Monday, December 15, 2008

Dr. Conrad Worrill @ SOBWC...

Dr. Conrad Worrill holds a copy of the National Black Political Agenda developed in 1972 at a convention attended by 10,000 from across the nation.

Table of contents for SOBWC

The State of the Black World Conference (SOBWC) featured many heavyweights of the Black struggle as panelists, moderators and guests. Leaders like Dr. Conrad Worrill (CW) who have been part of the movement for decades. He serves as Director of Chicago’s Carruthers Center for Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University and BHN’s Adeeba Folami had the educational and pleasant experience of running into him in New Orleans during a break from workshops on Haiti and Katrina policy. Touching on the deeper meaning of this year’s election, Worrill repeatedly called this time a “teachable moment” in history. His full interview follows:

(BHN) - What brought you down to the SOBWC?

(CW) - I’ve been a part of the Black Liberation Movement for over 40 years and have worked very closely with Bro. Ron Daniels on a number of projects so this is just a part of the institutionalization of our work. I’ve always participated in the SOBWC that was predated by the State of the Race conferences of the 1970s, that Ron picked up in the 1990s. So this is really, in its historical origins, a continuation of the great conversation that started in Gary, Indiana, March 1972, at the National Black Political Convention where 10,000 African descended people from all over the United States participated.

Since that period, we’ve always attempted to find mechanisms to bring our people together, to follow up, organize and mobilize our people around a multiplicity of issues, so this is just part of the institutionalization of our work in the movement.

(BHN) - There are some critics who say we have [Tavis Smiley's] State of the Black Union, the State of the Black World, another conference over here, etc., and still our condition as a people remains depressed so they wonder what is the real value of conferences like this. Your response?

(CW) - One value, the elders say, ‘When Black people get together, sometimes despite ourselves, something good happens,’ so one of the great things that happens in a conference like this is a renewal in the call to action, a networking, a reconnectedness of the old guard, a hooking up with some of the younger people/students. It’s not always what’s on a piece of paper in a conference that’s of value, it’s the informal activity that occurs between people who are like minded because most who attend conferences like this are activist oriented people who are looking to grow, develop, meet, network, exchange and keep our movement – see this goes back to 1830.

This is a continuation of the great conversation that we’ve had among ourselves on how to resolve many of the great challenges over this 200 year period that we’ve faced; this is called the Negro Contingent Movement, from 1830 to 1856, so the continuation of – if we don’t meet, if we don’t come together, dialogue, whoever’s having a meeting – our issues will just get put on the wayside. So I think, particularly this time, when our movement is in disarray and our unity is at an all time low and the challenges we face are so intense, meetings like this re-energize us to continue the work that we’ve been engaged in for many years.

(BHN) - Another focus of this conference was, with the election of Barack Obama, the development of a Black agenda to present to him…

(CW) -Wait, wait. I’ma show you something. [paused to get some paperwork from his belongings.] This is the original document that came out of Gary in March 1972. This is the National Black Political Agenda that, if updated and upgraded today, could still be a blueprint in terms of a Black political agenda. This is a historic document that addresses every issue that besieges people of African descent. It only needs to be upgraded, repackaged for our current situation and used to advocate around our interests in this current political season.

(BHN) - Did you hear Obama, during his campaign, touch on anything in this agenda?

(CW) -Uh – not really. Let me say this. I’m from Chicago. Barack Obama’s house is five minutes from my office so I have a personal connection to [him], so it’s really not about [him]. It’s about what we’re going to do as a people and if this hour in history means anything to us as a great achievement in the history of America, most great achievements inspire us. So breaking racial barriers, Jackie Robinson in baseball; Joe Louis knocking out Max Schmeling, whatever it was to bring contributions such as the civil rights movement. So this should inspire us to do what we need to do despite having a Black man in the White House.

(BHN) - For years there’ve been several Black leaders who have admonished, advised and guided the Black community that, “Whenever a politician comes before us, before we cast our vote we want to know how they’re going to address our Black agenda.” All during this election season so many Black people said, ‘You know Barack Obama can’t address a Black agenda; we can’t push that now, wait until he gets in office.’ But once he’s in office, because he knows he had overwhelming support without addressing a Black agenda, what incentive does he have to listen to the Black community now?

(CW) - All politics; all politics, are local… Substantive change or progress has occurred in the history of African descended people, take this to the bank. Unless we had been organized and mobilized to make our demands felt and impacted on the institutions of America, all movements have zenith points; peak points. Then historically, when you study social movements, they have down periods, low periods, but then they have resurgences and efforts to revitalize. This really has nothing to do with Barack Obama as such but he is a symbol and inspiration for what we need to do as a people to rebuild our movement.

When our movement is in motion, we make progress. When our movement is in disarray, we don’t; so those are principles of organizing. The period we’re in now is to have a generational connection because those of us who’ve been in the struggle so long need replacement to continue the activism work that is the foundation for change. So those are theoretical, conceptual, analyses of what we need to be doing. This is replacement time; this is a regeneration time; this is the call for the next generation to, in concert with the elders of our movement, rebuild our struggle. Period.

(BHN) - You said you feel our movement is in disarray?

