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Green Is The New Black

Black History Month: Activists Building Movements For Freedom

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malcolm x green is the new black

bell hooks once wrote that “one of the most vital ways we sustain ourselves is by building communities of resistance, places where we know we are not alone”. So here we are this Black History Month: gathering people, movements and communities. Join us in celebrating revolutionaries across time, many of which continue to nurture the spaces built by their comrades’ love, rage, hope and labour.

This month is Black History Month. It’s been two years since the Black Lives Matter movement took to the streets. We find ourselves in a society where hollow promises and “statements in solidarity” are made by corporations that stamp #BlackLivesMatter across their products to distract us from continual exploitation (yes, we’re looking at you, Spotify). Virtue signalling does more harm than good—it manipulates consumers and allows the status quo to remain unchallenged. How much does Spotify really pay its creators and how does it amplify its black creators? Why does Starbucks try so hard to suppress its workers from unionising and demanding fair treatment?

As Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin writes in his book Black Anarchist Revolutionary Strategy and Tactics, “If we are to build a new Black revolutionary protest movement we must ask ourselves how we can hurt this capitalist system and how have we hurt it in the past when we have led social movements against some aspect of our oppression. Boycotts, mass demonstrations, rent strikes, picketing, work strikes, sit-ins and other such protests have been used by the Black movement at different times in its history, along with armed self-defence and open rebellion. Put simply, what we need to do is take our struggle to a new and higher level.”

Scroll down to discover leading members of the revolution who have emerged from the streets and taken the struggle higher. (Understanding racial capitalism is key. For further reading, there’s a list of resources at the end of the article.)

 

bell hooks green is the new black

bell hooks | United States | 1952 – 2021

We are starting this list by remembering bell hooks, whose passing (on 15th December 2021) the world continues to grieve. Most probably knows her best through her admired books, Feminism is For Everybody, Teaching to Transgress and All About Love: New Visions. She was one of the first intellectuals to offer us the language of Black feminist thought, grief, love and rage.

While it would not be true to her spirit to sum her up in one paragraph, memory or quote, this is one of our favourites: “I am passionate about everything in my life-first and foremost, passionate about ideas. And that’s a dangerous person to be in this society, not just because I’m a woman, but because it’s such a fundamentally anti-intellectual, anti-critical thinking society.”

We will forever look to her as an epitome of action through praxis towards liberation. May we be better people and honour her life’s work by continuing to wage love.

 

patrisse cullors green is the new black

Patrisse Cullors | United States

Patrisse, an artist, abolitionist, writer and professor, is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, which started in 2013, as a reaction to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer.

In a piece she wrote for Variety this year, Patrisse described how Black History Month (which she also calls Black Futures Month) has always been about abolition for her. She may not have known the word abolition as a young girl, but she understood it in her spirit: “At my core, I witnessed a community ravaged and decimated by police and prisons, and I wanted more for us. I would stay up for hours in my bed, imagining a world where all of my loved ones were treated well.”

After spending the last two decades focused on organising for systemic change, she now ventures into writing and implementing abolitionist storytelling through the release of her second book, An Abolitionist’s Handbook. Two years ago, she also created an online MFA program combining art, social justice and community organising, to train young organisers around the tool of art and why it could be a part of the lexicon of making change.

 

claudia jones green is the new black

Claudia Jones | Trinidad (United States, United Kingdom) | 1915 – 1964

It’s quite fitting that Claudia Jones was born on February 21st, which also happens to be Red Book Day (a time to stand in solidarity with the comrades across the world by celebrating left books, their authors, and the people’s movements).

Claudia Cumberbatch Jones was born in Trinidad. In 1924, she moved to New York, where she lived for the next thirty years. Her words were powerful and electric; she travelled throughout the United States lecturing and organizing. In the early 1950s, she wrote a well-known column, “Half the World,” for the Daily Worker.

A militant activist, outspoken journalist and leader, Jones was arrested several times. She served a year in a U.S. prison before being deported (she was later given asylum in Britain) for her International Women’s Day Speech calling for the mass organization of women for peace.

Claudia was a true woman to her people. She devoted her life to revolution and continues to inspire organisations like the Claudia Jones Club that engage in political education and community organising. The night before she was forced out of the US, she wrote a revealing letter describing her life and lessons from capitalism, Jim Crow, The Great Depression and more. We recommend setting aside some time a full read of it here.

 

leah thomas

Leah Thomas | Missouri, United States

Sparked by the Black Lives Movement, Leah, founder of Intersectional Environmentalist, coined the term “intersectional environmentalism” in an Instagram post that went viral in May 2020. In her article for The Good Trade, she mentions that the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in her hometown prompted her to connect issues of racial justice to her studies as an environmental science major.

As a self-described “eco-communicator,” her work emphasizes environmental justice and the convergence of environmentalism with social justice issues. Just recently, her team launched the Intersectional Environmentalist Council, a group of environmental and sustainability activists from diverse backgrounds to help provide accurate and accountable information on issues of climate justice and how it affects people from different communities.

She talks about how the pandemic, systemic racism and environmental racism are affecting Black communities, and the triple meaning behind “I can’t breathe” that is worth reflecting on: “First, we’re in a pandemic that attacks the respiratory system making it hard to breathe, [and a virus] which disproportionately impacts Black and Brown people. Then when you think about climate change and how Black and Brown communities are also experiencing respiratory illnesses and asthma at higher rates because they’re placed in environments that have poor air quality which makes it hard to breathe. When you add on top of that systematic racism and the literal last phrases of so many Black men and women who are pleading with police or random people, like George Zimmerman was, to not take their lives and let them breathe, there are three parts to the “I can’t breathe” statement.”

