Ossie Davis - Eulogy for Malcolm X, February 27, 1965
Here, at this final hour, in this quiet place, Harlem has come to bid farewell to one of its brightest hopes, extinguished now and gone from us forever. For Harlem is where he worked and where he struggled and fought. His home of homes where his heart was and where his people are. And it is, therefore, most fitting that we meet once again in Harlem to share these last moments with him. For Harlem has ever been gracious to those who loved her, have fought for her and have defended her honor even to the dea th.
It is not in the memory of man that this beleaguered, unfortunate but nonetheless proud community has found a braver, more gallant young champion than this Afro-American who lies before us, unconquered still. I say the word again, as he would want me to: Afro-American. Afro-American Malcolm, who was a master, was most meticulous in his use of words. Nobody knew better than he the power words have over the minds of men. Malcolm had stopped being a ‘Negro’ years ago. It had become too small, too puny, too weak a word for him. Malcolm was bigger than that. Malcolm had become an Afro-American and he wanted so desperately that we, that all his people, would become Afro-Americans, too.
There are those who will consider it their duty, as friends of the Negro people, to tell us to revile him, to flee even, from the presence of his memory, to save ourselves by writing him out of the history of our turbulent times. Many will ask what Harlem finds to honor in this stormy, controversial and bold young captain. And we will smile. Many will say turn away, away from this man, for he is not a man but a demon, a monster, a subverter and an enemy of the black man. And we will smile. They will say that he is of hate, a fanatic, a racist who can only bring evil to the cause for which you struggle! And we will answer and say to them: Did you ever talk to Brother Malcolm? Did you ever touch him, or have him smile at you? Did you ever really listen to him? Did he ever do a mean thing? Was he ever himself associated with violence or any public disturbance? For if you did you would know him. And if you knew him you would know why we must honor him:
Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! This was his meaning to his people. Consigning these mortal remains to earth, the common mother of all, secure in the knowledge that what we place in the ground is no more now a man but a seed which, after the winter of our discontent, will come forth again to meet us. And we will know him then for what he was and is. A prince. Our own black shining prince who didn’t hesitate to die because he loved us so.
Hammer and sickle at a memorial to Czechoslovakian soldiers killed in WWII
Our community has lost another great artist. Louis Reyes Rivera, prolific writer, poet, and activist, has passed.
For those who may not know much of Rivera, he was an influential educator and artist. Steeped in a Pan-African outlook and dedicated to teaching those around him, Louis made numerous literary contributions. Despite earning many accolades, he was always approachable. The winner of many literary awards came to be known as “The People’s Poet” through his embrace of issues of everyday folks. One of his sharpest points of focus was on the connection between African-American and Latino culture.
Rivera was born in New York City in 1945. Raised in Brooklyn, he would come to do some vital things in the world of activism. He was a key person in the struggle of Black and Puerto Rican students back in the 1960′s. Louis was a student leader in the 1969 takeover of City College, and the co-founder of The Paper, a student publication for people of color. Without the efforts of Rivera amongst others, generations of people of color would not have had the opportunity for higher education.
Always willing to reach back into the community and share his wealth of knowledge, Louis could often be found at a workshop or classroom. He would teach on the finer points of poetry, knowing your rights as a writer, and carrying forth the history of the oppressed through artistic means. He was a member of the National Writers Union and performed a piece at the 30th anniversary of the organization late last year. He held workshops at the Harlem Book Fair, and performed on Def Poetry.
Louis Reyes Rivera was a conduit of information, and inspired many artists and activists. He will definitely be missed. For paving the way for countless students of color to gain access to public higher education, I must say Rest in Power, and thank you. Rivera was 67 years old.
-Marc W. Polite
Sheet of stamps from the DPRK, 2011, showing achievements of Kim Jong-Il.
Funeral of John Maclean in Pollokshaws, Glasgow in 1923. Schoolteacher, socialist leader, Marxist educator, anti-war agitator, honorary Vice-President of the Congress of Soviets (USSR) and appointed Bolshevik representative for Scotland. His funeral remains one of the largest in Glasgow’s history.
His legacy has since been claimed by both Scottish Nationalist and Labour movements, making him rare in this respect amongst Scotland’s historical figures. The Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Republican Socialist Movement both claim his political legacy.
Why is the Martin Luther King Memorial White?
It’s funny. It’s ironic. It’s insulting. Yet so predictable. It’s been called terrible for an artistic basis and for economic reasons. And yet it confirms why our culture continues to struggle with the message of Dr. King.
The King memorial was dedicated two months ago, but I’m just getting around to writing about it. Not like anything has changed in two months, because if the memorial shows anything, it is how things stay the same. I just wanted to weigh in with some thoughts on it.
First the facts of this cultural artifact. The memorial took years to build and was made by Chinese sculptor Lei Yixin. 120 million dollars were spent on the project, money raised from philanthropist and corporate donors. The four acre park, the 395th national park in the U.S. The rock edifice has a chunk taken out with a carving of Dr. King with a scroll emerging from the rock. Quotes from Dr. King dot the ridge of rock around the park. On the King representation, it reads, “From the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” taken from his most famous speech, the 1963 “I Have Dream” speech.
This is terrible art. King has this aura of authority, dignity, a kind of solemn gravitas that gathers around historical figures, framing them with a lens of tradition and guilt. It starts to become an ancestral guilt totem, looking down on us with shameful solemnity. It’s like the feel of the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t feel uplifted by this, just really small and disappointed about where civil rights is today.
