Liberation or “Asylum for Neoliberal Values?” Competing Visions of Black Politics

Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report, discusses this past weekend’s Black Radical Tradition Conference at Temple University

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.

In what may appear to some to be opposing efforts within a broader, often nebulous black liberation struggle, we had this week news that Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza will attend Barack Obama’s final State of the Union, and Johnetta Elzie, co-founder of Campaign Zero, appears on the cover of Essence magazine under the head Black Girl Magic on one hand. And on another, the convening this past weekend of a black radical tradition conference at Temple University at which Umi Selah, formerly Phillip Agnew, offered a blistering critique of Campaign Zero’s co-founder DeRay McKesson’s activism, and the social media culture he inhabits as, quote, an asylum for neoliberal values, end quote, further describing McKesson’s brand of activism as counter-revolutionary and anti-movement.

To discuss this and more is Glen Ford, executive editor and founder of Black Agenda Report, here with us again for his Ford Report. Welcome black–welcome back, Glen, to the Real News.

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Welcome black and welcome back. Both of those.

BALL: So, Glen, how do you see these potentially competing actions or views of black struggle? Isn’t there–isn’t there any value to being in these prominent spaces, whether it’s the State of the Union or the cover of Essence magazine, to promote a black, sort of, a movement, struggle, and politics?

FORD: Well, nobody is saying that because your picture appears on the cover of a magazine that makes you verboten, or that if cameras get pointed your way that somehow that tarnishes you. But people do have political histories. They take political positions. And they have influence in political groups, and they have to be accountable to other folks who are involved in movement politics. And certainly, at a, an event such as this conference on the black radical tradition, a tradition that seeks to get to the root, radical means root, get to the root of a problem, and to deal with it through deep analysis and criticism and self-criticism.

Everybody is subject for examination. But certainly and especially Mr. McKesson, but of course also Alicia Garza and her Black Lives Matter Network. Remember that this is the network that was embraced and specifically endorsed by the Democratic National Committee. And although Ms. Garza and the other two co-founders rejected that endorsement. It is valid to say, why were, why did the Democratic National Committee think that the Black Lives Matter network was so non-threatening that they could be embraced by a party, the other half, one half of the ruling oligarchy? Those are valid questions.

In terms of McKesson, McKesson has a, a distinct political history, and it is not progressive at all. He is, has been a cog in the wheel of the charter school privatization so-called movement, a movement funded by corporations. He said that community police review boards are good things, just like charter schools. So not only is he fair game for, for a political review, but brother Umi wanted to raise the whole subject of, of a movement that, that measures its leaderships, leadership and their qualifications, by how many Twitter followers they have. Another of the activists at the, at the conference, Jamala Rogers, a veteran activist who has a book out on Ferguson, said how can you carry out a real political dialog in 140 characters?

And these are, are valid criticisms. How is a movement that, that embodies these kinds of values, that is, that counts the number of likes in the digital world as the equivalent of something happening in the real world of politics? How do, how do we deal with it? These are basic questions.

BALL: But Glen, let me just ask very quick–let me just ask very quickly, because in this social media moment where so many young people are engaged in that way, and that’s their primary if not only mechanism for engaging politics at all, isn’t the presence of these folks in Twitter, or again, the presence in popular media spaces, could it be seen by, as is argued by some, as a positive, as encouraging either a progressive entrance into mainstream media or political spaces, or an encouragement for their audiences to do the same, to join that kind of work or, or, or enhance that kind of work in their own way?

FORD: Well, sure. And of course, the conference itself used social media as, as a tool. Everybody does. It is a fact of life. But it was very, very good that brother Umi was the one to make this critique, because he is of that generation, the Dream Defenders are comprised, comprised of lots of young people, mainly based in Florida. And as he said, he has been one of those who became addicted to and whose activities revolved around an effort to get virtual validation of himself and his politics, and his movement, based upon the measurements of the social media, and who was wooed by corporate powers to be crowned one of the, one of the leaders, and given special recognition. So he was speaking as one who, who, who was inside this, in terms of the organizing milieu in which he operates, and his demographic.

BALL: All right. Glen, given that so much of the conference you attended this past weekend focused on an anti-capitalist critique, what does an anti-capitalist criticism look like of these kinds of actions that we’re describing being taken by these Black Lives Matter and Campaign Zero activists?

FORD: Well, I think what really is occurring, and that this conference is probably the first of many events, what’s occurring is that radicals are drawing political lines that need to be drawn. Everybody has to know where the lines are so that we can have a real conversation. And those lines dictate that you can’t, you can’t be a socialist and be pro-imperialism. You can’t just call yourself an anti-racist but align yourself with capitalism, which is inextricably entangled with racism. That when we have our conversations, which must lead to action, those must be coherent, the conversations in which we understand each others’ words and in which we have an understanding that we are accountable to each other if we claim to be in the same movement.

BALL: Well, Glen Ford, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News for the Ford Report. We appreciate your time, as usual.

FORD: Thank you.

BALL: And thank you all for joining us, whose time we also appreciate for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball, saying as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.

End

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