Editorial: A People’s Movement | Idle No More

Intercontinental Cry

By Jay Taber

Jan 15, 2013

In my recent editorial Anticipating Reaction, I listed some books that Idle No More activists and their supporters might find useful. One of those seemed particularly relevant to Canada’s current First Nations rebellion.

In James Forman’s 1997 book The Making of Black Revolutionaries, the former organizer of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) — that led the sit-ins against American apartheid, and risked their lives in support of Black communities in Mississippi Freedom Summer — recalled the challenges of working with the established Black elites of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) who wanted to control the activists.

As Forman noted in his excellent book,  grassroots organizers and activists in SNCC looked at the other civil rights organizations (NAACP, SCLC, CORE) and saw that they were money-oriented, and realized this meant that on occasion they would sacrifice principles in order to keep the money coming in.

SNCC in 1961, observes Forman, also recognized that it had to build a people’s movement. As Forman states, “We had to develop leadership outside our own, to carry forward the struggle, whether or not SNCC was around.” As he put it, he disagreed strongly with the idea that it meant SNCC would become unimportant, but rather that the fear of power itself due to a lack of understanding about how to use power could only be overcome by exercising political influence the previously powerless had never before experienced.

The cry for community control is a false one within the present structure of this society, he said. Nevertheless, he noted, action geared to achieving community control can help people realize the impossibility of that goal if the proper political education goes along with the action.

As Forman recalls, the lack of an ideology would become a serious problem for SNCC when the problems of voter registration and segregation of public accommodations were largely resolved with passage of the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights acts. “Our long-range goals, the kind of society we wanted to see built, the question of whether the fundamental problem facing black people was strictly racism or a combination of racism and capitalism,” argues Forman, “these issues had to be dealt with and failure to do so [eventually] tore the organization apart.”

Writing in the June 13, 2012 issue of Black Agenda Report, Bruce A. Dixon examines how corporate funding has corrupted Black establishment organizations like the Urban League, NAACP and SCLC, to the extent that they have become neutralized in conflicts over environmental racism. Having bought themselves a generation of Black politicians like Barack Obama, the nuclear power industry — and other corporate sectors heavily reliant on public treasury largesse — have now found reliable toadies in the conventional Black vanguard, confirming Forman’s concerns during the earlier struggle.

As UN member states like Canada and UN agencies like the World Bank escalate repression of liberation movements today, more of us will be confronted with a choice of how to participate in the human rights struggle. Whether we protest or resist, it will be advantageous to understand how our participation relates to that of others. Through that understanding, we can create a beloved community where all roles are respected and supported. Unity in diversity.

For those of us in the United States, the fight to abolish segregation and other forms of racial discrimination still resonates in how we oppose tyranny. I suppose that’s why they call the strategy of Freedom Summer in 1963 Mississippi civil disobedience. Disobedience is by definition resistance.

Compliance with rules about marching, asking permission to assemble, staying within the barriers–these are not acts of resistance. While they are ancillary to resistance, they are nevertheless important. For those who want to learn more about integrating the various roles required, James Forman’s book The Making of Black Revolutionaries remains instructive.


[Jay Taber is an associate scholar of the Center for World Indigenous Studies, an author, and a contributing editor of Fourth World Journal. Since 1994, he has served as the administrative director of Public Good Project.]



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