can get more weapons."

Saifi fell into jihad the way many Algerian militants of his generation did. He was born in an Algerian town called Kef el-Rih, meaning "ravine of the wind," in the late 1960s, not long after Algeria's war for independence. His mother is French; his father, a villager from the Aurés Mountains. In 1988, at the age of 20, he joined the Algerian military, perhaps the country's most secular institution. He trained to become a paratrooper, "but after a year, he left because of back problems," said Cherif Ouazani, a North Africa specialist with Jeune Afrique L'Intelligent, the French journal of African affairs. One year with the paratroopers was enough to earn Saifi the nom de guerre "al Para," and he quickly entered the ranks of Algeria's growing Islamist movement, just as economic and political pressures forced the government to open the floodgates of democracy. The constitution was rewritten, political parties were allowed to organize, and national elections were scheduled. But the abrupt political transition quickly turned into disaster. Those first free elections, in 1991, brought the country's main religious party, the Islamic Salvation Front, or FIS, into a position of political dominance. This was something Algeria's generals would not tolerate. The army staged a coup, ejected the president responsible for the reforms from office, and banned the FIS.

The Islamists, for their part, went underground. They launched an insurgency to take by force the political power they felt was rightfully theirs. Out of this mess evolved one of modern history's most savage rebel movements: the Armed Islamic Group, or GIA, which by 1996 had declared total war, not simply against the government, but against anyone who did not support the GIA. In Algeria, there could be no neutrality. The rebels—some of them veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan—slaughtered entire villages they deemed insufficiently sympathetic to their cause. The government responded brutally in kind. During the 1990s, more than 150,000 Algerians perished in the fighting. As many as 7,000 people were disappeared. Saifi's political and religious awakening developed within this charnel house of violence. He had joined the FIS, but as the violence spiraled out of control, he began to drift toward a circle of rebels who, in the late 1990s, called for a more disciplined strategy. These rebels gained support from Islamists overseas. A prominent fundamentalist cleric in London denounced the GIA's conduct. Osama bin Laden agreed, and decided to throw his support behind the new faction, which soon became the GSPC.


Wald has called the hostage taking a 'blessing in disguise.' European Command had not only an important test case but also the strongest argument for its newfound mission in Africa.


Bin Laden had pragmatic reasons for involving himself in Algeria's civil war. While in Sudan, he had dispatched emissaries throughout the continent to learn where and how to support Muslim militants. "As for enlarging the scope of Al Qaeda in Africa, that is true," bin Laden's former bodyguard told the London newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi, adding that bin Laden followed "events in all the states near Sudan or surrounding it, such as the events in Libya, Algeria, Yemen, Somalia, Eritrea, and Egypt—even events in Liberia, although it is a faraway country in West Africa." Algeria was particularly significant because French support for the government offered an opportunity to engage the West. Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al Qaeda, said bin Laden hoped that by supporting the Algerian militants he might one day co-opt their cells in Europe. Michael Scheuer, the CIA's former top bin Laden analyst, said there were two main reasons for bin Laden's interest in Algeria: "One was the extraordinary violence, the indiscriminate violence of the GIA. The second was that bin Laden wanted—in many Muslim countries—to destroy the nationalist orientation of local Islamic groups."

The GSPC eventually subsumed the GIA, and after 9-11 its leadership announced that it fully supported Al Qaeda in the "jihad against the heretic America." GSPC cells in North America and Europe are suspected to have played important roles in Al Qaeda plots, including the Madrid bombings. European Command believes that Islamists from North Africa have joined the Iraqi insurgency in significant numbers. This year, suspected terrorists arrested in Morocco claimed that North African Islamic groups were converging to form a movement "under the Al Qaeda leadership with a single organization for Morocco and Algeria," according to Olivier Guitta, a Washington-based terrorism analyst.

As these developments unfolded, Saifi expanded his influence within Algeria's insurgency. By 2000, he had become the GSPC's chief commander for northeastern Algeria, a crucial stronghold. His target remained the Algerian government. (In a rare interview, with the French journalist Patrick Forestier, he explained: "Our objective is to change the regime through jihad.") But he also appears to have had dealings with Al Qaeda. Forestier told me that Saifi once boasted he knew the satellite phone number for al-Zawahiri. In 2001, after the GSPC suffered significant setbacks, a Yemeni Al Qaeda envoy reportedly met with Saifi in Algeria. Selma Belaala, a scholar of North African jihadist movements at the Institut d'Études Politiques in Paris, said the envoy had toured the Sahara and the Sahel hoping to "find a place where Islamic militants could not be attacked," but Algerian forces assassinated him in September 2002. Weeks later they delivered "harsh blows" to Saifi's operation, killing Saifi's "right-hand man and mufti," according to Algerian press reports. Several months after that battle, Saifi committed the hostage taking and fled into the desert. Kidnapping the tourists was atypical for the GSPC, and it is true, there were easier ways to raise money and weapons. Scheuer speculates that Saifi may have wanted to boldly demonstrate that the GSPC was not beaten. Another possibility is that he was heeding a 2002 recommendation from Al Qaeda's leadership to attack "the enemy's tourist industry" because it "includes easy targets with major economic, political, and security importance," and because its impact can sometimes surpass "an attack against an enemy warship."


With pressure from the Algerian government intensifying in the Sahara, in July Saifi moved Bracht and the other European hostages into northern Mali. As he shifted his operations further south, the U.S. military kept its distance. The United States provided Algeria with intelligence, but as one American diplomat who then served in Algeria told me, "Keep in mind the time frame. This was only a couple of months after the Iraq invasion. The main nationality among the hostages was German, and the Germans wanted us to keep it hands-off, at least publicly." After Saifi released the hostages in Mali, in mid August, there was no more danger of getting in the German government's way. Wald invited the Sahel's defense chiefs to Germany, in part to develop a plan to capture Saifi. The men gathered in a wood-paneled conference room at European Command's headquarters, where "the chief of defense from Niger met the chief of defense from Chad, and that's the first time they'd ever talked to each other in their lives," Wald has said. The men discussed Saifi's movements. The Malian defense chief was also at the meeting, and immediately afterward he went with Wald to a phone and called Mali to start up "coordinating operations."

The full extent of Mali's counterterrorism coordination with the United States is unclear. Publicly, the Defense Department denies sending anyone into the Sahel for purposes other than military training. "We didn't have any forces on the ground," Colonel Vic Nelson, the director of West Africa policy at the Pentagon, said when asked if U.S. troops assisted in the hunt for Saifi. But a defense official from Niger confirmed that U.S. special operations forces, working with their Algerian counterparts, had tracked Saifi in the desert, during his race from Mali through Niger to Chad, and that Americans were present during at least one fight. Similarly, two Malian officials said that uniformed and plainclothed Americans had fanned out through the northern reaches of the country for a span of about six months. Meanwhile, just over the Malian border in Algeria, small teams of elite U.S. troops hunted GSPC fighters, and even "put up some kind of infrastructure," according to The Boston Globe. In other parts of the Sahel, Peace Corps volunteers encountered American soldiers traveling in small units to remote villages, far from training bases.

In March 2004, Africa Analysis Ltd., a British firm that issues subscription-based bulletins on security and economic issues in Africa, reported that there was "gossip" among intelligence experts in Washington that 200 U.S. special-operations forces were in the Sahel for a range of clandestine missions, including "electronic surveillance, coordinating human intelligence with satellite data, and calling in computer-guided air strikes." The report noted that the operatives were assisting in the hunt for Saifi, and that the Pan Sahel Initiative was at least partly "cover" for such activities. It went on to say that some former Special Forces were "adamant" that the "public face [of the initiative was] only part of the story." A former Bush administration official familiar with security issues in the Sahel told me that in late 2003 the U.S. military engaged in "a joint effort" with the Malian army to ambush Islamic militants somewhere near the border with Algeria. This would have occurred when Saifi had just begun operating there. "Our guys were advising," he explained. The former official also suggested that other secret missions had been conducted during that time period. "Rumsfeld had his goons running all over the continent," he said.

