DeeDee Halleck on 14 Nov 2000 18:16:50 -0000

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[Nettime-bold] A possible post, but check with Free Radical first

          Fwd: Interview: Kai Lumumba Barrow on direct action by people
of color
          Tue, 07 Nov 2000 07:23:56 -0800
          Claude <>
          (Recipient list suppressed)

   >An interview with KAI LUMUMBA BARROW . . . . .Issue #11
   >What if there was a revolution and nobody noticed?
   >OK, "revolution" is too grand a term, but the event in question is
   >undeniably historic: the creation, in the United States, of a
   >direct-action-based alliance across racial lines, between the
   >white movement against corporate globalization and the predominantly
   >of color movement against criminal injustice.
   >You won't read about it in the mainstream media, but then, they
didn't see
   >Seattle coming either. More troubling is how little discussion there
   >to be in radical and progressive circles about this nascent
alliance: its
   >necessity, potential, and pitfalls.
   >Kai Lumumba Barrow has been a major figure behind the recent
resurgence of
   >direct action within movements of color. She works fulltime as an
   >for SLAM!, the Student Liberation Action Movement, based in the City

   >University of New York, especially Manhattan's Hunter College. Since
   >mid-Nineties, SLAM! has been a pioneering activist force on the East
   >mobilizing working-class students of color in a series of savvy and
   >campaigns for educational access, economic justice, and other
   >This past summer, SLAM! brought the largely white New York City
   >Action Network (NYC-DAN) and other groups together to plan a joint
   >against the Republican Party Convention in Phildadelphia, focused on

   >questions of criminal injustice. The process was a bumpy one -- in
   >particular, there was resistance within NYC-DAN to what some felt
was a turn
   >away from the group's focus on corporate globalization, resistance
that many
   >activists of color viewed as racist -- but the coalition held, and
holds to
   >this day.
   >In this frank and wide-ranging interview, Kai Lumumba Barrow places
   >development within a broad historical context, focusing particularly
on the
   >troubled state of the black liberation movement over the last 25
years and
   >its current revitalization. She sheds light both on why
   >radicals moved away from direct-action protest beginning in the mid
   >and why she and other activists of color are experimenting with it
   >                   -----------------
   >Kai Lumumba Barrow: I was raised by a black nationalist family, so I
came to
   >activist struggles early. It's difficult for me to say when I was
   >politicized, because it seems like it's always been there. But I
   >probably '68, the Democratic Convention, stands out for me.
   >I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents were involved in
   >organizations and we lived in a co-op building where a lot of
Panthers and
   >Yippies and so forth came and stayed during the Convention. I was
about 10,
   >and I remember feeling close to some of the folks who were staying
in our
   >house before the Convention began. You know, you're a kid, and
you're the
   >homeowner's kid, so you get a special kind of attention. People were
nice to
   >me, and I felt they were my friends.
   >So when Daley turned his pigs on the people, and the people came
back to the
   >house, bleeding and beat up, I felt personally hurt. I felt like,
they did
   >this to my friends.
   >After that I read Malcolm X, and I wanted a revolution. That's it, I

   >thought, we're going to do this. In high school, I was a
   >conscious, but not active. But I went to college thinking, this is
where the
   >revolution is going to happen. I went to a historically black
university in
   >Atlanta, and I was really taken aback: It was the Carter years, and
   >was beginning to show his ugly head, and there was no movement.
   >COINTELPRO had done a serious job on the Panther Party and then also
   >Black Liberation Army. There was underground stuff happening but it
was way,
   >way submerged. There wasn't any real movement specifically in black
   >communities any more. And I was on this campus with the bourgeoisie,
   >black bourgeoisie, and I was really freaked out. Like, what is going
   >But then I got active around anti-apartheid work, building student
   >organizations on campus, and doing a lot of work at that time around
   >Shakur and Joanne Little and other political prisoners.
   >I also became a member of the Republic of New Africa, whose full
name was
   >the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa. It focused
   >establishing a nation for black people in five states in the South.
Doing a
   >lot of institution-building, in that sense. We started a school, a
   >school, did a lot of political prisoner work, and a lot of political

   >education work. Training and that sort of thing.
   >I stayed with that in different capacities for several years. I went
back to
   >Chicago and started doing a lot of police brutality work there,
still doing
   >prisoner support work, and ended up here in New York in the early
90s, still
   >staying with the same issues, around police brutality and prison
   >LAK: In the U.S., the tactics and techniques of direct action were
   >pioneered by the black freedom movement of the Fifties and Sixties,
but by
   >the early Seventies, those tactics are rarely seen in movements of
   >especially in black movements. How did that come to be?
   >KLB: There was a major shift in the political expression of the
   >liberation movement in the mid-Sixties. I have recollections of
looking at
   >the civil rights movement, Dr. King, and the dogs and that sort of
   >and I have recollections of my family saying, Why are they allowing
   >themselves to be beaten and attacked by these pigs, by these racist
   >Why are they not fighting back?
   >So there were two predominant tendencies regarding which way forward
for our
   >people. It's reductionist to say it, but it was primarily Malcolm X
   >Dr. King, and you choose your camp. And I tended to be in the
Malcolm X
   >camp - still do, frankly.
   >The Black Panther Party, as the heirs of Malcolm X, said we're not
going to
   >just stand by idly, we're going to utilize self-defense in order to
get our
   >movement forward. And at that time the Party did engage in a lot of
   >action, from taking over the state capitol in California - that was
a direct
   >action - to various activities that were going on in communities
around the
   >Now, though, the black liberation movement is at a really crucial
stage in
   >its development. We've seen a lot of our leadership and a lot of our

