Writer and activist Ajamu Baraka explains why President Obama should not be welcomed at the March on Washington Commemoration
OSCAR LEÓN, TRNN PRODUCER: On August 23, tens of thousands of people rallied at the National Mall to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which drew a quarter million people to the nation’s capital and was a key moment in the civil rights movement.
The Real News’ Jaisal Noor caught up with Amaju Baraka, a longtime human rights activist, writer, and fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., who authored the recent piece “Obama Should Not Be Welcome at the March on Washington Commemoration”.
AMAJU BARAKA, ASSOC. FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICE STUDIES: I wrote a piece recently where I claim, where I made the statement that Obama should not be welcome at the August 28 commemoration for the March on Washington. And I said that because I think it’s sort of sacrilegious that the president of the United States would be invited to an event that represents something so special for black people and oppressed people. Therefore we are now in a position to begin to talk about the meaning of the march in ’63, to assess where we are as a people and as a movement. To inject the politics of the state into that process by inviting the president, to me, is a move that undermines our ability to exercise autonomy and self-determination, to give meaning to our own experiences.
I said also too that it represents the turning over of the event to the state. It gives them a propaganda victory that they had been attempting to achieve ever since Dr. King was assassinated, and that is to completely absorb his image and understanding of what he was about in our movement, to merge our Dr. King and our movement with the interests of the U.S. state and the U.S. society. And for that, I think that is something we have to oppose.
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: And so no politicians were allowed to speak at the original March on Washington.
BARAKA: The issue I have with the invitation on the 28th is that the president of the United States, our first black president, has been invited to speak in the shadow of Dr. King, the implication, of course, being that there is a straight line between Dr. King and our movement and the person of Barack Obama as the first black president. It gives the impression that he represents our aspirations and the goals of our movement. And I think that that is something that we have to oppose. So it’s politicizing the march in a way that deradicalizes our movement and suggests the dominance of one narrative, and that narrative is the narrative of the aspirations of black people wanting just to be included into the U.S. narrative. And that’s something that negates our history, the totality, the comprehensive nature of our history, our struggle, struggle for liberation, struggle for social justice.
NOOR: Can you talk about foreign policy? That’s one of the key parts in your piece. Talk about how Dr. King’s views he expressed on U.S. foreign policy–called the United States the greatest purveyor of violence in the world–how that compares to the Obama administration’s foreign policy.
BARAKA: The attempt to link Dr. King, who was a person committed to peace, nonviolence, with the policies of Barack Hussein Obama is in fact an abomination. Barack Hussein Obama has been at the forefront of one of the most aggressive periods of U.S. imperialist activity over the last 50 years. There’s no way we can reconcile Dr. King’s commitment to peace and to nonviolence with the aggressive, violent-ridden policies of Barack Obama.
The very fact that this administration is responsible for fomenting civil war in Syria, didn’t have the moral courage to call the coup in Egypt a coup, attempted to stop President Aristide from Haiti returning back to his country, who denied the people of Honduras support when they called out for the U.S. to reject the coup in Honduras, these are policies that our Dr. King and our movement could never embrace. But yet these are the policies of this government. And by inviting the president, we basically legitimized those policies. We give it a moral standing that is the opposite of what Dr. King was all about.
NOOR: And those are policies that–especially with foreign policy–that Democrats and Republicans have completely and utterly embraced. So I’m saying that is the mainstream. There’s hardly any dissent being talked about within the mainstream of those policies.
BARAKA: There’s been a bipartisan agreement on advancing the interests of American imperialism [incompr.] there’s no distinction between the positions of the Democrats or the Republicans when it comes to that. There may be some tactical differences, but that’s really about it, that the aggressiveness of, the militarism of this administration is something that both Democrats and Republicans embrace. And it’s something that’s contrary to everything that we have been about as a people here in this country.
NOOR: So this would be speculation, but judging by Dr. King’s works and what he said, what would his position be? If he was alive today, would he be taking part in this march? What would his role be today if he was alive?
BARAKA: If Dr. King was alive today, Dr. King probably would not have been invited to this march today and certainly wouldn’t have been invited to the event on the 28th, because the organizers of the march today, and primarily on the 28th, are not interested in any contrarian voices, any voices that might criticize U.S. foreign policy or the direction of domestic policy. Dr. King would be excluded, because Dr. King’s positions, like the traditional positions of the black liberation movement, are positions on the side of the oppressed, committed to social justice and committed to peace, completely contrary to everything that we see in place today.
NOOR: And if he was alive today, what do you think that he would be calling for [incompr.] out in the street [incompr.]
BARAKA: I think that Dr. King would be calling for a moral foreign policy in Egypt. He would be calling to cease the drone attacks by the U.S. administration. He would have been opposed to the persecution of Edward Snowden. He would have condemned the sentence received by Bradley Manning. He would call on the U.S. to cease its commitment to undermining regimes and governments across the globe. So he would be on the outside with the rest of us, protesting and voicing his opposition to the direction of this country.
NOOR: And what are your thoughts about the leadership, the civil rights leadership that put this march on?
BARAKA: [incompr.] the leaders, the so-called leadership that put this march on are individual organizations that basically are mirages. They don’t exist. They have no real social base. Their importance is defined by the importance they have for the American state, the importance they have for the American state. They are media-appointed leaders.
Now, the fact that they are able to mobilize massive numbers on Saturday is more a reflection of the desire of the part of the people to struggle, to struggle for change, to believe in the possibility of change, to be committed to raising their voice for justice. It’s more reflective of that than any ability of these self-appointed leaders to be legitimate voices for our people.
Therefore most of us who believe in social justice, who believe in the possibility of a new world, we’re going to be standing on the outside on August 28. We’re going to say that it is a shame that anybody who says that they are part of our movement, who say they believe in Dr. King’s vision, would stand alongside an individual who we consider to be a war criminal.
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