 

fred hampton green is the new black

Fred Hampton | United States | 1948 – 1969

Fred Hampton, leader of the Illinois chapter of the revolutionary Black Panther Party, was assassinated by Chicago police at just 21 years of age. He had just finished up a political education course and was headed home to eat and get some sleep when the FBI’s snitch slipped a sleeping pill into his drink. “You can kill a revolutionary but you can never kill the revolution,” Fred would say. His revolutionary legacy still lives, in the hearts of movements and leaders that continue to learn from his words, speeches and organising ideas.

Hampton’s political life began at school. He led walkouts protesting segregation and exclusion, demanding the employment of more black staff. Having read the works of revolutionaries like Che Guevara, he was attracted to the Black Panther Party and their fight to integrate black liberation with the class struggle. Hampton joined the Black Panthers and founded the Rainbow Coalition, an alliance that brought together the city’s working-class (black, white, Latino) to build solidarity. Together, they fought police brutality and poverty.

They built health clinics, organised concerts, offered legal advice to those facing eviction, hosted free breakfast programs and arranged food drives for the homeless. At the same time, the coalition built class consciousness through political education sessions. It was at one of these events that Hampton was murdered by the FBI.

Leaving you with Fred’s powerful words: “We don’t think you fight fire with fire best; we think you fight fire with water best. We’re going to fight racism not with racism, but we’re going to fight with solidarity. We say we’re not going to fight capitalism with black capitalism, but we’re going to fight it with socialism.”

[Two quick film recommendations: you do not want to miss Murder of Fred Hampton, depicting his brutal assassination, and the programs he founded for children during the last eighteen months of his life, and Judas and the Black Messiah, a brilliant and riveting biographical crime film about the betrayal of Fred Hampton.]

 

vanessa nakate green is the new black

Vanessa Nakate | Uganda, Africa

Vanessa became a social media phenomenon in January 2020, about a year after her first Kampala protest. In an interview with Financial Times, she shares how she began the first of four 30-minute protests at Kitintale Market.

Her uncle told her that Ugandan farmers, most of whom have no irrigation and rely on rainfall, have been severely affected by the disturbing weather patterns. “When I started activism, I didn’t know much about the food industry, or the impact of flying, or oil or coal on the climate. I just knew that the climate crisis was causing floods and droughts.”

This is the lived reality of many environmentalists who do not come from white, middle-class backgrounds. For them, climate justice is part of the dire anti-colonial fight for better living conditions.

You might have also heard about Vanessa during COP26 when she was cropped from a photo with white activists. “When I saw the photo, I only saw part of my jacket. I was not on the list of participants. None of my comments from the press conference were included,” she said. “It was like I wasn’t even there.”

This is a metaphor for the larger racist and classist erasure of marginalised voices. Let this sink in: It’s Black Climate Week (February 21 – 25), in 2022, and climate activists of colour are still being invisibilised. That too, at global events like COP26, completely missing the mark on climate justice. Black communities make the smallest carbon footprint, yet they face the worst of environmental degradation. We need to do a better job of honouring the climate advocacy work that Black folks have been leading for years; their voices must be the central focus when dreaming of regenerative futures.

ajamu baraka green is the new black

Ajamu Baraka | United States

Ajamu Baraka is an international human rights activist, grassroots organiser and political analyst. He’s also the national organiser for Black Alliance for Peace, a people(s)-centred human rights project against repression and imperialism that builds power through educational activities, organising and movement support (read more background about their campaign here).

Donate to Black Alliance for Peace here, and find more resources for news and movements in Black liberation on Baraka’s website.
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Further reading & a poem for you~ 

As I was researching for this piece and thinking about Black Futures Month, two verses from For My People (1918) by Margaret Walker, a Black poet and novelist, came to mind. How many times have we come across radical spaces, both online and offline, that have not been erased or censored? For as long as the masses sleep, capitalism will thrive. It becomes critical, then, to educate ourselves on history that is not told from the perspective of the victors.

For educators and students, the Center For Racial Justice has compiled more resources here. If you’re hungry for more, subscribe to this podcast by Pluto Press, featuring Radicals in Conversation (This February’s episode curates a series of extracts on Black history in America). And check out this Black History Month reading list and snippets from some of the books throughout the month.

Ending this scoop with two stanzas worth embodying, a reminder of poetry’s unifying voice, and how far back the struggle for liberation goes:

For my people walking blindly spreading joy, losing time

     being lazy, sleeping when hungry, shouting when

     burdened, drinking when hopeless, tied, and shackled

     and tangled among ourselves by the unseen creatures

     who tower over us omnisciently and laugh;

Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a

    bloody peace be written in the sky. Let a second

    generation full of courage issue forth; let a people

    loving freedom come to growth. Let a beauty full of

    healing and a strength of final clenching be the pulsing

    in our spirits and our blood.

                                                                        —For My People (1918) by Margaret Walker

FEATURED IMAGE: digital artwork by Isis Kenney | IMAGE DESCRIPTION: Illustration of Malcolm X holding up a newspaper (“OUR FREEDOM CAN’T WAIT”) for the crowd during a Black Muslim rally in New York City on Aug. 6, 1963.

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