When Saifi's convoy finally crossed from Niger into Chad's rugged Tibesti Mountains, it found itself cornered by a small contingent of Chadian soldiers. The two sides fought an intense battle, one that would last for three days. When the Defense Department learned that the Chadian military had intercepted Saifi and his men, orders were rushed to Ramstein Air Base in Germany to prepare two heavy C-130 Hercules aircraft with roughly 20 tons of aid for the Chadian army. Normally, it takes two days for the Air Force to prepare such a mission. Ramstein had to have the planes in the air immediately. There was danger that Saifi might flee again. The convoy had reportedly backed into a large cave for cover, and the soldiers had taken losses—three killed and 16 injured. The Chadian soldiers were ill equipped, with little food, ammunition, or medical supplies. In contrast, Saifi and his men were well armed, with rocket-propelled grenades, automatic rifles, ammunition, night-vision goggles, and advanced communications gear. Ramstein had the C-130s airborne in one hour, and 10 hours later, the planes approached an austere military outpost in northern Chad, the Faya-Largeau Airport.

As the pilots prepared to land, the limitations of the Chadian military became evident. Brush and sand encroached on the tarmac. In the 100-degree heat, three dozen Chadian soldiers rushed to help unload the C-130s, but doing the job by hand would be disastrously slow. The crew performed an improvised "offload" and the supplies were rushed to the front. By the battle's end, the soldiers had killed or captured 43 militants. But Saifi and some of his men, once again, slipped away. Hungry, destitute, and uncertain of their precise location, the militants wandered off on foot, only to confront further hardships. In Tibesti's desert mountains—some as high as 10,000 feet—there are virtually no natural sources of food or water. The region is controlled by a secular rebel group known as the Movement for Democracy and Justice in Chad, or MDJT, which has been fighting the Chadian government since 1998. It wasn't long before the rebels found Saifi, put him in chains, and announced that the Sahara's most notorious hostage taker had, himself, been taken hostage.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:36 AM | Permalink | 3 comments
The Spying Game
by Jarrett Murphy

If you've seen or attended a recent protest in New York City about the war or the president or even rent guidelines, you have probably seen the cops with the video cameras. They aren't making home movies. Instead, what they're likely filming is political speech that, in an earlier day, might have been off-limits to police snooping thanks to the First Amendment. They are also staking out ground in a 34-year-old legal battle between the NYPD and civil libertarians—a dispute that is probably headed back to court yet again early next year.

The argument this time is about Interim Order 47, a police department directive issued in September 2004 setting out new rules for when officers can videotape and photograph political demonstrations.

The order tells cops that they can use cameras to make training tapes or analyze police procedures, as well as "when a reasonable belief exists that unlawful activity, terrorist activity, or arrest activity will occur." No problem there. That language is in line with the 2003 version of the NYPD's "Guidelines for Investigations Involving Political Activity." A federal court approved those guidelines after the NYPD, citing "changed circumstances, based on the attacks and activities of international terrorists" after 9-11, asked to be freed from stricter rules that were part of the 1985 settlement in Handschu v. Special Services Division.

Handschu was a 1971 suit by activists who'd been targeted by the NYPD Intelligence Division; the case was named for one of the plaintiffs. It required cops who wanted to spy on political groups to get approval—within 48 hours of beginning their investigation—from a commission made up of two police officials and a mayoral appointee. Officers had to provide some rationale for why the surveillance was necessary.

Although NYPD brass did not cite an instance in which Handschu hamstrung an investigation of potential criminality, the city in 2002 went back to federal court to claim that the rules were too tight for the fight against terrorism. A judge agreed, and allowed the NYPD to adopt a new set of rules that still requires some "reasonable indication" of criminal activity or terrorist plotting before a probe can be launched, but gives police commanders—not the Handschu commission—the authority to green-light any inquiry into political groups.

Months after the 2003 rules were accepted, it emerged that the NYPD was questioning people arrested at demonstrations about things like their political party affiliation and their views on George W. Bush and Al Gore. So the judge formally included the new NYPD guidelines in his court order to make them enforceable.

Which brings us to what happened a couple weeks back when the lawyers who've shepherded Handschu for three decades asked U.S. District Judge Charles S. Haight to enjoin the NYPD from using Interim Order 47. Their beef is that the NYPD has unilaterally expanded the circumstances under which cops can videotape protesters, how long they can keep the tapes, and what they can do with them.

Interim Order 47 allows police to video- tape demonstrators not just when cops suspect criminal activity or need to make a training film, but also "during special events, disorder events, arrests, public assemblages or any other critical incident in which such accurate documentation is deemed potentially beneficial or useful."

Whereas the 2003 guidelines allow the NYPD to retain material it has gathered from political events only if there's suspected criminal or terrorist activity, Interim Order 47 requires that videotapes from demonstrations be retained for a year and allows the tapes to be kept indefinitely—not only if they become evidence, but merely if they are "deemed valuable for other purposes." And the order also calls for the tapes to be summarized "to assist in indexing and retrieval."

Rights lawyers shudder. "A consciousness on the part of demonstrators that dossiers are being made out of the films and the photos that are taken is extremely chilling," says Paul Chevigny, one of the lawyers who has shepherded Handschu. He points to past cases where pictures of "known activists" have been erroneously linked to crimes, triggering investigations. "The second thing is it shows an assumption on the part of the police department that ordinary demonstrators that they're dealing with may well be terrorists and that is an assumption that isn't consistent with the guidelines. And I don't think it's consistent with the First Amendment."

"I might also add it is an outrageous waste of resources," Chevigny, a professor at NYU School of Law, tells the Voice.

Ever since the big anti-war protests of early 2003, city lawyers and Handschu plaintiffs have held a back-and-forth through the mail over the meaning of the 2003 guidelines. To the lawyers trying to quash it, Interim Order 47 seemed like a reaction to civil liberties complaints about videotaping and an effort to force the issue back into court. (Neither the NYPD nor the city's law department responded to requests for comment.)

After the order emerged in 2004, there were even more letters. In one early this year, the city said it was willing to compromise on some—but only some—of the language. In another, city lawyer Gail Donoghue said the arguments of the civil liberties lawyers would "totally undermine the authority given to the NYPD to gather information for the purpose of preventing or detecting terrorism when there is not yet a basis for an investigation."

It's worth remembering that the issue here isn't whether the cops can surreptitiously investigate terrorist groups or potential plans for criminal activity by violent protesters like the window-smashing anti-globalization crowd. That's all fair game under the rules approved by the court in '03. Police may also film arrests at a demonstration or crimes in progress, as well as install closed-circuit cameras to patrol high-crime areas.

Interim Order 47 is about something else entirely: the filming and photographing of constitutionally protected protests.

Marching in a demonstration is different from voting, or reading political literature, or even sending a letter to your member of congress. Stepping out into the streets in political protest means that friends, neighbors, or co-workers could see you on the evening news. The media can film you doing it. But while a protester gives up his or her right to be strictly anonymous, "you're not giving up the right to be free from being in a police file for the rest of your life," says Jethro Eisenstein, another one of the Handschu lawyers.

It's not clear that the police are creating such files. But it is clear that they are making videotapes. In one example, the cop cameras were present two weekends ago at a small protest in front of the mayor's townhouse, where people were advocating that the city seek more control from Albany over rent control laws.

Of course, bigger protests also get taped. A report by the NYCLU contends that during the 2004 Republican National Convention, "countless numbers of police officers with video cameras filmed tens of thousands of people who were engaged in wholly lawful and peaceful activity."
posted by R J Noriega at 8:33 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Ready or Not
posted by R J Noriega at 8:21 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Who's watching?
by Jarrett Murphy

One of the suspects is a burly man in his forties clad in a Harley-Davidson shirt and denim jacket, holding a video camera. Another is a fit-looking fellow, his hair shorn very close on the sides, who has stopped to chat on his phone. A guy with sunglasses and a buttoned-up jean jacket and his buddy in shades and fisherman's hat also arouse suspicion. There's just something about these four that screams "cop."

They are among the two dozen or so suspected "undercover" NYPD officers whose photos adorn a fridge at the Houston Street office of Time's Up!, the environmental activist group known for its participation in Critical Mass bike events around the city. The collection of snapshots has been growing for a while, says organizer Bill DiPaolo. But recently they've taken on new significance.

The Voice reported last month that lawyers who have for decades challenged NYPD surveillance of activist groups are taking issue with a new police policy that allows widespread videotaping of political expression ("The Spying Game," December 13). A few days later The New York Times revealed videotape evidence of undercover cops not only watching political events like Critical Mass rallies, but also participating in and even manipulating them.

This news of more aggressive local snooping came amid revelations that federal surveillance had also reached previously unknown dimensions:

The National Security Agency has eavesdropped in the United States on an unknown number of phone calls and e-mails and analyzed traffic involving even more transmissions.