Marcuse wrote in The Aesthetic Dimension that there is a difference between propaganda and art. Propaganda reassures the political narratives of the established power. Art arises from desire, and as such, carries revolutionary consequences against the forces of erotic suppression. Now compare this image of Dr. King with some of the images of Dr. King that emerge from local urban artists. Art on murals and walls in Atlanta, Memphis and Houston and elsewhere from Watts to Harlem. When I lived in Houston, there were public arts projects in the wards like Project Row Houses, that gave voice to the community and showed the cultural heroes of the African American community. This is art. It is encouraging, and located in a place that needs the heart of the gospel and radical loving transformation.
This is yet another attempt by the government to turn Dr. King into Santa Claus. Progressives have been asking the last few years if King would even be invited to MLK day celebrations. That the message is already watered down with ideology, misinformation and dogmatic ossification. The system that King fought against, the banalization by late capitalism, and a government that needs continual war to justify itself is a corrupt society. King is remembered as a fat jolly black man, like the genre typecasting of so-called “magical negroes” a la Bagger Vance. He comes bearing gifts and glad tidings, and we perceive that his dream is that gift, and we think that gift has something to do with racial equality. This is a version of King that even the right in this country, and the Dixiecrats who joined them, ostensibly agree with (if even on a very superficial level).
But King’s message is far deeper than racial equality. Racial equality is much easier to fake than the roots behind racism – the fundamental economic inequality in our society. The message is this; King was not killed for his stance on racial equality. He was killed for calling for a reckoning with the plutocrats, oligarchs, and the military industrial complex that really run this country from Wall Street and the Pentagon. (This is true today - you can say whatever you want to about race - but do not challenge the economic status quo - that is taboo!) King was killed in Memphis one year to the day after his much-neglected “Beyond Vietnam” Riverside Church speech in New York. There he called out the government on Vietnam, calling it “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” King was a social democrat ready to expand the dream to challenging the issues behind racism – the fundamental inequality of power. It was a move that alienated him from his closest supporters. He died quite unpopular in the eyes of the public - a fact conveniently forgotten.
In making the memorial white we have the definitive statement of the establishment – to whitewash difference and banalize opposition. It needs to take all opposition to itself and turn its message into a dogma that will completely cover the original intent. And it hopes no one will notice the changeover. It takes society’s threatening radical elements and claims them for itself. And if we accept this, and do not cry foul, we all lose.
What would the street artists do to the memorial? This is the question that nags at me and provokes my fantasy. To give the memorial as it is a real artistic quality, I would suggest writing an open letter to Banksy to invite him to do what he wants with it. In fact, it would begin to make it real art. Maybe he can paint it black. Really black. Like Onyx. A deep black that you get lost in. One that perplexes us. One that continues to shake us. A black like the blackness of the Vietnam memorial (which is the only real art the government has produced). I don’t think people come away from the King memorial shaken. You have to go to the Memphis Civil Rights Museum to feel that. You feel those dogs barking and the water hoses. (Or, here is an idea, maybe the Occupy movement can try to occupy the MLK memorial and start some collective graffiti.)
The idea is to celebrate the difference, not to boil everything down to the world of white bureaucratic males in grey suits. In its blackness resides the boiling potential for change in this country. I think there is hope in difference, not sameness. And this is the struggle - it is a fundamental struggle about power.
Frantz Fanon wrote in Black Skin, White Masks, “What does a man want? What does a black man want? At the risk of arousing the resentment of my colored brothers, I will say that the black is not a man. There is a zone of nonbeing, an extraordinary sterile and arid region, an utterly naked declivity where an authentic upheaval can be born” (8). What does this mean? That blackness needs to have its own power and its own way. And it does not mean being Sammy Sosa.
It is not trying to make everything white and male that is the revolutionary move. It is the celebration of difference, it is the creative, poetic, even mythic sensibility when one is able to discern his or her own identity, culture, and ontology, that is the radical move (Paget Henry, Caliban’s Reason). And it is a move that provides a real opposition. Is there any resistance left? How can we find a new form of upheaval? These are the questions that will stick in your throat and make you sick. But I think it’s a positive kind of sickness. A kind of nausea that King had, that Malcolm had. That Fanon had. Marcus Garvey. The Panthers.
So while President Obama was dedicating the King Memorial, Cornel West was marching on the Supreme Court across the mall to protest the Citizens United bill and other court corruptions, (like Clarence Thomas and Justice Scalia at Koch Brother-sponsored meetings – speaking of “activist judges”),to bring attention to the spirit of King. West, Tavis Smiley, and others are yet reminding us of the real message of Martin Luther King taking on corruption against poor and working people of this county. So there is some hope, some undercurrent of authentic feeling, some sort of prophetic measure that still protests with its every fiber.
Comrade Kishenji, a leader of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), was gunned down by police on Nov. 24, 2011. Despite heavy state repression, thousands turned out for a memorial Nov 27 in his hometown Peddapalli in Andhra Pradesh.
When Warsaw was attacked by German troops in World War II, the Polish children, both boys and girls aged 8 to 16, took it upon themselves to become little soldiers and to help defend the city.
The Communist Party of the Philippines today announced the passing of an icon of the Philippine revolution, Gregorio “Ka Roger” Rosal. According to the announcement made by the CPP, he died in a guerilla zone in June 22, 2011 due to a heart attack. According to the statement, the belated announcement was due to difficulties in first informing his next of kin who were in highly militarized areas.
Grave of comrade Ulrike Meinhof, co-founder of the German Red Army Faction (RAF).
India: Memorial meeting for comrade Shibdas Ghosh, founder of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist), on the anniversary of his death, observed at Saheed Bhawan, August 5, 2011.
Photo by Sidharth Rath