Our Frustrating, Maddening Obsession

“The thing to do is to get organized.  Stay separated and you will be exploited, you will be robbed, you will be killed.  Get organized and you compel the world to respect you.”
–The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

The above statement is, in my opinion, perhaps the most profound comment I’ve ever heard or read from The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL).  More profound than “Africa for the Africans, those at home and those abroad.”  More relevant than “Up you mighty race; you can accomplish what you will.”  This is because while those other two statements are iconic in their own way, they are pronouncements that were designed to inspire, whereas that first quote is an analysis and a prescription for people of Afrikan Descent to free ourselves from bondage and oppression, and, unfortunately, one which too many of us continue to ignore.  Too often, we rail against the discriminations and deprivations to which Afrikan people are subjected, but we also repeat, ad nauseam, the very behaviors of disunity that ensure that those discriminations and deprivations will continue without any comprehensive and effective challenge from us.  Why are we so often obsessed with the empty behavior of complaint coupled with rejection of any organized and cooperative plan to put our collective misery to an end?

It has been stated that “division is a monster.”  Division is indeed a monster.  We have been “divided and conquered” from the day a Conquistador saw that when we were separated from our communities we could be more easily taken away from our homes and consigned to enslavement.  It was used to keep our enslaved Ancestors as compliant as possible, it was used to instill fear in our communities post-Reconstruction, it was used to destroy our organizations from the UNIA to the Panthers and beyond.  It is used today to keep us divided.   Our communities do need to organize themselves, as so many of us have stated repeatedly.  So, what is it that keeps that organization from happening?  Why are so many of us so quick to dismiss and reject those among us who are working to build the Black Unity we all claim to want?

I’ve written about that before, on this web site.  Specifically, here, here, here and here, among other places.  The problems seem to be that (1) when the call is put out to our organizations and activists to come together and work to build coalitions with input from the community, too many of us insist that it’s impossible, and so we don’t even try; (2) too many of our organizations and activists seem to want to be involved in work that only we control, and not even work where we would share the effort, input and reward; (3) we too often dismiss as illegitimate those whose analysis of the situation of Afrikan people doesn’t completely agree with ours, when what we should really be assessing is the sincerity and commitment of the activists to work on listening to each other and getting something done for our people; (4) even when we express vocal support for an effort, when the time comes to actually support it, putting our money, our effort  or just our attention where our mouths are if by nothing more than coming to a meeting of the community to participate in building an agenda and determining a collective course of action, we too often “forget” about the meeting just as it approaches, and thus fail to even come to see whether the effort is legitimate or not, and sometimes the entire effort dies on the vine because of a perceived (or maybe actual) lack of interest.

As a case in point, the Maryland Organizing Committee of the Pan-Afrikan Diaspora organization Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus, an organization to which I belong, has held three Pan-Afrikan Community Town Hall Meetings in Baltimore, Maryland to date which, quite frankly, should have gotten much more response than they have gotten so far, if for no other reason than people should at least be curious enough to see what the plan is and to offer their ideas for improving it.  How can one dismiss a plan when they haven’t even taken the time to engage the planners or even see what the plan actually is?  Especially when the planners are asking the community of activists, organizers and “just plain folks” to come and offer their thoughts, ideas and critiques so that a truly participatory, cooperative and complete strategy can be developed, and especially since our elected officials have so consistently failed us?  If you don’t trust elected officials, religious leaders and big corporations, fine.  I don’t either.  But that seems to leave us, the activists, organizers and “people on the ground”. And when we try to bring us out to collectively and cooperatively formulate a strategy, the call is too often ignored or rejected outright without so much as a discussion.  Even when the suggestion on the table is for us to build a Cooperative Coalition among the different entities in our community that do care about what is happening, from the business, art, spiritual, media, education, revolutionary, scientific, grassroots and other communities, in which all of these organizations are empowered to pursue justice the way they do best, but in coordination and cooperation with each other so that what we all do is done in a way that we help each other instead of competing against each other.  And then, after rejecting even that idea, we go back to the old, comfortable jacket of raging against elected officials and blaming them for all our problems.  Didn’t we conclude that ages ago?

But no doubt, there are people who, if they read this commentary all the way through, will have already dismissed even this grassroots-based Pan-Afrikan Cooperative-Coalition idea as a pipe dream, or as lacking in proper analysis.  Well, if there’s something lacking, why not improve it by informing it with your own ideas?  Why not engage in some form of dialog instead of telling us that our ideas suck and are unworthy of implementation?  None of us knows everything, least of all me.  But if we continue to simply dismiss each other and then scream about how un-unified we are, at that point we need to look in the mirror.  If everyone has to agree with you top-to-bottom for there to be anything close to unity, then there will be no unity.  EVER.

I apologize if I seem to be ranting, but this is far more frustrating than it needs to be, and in many ways it’s our own collective fault.  Our organization has been struggling with this since 2007 in Maryland, and we’ve just now gotten to the point where some organizations and activists are starting to learn what we are about and engaging with us.  Lots of organizations with few resources fold up in less time than we’ve been pushing this huge rock up the hill.  But we haven’t given up on trying to engage our community, though it gets frustrating to hear all the outrage about what is happening to us but then get little more than ridicule or dismissal when an attempt is made to bring us together and seek solutions together, especially when that dismissal and ridicule are often coming from people who have not one clue as to what we are about.  Let’s get away from the knee-jerk cynicism and get back to talking to each other instead of at each other.  That’s where real community lies, and that’s how we can rally our forces and win the battle for truth and justice.

Peace and Power,
Bro. Cliff
Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus