So much information and lessons; too little time. So much work and education taking place on the ground across the U.S. South and Global South; so much more to learn and share! Close to one hundred activists and organizers from several states across the US South gathered over the weekend of the United Nations-recognized International Human Rights Day, Dec. 10. They met at the Southern Human Rights Organizers Conference (SHROC) to renew, re-energive, strategize, connect, teach and learn in order to strengthen human rights struggles across the US South. The conference was held at the historic Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi which sits flush next to Jackson, MS.
Workers' Rights Are Human Rights; Health Care is a Human Right!
SHROC plays a pivotal role in educating local communities and movement activists and organizers how the daily struggles that they fight are against violations of their human rights- rights recognized by the international community but ignored by the U.S. system and constitution. Human rights are even more basic than those rights supposedly granted by U.S. constitution. Over the years, SHROC has provided trainers and materials for communities and workers on how a particular issue is a human right. The conference opened with a Human Rights Institute, a plenary where human activists walked the audience through the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Before splitting up in groups to analyze a case study, conference attendees, who spanned from Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Virginia, Texas and a few northern states as well, were provided the real history of how the Declaration was dumbed down from a legally binding treaty because the US did not want the international community exposed to the explosive demands by the Black Freedom Movement of the time against systemic racist attacks, genocide and oppression.
International Solidarity is more than Charity
Showing how struggles across the Global South are about the same issues and often are parallel with each other was the objective of the international panel, "striking Back at the Empire". Sister Charo Minas Rojas of the Black Communities' Process of Columbia, Central America spoke of struggles for development and self-identity by the Afro-Colombian communities in that country. "Maria," an activist and supporter of the Council of Mothers of May 2 spoke on the horrendous massacre of opposition in the republic of the Ukraine. On May 2, 2014 Ukrainian activists opposing Russian takeover in the City of Odessa were trapped inside a building which was then set on fire. 46 people died. Ray LaForest of the Haiti Support Network gave a people's history of Haiti, exposing the brutal and exploitative relationship that the U.S., France and the West has had with Haiti causing the tragic situation that the Haitian people find themselves in now. He also reported on manipulation of the recent elections in Haiti by US AND forces controlling the United Nations.
Ana Edwards, of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project rounded out the panel, explaining the historical and cultural importance of the Shockoe Bottom African Burial Ground in Richmond, Virginia to the true telling of Black people's resistance in the United States to slavery and oppression. Richmond's African Burial Ground was active from before 1750 through 1816. It is notable for being Richmond's first municipal cemetery that was open to the burials of Black people, and for being the site of the city gallows where many of the members of the slave revolt of 1800 were hanged, including its principle organizer and strategist, 24-year old enslaved blacksmith Gabriel, known at the time as "General Gabriel", on Oct. 10, 1800. SHROC Board member, former executive director of the US Human Rights Network and Green Party Vice-Presidential candidate, Ajamu Baraka chaired the session. He gave an analysis of the recent US elections as a fight within the US ruling class: between those in the US representing expanding global capitalism (the Clintons etc.) and those, represented by Trump, who wish to keep capitalism focussed within the US. He also called out the Democratic Party by pointing out that there is a "pattern of repression" against Black people and the working class in cities across the country - most of them "administered and mangaed by the Democrats."
Jailing Our Mandelas As Well As Patriarchy Are Human Rights Violations, Too!
The United States likes to point a finger at other countries, accusing them of jailing dissidents; and a finger at itself claiming there are no political in this country. But Ruchell Magee, co-defendant with the famous Angela Davis is the longest held political prisoner in the world - held captive for 53 years in a California cell. SHROC recognized the inter-relatedness of the mass incarceration of mainly Black and Brown people, underdevelopment of Black communities and the jailing of those who stand against these forms of oppression. In highlighting the human restoration and community development programs such as in Magnolia, Ms lead by Mayor Anthony Witherspoon, Cooperation Jackson and by Melaney Batiste, SHROC lifted up Black community building of collective community economic and social power.
