Actor and activist Danny Glover and TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway talk about how Martin Luther King Jr. worked to build a movement of inclusiveness against militarism, exploitation and racism
EDDIE CONWAY: And everybody knows Danny Glover, so I don’t have to introduce him. I don’t have to make it a strange introduction. But what people don’t know, perhaps, is that in the late ’60s, before we had any black studies, black histories, black student unions, Danny Glover and his comrades in San Francisco was the first people to organize a black student union. And it was the first black student union to strike and make demands that forced the schools, the universities, to bring in black student unions. And it set the tone for student unions all across the country to create black student unions in their own particular school. So basically he’s the one of the founders of the black, of what we see today as a normal, natural thing, it started it from him. It started right there.
DANNY GLOVER: Eddie Conway has a very extraordinary gift. He knows how to tell stories.
I’m, when I was at San Francisco State from 1967, and we had the, what we call the Gator incident, over 50 years ago, where a group of students went up to the San Francisco Gator, student newspaper office, and we had a difference of opinion. And what ensued was a fight. A number of us, it was nine of us, Landon Williams was one of them, Clarence Thomas was one of those, and several others were part of that, what happened. It drew the number of, a lot of attention because of that. Myself. So I was suspended from the University for one semester. We weren’t on the quota system. For one semester. Some were suspended longer than that. But I remember since the Black Student Union had an off-campus office on Ellis Street, I remember having to open up the the the office every morning. This is 1967, 1968. I was 21 years old.
And I would first go and work in, in the breakfast with children programs that the Black Panther Party had started in San Francisco. And me and a, I would sit down with a brother named Sam Napier. And Sam Napier was in charge of distribution of the Black Panther Party newspaper. He would open the office, the Black Panther Panther Party office, which is around the corner from the Black Student Union’s office. And we would sit down and I would I would listen to Sam pontificate. He was a bit older than me. Like Eddie just did.
So I thought about that. I thought about that. And Sam was just, and I said this at the anniversary, the 50th anniversary of the party, he was a soldier, in that sense. And when I’ve ever thought of myself in terms of that, I’m happy to be a soldier, a foot soldier in the process. And I said that most humbly and in different ways. You know, because I, I look at the extraordinary, profound, prophetic voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, and what it means for all of us in our role as simple citizens, to be foot soldiers. We may have a moment in our lives where we do something, and it’s something that translates beyond anything that any of us could imagine. Standing before you right at this moment is beyond anything I could have imagined at 21 years old.
As a simple footsoldier I struggled to read Frantz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. Just as much I struggled to read Kwame Nkrumah’s The Question of the Congo, or Julius Nyerere’s African Socialism. Trying to be a footsoldier, trying to understand more than I did the day before, trying to listen, trying to have my, my thoughts conform to the ideas of these extraordinary moments that we have, extraordinary possibilities that we have, for change.
As I look at Dr. King, as I, I’ve read this Beyond Vietnam speech so many different times, I’ve listened to, I’ve heard parts of it, I’ve heard it quoted in various forms and everything else. But I, I understand the essence of all that we searched for and all that we tried to understand. In some sense he contextualized so much into this speech. He brings us to the truth and the reality that we live. In his voice about racism, extreme militarism, his connecting those to materialism, all those things are the things that we, we in some sense contextualize. But somewhere in his voice, his voice, his profound voice, he was able to take those and have us understand even more than we thought we were capable of understanding.
And for King, King knew that he was not the movement. He was part of a much larger movement. When King, when King, Dr. King talked about the world, how he understood the relationship that what happens here, between what happens here and what happens in the rest of the world. But King comes from a long family of traditions of, of internationalism. His history grounded him. The voices of Paul Robeson, the voices of W.E.B. Du Bois. The voices of Eugene Debs. The voices of Emma Goldman. That’s where King comes out of that context. The voices of those profound and prophetic ministers and truth tellers before him. He comes out of that context as if he listened to every one of those voices, in which he absorbed every one of those voices that gave him an opportunity to contextualize not what’s happening that, at that particular point that those voices flourished and were able to resonate in our public space, in our public life. But what it meant for today at this moment.
So as we use this barometer, this space, this place right here at that moment that we hear his voice now, we see the manifestation of that prophecy. the manifestation of his telling us that what we need to do as citizens, ordinary citizens, is service. Is service. King always said it didn’t take, you didn’t take a Ph.D. to serve. You know, it didn’t take a great education to serve. But to serve humanity, to serve in that way, King brought us that sense of service. Ultimately the sense of an embodiment of ourselves and giving of ourself, connecting service to love. Love for humanity. Connected service to our compassions, to real possibilities of transformation.
And that’s what we’re talking about. And every moment we see that. We see it in every generation. We see those things that happen in a moment that we now begin to think that we are on the path to something. But we know we have to continue to fight. We know that we have to continue to move forward. We know that we have to take the contradictions that exist today at this moment and understand that their historic significance, their past significance, and the relationship those relationships, the relationships that are spun from those today and the actions that we need to take. We know that. We know that more than ever.
It’s not as if we had, at the end of this, and we had no Trump in the White House, and we had some something some other manifestation of the Democratic Party we’re going to have to deal with the same issues. We’d have to come to terms with the same reality the same truth. That what is it, whose democracy is this? It’s a basic question that has happened in the history of this country, whose democracy does this belong to? And whose voices are the ones that resonate and fight and struggle and dig their feet into the ground, and say we’re going to stand here. We’re not going anywhere. Those are our voices. The voices of service. The voices of those who’ve been dispossessed. The voices those who’ve been disenfranchised. Those who are what we are talking about here. And we know they exist everywhere. We know that they’ re everywhere.