The FBI has monitored groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Greenpeace, and Catholic Workers (a group that, according to an FBI memo uncovered by the ACLU, "advocated peace with a Christian and semi-communistic ideology").

A database created by the Pentagon's TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) system listed several protests, including a Quaker meeting in Florida, as "suspicious incidents."

For anti-war groups in the city, the revelations come at a critical time: The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion is approaching, and polls suggest the public is turning against U.S. military involvement there, so it's an important moment for enlisting new supporters. For groups like Time's Up!, the newly exposed tactics signal an escalation in a long battle.

To all activists, merely the news of these aggressive tactics can have a chilling effect. The question facing each group is whether and how to react.

Defenders of increased surveillance routinely say that the 9-11 attacks ushered in a new reality. But law enforcement has waded into these waters before. FBI agents infiltrated and disrupted political groups in the '60s and '70s as part of COINTELPRO. In the last days of segregation, Mississippi's Sovereignty Commission spied on civil rights meetings. For decades, "red squads" in places like Chicago, Detroit, and New York hound-ed local dissidents. When these activities were exposed, lawsuits and laws established new rules for gathering intelligence—and experienced activists began to devise ways to neutralize government espionage.

Author Brian Glick outlined some of these methods in the 1989 book War at Home: "Deal openly with the form and content of what anyone says and does. . . . Establish a process through which anyone who suspects an infiltrator can express his or her fears without scaring others." And once an agent has been uncovered, he said, spread the word. (A professor at Fordham Law School, Glick is considering updating the book to address the new tactics of the war on terror.)

DiPaolo from Time's Up! says the group has been taking countermeasures for years, like starting a video collective to gather evidence of spying and passing around the snapshots of suspected undercovers. But with the news of intensified police tactics, DiPaolo says, "we're stepping up our meetings to address the subject," and considering lawsuits.

Time's Up! is also encouraging members who think they spot a cop "to try and talk to them and find out who they are," DiPaolo says. Doing so makes people nervous because they might be singled out for arrest. "So you have to do it a certain way," he says, with one person asking, one person taping, and a third person taping the other two.

The trick, of course, is figuring out who's a cop; it's not an exact science. "They just don't fit in. They're very quiet. They don't talk to anybody. They do things that are very intimidating," says DiPaolo of the suspected officers. "We think we know who they are."

But a quiet, solitary person could just as well be a nervous newcomer as an undercover police officer. And that's why it's tricky for activists to start trying to out spies.

"I think we need to have a healthy paranoia," says Bill Dobbs, spokesman for the umbrella anti-war group United for Peace and Justice, which is calling for local groups around the country to plan events for the March 19 war anniversary. But Dobbs is leery of activist groups launching aggressive efforts to identify undercover cops. "There's no way of telling, and to get into finger-pointing and trying to ascertain if somebody might be working for the government can cause more harm than somebody working for the government."

That's one reason why several local groups surveyed by the Voice responded to the NYPD revelations with shrugs. Says Sally Connors of the Granny Peace Brigade, "If they want to listen to us debate whether to wear armbands or babushkas, let them knock themselves out."

Although most local groups don't plan to adopt countermeasures, the police tactics are having an impact.

Chuck Zlatkin of Chelsea Neighbors United to End the War, which holds vigils every Tuesday night at Eighth Avenue and 24th Street, says the veteran activists who now attend aren't put off by surveillance. But, he adds, "Those who don't join us, that's where [the chilling effect] comes from—people who are afraid of that."

The dilemma for organizers is that those are the people they most want to enlist—not hardened activists but folks from the middle ground whose consciences have been aroused. They're not people who are likely to enjoy playing cat and mouse with cops. Time's Up! blames its bad relationship with the police for the dwindling number of families at Critical Mass bike events. Immigrants might be especially reluctant to risk interacting with the fuzz.

New York Civil Liberties Union associate legal director Christopher Dunn says a number of groups have called in since the Times article worried about police spying. Their fears illustrate how police tactics can undermine organizations.

"Most groups rely on people who don't necessarily know each other," says Dunn, "and they're always trying to recruit new people to work on their activities. And when you all of a sudden have to worry about whether people are cops, it really puts a damper on organizing activities. You get a phone call asking about an event, and you wonder if this is a cop."

It seems that activist groups are boxed in. Trying to expose police spies might sow division. Letting them roam spurs distrust. However, there are ways to resist surveillance or infiltration. One is filing a freedom-of-information request to see if you or your group has been targeted. NYCLU is planning to file a number of these very soon on behalf of activist groups. "It creates a legal avenue through which one might be able to force disclosure about certain types of surveillance," Dunn says.

Activists might never know if the police are watching them. Many just assume that they are. Some take solace in the logic that the cops wouldn't bother spying unless the message was starting to resonate. "You'd think they wouldn't care about a bunch of grandmothers, but we're making an impact, I guess," says Joan Wile of Grandmothers Against the War, part of the Grannies for Peace coalition.

Another comfort, says DiPaolo, is that the exposure of police tactics can also have a chilling effect upon the police themselves. After seeing cops at events for years, DiPaolo got a surprise at a recent memorial to fallen bicyclists. "They weren't there," he says.
posted by R J Noriega at 8:15 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
Black Middle Class & the Political party of the Poor
By Amin Sharif

One of the themes briefly mentioned at the recent Millions More March by Brother Minister Louis Farrakhan was that of a political “party of the poor.” For several days prior to the march, Rudy Lewis and I were struggling with the question of why in the face of so much poverty and desperation, as evidenced in New Orleans, there has been no suggestion that the black and poor should form there own political party. Perhaps, the most obvious answer is that among middle Black class, there has been reluctance to break with the Democratic Party.

For the Democratic Party has for decades defended black middle-class aspirations in the form of support for Civil Rights and other anti-racist measures. And, it is also through the Democratic Party that members of the Black middle class have been able to rise to positions of political power as elected officials. This historical relationship between the Black middle-class and the Democratic Party was established in the New Deal progressive politics of Roosevelt in the 1940s and cemented during the Johnson administration of the 1960s.

Black middle class leaders were so highly identified with Roosevelt—especially Eleanor—that many were referred to as “Roosevelt’s niggers.” Yet this term belies the sometimes contentious relationship that exists between the Democratic Party and the Black masses. In 1964, the Democratic Party in Mississippi was controlled by an openly white racist leadership. Though the national Democratic Party was well aware of the degradation and oppression suffered by the rural black masses, it did nothing to curtail the racist policies of the Mississippi Democratic Party.

As chronicled in Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton’s book, Black Power, so outrageous were the actions taken against Black people that, a momentous struggle began to wrestle power from the entrenched racists of Mississippi. The struggle began in 1963 when SNCC organized the “Freedom Vote” in which “80, 000 people in the black community cast ballots” for their own candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor in that state. Then:

“After the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Law, SNCC decided to devote its resources to building grass-roots political strength. The decision was finally made in February, 1964 to establish a new political entity in the state of Mississippi. Formally constituted on April 26 in Jackson, it took the name of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party (MDFP).”

The history of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party is one that should be closely studied by anyone seeking to establish a black political party or, as suggested by Farrakhan, a party of the poor. The MDFP was organized by African Americans who lived in the South when the poverty levels were staggering. There were no food stamps, no social service, and no medical assistance in Mississippi in the mid 1960s. Most blacks were sharecroppers who planted and picked cotton and lived under a system of segregation that was as brutal as slavery.

Yet, with only the idea of securing justice for themselves and their children, these poor Black Mississippians put together their own political apparatus and challenged the political status quo. While the history of the MDFP is too convoluted to layout at this time, it should be noted that the MDFP never became the official Democratic Party of Mississippi. The national Democratic Party attempted to co-opt the MDFP. And then when that didn’t work it adopted a myriad of tactics to keep the racist white Mississippians in power.

But the real story of the MDFP was that it gave birth to the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama. As pointed in Black Power, the Lowndes County Freedom Organization’s name “does not carry the word ‘Democratic,’ for the people of Lowndes did not intend to depend on the national Democratic Party—or any other—for recognition. The Lowndes County Freedom Organization gave Black folk a fighting organization which successfully changed the political landscape of Mississippi forever. These examples make it clear that in the middle 1960s, there was considerable momentum for Blacks to “search for and build new forms outside of the Democratic Party.” The question now pondered by Rudy and me is why hasn’t that happened?