   >comrades killed and imprisoned and driven crazy, exiled, because we
stood up
   >against oppression. And at this point there seems to be a
reassessing of
   >which way we should we go. We've engaged in a critique around the
   >leadership model, the hierarchical leadership model; we've done a
   >around the party model; we've done a critique around every possible
   >that we know exists, and at this point we're in the process of
   >So as a people, within different movements, we've been stunned to
   >degree for a really long time. Since the early to mid Seventies. I
think the
   >experiment with armed struggle models, underground models, hit us
   >hard. The Party as a large movement kind of stopped at that point.
   >have been smatterings of different things that have occurred since
then, but
   >I don't think we've really been able to capture the imagination of
   >communities in any broad way since that period.
   >So we've been kind of in this stalemate, and I think what's
happening is
   >that we're starting to look back to, well, the Fifties. (laughter)
   >dawned on me maybe about a year or so ago, and I was really pissed.
I was
   >like, damn it, we're going backwards. (laughter)
   >So we're starting to reassess the utilization of direct action and
   >disobedience, but we're coming at it, I think, more militantly than
in the
   >Fifties. We've seen it as a way to engage more of our community.
   >what we've been doing since the Seventies is rallies and permitted
   >and those sort of things, that have been more or less
non-confrontational. I
   >think we're starting to say, wait a minute. We've been using a
multitude of
   >non-confrontational tactics, and I think at this point some of us
   >starting to escalate some of the tactics that we're utilizing,
   >that we're also the most victimized by the state for participating
in those
   >We took the position in the past that nonviolent civil disobedience
   >us in a very passive position, so we started engaging in armed
struggle or
   >at least self-defense. We didn't have enough experience with that
   >or we didn't have enough support for that, and we were beat. We were
   >pretty badly.
   >We're trying to come back from that, get it together and figure out
   >we're going to move forward. Taking the best of both self-defense
   >militancy while still being accountable to our communities.
   >LAK: What were your feelings about Seattle when it happened?
   >KLB: Why the hell am I in New York at a SLAM! meeting? I had planned
to go -
   >I was so mad!
   >For all the obvious reasons, I thought it was great. I was really
   >disappointed by the coverage - I don't know if there were more
people of
   >color in Seattle than the none I saw in the media.
   >The morning after, my partner and I were on the train, reading the
   >And we were smiling and high fiving each other. I lived at the time
in Bed
   >Stuy, so the train was filled with black folks - and everybody was
   >smiling.(laughter) I had some good conversations with a couple of
folks on
   >the train, about how this is necessary, and it's about time, and
   >reminds me of the old days. People were overwhelmingly supportive.
   >said, "Oh, they shouldn't have thrown the rock at the Starbucks."
   >But, in terms of their weaknesses, Seattle, D.C. - even Philly and
L.A. -
   >these mass convergences require a week's worth of time in order to
   >participate, dollars in order to travel, support. If a whole group
of people
   >go somewhere for a week, there's a whole lot of work that's not
   >done, and who's going to do it? Whether that's taking care of the
   >or working 9 to 5. It's very difficult for people of color, even
   >people of color, young working-class people of color, to participate
in mass
   >I thought Seattle was a great experiment, and it was great that
labor came
   >out. But there was clearly a class distinction between the people
   >organized and participated in Seattle versus where I come from.
Access to
   >cell phones? Please, we're just getting walkie-talkies. The
utilization of
   >technology, organizing on the Internet: What's that phrase, the
   >divide? It's there. Make no mistake about it, it's there.
   >So the organizing and the building for that action clearly indicated
that an
   >intelligentsia, a bourgeois class, had organized it. They had the
   >they had the contacts. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's
   >important to acknowledge that.
   >So to some degree, I thought it was great to see it, and I felt
   >heartened that people were in the streets. I also felt disconnected,
and I
   >felt envious - player hate. (laughter) I felt like, you know, why
don't we
   >have the resources to do this kind of work?
   >If we look at the Vietnam War protests, we see how those protests -
   >of a capacity to utilize the system, and money, and resources -
tended to
   >overtake and coopt the black liberation movement, the American
   >Movement, the Chicano movement and the Puerto Rican movement. I'm
   >that this network of people doing
   >direct action around corporate globalism is going to do the same
thing to
   >emerging movements around criminal injustice. These are issues where
   >of color are saying no, this is genocide, and we're building a
movement. I
   >worry about globalization issues knocking that out of the box.
   >That's why I think the predominantly white anti-globalization
movement has
   >got to engage in a domestic anaylsis of corporate globalization and
   >effect it has on disenfranchised communities of color. The movement
   >corporate globalization has to engage in an ongoing analysis about
race and
   >imperialism, and how they play out in the United States, or else it
   >completely undermine our work and continue to propel a racist and
   >That's why I wanted to really look at how we could unite with the
   >Action Network, or build a parallel alliance or network of people of
   >that were focused on issues that affect people of color, and unite
the two
   >major issues - corporate globalization and criminal injustice - as a
   >that we can spring from.
   >                            -30-
   >City College SLAM!
   >Call to protest at the Republican Convention
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   >longtime radical journalist and organizer, she is active in a number
of New
   >York City direct action campaigns. Her work has appeared in the
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