NEW YORK (FinalCall.com) – “We don’t all need to be downtown every day. We need to come back uptown and remind our community that our issues are valid and important, and we’ve got to put them on top of the agenda,” argued Bob Law, chairman of the New York Million Man March Coalition and a representative of the Artists and Activists United for Peace Coalition.
Mr. Law made his remarks during the anti-war march in Harlem on September 2, the last day of the Republican National Convention (RNC). He was joined by such notables as Brooklyn Councilman Charles Barron; Harlem Councilman William Perkins; December 12th Movement chairwoman Viola Plummer; Nettie Bailey, president of the Harlem Tenants Council; Palestinian activist Samia Halaby; Malik Zulu Shabazz, head of the New Black Panther Party; Elombe Brath of the Patrice Lumumba Coalition; attorneys Lynn Stewart and Ron Kuby; and rap artist Chuck D.
“This Republican Party is spending almost $170 billion on the war, which is behind the structuring of the high unemployment for Black men in New York City at 51 percent,” Councilman Barron said. “I am here to say that the people of the ‘hood’ do understand that the policies of this administration are causing 43 percent of Black women to be unemployed in New York and almost 70 percent of Black youth.”
“This is clearly a battle for the streets of New York,” Ms. Bailey said. “What the Bush administration is now doing in Iraq by destroying their infrastructure has been going on in communities such as Harlem for far too long and we will march and rally to show our discontent,” she stressed.
“I am very concerned that the people of Harlem understand why they need to be a part of this movement, the resistance against the war,” she continued. She said when Iraqi activist Kadouri al-Kaysi, of the Committee in Support of the Iraqi People, talks about his people not having proper medical care, the destruction of their schools, no jobs and poor housing, he’s talking about the Harlem’s throughout America.
“To pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, President George W. Bush has cut back on Section 8 housing subsidies and educational programs that directly affect Harlem schools. And they are telling people who live in public housing they have to work community service hours to pay for their housing subsidies. This is a return to slave labor, and it is all tied to government policies,” insisted Ms. Bailey.
“We also want to get the message out that there is no difference in George Bush, the Republican and John Kerry, the Democrat,” she added, noting that the housing project legislation was an initiative of former Democratic president Bill Clinton.
“There has been a continual attack against poor people, and we in Harlem must understand the thread that ties all of us together, whether in Iraq, North Korea or Haiti,” Ms. Bailey explained.
Those who organized the Harlem rally said it is not just about beating Pres. Bush or being anti-Republican; they say it is clearly about telling all elected officials that the problems of the inner cities need solving.
“Some people are out here in the streets with only concerns about the war,” Malik Zulu Shabazz said. “But we, as Blacks and Latinos, are concerned about housing, schools, poverty and crime in our community; and somewhere in that mix is George Bush and his war. So, we have to understand that Black people are suffering and we must continue to organize and stay out in the streets amongst these young people.”
However, Blacks are still being criticized in some of the media for not having a greater presence in the anti-war movement.
“What is ironic is that the existence of Black people in America is about resistance–a resistance to American life,” offered R.D. Strong, of the Newark-based organization Peoples Organization for Progress, during the August 29 massive ant-war/anti-Republican march here. “All the odds are against us; no matter what we do, we have to do twice as much–and we have less to work with. We are the last hired and the first fired, with the worst medical care.”
Black people have been at the forefront of the resistance in America since day one,” he continued. “We will probably be in the forefront in the future. This is not a new thing for Blacks. And if you don’t see a lot of our young people now in the streets, well it’s just a matter of time. They are recognizing what is happening and they are starting to come around, and our youth will do the right thing.”
Standing at 17th Street and Seventh Avenue, waiting for the march to start, Mr. Strong said that POP was marching to show that Black progressive groups do support the anti-war movement and are working with others to end oppression for all people.
“We are particularly against the oppression of Black and Latino people here in America. And another irony, with all the problems our youth face, they are the first to join the military and the first to die,” he lamented. POP marched with a New Jersey contingent of peace activists.
“That whole thing about there is no Black leadership, at best that is a bourgeois fixation, at worse it is a major media-corporate-racist-dominated-diversion, that is of little relevance,” argued Larry Holmes, a chief organizer for the New York-based International Action Center. “There is going to be a massive labor march in Washington, the Million Workers March, on October 17. That is not only important because it is about workers, and it is time they speak in their own voice. It’s extra important because the primary leadership is made up of militant Black trade unionists from coast to coast. So, we’ve got Black leadership,” he insisted.
“We are here to let our voices be heard,” shouted actress Rosie Perez at the August 29 protest. There were Latino organizations in the march voicing their concerns over Puerto Rican, Venezuelan, Colombian and Cuban issues.
In 2002, anti-war groups, such as the International Action Center, the Global Exchange and California Peace Action, discussed ways to get the nation’s Latino population more involved in the anti-war movement. So, they broke down the war issues according to how they affected Latino communities on a day-to-day basis.
Latino activists, such as Mr. Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose 20-year-old son Jesus was one of the first GIs killed in the Iraq war, say they want to use the anti-war movement to stem the tide of Latino youth joining the military. Observers say that 12 percent of Latino youth make it to higher education, while nine percent are on active duty rosters and 17.5 percent of them are on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Latino civil rights groups argue that their communities must be more proactive in speaking out against the Junior ROTC programs springing up in predominately Latino high schools across the nation.
“Far too many of our youth think joining the military is the only way out of poverty,” Mr. Suarez del Solar said, adding that Latino unemployment was 16 percent nationally, and that 34 percent lacked any type of health insurance.
“Money for schools, not for war,” he yelled to the thousands of protesters marching past Madison Square Garden, the site of the RNC. Latino activists, during the march, commented that their communities on a nationwide basis have been clearly victimized because of the social, economic and political policies coming out of Washington.
In January 2004, the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Hispanic Center said that a survey they conducted showed that most Latinos (70 percent) believed the economy should be a greater concern for Pres. Bush than the “war on terrorism.” The survey also said that a majority of Latinos (69 percent) were concerned about personal finances; and that Latinos were evenly divided (47 percent) over whether they expect conditions to improve on a national level.
Several activists maintained that there is a need to sustain the momentum gained in the streets of New York during the week of protests.
“We have to build and channel this energy into meaningful collaborations into a broader movement that cuts across race and class lines,” Ms. Bailey said. That is the only kind of sustainable movement that we can have, that we can build to bring about changes and to really challenge the system, she added.