I spent the afternoon today in Syracuse, New York at the African Liberation Day celebration sponsored by the Pan African Community of Central New York, an organization that fosters unity among continental Africans, African-Americans, African-Caribbean and other African Diaspora communities. The theme of the meeting was Reparative Justice.
African Liberation Day has its roots in a 1958 meeting in Ghana and was formally launched by the Organization of African Unity in 1963. Since almost all the African states are now independent, today the OAU calls it Africa Day. But the Pan African Community around Syracuse called their event African Liberation Day because Africa and the African Diaspora are not yet liberated from discrimination and exploitation.
The program started with a showing of a documentary about the first mass African Liberation Day in the US in 1972, Black Unity: Breaking the Chains of Oppression. With scenes of large demonstrations across the country from San Francisco to Washington DC, the highlight for me was excepts of a speech at the San Francisco event by Walter Rodney, the author of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Rodney was a revolutionary active in movements in Africa, North America, and the Caribbean until he was assassinated in 1980 at age 38 in his native Guyana to which he had returned to found the oppositional Working People’s Alliance. This film gives a real feel for how big a deal African Liberation Day was in the US black liberation movement in the 1970s and early 1980s while southern Africa was still fighting for freedom.
The African Liberation Day celebration in Syracuse aimed to rekindle this spirit. That was one of the points made by Horace Campbell, a Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University, a leader in the Pan African Community, and the author of several books, including most recently Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya.
Frieda Jacques, Clan Mother of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, which is adjacent to Syracuse, also spoke. She talked about how the papal “discovery doctrine” originating in the 1400s, which has been carried forward into recent US Supreme Court decisions against American Indian land claims, dehumanized and justified the dispossession and enslavement of both Africans and American Indians alike. She also talked about how reparations should promote healing on all sides.
The keynote was given by Sam Anderson who spoke on “Reparations Now.” Anderson is a veteran of SNCC and the Black Panther Party. He taught mathematics and black history at colleges in the New York City area until his retirement and remains a prominent advocate for public schools against privatization in New York City. He is the author The Black Holocaust for Beginners and blogs at his website: www.blackeducator.org
Anderson said a big part of reparations must be repairing ourselves intellectually and emotionally by recovering the history of Africans, slavery, and racial capitalism so we understand how we got into the unequal and oppressive circumstances we find ourselves in today. He said any reparations program must be anti-racist, anti-capitalist, and anti-imperialist if people of African descent are to be socially and economically equal. He said just cutting a check to the descendants of slaves would not work as reparations because, without economic system change, the capitalists would have that money back as soon as people spent it. He said reparations should include capitalizing cooperative banks and businesses that can retain and accumulate wealth in black communities.
In the discussion that followed, a continental African urged African Americans to also call for reparations from corrupt African leaders who have robbed their countries and banked the stolen money in European banks. The discussions continued over a potluck meal of many African and Caribbean dishes.
Our movement needs more educational events like this with plenty of time for informal interaction after the formal presentations. For me, it was an afternoon well spent.