Electoral politics, capitalism and White liberals make for a tough terrain. And like Killer Mike in the video below i too have made serious errors when it comes to use of symbolism, historical reference and have had a few momentary lapses of reason (s/o Pink Floyd) when considering the value of voting and African America as a powerhouse voting block. In the video Killer Mike plays his apparent role for the very White and liberal Bernie Sanders campaign and tries desperately to convince folks in a Black south carolina barbershop to “Feel the Bern” poorly using references to Malcolm X and Dr. King to do so. The problem is that these kinds of symbolic references often speak against the ideas and work of those referenced and worse softens the potential radical and mass impact of the original.
In 2007-’08 i briefly ran for the Green Party nomination for president and developed the phrase, “Turning the Green Party into a Red, Black and Green Party.” i remember that after an interview for a radio show i once hosted the late Steve Cokely responded to my idea by saying that Red, Black and Green has a specific Black Nationalist / Marcus Garvey cultural politics attached to it that he said, “won’t allow for that kind of co-opting.” i had the idea (fantasy?) that a peoples’-centric, hip-hop infused and delivered campaign could as we attempted to say, “create a new political party, one that currently does not exist, one made up largely of the many Black, LatinX, Indigenous and working people who either don’t vote at all or who have that as their only real political activity.” But Cokely’s point, as i continue to understand it, was that the culture and politics associated with the symbol i was (positively?) appropriating was powerfully dissimilar to the kind of politics in which we were then engaged and that use of the Green Party as an outlet or extension of those politics was a mistake we would not overcome.
Perhaps Cokely was right. But my thought then and now is that if voting was/is to have any real value it would be in giving us something around which we could encourage more radical forms of organization and movement making. If all we were asking was that people register and vote for a campaign that represented real change then we may see that lead to other forms of unsanctioned radicalism, the kinds we need still so badly. But that was our point, unsanctioned action. At least the attempt to develop a truly people’s based campaign and party was/is unsanctioned and, therefore, most potentially fruitful.
Killer Mike is making a similar mistake in his approach here to Black voters but takes it in a different direction. Mike uses the symbolism of that necessary but unsanctioned behavior and attempts to have it be what draws people back into acceptable behavior. By making reference to the symbols of Dr. King and Malcolm X and distilling the political visions of those men into something that presents Bernie Sanders as a logical extension of their ideas Mike seriously disturbs the history and ideas involved. Malcolm X was clear in his argument about how Black voting blocks should be used and, of course, never considered voting as a method for organizing and/or bringing about a revolution. Malcolm argued that if voting was to be the project at all it was to be conducted via a far more radical politics, with registration drives to develop an “independent voter” to run “independent candidates” who represented the genuine interests of Black people. He wasn’t talking about convincing Black voters that an establishment politician, even one evoking the words “independent” and “socialist,” was the pathway to power and liberation. King said very little about voting at the end of his life and focused more on developing similarly independent Black movements that would directly confront and challenge power (sit-ins, redirecting rent money, etc.).
Both men represented tendencies among Black and oppressed communities to radically break from established order and to develop movements that threaten established order. Mike’s rendition of these men’s ideas supports a very opposing trend. Because even with his expressed ideas being an improvement Sanders is no revolutionary or representative of a revolutionary organization. Instead Sanders runs now with the party where “progressive movements go to die.”
Both of us fucked up. My error was perhaps a mistaken approach at a bad time. We didn’t have all that was/is needed to build something using the symbolism of Red, Black and Green in an attempt to bring the world’s majority into ultimately forming a new a political party. And perhaps our (mis)use of the Red, Black and Green as a symbol for a North American electoral campaign was inappropriate. Mike’s mistake here is to appropriate radical symbolism for the purpose of bringing Black people into a campaign and party that abhors the interests, ideas and people represented in the symbols of Malcolm and Martin. But it remains that if we are to consider the vote then we have to work more consistently to develop alternative parties like the Ujima People’s Progress Party or, if race and national identities aren’t one’s primary radical focus, the Party for Socialism and Liberation or even still the Green Party. Or as we once argued, we need to develop something that currently doesn’t exist. At minimum we need to be more appropriate with our appropriations. i would rather that we spend more time doing the work of Malcolm and Martin, the building of radical organizations and movements whose primary focus is not the vote but the development and implementation of wonderfully revolutionary ideas. Only then will voting really mean anything or present itself as a pathway to change.