I was down in Venezuela just a couple of weeks ago. The Venezuelan government signed a decree recognizing the decade of African descendants. Now, most of us, a lot of us haven’t heard from the decade of African descendants. Even though that we know Epsy Campbell, for others who know, a woman, an Afro-descended woman, in Costa Rica has just been elected this past Sunday as the vice president of Costa Rica. Even that we know that what we see in places like Costa Rica, even what we saw would happen in Venezuela. Chucho Garcia, the head of the Afro-Venezuelan network right there, and the work that was done. Even its president at the time, Hugo Chavez, who the first time he said, said look at me. Look at my hair. My grandmother was African. Thank you. They referred to him as a monkey. They referred to him in the most derogatory terms in everything else. So I went down there.
As they celebrated, or acknowledged, the 164th year since the abolition of slavery in Venezuela, on that day. They abolished slavery in 1854. Slavery was abolished here because of the Civil War in 1863. So if we look at that moment, one thing that I took out of that is the moment, we went to this Afro descended community in Barlovento. I’ve been there at least half a dozen times on my more than 14 years that I’ve gone to visit Venezuela. In each way I was able to see the kind of transformation that was happening to people’s lives as they took their own hands, use their own hands, use their own imagination to shape another world for them. To talk about their children and the future. To realize that they have health care, had health care. To realize that they had these institutions for education for their children. To realize that they weren’t on the outside on the hills of Caracas, the capital, they were inserted and integrated into whatever was happening in that country, to watch and witness it. And for them to celebrate it, each moment to celebrate that, the cocoa collective that they have in which they make chocolate, some organic chocolate, some of the best chocolate in the world. To see all those and see the manifestation, and the pride as they moved and exist in this.
A few weeks earlier I went to Brazil, just, just at the time that the sister Marielle Franco, just before she was assassinated. We were there in Brazil and talking to Lula, who understood the political dynamics that he was faced there. A coup had been achieved by the far right against the female president Dilma Rousseff. And it had been a spin. It had destabilized all those, all of those organizations. They were thrown off balance. They thought that they had accomplished something. They thought they had accomplished something when in 1985 they founded CUT, and then they found the Worker’s Party, and they founded MST. The land program. They thought they had accomplished something, and they had begin to integrate these ideas of equity, of justice for the Colombo people, for African descendants. Brazil is more than 50 percent self-defined African descendants. They thought that they had found something and they were on to something. They were dismayed by what had happened. And how all those elements that they had achieved had been criminalized in some way. The right wing had taken power. And what they were doing, they were partitioning and selling off all the public space. Those things that are important to them, they saw that. And you saw in their face through the voices of Marielle Franco and others, they just saw women. Leading women, there’s women leading leading the charge for change there. And yet he was saying at the time, at the time, that if they charge me and come to bring me to jail I don’t want CUT to surround me. I’m going to jail. I’m going to jail like Martin Luther King went to jail. I’m going to jail like Nelson Mandela went to jail. Thank you.
And we’re going to have the people put in charge and build themselves and resist even more. To resist the injustice that happened. And recall in their memory that all that they worked for over those period of more than 30 years, all they were was not for that. All that they had worked for was here for them to not simply just, just, just walk away from, but to struggle and fight for. And fight for not what they had exists and what they had established, but something even greater. All those things are happening in the world.
Dr. King realizes in 1968 that this country is on the wrong side of the world revolution. We’re still on the wrong side of what’s happening. We’re still on the wrong side of what’s happening in terms of climate change. We’re still on the wrong side of what’s happening for men and women in the LGBTQ community. We’re still on the wrong side. And it’s our service and our responsibility for what we do, not only in domestic politics, but how we understand and imprint in foreign policy as well. I have responsibility to wage this fight and to keep on waging this fight for not only us, but for future generations. For the transformation that King talked about, it was so clear, as if he spoke not 50 years ago, but yesterday about transformation. That’s what he talked about. That is our responsibility.
Those of us who are here and have been here and marched to those particular points in time over the last 50 years, it’s our responsibility to train the new young voices here. Right here in Baltimore. To train the new young voices everywhere here. To find ways of building coalitions to understand that when we talk about black lives matter, when we talk about the decade of African descendants, we’re not just talking about black people. We’re talking about humanity. And that’s what King talked about. Humanity, and what we need to do. Our work.
This is a very important moment for us right here. We know that. It’s always easy to say , yeah, this is a critical moment. We got to do something. It’s easy always to say that. But we know that it is now. Those of us, we have to do the work, and continue to do the work. Those of us who know that we have to find new definitions and new relationships and building new, new kind of coalition. We understand that. King knew about building coalitions. He was, he could talk on the one hand to Bayard Rustin, LGBTQ T , or James Baldwin, and at the same talked to a socialist Jack O’Dell. At the same time, he took all of this in.
We have to build those coalitions. It is our responsibility. Those are the coalitions, the coalition grounded in the love that he talked about. Those are the coalitions that are going to strengthen our resolve, that are going to help us push further and further and further, and have us reimagine what it means to be that simple question: What does it mean to be a human being? The first question in philosophy. And certainly the other question is: How do you know? Thank you.