There are many reasons why there has been no effort to build a political apparatus controlled by the Black people outside of the confines of the Democratic Party. The first reason involves how the American power structure decided to defuse the furious and dangerous activities of black and other progressive forces in the last decades of the 1960s. The wholesale destruction of Black militant organizations and their leaders was first among many tactics used to stop Blacks from effectively challenging the status quo.

The second tactic was the co-optation of the Black middle class, and to a lesser extent the Black intellectual class, by use of economic incentives derived from the Civil Rights laws. As the legal gains of the Civil Rights era took hold doors were opened to the Black middle class that were heretofore closed. The Black middle class who under segregation derived its status from providing goods and services exclusively to the Black urban masses was now free to offer their services to a newly desegregated America.

And, as urban Blacks could not compete with America for the purchase of these goods and services, they soon found themselves devoid of them. Black teachers, doctors, lawyers, and the common shop owners—all headed for greener economic pastures. The Black intellectual class was fractured into academics who sought tenure in the white Academy and those who stayed true to the cause of educating Black students at predominately Black institutions.

It may be said that white flight, especially after the urban rebellions of the 1960s, devastated the economic base of the black urban centers. But black middle class flight from these urban centers has left the Black urban poor to fend for themselves. And, as the distance between the lack middle class and the black poor has increased, so too have the problems of the urban poor multiplied.

This is not to say that the urban poor have not at times been their own worst enemy. Drug abuse, the lax attitude toward education and other issues of personal responsibility—all are issues that urban Blacks must wrestle with on their own. But, even the affect of these issues might have been lessened to some extent had the Black middle class not deserted the inner cities. Can there be any doubt that the Black middle class would not have stood by and watched the near total destruction of the educational system without putting up resistance?

It is precisely because the Black middle class is bound more and more to the economic issues outside of the inner-city where the masses of the Black working and poor classes reside that make it less likely to challenge the political status quo in America. In fact, the black middle class has no incentive at all to see a black political party or party of the poor emerge in America. Progressive politics might have been acceptable to the black middle class when it was held down by the chains of segregation. But with the removal of these chains, what incentive do they have to change the political status quo?

Indeed, we find that the black middle class has become the most conservative force in Black political life today. We even find that a small minority of the black middle class has joined the Republican Party and tout the blessing of the American economic system. That this same system is the one that holds a million of their black brothers and sisters in prison cells and dooms the rest to poverty seems lost on these Black Republicans. Nor does the fact that several thousand sons and daughters of the poor have died in a bogus war give them any pause.

Brother Minister Farrakhan has said that the black middle class must use its wealth and skills to help the Black and poor. But he may want to reconsider this notion in light of the growing conservative nature of the black middle class. Minister Farrakhan sees the need for Black Unity across classes as a vital component of his Million More Movement.

He is a spiritual man filled with optimism. But those forces who seek the political transformation will need more than sheer optimism. They will need to be aware of who is for the poor of America and who stands against them. Am I saying that there are no middle class blacks that will be useful in building a Black Political Party or Party of the Poor? No.

There will always be those Black middle class individuals who are ready to lend assistance to the poor. To characterize the entire black middle class as an obstructionist element to black progress would be as foolish as saying that all whites are obstructionist to black progress. What I am saying is that as a whole the Black middle class cannot be counted on as a whole to defend the interest of the black and poor. They do not have the incentive or motivation for such action.

Here we come to the real reason why there has been no effort to build a black or political Party of the poor. There is no effort to build such a party because the working and underclass of the minority and poor communities have not willed one into existence. They have not seen the need to break with their own conservative middle class political leadership and strike out on their own—at least not yet. There can be no more apparent example of this misguided loyalty to conservative middle class political leadership than in the Black Community.

The Black masses are prone to vote Democratic despite the fact that the Democratic Party candidates, Black and white, fail to act in its interest. Black Democratic mayors like the one in New Orleans routinely seek to attract businesses to the inner-city without demanding a living wage or unionization that could secure a living wage for inner-city workers. And, why should urban mayors have any real interest in whether black folks can feed their families when their own families feed at the tables of white power?

Why should Black mayors provide affordable housing for the poor when they are elected by interest groups who want the poor cleared out of the way? And, the problem gets worse at the Congressional level where it may take hundreds of thousands of dollars to run for office. Who is the source of all this money? Certainly, not the black and poor. The source of this money is forces that have little interest in what happens to poor people.

I can already hear the cry raised across the land by black politicians who say that they are only playing by the rules of game. Why play, at all, if you must be beholding to forces other than those who elect you? Would you have black people not represented in the hall of power, they ask. Yes, I would rather there be no black congressmen or women in the halls of power than ones who cannot or will not act in the interest of the weakest ones of my brothers and sisters.

Do not bring to this argument the time worn slogan about it being better to choose “the lesser of two evils.” Choosing the lesser of two evils only, in my mind, ensures that some form of evil will always prevail. Who would tell his child that it is permissible to shoot heroin and not smoke crack cocaine? The result would still be addiction though one would seem preferable to the other. The choice between a black Democratic candidate who will not support the interest of the poor and any other candidate that is of the same disposition will only ensure that the interest of the black and poor will never be addressed.

It is time put an end to these false choices. The lack and poor must come to see the necessity of building a new political apparatus that will defend their interest. Some will say that what I advocate is class warfare within the Black community. To these I say that I am not at war with the black middle class or even black politicians. I am at war with poverty, hunger, and hopelessness. If the black middle class and its politicians are not for the eradication of these conditions, it is they who are at war with the poor and those who argue for the black poor.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:42 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Black Star
posted by R J Noriega at 11:47 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
If I Ruled The World
posted by R J Noriega at 8:47 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Monday, January 23, 2006
Don't believe the hype -- rap anger isn't a meaningful message
By John McWhorter,
senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute; his "Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America" will appear in January.

Word on the street is that hip-hop is a message, the black CNN. Anyone who questions that winds up at the bottom of a verbal dog pile. Such traitors, we're told, just don't listen to enough of the music — that, in particular, the work of "conscious" rappers would change their minds.

Please. One can take a good dose of Talib Kweli, Common, Mos Def and Kanye "Bush doesn't care about black people" West and still see nothing that resembles any kind of "message" that people truly committed to forging change would recognize. Hip-hop, "conscious" or not, is music, and that's it.

For one thing, a lot of the "conscious" work sounds as much like street fighting as the gangsta stuff — an upturned middle finger set to a beat. Yes, Mos Def and Talib Kweli decorate their raps with calls to stop smoking and drinking, starry-eyed timeouts when they sing the praises of their baby daughters and vague calls for black Americans to look sharp. But there's a decent amount of that even in so-called gangsta rap, such as Tupac Shakur's chronicle of the vicious cycle of urban poverty in "Papa'z Gong," or Nas' hope that he will be able to redeem his past through his child in "The World Is Yours."

Meanwhile, Kweli tells us that when he's at the mike "you get hit like a deer standin' still in the light" and how in one competition he "smacked them in they face with a metaphor."

OK, he means it in the abstract. But why so violent? Why, exactly, must "consciousness" so often sound like a street fight? The "conscious" rappers just relocate 50 Cent's cops-and-robbers battle from the street to the slam contest.

I know: "Politics" means questioning authority. But street battle is not the only metaphor for civil rights activism. Since the '60s, millions of black people have achieved middle-class or even affluent status, founded businesses and attained higher degrees in this country, and very few of them did so by smacking somebody, literally or in the abstract.

It's true that violence is a matter of atmosphere in the "conscious" work. But I have a hard time gleaning exactly what the "message" is beyond, roughly, "wake up" — which does not qualify as constructive counsel in times as complex as ours.

Take Kweli again, in "The Proud." The "message": Blacks are worn down by oppression, the cops are corrupt thugs who either killed Tupac or know who did, and "we survive." But how we get beyond that is, apparently, beside the point.

Mos Def's "Mr. Nigga" first shows us the improper black thug we all could do without, but then argues that whites see all blacks the same way many blacks see the thug. It's a great piece in the formal sense. But how many people's "consciousnesses" in our moment are unaware that racist bias still exists? How does saying it for the nth time teach anyone how to make the best of themselves despite reality's imperfections? Or Kanye West's famous "Jesus Walks" cut is less "inspirational" than catchy. It's about Jesus; that's nice. But one more announcement that black America is in a "war" against racism inspires, well, nothing, nor do other bonbons West gives us on "College Dropout," such as the notion that crack makes white men rich or that blacks are only placed in high positions as window dressing.