SHROC conferences are always known for mobilizing conference attendees to take direct action.. This weekend that took two forms: through social media and boots on the ground. After cultural political activist and former political prisoner Bilal Sunni Ali of the Imam Jamil Action Network, took the conference to school about the history of Black Resistance in the Western Hemisphere, Members of the audience pulled out their cell phones and electronically signed the petition calling for the medical release of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, formerly known as H. Rap Brown. Folks were also directed to the petitions for the release of Freedom Fighters Mutulu Shakur, Leonard Peltier and Oscar Lopez Rivera.
All Black Lives Matter: A powerful panel addressed patriarchy, academic and political activists guided and broke barriers in the audience in defining and challenging patriarchy. Cazembe Jackson, Ash-Lee Henderson, Jessica Pierce and Rose Brewer, among others, gave and set examples, smashing stereotypes of the LGTBQ community and ways in which people, and women in particular, of that community are marginalized, attacked, ignored within and outside social justice movements.
Dying on the Nissan Assembly Line
SHROC took the traditional direct action in support of a local struggle in the host city. SHROC XX was no different. Conference goers shouted and chanted at an evening rally in front of the nearby Canton, Mississippi plant. Nissan workers described their 12 year fight with the transnational auto giant to win a union in their facility which makes the Murano and Rogue vehicles. Nissan operates 45 plants around the world; workers in all but the 3 plants in the US have unions.
And while the Mississippi plant pays more than the local surrounding area's general level of wages, its pay and benefits are dwarfed by the 42 other plants in the rest of the world. And, Nissan is adept at wringing the most out of worker production by keeping working conditions and pressure almost completely unbearable. There are cases of workers wearing diapers, and others soiling themselves because of not being allowed to go to the bathroom. Local faith leaders have formed a rapid response network for when workers need some outside support, such as when Nissan security refused to allow an ambulance onto the property when a worker suffered a heart attack and died on the assembly line. Conference goers from North Carolina remarked that these kinds of strategies have also been documented at other manufacturers' plants in North Carolina and other parts of the South, such as poultry and textile plants.
Culture & History As Weapon
Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of this SHROC Conference was the grounding which it was given by sponsorship and active participation by several local area organizations, most notably The Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and Cooperation Jackson. Represented by legendary and down-to-earth human rights soldier Hollis Watkins Muhammad and their executive director, sister Cynthia Goodloe-Palmer, the "Mississippi Vets" brought to the conference the sense of deep history of struggle of the state.
Besides honoring, posthumously, Activist Jackson, MS Mayor Chokwe Lumumba, Nubia Lumumba and Dr. L. C. Dorsey, SHROC organizers awarded the Fannie Lou Hamer Southern Human Rights Award to local legends Arekia Bennett, Flonzie Brown-Wright, her daughter Cynthia Goodloe-Palmer, MS State Rep. Robert Clark, Hollis Watkins Muhammad and incoming Highland Center Co-Director, Ash-Lee Henderson. These awards were presented during a powerful Cultural Explosion of song, drama, and spoken word by young artists from the region, including Black Men Rising from New Orleans, MADDRAMA (spoken word and drama group) from Jackson State University, poets M.U.G.A.B.E.E. with his tribute to Bro. Chokwe ("FreeTheLand Man"), New Danger, Shanina Carmichael & Amari Minka, and Krystal Jackson. Saxophonist Bilal Sunni Ali blew everybody away with his sounds reminiscent of John Coltrane while conference organizer Jaribu Hill did the same with her spoken words dedicated to Nubia Lumumba.
The international and political prisoner themes were taken up again with film showings of the Odessa, Ukraine Massacre, the documentary, 13, exposing legal slavery and mass incarceration in the US. 13 refers to the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution that outlawed slavery except for punishment of a crime. Also shown was a documentary interview with US political prisoner Jalil Muntaqim. The conference site itself was on the campus of historically Black Tougaloo College; a private institution known locally for its historic stance in acting as a haven for 1960s civil rights demonstrators.
Shafeah M'Balia is a member of Black Workers For Justice and the Imam Jamil Action Network and Director of The Communiversity