Fired up: leaders of color meet in Los Angeles to map radical strategies

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When the National Comrades of Color Caucus of the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) and Radical Women (RW) convened in vibrant, sunny Los Angeles on January 14, members brought with them a renewed sense of optimism. And they left the four-day meeting in even higher spirits.

The months before the caucus’ fourth national plenum were marked by militant actions throughout the hemisphere. Protesters shut down the World Trade Organization in Seattle, rallied against police brutality in New York, and filled the streets in Cuba to demand that the U.S. return young Elián González.

The National Comrades of Color Caucus (NCCC) met to take stock of campaigns like these, evaluate our recent work, plan upcoming priorities, and strengthen our leadership skills.

The plenum itself, held in the beautiful new headquarters of FSP and RW in South Central Los Angeles, was a testament to members’ political growth. Newer and younger NCCCers offered dynamic presentations and played key organizational roles. Further inspiration was provided by a one-day open conference at which guest speakers and caucus members offered powerful arguments for the importance of people of color, women, youth, and queers to every workingclass fight.

Keen appraisals of global conditions.

Emily Woo Yamasaki, local CCC coordinator and RW organizer in New York, opened the plenum with an overview of the world situation, one defined by crises of leadership.

The capitalists, she said, are in a quandary over the failure of “free trade” and privatization to restore their system to health. At the same time, there is a dearth of radical leadership in the social movements — including the movements of people of color.

This is what makes the job of the NCCC so important. “The plenum,” Yamasaki said, “will address the need to teach, train and deepen our workingclass, Trotskyist and feminist traditions and skills.”

Moisés Montoya, a gay unionist from San Francisco born to Mexicano parents, discussed his paper “Mexico Today: Volcano in the Corn Field.” Montoya emphasized Mexico’s historical relevance to revolt throughout the Americas, citing as recent examples the profound influence of the Zapatista insurgency against the North American Free Trade Agreement and of the nearly yearlong student strike at the National Autonomous University of Mexico to save free public education.

The NCCC invited FSP and RW colleague Adrienne Weller, a Jewish activist in Portland, Oregon, to speak on “The Jewish Question and its Relationship to the Race Question.” Weller outlined Jewish history to show how both anti-Semitism and racism are rooted in capitalist development and how people of color and Jews have time and again allied to combat discrimination.

Discussions also covered the state of the African American, Latino/Chicano, Asian Pacific American and Native movements; the militancy of immigrants in the U.S. labor movement; the role of queers of color in the gay movement; and the merging of the prison system and big business.

A common theme in all these discussions was the concept of revolutionary integration. Struggles against racism, speakers noted, tend overwhelmingly to insist on integration, to demand that people of color not be forced to segregate or relegated to the back of the bus. And this demand for inclusion in all levels of society is by nature revolutionary, because its accomplishment requires replacing capitalism, a system that absolutely relies on inequality, with a democratic socialist society in which there is no material basis for oppression.

This means that liberation for people of color — the majority of whom are low-paid workers — is a class question.

NCCCers agreed that our task is clear: to be on the front lines educating, organizing, and uniting people of all colors into a powerful movement that will courageously raise the banner of socialism, the path to true liberty and happiness for all humanity.

Talkin’ about a revolution.

A plenum highlight was a one-day public conference featuring morning and afternoon panels.

All three speakers at the first forum, “Feminism: Catalyst for a Revitalized Movement,” delved into the organic link between socialism and feminism. They generated lively discussion from a diverse, standing-room-only audience.

Black Radical Congress leader Lissa Washington discussed how socialist feminism is the logical response to the brutalities of capitalism and the key role of African American women leaders. Betty Chan, a law student at the University of California at Los Angeles, emphasized the importance of education as the basis for activism. And Moisés Montoya addressed the stake that men have in recognizing women’s political leadership and how by fighting for women’s freedom they fight for their own.

The mood remained spirited during the second panel, “Youth Speak Out.” Cheryl Deptowicz of Los Angeles and Fides Daruthayan and Christina López of Seattle spoke about their experiences in the movements to free Black revolutionary Mumia Abu-Jamal, to defend affirmative action, and to beat back fascist attacks. All three talks vividly brought out two things: the vital role that young people are playing in various campaigns, and the necessity to form united fronts — organizations that bring together groups and individuals who are politically disparate but share a basic workingclass program and a specific goal.

The open conference ended with dinner and an enthusiastic songfest in English and Spanish.

Ready to take on the world.

NCCCers wrapped up the plenum with two workshops; an evaluation of our extensive work in the movements during the past period; and a discussion setting goals for the next.

All members believed that our top priorities should be education, training, and recruitment, and we took as a model the plenum itself. In the course of organizing the meeting, veteran leaders like national caucus coordinator Yolanda Alaniz trained newer members like Cheryl Deptowicz, the plenum co-coordinator, in everything from the Marxist analytical method to chairing a public meeting.

By concentrating on study, skills-building, and inviting like-minded people to join us, NCCCers know that we will strengthen our own leadership and help to create new leaders. And that is what is necessary to take full advantage of all the new opportunities that the 21st century brings us.

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