The Black Radical Tradition in Our Time
Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report explores the meaning of the gathering of black thinkers and activists in Philadelphia on January 8th for The Black Radical Tradition in Our Time Conference
EDDIE CONWAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News. I’m Eddie Conway coming to you from Baltimore.
In light of the recent polarization that’s been going on in the communities, the white community and the black community in reference to Black Lives Matter, in reference to the conditions that black people find themselves in, and the new interests, we are going to look at today a conference that’s going to take place in Philadelphia in the next few days. And to help us get an understanding of that, we’re having the founding, executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report, Glen Ford. Glen Ford, thanks for joining me.
GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: [Thank you for the invitation], as always.
CONWAY: Well, there’s a conference up in Philadelphia, and basically it’s the Black Radical Tradition, and it’s occurring between the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th. Can you give us an insight on what this conference is about, and why it’s happening now?
FORD: Yeah. I think the first thing that ought to be said is that there has not been this kind of conference on the black radical tradition in a long time. But more importantly, there has not been a mass black political movement in a long time. So this upcoming conference on the black radical tradition will be occurring about a year and a half after the first stirrings of what many of us hope will be a new black mass movement for the 21st century.
And we don’t believe that we can have such a successful movement if there is not a vibrant and self-aware black radical component to this movement. And that’s what the radical, the organizers were trying to do. They were concerned that this, this black radical tradition will have to be carried on not just by academics and not just by those of us like you and me, aging veterans of a previous movement, but by the activists who are stirring things up today, and especially by the youth.
And that’s why they’ve assembled a list of keynote speakers that’s very interesting, that go across those lines. We’ve got Angela Davis, Dr. Cornel West, Anthony Monteiro, Vijay Prashad, Steven Salaita, he’s with the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions against Israel movement. And Charlene Carruthers, who’s with the Black Youth 100 project in Chicago, and lots of other activists who are taking part in panels. I’m on a panel on war and peace and justice, and resistance to U.S. empire, and another one on post-Obama realities. Where do black radicals go from here?
The organizers felt that it was extremely important that we not just tag along with this movement and not just anticipate what the movement might do, and not just do analysis, as people like myself do, of what’s going on, but find out and directly participate in the events that are actually shaping this incipient movement.
CONWAY: Well, this movement and this conference itself, what else is going to look at–I mean, there’s a tremendous amount of problems on the ground in the community, from gender identity to lack of jobs to, of course, black lives matter and so on. What is the conference going to focus on, and is this conference tied into other struggles and other movements across the country and around the world?
FORD: Sure. And of course, the participants are as well. And the organizers think that it’s extremely important that although this movement or this incipient awakening, as some people like to call it, was first centered on the lawlessness of U.S. police, but that our job is also to make the connection between what the police do and what they are actually protecting, and who they are protecting. And their role in, in the system, and how we must fight not just police in the streets but the system that employs them to deploy and abuse us in the streets.
So you can’t have a socially transformative movement unless you’re talking about the way the society works, who pulls the strings, in whose interests crimes are committed, and who is supposed to be resisting the commission of those crimes. And also what kind of vision of society do we have, the kind of society that would replace the one that we now live in?
CONWAY: Okay. So what, if you would have to speculate, what do you think will come out of this in terms of a way toward the future?
FORD: Well, certainly if all that comes out of conferences such as this is more clarity, that is a great deal. We’re in the early stages of something that might turn into a great mass movement that could transform this society. And what’s, what’s needed in addition to energy and bravery and an understanding of how to gather resources that keep movements going, what’s also necessary is clarity and analysis. And an understanding of why we are in the situation we are in today. Why the police behave the way they do today.
And the reason they behave the way they do today is rooted in events of two generations ago, events that you are quite familiar with. The repression of the late 1960s that sent many of our folk, including yourself, to long terms in prison, and led to the death of many others. But also the rise of a new black political class that did not have a vision of social transformation, and over the last two generations has participated in the creation of this black mass incarceration state that we now live in. A mass incarceration state that is quite different than its beginnings, back in the late ’60s. So we need historical perspective as well as energy and resources, and bravery.
CONWAY: Okay. Well, now, back in the day, back during our time, as you would say, the black organizers and black activists played a key role in trying to set the direction and the course for the future of a new America. Is this conference and the people participating in this conference is their role as important as the leaders and a vanguard toward a new kind of society?
FORD: From what I can gather, everybody engaged in the organizing of this conference is absolutely certain that there can be no effective radical movement in this country unless it is not just participated in fully by black folks, but led by black folks. And that’s been the history of this country. It’s the history of the last movement and it’s unfolding in that way today. So our social responsibility, as deep as it is to our own people, is also one that we have for the entire world.
The black radical tradition is an internationalist tradition. It’s involved deeply in questions of self-determination. And not just black folks’ self-determination, but all people’s self-determination, all people’s struggle. And what will set this conference apart, what distinguishes it, is that it is an anti-capitalist conference. It’s about social transformation, and social transformation in our time means getting rid of this oppressive global capitalist system that sits like a dead weight on the right of self-determination of people all over the world.
CONWAY: Okay. Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with us?
FORD: I think that we’ll find out some things about the coherence of the black left, and this is a black left conference, from what goes on in those three days in Philadelphia. What we’ve learned in what, frankly, has been a kind of isolation for a very long time, what we have to contribute to these rising forces of young folks who have not had the experience of being in a movement. After all, it’s been more than 40 years. And we’ll see exactly what, what we can articulate in terms of what we have to offer, and that’s a beginning. Remember, this movement is still not worthy of the name. We’ll find out if the folks who claim to be heirs of the black radical tradition are also worthy of that.
CONWAY: Okay. Well, I’m looking forward to your report on this after it’s over with. And thank you for joining us.
FORD: Thank you.
CONWAY: Okay. And thank you for joining the Real News.
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