Maybe these "conscious" lyrics are better than gangsta raps about tying women to beds and shooting them dead. But the politics are a typical brand of self-perpetuating, unfocused leftism. It sounds good set to a narcotic beat full of exciting cut-ins, but it offers nothing to the struggling black woman with children trying to make the best of things after her welfare time limit runs out.

Yes, her. In 1991, Tupac's "Brenda's Got a Baby" told about a single mom who tries to throw her daughter in the trash, turns to prostitution and is murdered. Many Brendas at that time went on welfare only to find that in 1996 it was limited to a five-year cap. So, these days, "Brenda's Just Off Welfare" and is one of the working poor. How about "consciously" rapping — a lot — about the difficulties Brenda faces today.

We do not look to raps for detailed procedural prescriptives, like government reports on how to improve school test scores. But there are places raps could easily go, still blazing with poetic fireworks. What about the black men coming out of jail and trying to find their way after long sentences in the wake of the crack culture 15 years ago? There would be a "message" beyond the usual one simply deploring that the men are in jail in the first place.

Why do "conscious" rappers have so little interest in the political issues that directly affect poor black people's lives? Could it be because those issues do not usually lend themselves to calls for smacking people and making the streets run red? If so, then chalk up one more for people who do not see hip-hop as politically constructive.

The "conscious" rappers themselves make the "message" analysis even harder to fall for because they tend to squirm under the label. "They keep trying to slip the 'conscious rapper' thing on me," Mos Def says. "They try to get me because I'm supposed to be more articulate, I'm supposed to be not like the other Negroes, to get me to say something against my brothers. I'm not going out like that, man." So it would be "going out" even to question the theatrical savagery that hip-hop's critics fail to see the good in?

"Conscious" rap, like gangsta rap, is ultimately all about spitting in the eye of the powers that be. But this is precisely what the millions of blacks making the best of themselves in modern America have not done. And contrary to what we are often led to believe, spitting is not serious activism. It's merely attitude.

There is not a thing wrong with "conscious rap" fans enjoying the beats and the rhymes and even valuing the sprinkles of an awareness of something beyond guns, Hennessy and women's behinds. But if we have gotten to the point that we are treating even this "conscious" work as serious civil rights activism, then black America is in even worse trouble than we thought.
posted by R J Noriega at 10:24 AM | Permalink | 0 comments
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Afro-America & The Fourth World
Identity, Status, & Political Program

By Amin Sharif

The test case of civil liberty whereby both blacks and whites in America try to drive back racial discrimination have very little in common in their principles and objectives with the heroic fight of the Angolan people against the detestable Portuguese colonialism. The problems which keep Richard Wright and Langston Hughes on the alert are fundamentally different from those which might confront Leopold Senghor or Jomo Kenyatta. – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

The analysis presented above by Fanon, a genuine Third World revolutionary hero, has been one that seems to have been patently ignored by many Black and Left political thinkers for years. Yet, if Fanon’s analysis is correct, the question arises as how to incorporate its meaning into a new political program that will lead to the liberation of, in this case, Afro-America.

Presently, the dominant thinking among an active section of African-American thinkers is that the political conditions of African-Americans and Africans arise from the same nexus. Pan-Africanism and, its child, Afro-centric thought—the ideological foundations of this section—has effectively turned the African-American community’s gaze toward the motherland in a quest for solutions to problems indigenous to the Black Community.

But Fanon’s analysis suggests that on the political plane, at least, Africa may have less to offer than we think. So, perhaps, the time has come to question whether this orientation towards Africa as the primary source for the solution to the problems of Black men and women in America is helpful and should continue or is a hindrance and should be discarded.

If as Fanon contends, the solution to the African-American struggle lies outside of an African context, then where can the solution be found? It is our contention that the solution to the problem of the African-American must come out of a strictly African-American (Fourth World) context. This does not preclude the importance of Africa to the African-American community. But it does mean that we must assess Africa’s importance to our community in a more realistic manner.

Efforts Shoring Up An African Identity

Anyone who has studied the history of the people of African descent in the United States understands the “psychological” and “cultural” need of the Black man and woman to reconnect themselves to Africa. The stripping away of the humanity of African people in America by a process that sought to convert them into chattel was one of the most devastating and unprecedented events in the history of the world. By seizing on a connection with Africa, the Black man and woman threw off the effects of racism and restored to themselves a “version” of the African identity that was lost through slavery.

We have used the term “version” of the African identity to underscore the impossibility of the African American regaining his or her own “original” African identity. No one seriously believes that after many hundred years in America that Black people can simply pick up their African identity where it was left off. For one thing, Africa and African cultures have not existed in a vacuum over the last four centuries. The colonial situation, independence, and internal developments in Africa have to some extent reshaped many of the cultural structures in the motherland.

So what it meant to be African four hundred years ago when Black captives left the shores of their motherland may mean something different today. Still, all things being equal, the development of a positive attitude toward Africa as a whole must be seen as beneficial on the “psychological” level to shoring up the identity to the Black man and woman in America.

Yet what is sometimes lost in the orientation of the Black man and woman toward Africa is an acceptance of their unique situation in America. If we are an African people, we are one that has been formed in the cauldron of a distinctly American form of racism. It is this American form of racism that has also contributed to the structuring of the African American identity.

In fact, it has been our reaction to American racism that has driven the African American constantly to clarify not only his “cultural” but also his “political” status within the American political system. So, in the matter of identity and status, the African-American must answer two questions: Who am I in the context of my cultural heritage and identity? Who am I in the context of my political status within America?

Clarity on these questions is crucial to the progress of all African Americans. Answering one side of the question without answering the other serves only to gives the African-American Community one half of the solution it seeks. Without a solution to the entire problem of identity and political status in America, the African-American will always be fighting with one hand tied behind his or her back.

It is the contention of this article that this is exactly what we are doing. For, in binding ourselves to Africa, we gained something of our identity. But, at the same time, this attachment has over time eroded the development of a political program that is solely for and about African-Americans within the United States. To the consternation of those who are so attached to all things African, it must be announced here, being African is not a political program!!

Africans, whether found at home or abroad, both have been politically reactionary and revolutionary depending on their political program. To speak of oneself as African or African American at this juncture in our history says nothing about what one wants for our people. Our goal must be to seek answers to both the identity side and the political side of our existence in America.

The answer to the first question concerning the cultural heritage and identity of the African American may be more revealing then we realize. As the descendents of African slaves, it is often taken for granted that whatever cultural heritage and identity that the Black man or woman possesses begins in Africa. But African-American cultural heritage and identity does not rest solely upon what is inherited from Africa.

Centuries of living in America have given rise to a myriad of cultural and social forms that have altered the fundamental identity of the once Black slave. From the spiritual to the mundane, the day- to-day experiences of surviving the Middle Passage, Slavery, Jim Crow Segregation and the failed attempt at Integration has created unique responses within the African in America which many commonly refer to, in total, as the Black Experience.

Colored Accommodation & New Negro Assimilation

It is this Black Experience—a synthesis of what the Black man and woman brought with them from Africa, what they re-discovered of Africa, and what they found, used, and developed in America—that is the nexus of the African-American identity. It is only when the interplay of these fundamental aspects of the African-American identity and political status is acknowledged does the complexity of the situation of African in America become apparent.

For example, when there was little or no acknowledgement among the descendants of the America slave trade of an African component to their identity, they often referred to themselves or were referred to by others as “colored” “negro” or as “black.” There are historical, sociological, and political reasons why this was so. The foremost reason that these terms took hold among Black people was that slavery attempted to violently eradicate anything that connected the Black slave with his African identity in a positive sense..

Yet the term “colored” persisted as a designation for the African in America well into the middle decades of the 1900s when slavery had been abolished. Indeed, Booker T. Washington, once the pre-eminent leader of the African-American Community, was said to prefer the term “colored” over any other designation for Africans in America. What is important to recognize is that Washington held that the problems of race and racial identity could be solved within the restrictive confines of segregation.

