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Third World Resistance: Reclaiming the radical Dr. King to protest police and prisons

February 1, 2015

by Mohamed Shehk

Dr. King devoted his life to struggle. The end of his career was characterized by a devout rejection of militarism, economic inequality, racism and imperialism. Yet state sponsored commemorations on MLK Day have consistently left out this narrative.

On Friday, Jan. 16, to kick off the #ReclaimMLK weekend, protesters with Third World Resistance chained themselves to the Oakland Federal Building entrances, shutting it down for four hours and 28 minutes. – Photo: Critical Resistance

On Friday, Jan. 16, to kick off the #ReclaimMLK weekend, protesters with Third World Resistance chained themselves to the Oakland Federal Building entrances, shutting it down for four hours and 28 minutes. – Photo: Critical Resistance

They have chosen instead to construct an image of a harmless saint who dreamt of peace for all, not of a civil rights leader who believed in freedom and the radical transformation of U.S. economic and political power structures or a Black political figure who was harassed and threatened by the FBI. In our first post-Ferguson MLK weekend, people around the country mobilized to stop the fairy tales and to honor Dr. King’s legacy the way he would have wanted it – through massive demonstrations, direct actions and shutdowns.

Communities across the country took up the call from Ferguson to #ReclaimMLK from the “efforts to soften, sanitize and commercialize” Dr. King’s life and struggle. Thousands took to the streets in cities including Philadelphia, NYC, Oakland, LA, Boston and Phoenix.

In the Bay Area, protesters shut down the San Mateo bridge during the evening rush hour, disrupted BART stations in San Francisco, and gave Oakland’s new pro-police mayor a wakeup visit at the break of dawn.

Critical Resistance joined allies in Third World Resistance (TWR), a new formation of various organizations coming together to stand with the heightened Black struggle in the U.S. while connecting it to anti-imperialist movements for self-determination internationally.

To kickoff MLK weekend, activists with TWR chained themselves to the doors of the Federal Building in Oakland, shutting it down for four hours and 28 minutes. The four hours honor the memory of Michael Brown, whose body lay in the streets of Ferguson for more than four hours after he was killed by a police officer. The 28 minutes highlight the startling fact that every 28 hours a Black person is killed by police, security or vigilantes in this country.

In our first post-Ferguson MLK weekend, people around the country mobilized to stop the fairy tales and to honor Dr. King’s legacy the way he would have wanted it – through massive demonstrations, direct actions and shutdowns.

They said they targeted the federal building “because of its role in promoting a war on Black people and people’s struggles for self-determination in the U.S. and around the world. Protecting their imperialist economic interests, the U.S. and its collaborators like Israel and its puppet states like the Philippines are co-developing and deploying military and policing tactics in an attempt to perfect techniques of counter- insurgency, crowd and population control, surveillance and the militarization of local police forces.”

Speaking at a rally outside the federal building, Kamau Walton of CR Oakland stressed the importance of sustaining the growing momentum of anti-policing organizing in the U.S., while connecting it to the fight against imprisonment, global policing and imperialism: “It is really empowering to see our communities rising up against the violent policing of Black people.

“But we must also be just as enraged at the violence that is harder to see, the violence of our people disappearing into cages. This country, which locks up more people than any other, plays a hand in locking up even more beyond its borders by exporting and sharing tactics and models of repression with oppressive governments, from Israel to Haiti and the Philippines.”

Organizers of the march and shutdown represented the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Haiti Action Committee, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Bayan-USA and the Xican@ Moratorium.

Organizers of the march and shutdown represented the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Haiti Action Committee, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Bayan-USA and the Xican@ Moratorium.

The action highlighted Dr. King’s commitment to internationalism and his belief that freedom can only be achieved through confronting “international militarism, racism, imperialism and an unworkable capitalism that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.” It is these beliefs that people chose to remember and take to the streets for MLK weekend.

With the shutdown of the Federal Building in Oakland and numerous other actions and mobilizations gaining national and international attention, the state and liberals are going to have a difficult time continuing to whitewash Dr. King’s radical legacy as the resistance against policing continues to spread.

“As the state attempts to tamp down the rising fists of dissent, people’s movements in Ferguson, Haiti, Palestine, the Philippines and across the globe are only intensifying. And as an extension, today in the Bay Area, we are organizing together and deepening our collective commitment to the increasingly militant struggle for Black liberation and self-determination. We know that we cannot fight imperialism abroad unless we fight its domestic manifestation – violent racist policing – in our own streets,” the organizers explained.

They quoted Dr. King’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered at Riverside Church: “Before long they must know that their government has sent them into a struggle among Vietnamese, and the more sophisticated surely realize that we are on the side of the wealthy, and the secure, while we create a hell for the poor. Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now.

“I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home, and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.”

The action highlighted Dr. King’s commitment to internationalism and his belief that freedom can only be achieved through confronting “international militarism, racism, imperialism and an unworkable capitalism that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.”

And they quoted Malcolm X as well: “It is incorrect to classify the revolt of the Negro as simply a racial conflict of Black against White, or as a purely American problem. Rather, we are today seeing a global rebellion of the oppressed against the oppressor, the exploited against the exploiter.”

Among the principal organizers of the protest were Sanyika Bryant of the Malcom X Grassroots Movement, Ayana Labossiere of the Haiti Action Committee, Lara Kiswani of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Rhonda Ramiro of Bayan-USA and Aurora Lopez of the Xican@ Moratorium.

Mohamed Shehk of Critical Resistance can be reached at mohamed@criticalresistance.org. Bay View staff contributed to this story.

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