(CW) - It’s in disarray. We don’t have the unity that we had. See we always have disagreements. We have different streams and tributaries inside of a movement but on some fundamental issues; see the fundamental issue of the civil rights movement was to end racial segregation under the law. Regardless of what camp you were in we could unite on the principle of the eradication of racial segregation under the law. So the civil rights movement was the victorious blood, sweat and tears of taking Plessy vs. Ferguson in 1896, which created racial segregation under the law, and defeating it in the 1960s.

So the question today is what is the seminal issue, or set of issues, that is besieging us that we can unite on and organize around. We haven’t found that. We had it for a moment up until 9/11 and what was that issue? Reparations. But when 9/11 hit, there’s been a retrenchment and all of the legal lawsuits in Tulsa, were thrown out. The corporate restitution lawsuit in Chicago was defeated, so our legal strategies had been defeated but the question is, ‘Is reparations still a relevant issue?’ What is it that we can unite on? What is the issue that’s gonna galvanize us and put us in political motion?

(BHN) - Even with the success of Barack Obama, obviously millions of people were united behind him but there was not much more than that …

(CW) - Black people were inspired at the idea of a Black man being in the slave master’s house, that the slave master’s built. So we’re celebrating in this idea.

(BHN) - Isn’t that, in one sense, a sign of how little we expect as a people that he never addressed anything of our agenda? Some say Bill Clinton was our first Black president but there were more Blacks in prison after his term than after [Ronald] Reagan.

(CW) - Look. What we have is historical discontinuity where one generation does not know what previous generations have contributed so if we do not have the history of the evolution of Black people’s participation in electoral politics, if the young generation doesn’t understand the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments; the period of Reconstruction, the compromises of 1876, the retrenchment of our enfranchisement in voting in the United States. From 1870 to 1901 there were 20 Blacks elected to the Congress of the United States; by 1901 there was not one national Black elected official in office because of the compromise of 1876; the violence that was protracted against our people, the Ku Klux Klan, the lynching, the poll, everything they did to take back the Black vote. So if you don’t have this history underpinning our fight in America around electoral politics, then you don’t understand where we are and how Barack Obama got to be president of the United States in the first place.

Most people are not aware that [Dr. Ron Daniels], who is convening this session, in 1976 in Cincinnati, Ohio, at the 3rd National Black Political Convention, of which I was a part, drafted Ron Dellums to run for president of the United States and Ron Dellums came to Cincinnati and gave the greatest speech in the world to tell us ‘no.’ But the idea, the possibility and potentiality of a Black man running for president of the United States started with Fredrick Douglass because White people put [him] up to run for Vice President of the United States in 1856, before the Civil War. In 1872, the black and tan radical wing of the Republican Party put [him] up to run again.

The Communist Party in the 1930s, drafted a brother who ran for Vice President, can’t even think of his name, on the Communist Party ticket. So if we don’t understand the protractedness of an idea - and we really miss 1984 when [Min. Louis] Farrakhan hooked up with Jesse [Jackson] and went all around the country, filling up venues with thousands of our people around this idea and potentiality of electing a Black man to the president of the United States. So whether Barack Obama ever says “black,” the conditions in our mind, in the spirit of young people who were captured into his campaign, are really operating off that spirit and foundation that have been established in our movement.

This idea; see ideas are weapons of war; this idea has been planted in the soul that one day there’s a possibility, excuse my French, that a nigga can be president of the United States. This is a deep psychological period in our history; now we’ve accomplished it. Now the question is, “So What!? What [does] it mean?” Do you understand? This is a teachable moment in history. You’re standing here from Denver, Colorado, in the cowboy state asking me profound questions and I really don’t care so much whether it gets in your newspaper or not, I’m having a workshop with you.

Because I ain’t got nothing to do while I’m standing here except share with you that you’re asking me these questions that are full of life. I’ve lived my life as an organizer in this movement for a long time so this is my opinion of where we are and this is a teachable moment to give the history of how we got to where we are. If we don’t understand how we got to where we are it makes it difficult to understand where we need to go. Right now people, you would think I was ticket-tron. Everybody’s calling Dr. Conrad Worrill in Chicago, ‘Can you get me a ticket to the inauguration so we can have a par-tay in Washington, D.C.?’

Well Dr. Worrill don’t give a damn about the inauguration, what we need to be studying – the young people – is the budget of the United States government; every agency in the government and we should move to become expert on the government of the United States because the question now becomes, ‘What resources are we going to be able to extract out of the Obama administration that we couldn’t extract possibly from others?’ So the question is on studying the government and then when we put our demand, if some Negros happen to end up in some under-secretarial positions over grants and requests for proposals, we might have a hook to extract some goodies out of the government because that’s what politics is. Politics is the science that determines who gets what, where, when and how. That’s what politics is, so it’s not about an inauguration, although, those who go I hope they have a nice party but the real question of power is the extracting of resources for what you need for your people.

(BHN) - So it’s good to rejoice now but we need to be thinking 4-8 years down the line?

(CW) - Negros is about to spend a lot of money dressing up to be in Washington, D.C., but that’s okay. My point is, this is a teachable moment in history and we need to use this occasion to teach, make a connection to 40-50 years of history that has led to this moment of electing an African descended person to the most powerful position in the Western world. That’s what we should use it for. We should use it to continue organizing for ourselves around the interests of African people despite whatever he does or don’t do. It’s on us.

(BHN) – Thank you.

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