It may have been that in Washington’s psyche, the term “colored” was a designation that represented the least degree of separation between the emancipated Black slave and white America. That certain Black slaves and ex-slaves, especially those who enjoyed a physical proximity to their slave masters, desired a connection to all things white can be found in E. Franklin Frazier’s groundbreaking work, The Black Bourgeoisie. Franklin cites an observation made by an ex-slave as an example of how closely some slaves associated themselves with their masters:

It was about ten o’clock when the aristocratic slaves began to assemble, dressed in the cast-off finery of their master and mistress, swelling out and putting on airs in imitation of those they were forced to obey from day to day.

House servants were, of course, “the stars” of the party; all eyes were turned to them to see how they conducted [themselves] . . . they are ever regarded as a privileged class; sometimes greatly envied, while others are bitterly hated.

Clearly, we have here an example of the successful “detribalization,” a term used by Franklin, of the Black slave. Franklin’s slave has replaced, or, perhaps a better term would be, “masked” his African persona by ritualistically acting “white.” It is this “masking” of the African persona that Washington seems to prefer when he selects the term “colored” as designation for himself and his race.

But, within the African-American community, the term “colored” was commonly associated with “mulatto,” a designation for a person who is neither wholly black nor wholly white. Though this term was a well recognized racial designation throughout the South, it also stands as metaphor for Washington’s own political philosophy of racial “accommodation” and his personal identity and status within the America of the 1900s.

For, in the decades that saw Jim Crow segregation take hold throughout America, Washington was almost never subjected to its policies. Just as the “aristocratic slaves” mentioned above took on the “airs” of “whiteness” on a psychological level, Washington took on an air of “whiteness” in the political sense when he was spared the indignities of segregation. It is precisely because the term “colored” is so closely associated with this kind of honorary “whiteness” and Washington’s own acquiescence to racism that it began to be vilified by future, more racially-conscious generations of Africans living in America.

The great African-American intellectual, W. E. B. Du Bois, on the other hand, was said to have preferred the term “negro” early on as a designation for Africans in America. Leader of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Dr. Martin Luther King also used “Negro.” This racial term has always enjoyed a dubious reputation within the African-American community.

For T. Thomas Fortune, a contemporary and friend of Washington, “negro” was a term of contempt. Malcolm X also vilified the term “negro” in his incendiary speeches of the 1960s. He often refers to African Americans as “so-called negroes.” Malcolm used the term in its most provocative sense implying that this designation for the African in America arose from racist forces outside rather then within the African-American community.

Indeed, by the time of the Harlem Renaissance, the term “negro” had come to be associated with the many racial stereotypes, especially those rooted in the rural South. In a kind of reclamation of the term, the progressive writers and artists of the Renaissance began to define themselves as “new negro [es]”—a term that emerged in part from Alain Locke’s 1925 anthology, The New Negro. The sentiment of the New Negro intellectuals and artists was summed up best by Langston Hughes:

We younger Negro artists, who create now intend to express our individual dark-skinned selves without fear or shame. If the white people are pleased we are glad. If not their displeasure does not matter . . .

What is interesting about the “New Negro” sentiment of the Harlem Renaissance is that it was not weighed in favor of an African identity—the influence of the Negritude movement not withstanding. Instead, New Negro sentiment rose from the recognition of the significance of negro “folk culture.” Du Bois eloquently refers to this folk culture as the “epic mood” of Black people. The ambivalence on the part of the New Negro intellectual toward Africa may best be seen in Countee Cullen's famous poem "Heritage":

What is Africa to me:

Copper sun or scarlet sea.

Jungle star or jungle track,

Strong bronzed men, or regal black

Women from whose loins I sprung

When the birds of Eden song?

What is Africa to me? This was not simply a question asked by a New Negro poet. It was also asked often on the streets of Harlem where New Negro identity contended with Garvey’s Pan-African identity. It is well known that many members of the New Negro movement were opposed to Garveyism. I need not recount the sometimes volatile interaction between the two movements. What needs to be emphasized is that even those who argued in favor of a strong African identity had some practical problems to contend with.

In 1926, Waring Cuney won first prize in Opportunity magazine’s poetry contest for his work, "No Images":

She does not know

Her beauty,

She thinks her brown body

Has no glory.

If she could dance


Under palm trees

And see her image in the river

She would know.

But there are no palm trees

On the streets,

And dish water gives no images.

Central to Cuney’s work are questions of personal, racial, and even gender identity. Even if his Black woman could conjure up images that speak to her positively of an Africa connection, will that connection change her life in a fundamental way? She still faces the dish water, an apt metaphor used by Cuney for her and every other Black person’s murky identity within white, racist America, and finds that the water is non-reflective. It gives up no sense of identity--“no images.”

New Negro intellectuals would argue that Cuney precisely framed the question of identity with all of its agonizing implications. In what practical sense can the recognition and identification with Africa help us? It may give us “psychological” solace and cultural orientation, the New Negro would argue, but not much more. Africa has value to the African American only when she is viewed through the prism of her own experience in America, these intellectuals would say.

Acknowledgements of this circumstance by Cuney may be why there are no images to be found in the dish water. Any sense of identity or image must be made first from our own interaction with the world we live in, not with the one we wish to occupy. This is why the militancy of the New Negro movement was, almost entirely, rooted in solving the “race problem” within the parameter of the American system.

Black Consciousness & The Third World

The term “negro” was a universally accepted designation for the African American until the end of the Civil Rights Movement. Just as the New Negro movement represented a break with the stereotypes associated with being a “colored” man or woman in America, especially the South. The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) rose in political and artistic opposition to being “negro” in America. For members of the BCM, even the New Negro militancy of folks like Ellison and Wright was tied to an unrealistic assessment of the depth of racism and the power of a non-violent civil rights movement to redeem America.

Like the Harlem Renaissance, the member of the BCM produced their own intellectual thought and artistic response to the times in which they lived. If the New Negro intellectual supported everything from integration, Trotskyism, to soviet-style communism, BCM intellectuals stood in support of cultural and political black nationalism and other radical ideas. If New Negro artistic values were embodied in the works of the Harlem Renaissance, the BCM’s artistic values were embodied in the militant Black Arts Movement (BAM).

For the BCM intellectual being “black” meant self-definition through self-awareness. In a sense, the BCM effectively resolved the dilemma of double consciousness introduced by Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The question was not how to exist both as a “negro” and an “American” in their eyes. The question for the BCM was how to tap into the “epic mood” of Black people and use the energy found within it to liberate themselves. The question for the BCM was how to translate Du Bois’ “epic mood” into Black Power—culturally and politically.

That the BCM considered the matter of racial identity as being closely tied to radical political action is evident form their literature and political program. There is nothing new in this since there has always been some connection between racial identity and political struggle among African Americans. When the African in America considered himself to be "colored," the prevailing political program was accommodation with segregation.

When the African considered himself to be a “New Negro,” the political program was militant “integration.” When the Black Consciousness Movement emerged and the Black man and woman revived their version of an African identity, a program of radicalism based on Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism was in play. Black Power

By the time the Black Power Movement of the 1970s emerged, the forces of racial identity and political program were so thoroughly fused that to speak of one was to speak of the other. Fragmentation occurred within the black community based upon which racial and political camp one supported. Those who considered themselves African American looked upon the old “negro” leadership as Uncle Toms. The “negro” leadership, in turn, considered youthful African-American radicals as upstarts who lacked patience. In the end, both sides lost out.

And today neither the inheritors of the Integrationist (negro) movement or Black Power Movement (of the African American) enjoy much stature within the African-American community. By the time, Carmichael and Hamilton published their groundbreaking book, Black Power; the African-American community was steeped in charged rhetoric on both sides. It was perhaps to clarify their position to the “negro” leadership, the greater African-American community and even to some extent white America that Kwame Toure aka Stokley Carmichael—a leading spokesman for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as well as a new generation of radical African Americans—collaborated with Charles V. Hamilton, a young brilliant college professor, to produce their insightful work.

Black Power, a term coined by the New Negro intellectual and social realist Richard Wright, was the political embodiment of the Black Consciousness Movement. It came to fruition after the deaths of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X when the smoldering fires of urban black unrest had not been fully extinguished. Black Power sought to translate Black Consciousness into political action.

Although the rhetoric of Black Power advocates was sometimes incendiary and revolutionary, as in the case of Rap Brown and Huey P. Newton, the authors of Black Power, Stokley Carmichael and Charles Hamilton, did not present it as a revolutionary solution to the problems confronted by Black America. Black Power did not even offer “formulas . . . for ending racism” in the United States. But what Black Power did do was connect “the black liberation struggle to the rest of the world,” especially to Africa. For as Carmichael and Hamilton stated in their book:

Black power means that black people see themselves as a part of a new force, sometimes called the Third World; that we see our struggle closely related to liberation struggles around the world.

