Saturday, April 18, 2020

The legacy of the '60s freedom movement

I was fortunate to be invited to take part in a zoom discussion the other night on  "The Black Freedom Movement Then and Now: Organizing Traditions" with veterans of SNCC and lots of younger, mainly black activists. There was lots of talk about lessons learned from the '60s, including how the Freedom Movement benefited from the election of so many local black elected officials, especially mayors.

But I didn't hear one mention of Joe Biden.

That's not to say that these activists and organizers aren't concerned with the national elections or that Biden's support base doesn't include black voters. It does. In fact, if Biden is successful in defeating Trump in November, he will owe his success primarily to a large turnout of African-American voters, especially from the urban centers of battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, where Democrats lost the election in 2016.

I mention this only to show the disconnect between the SNCC tradition of organizing, which was community-based, and that of some current left and socialist activists who seem to be totally wrapped up in the debate about whether or not to endorse Biden and the Democrats.

In previous posts and continually on our Hitting Left radio show, I have been clear about my own willingness to support any Democratic nominee running against Trump, including Biden. This despite his record of antipathy towards the left and progressivism in general, his threats to veto any Medicare-for-all legislation if he's elected, his weak stand on climate change, and his history of support for imperialist wars abroad and mass incarceration here at home.

That's because, in my view, Trump and Trumpism represent the most reactionary political force in the world today and the most immediate and serious threat to peace and human freedom in the post-WWII era.

Tactically, I'm taking my cues mainly from leading progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders who, to one degree or another, are supporting Biden's election as a way of defeating Trump and pushing forward our progressive agenda.

AOC, whose team is currently meeting with Biden's to try and push that agenda forward, points out:
"We have to live in the reality of those choices even if many people would be 'uncomfortable' with that. It's for me personally very important to be in solidarity with the families that I represent in supporting Joe Biden in November." 
Last week, some 60's SDS members issued a public letter in response to a tweet by the DSA stating that they weren't endorsing Biden.

The letter was addressed to today's "New Left." I've been asked by some friends and younger activists why I didn't sign the letter. (I was the national secretary of SDS in 1968).

In a nutshell, I didn't sign it because I didn't like its patronizing tone and I don't agree with its non-struggle approach towards Biden and the DNC.

I also don't think the exclusively-white group of signers should have designated themselves as the representative of the '60s New Left, which often rightfully took leadership and inspiration from SNCC and the Black Freedom Movement. There's nothing drawn from our own experiences as young radicals in the '60s that shapes this didactic warning to DSA'ers.

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