This statement is as profound as it is problematic. Its profundity resides in the recognition of Carmichael and Hamilton of an international anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle being waged in Africa, Latin America, and Asia in late 1960s. What is problematic about the statement is that neither author seemed aware that Fanon had already posited that the struggles in the Africa or the greater Third World had little or nothing to do with the problems of Black people in America. This is even more baffling because in the very next paragraph the authors quote extensively from Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth, the book in which this assertion is made.

Novel Conceptions: Garvey, Elijah & Malcolm

But, in defense of Black Power, it must be recognized that Carmichael and Hamilton were following a line of thought already espoused by two great Black Nationalist thinkers—Garvey and Malcolm X. Both Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X interlaced the problems of Africans in America with those in the motherland. For Garvey, America was seen as only a staging ground for the real struggle between Black Africa and her white European colonial rulers.

The African American, as other African people throughout the Diaspora, would eventually have to participate in the liberation of their African homeland. Garvey put it these terms, “Four hundred million Negroes will redeem Africa or answer to God the reason why.” Logistically, how this was to be done was never quite clear. But Garvey’s appeal lay not in the execution of his political program. The strength of Garveyism lay in the psychological and cultural connection he makes between two disconnected people—the Africa abroad in the United States and the African at home.

Malcolm X amplified and refined Garvey’s message on many levels. As a student of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad while in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm severed the psychological connection between, the African in America and white American political and cultural power. Elijah Muhammad, much like Garvey, offered a new worldview that placed “blackness” at the center of his universe. By discarding their family names and replacing them with a generic “X,” Malcolm and other members of the Nation of Islam were emptying themselves of all association with a greater white world. In doing so, they were making themselves ready to undergo a transformation similar to the one experienced by the native intellectual under colonialism.

Fanon described this transformation in The Wretched of the Earth:

It is true that the attitude of the native intellectual sometimes takes on the aspect of a cult or a religion . . . In order to assure his salvation and to escape the white man’s culture the native feels the need to turn backwards toward his unknown roots . . .

It was precisely because Malcolm had been fortified against white racism by Elijah Muhammad’s teachings that he was made ready to accept new social and political ideas. Malcolm, like all converts to the Nation of Islam, was steeped in Elijah Muhammad’s mythology that elevated the Black man to a position of superiority over of the white. The Black man was, according to this mythology, the “original” man, vice-ruler of the universe.

The white man was, on the other hand, the result of a perverse experiment, a being whose physical parts were taken from lower life forms and stitched together like Shelly’s monster. For the Negro of the middle decades of the 1900s, these revelations must have been as startling as the discovery for the Church that the sun and not the earth was the center of our solar system. Although, Elijah Muhammad referred to the Black man incorrectly as "Asiatic," the inference was still the same—the divinity of the (Black) non-white man and the lower status of the white.

As Malcolm progressed in political understanding and eventually left the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism and Africa became more and more the centerpiece of his political philosophy. By the time Malcolm gave his famous speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet" in 1964, he had fully appropriated an African-American identity for himself and was encouraging other “negroes” to adopt this identity:

Right now, in this country, you and I, 22 million African Americans—that’s what we are—Africans who are in America. You’re nothing but Africans. Nothing but Africans. In fact, you’d get further calling yourself African instead of Negro.

When Malcolm gives his speech on "The Black Revolution" on April 8, 1964 at a meeting sponsored by the socialist Militant Labor Forum, he does not only continue to speak of himself as an African-American. But, he has also begun to frame the Black struggle and the tactics used to suppress it in anti-colonial terms:

So America’s strategy is the same strategy as that which was used in the past by colonial powers: divide and conquer. She plays one Negro leader against the other. She plays one Negro organization against the other.

In July of 1964, Malcolm X found himself making an historic address to the Organization of African Unity on behalf of his newly established Organization of Afro-American Unity. This address given before the “African heads of states” is significant for two reasons. Firstly, it marked a successful effort by Malcolm to internationalize the plight of Black Americans. Secondly, it showed that Malcolm had turned to Africa and her leaders—not the white American power structure—to assist in the amelioration of racism in America.

Even the choice of a name for his organization was no more than an attempt to build a political apparatus that paralleled the one built the by African leaders in their fight against a newly emerging neo-colonialism. And, he says as much in his speech:

Your excellencies:

The Organization of Afro-American Unity has sent me to attend this historic African summit conference as an observer to represent the interest of 22 million African Americans whose human rights are being violated daily by the racism of American imperialists.

The Organization of Afro-American Unity (OOAAU) has been formed by a cross section of America’s African-American community, and is patterned after the letter and spirit of the Organization of African Unity.

Malcolm continued in making the case that a link existed between the African and the African-American on this occasion:

Since the 22 million of us were originally Africans, who are now in America not by choice but only by a cruel accident in our history, we strongly believe that African problems are our problems and our problems are African problems.

There is nothing in the history of Black struggle that can compare with Malcolm’s "An Appeal to African Heads of State." While it may lack the emotional impact of Dr. King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, it is, in every other respect, more far reaching and politically sophisticated. Indeed, the two speeches stand as wonderful counterpoint to each other. Each man is at his best and fully in his element when the speeches are given.

Martin is a commanding presence as he stands at the head of hundreds of thousands of African Americans in the great mall that stretches magnificently before the Washington Monument. Malcolm has gone literally back to the origin of the Black man—Africa—and stands before heads of state that represent the aspirations of millions upon millions of Africans. Each man makes his appeal for a solution to the exact same problem—the oppression of 22 million African—Americans.

Each man is assassinated long before the liberation of the African American can ever be accomplished.

Black Power: Afro-America as Colony

The authors of Black Power were, of course, master students of Malcolm X and Dr. King. They had absorbed each man’s teaching and if Black Power is anything it is a synthesis of their political philosophies. But anyone who reads Black Power today can readily see that it is tilted in favor of Malcolm X’s pro-Africa, anti-colonial leanings.

So enraptured were Carmichael and Hamilton with Malcolm’s anti-colonial ideology that they openly defined Afro-America as a colony of a greater white America within the pages of their book. Carmichael and Hamilton insisted that because Afro-America was a colony, its struggle had no American context. Or as they put it:

. . . there is no “American dilemma” [concerning race in America] because black people in this country form a colony, and it is not in the interest of the colonial power to liberate them.

Carmichael and Hamilton then go on to say:

Black people are legal citizens of the United States with, for the most part, the same legal rights as other citizens. Yet they stand as colonial subjects in relation to the white society. Thus institutional racism has another name: colonialism.

This is quite a feat. In the space of a few sentences, Carmichael and Hamilton have transformed the entire history of Black struggle from one that is based on obtaining democratic rights for African Americans within America to one which stands entirely outside of an American context. But almost as soon as they make their assertion concerning colonialism, they begin to backtrack from it. They begin by declaring that their “analogy is not perfect,” because as they point out themselves:

One normally associates a colony with land and people subjected to, and physically separated from the “Mother Country.”

Then, they cite the following as justification for their faulty analogy:

. . . in South Africa and Rhodesia, black and white inhabit the same land—with blacks subordinated to the whites just as in the English, French . . . colonies. It is the objective relationship which counts, not rhetoric (such as constitutions articulating constitutional rights) or geography.

What is fascinating about Carmichael and Hamilton’s argument is that they are making their case for Black people being a colony based almost entirely on exceptions to what most political theorists would consider the classical colonial situation. This political analysis is not due to any lack of understanding of what “classic colonialism" is on their part. As they point out:

Under classic colonialism, the colony is a source of cheaply produced raw material . . . which the “Mother Country” then processes into finished goods.

But after acknowledging this classical and universally accepted definition of colonialism, Carmichael and Hamilton state that:

The black communities of the United States do not export anything [to the Mother Country] except human labor.

One must ask at this point if Carmichael and Hamilton really believed that Black people constitute a colony at all. Perhaps fearing that their readers may be asking the same question, they glibly declare that the exceptions they cite to colonialism do not matter in the case of Black America. In the end, Carmichael and Hamilton insist the “differentiations” made in their definition to classical colonialism are nothing more than technicalities. But what we have here is more than just a series of technical violations of the classical definition of colonialism. That is, if classic colonialism is characterized as an:

Association with land and people subjected to, and physically separated from the Mother Country.

Cheaply produced raw material that is then processed into raw goods.

Solving the Colonial Question

What is apparent is that in making their case Carmichael and Hamilton have trimmed the foot to fit the shoe, as it were. It is evident that they are suffering from an over identification with the Third World colonial situation in the writing of Black Power. This Third World over identification is born of an emphasis on Africa as espoused by Garvey, Malcolm X, and the Pan-Africanist movement that grew up around Malcolm after his death.

The result of this over-identification with Africa, in the case of Black Power, is the misreading of the political situation of the African American within America. Carmichael and Hamilton’s mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony is based on a simplistic formula: Africans in Africa are being colonized. We are Africans. Therefore, we too are colonized. The flaw in this formula can be immediately and easily recognized. It simply does not take into account that we are talking about Africans who exist under two different political circumstances:

The first set of Africans exists on their own land, possesses their own language, history, and culture. Their fight is to end the physical occupation of their land. They are subjected to all the conditions of colonialism without ambiguity. If they are successful, they will throw the occupiers out and have their land back once again.

The second set of Africans also exists within a political system of exploitation. They have never possessed the land that they occupy. If they are successful in their struggle, they will be considered full citizens of the country that has historically exploited and rejected them. In other words, the first set of Africans are fighting to rid their country of an occupying force. While the second set of Africans are fighting to extend the right of citizenship to themselves and their prosperity.

Of course, we can see all this now with twenty-twenty hindsight. Fortunately for Carmichael and Hamilton, this mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony does not, otherwise, damage the thrust of their book. Indeed, Black Power still stands today as one of the masterpieces of political literature produced at the end of a turbulent period in American history. But having said this, we must admit that the mislabeling of Afro-America as a colony was a glaring mistake that had many unintended consequences.

Defining the The Fourth World

But, if African-Americans are not a colony within America, what are they? What is their political status in America?

It is our contention that not only Africans, Latinos, Hispanics and Asians in America but millions upon millions of second and third generation Africans, Arabs, and Asians throughout Europe constitute the Fourth World. But to answer what the Fourth World is one must understand what constitutes the other three (3) worlds:

The First World has been defined as the economically advanced countries of Europe (and their stepchild America.) The First World is commonly called the West so that it will never be confused with the old socialist countries of the Soviet Union.

The Second World was Soviet Union and her satellites before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, Russia has been stripped of her socialistic character and is struggling to hold on to her political and territorial integrity. Many believe that the Second World is a thing of the past having been crushed in the struggle with First World forces.

The Third World is the countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. These countries have and continue to be locked in a fight with First World forces over the allocation of their resources. Some are reactionary. Others are progressive. Some, as in the case of Cuba and Venezuela, are even revolutionary.

The Fourth World in made up of those descendants of Third World people who were brought to the First World—America or Europe—as a source of cheap labor. Whether their appearance within the West was forced as in the case of the African slave or a result fleeing the poor economic conditions in their own countries, the Fourth World is locked in a struggle within the First World for democratic rights.

The Fourth World constitutes the elements within the West that have gone, if we may use a physiological metaphor, undigested by the political system. Integration, as in the case of America, or assimilation, as in the case of Europe have dismally failed to bring Fourth World people the equality that the West extends to all its (white) American and European citizens. The plight of thousands of abandoned Blacks in New Orleans gives lie to the idea that racism is dead in America. Just as the riots by courageous Fourth World youth—Africans and Arabs—in the ghettoes surrounding the urban areas of France give lie to the ideas of assimilation within Europe.

The Fourth World people are not the colonial subjects of the First World!

As in the case of the descents of African slaves in America, they, in many circumstances, have been born, raised, and are citizens of the First World, at least in theory. The bar to real citizenship for Fourth World people within the First World is primarily an abiding racism that forces racial, cultural, political and economic oppression on them.

These circumstances make it clear that Fourth World people can only resolve the matter of their citizenship within the First World by ending First World racism and economic exploitation. And this can only be accomplished by a struggle for democratic rights conducted within the First World! This process is fundamentally the same for the Arab in Paris as it is for the African American in New Orleans. We are all in the belly of the beast. We all share the same enemy.

By the end of the 1980’s, the power of the Black Consciousness Movement was waning. Radical and revolutionary organizations such as SNCC and the Black Panther Party had been successfully crushed by American fascist tactics. There was considerable white backlash against any further Black political progress. It was at this time that the radical political agenda of the sixties and seventies was severed from the Black Consciousness Movement.

The result was that African-American identity which was the psychological sanctuary of African-American radicalism was appropriated by politically conservative forces. Thus, being African American no longer meant opposition to oppression. To be African American under these conservative conditions meant quite the opposite; it meant finding the best way to serve one’s personal interest rather than the collective interests of the race.

What we have today in the United States is a kind of cottage industry of Africanism crafted by the conservative African-American forces that are mainly lodged within the middle class. Radical African-American professors on college campuses have been replaced by apolitical teachers and department heads such as Skip Gates.

These professors and Department heads have no compassion for the Black poor or the Black working class and more importantly see no need to oppose the American power structure. They, and many members of the current political leadership of Afro-America, are what Fanon refers to as the “class of affranchised slaves” of the American political system. As such, they stand unqualified to lead the masses of African-American Fourth World people within the borders of the United States.

In addition to the growing conservatism among African-American leadership in the United States, Africa no longer provides African-American radicalism with the inspiration that it did when Malcolm X was alive. Anti-colonial struggles produced many revolutionary nationalist and socialist leaders who became heads of nation. These leaders, in turn, inspired young African Americans to examine these revolutionary examples in light of the American situation.

Today, many African nations are awash in tribal disputes—many are the consequences of neo-colonialism—which have stifled Africa’s development. But corrupt political leadership, military coups have also given rise to the idea that the African abroad is not component to manage his own affairs of state. The bottom line is that the African American is more likely to receive more bad news about Africa than good. And, under these conditions, it is baffling why anyone would turn to the motherland for solutions to problems of the African American in the United States when she cannot now solve many of her own problems.

If Afro-America is to survive then African-American identity must be again tied to a program of radical action. It is only when being African American means being in opposition to racism and economic exploitation that the frontier of progress can be pushed forward. But to tie the African-American identity to a radical platform, we must be ready to confront both white racism and African-American conservatism. There can be no united front with our enemies whether they reside inside or outside of Afro-America.

As Fourth World consciousness within the African-American community takes hold, we will find that the forces most interested in advancing a radical political program will be the African-American working class and her allies among the underclass—those suffering from long-term unemployment. Conversely, we will find our enemies as those political forces who either actively support our oppression or turn a blind eye to it. While it may take years to fully develop a The Fourth World political program, there are some fundamental tenets that must be established in any progressive program:

Work for all Fourth World people in the United States and a living wage for that work.

An end to institutional racism that bars Fourth World people from living lives of dignity.

Education for our children. This means an end to the under-funding of pre-dominantly Fourth World school systems and colleges.

An end to sexism that keeps Fourth World women locked into poverty. We want a universal child care system for all Fourth World children that include free childcare, pre-school, healthcare, and nutrition programs.

An end to “the cradle to prison” policies of the United States government that condemn Fourth World men to a future of incarceration. We want rehabilitation for addictions, for training and work programs for all of those held within the local, state, and federal penal systems. We want an end to the indiscriminate use of the death penalty against men of color.

The right of U. S. citizenship extended to every Fourth World child born in America whether his or her parents are illegal or legal aliens.

An end to the wars and the machinations of the United States against Third World countries. We want reparations paid to all Third World countries by the West for centuries of economic rape as well as immediate debt-forgiveness.

Full and unconditional citizenship granted to all Fourth World people in the United States, Canada, and Europe if they so desire it—without restrictions on their culture, religion or political status.

These are only starting points for a political program for African-American members of the Fourth World in the United States. But with them, we can move forward to form Fourth World organizations and eventually a The Fourth World party. But we can not even form a Fourth World organization within the African-American community if we can not tie our African-American identity to a program of radical change. Our cause is just but even just causes perish if they can not find fertile ground.

The fertile ground of our cause is the African-American working class—the most exploited section of the American working class. If a Fourth World organizations can take root among the African-American working class then our cause will have a chance. Power to the The Fourth World!!

Amin Sharif Nov. 29, 2005
posted by R J Noriega at 11:58 PM | Permalink | 0 comments

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