UHURU Movement: We Fight Against Governments Not People

This is the third part in our series of interviews with Omali Yeshitela, the founder and Chairman of the Uhuru Movement.

For a movement with a history as rich as the Uhuru Movement, we were interested in finding out about their current activity. As most of us can recall, many Black rights movements of the 70s and 80s like the MOVE and the Black Panthers faced severe persecution (You can find out more from our interviews with former members of the MOVE and the Black Panthers).

However, the Uhuru Movement continues to be a force today. Their calendar for the year is filled with many actions. In this part of our series, Chairman Omali tells us about the plans the Uhuru Movement has for the rest of the year. He also discussed the issue of police brutality and how, as a movement, they are at the forefront of the fight for Black community control of the police.

Part I of the series of interviews with Omali Yeshitela

Part II of the series of interviews with Omali Yeshitela

blackmattersus.com
We understand that you stood for mayor of St. Petersburg, Florida, in 2001 and you had, I think, a 100% of all Black votes but unfortunately you couldn’t win. Do you or the Uhuru Movement still have any political ambitions now?
Omali Yeshitela
Well, everything we do is political. The electoral process is just one expression of political struggle. We represent in the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, perhaps 30% of the population so we had no illusions about being able to take the mayor’s seat. But we did have the ability to use the campaign in this instance, to be able to raise critical questions for African people and to shape how the discussions would occur around important issues of public policy and we succeeded in doing that. As you mentioned, we won virtually every Black precinct and almost every mixed precinct even in the process of losing, so even in losing we won in the sense that we affected the shape of the discussion around that question. But we are involved in political work all the time. For example, right now through the Black is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparation, we are building for a convention on November 5th and 6th in Washington, D.C. in the face of this presidential contest that has liquidated any questions of dealing with the issues of Black people in this country. We have been telling the African population here that you don’t have to rely on whether the Democrats or the Greens or everybody else put you on that platform, our weakness is not that we’re not on their platform, our weakness is that we don’t have our own platform, our own agenda that we’re fighting for, so the Black is Back Coalition which consists of various organizations and institutions throughout this country has initiated, we just did a preparatory conference in Philadelphia in August and we’re going to Washington, D.C in November after having speech conventions in various places throughout the U.S to take this agenda that we have established, and when I say we, I’m talking about through a process that has included African people. We will go to Washington, D.C in November and say this is our agenda. We will have a rally in Malcolm X Park on November 5th, we’ll have a march on the White House, and then on November 6, have the final day of the convention where we will formally adopt on a national level, the Black Political Agenda for Self-determination because when you’re not talking about self-determination, you’re not having a serious discussion about being free. So that’s one. Inside this platform, this agenda that we’ve put forth, is also a demand for proportionate electoral representation to change even how elections are dealt with in this country, that will make at least African people capable of fielding our own political party, dealing with electoral stuff and have reasonable capacity to achieve political power as it is conferred on political parties inside this country. That’s one of the things that we’re doing. But we supported Chokwe Lumumba when he ran for mayor in Jackson, Mississippi, when he did that successfully, we supported other folk even from the Mexican community who’ve done political work on the electoral process and we’ll continue to do that as it serves our interests, where we have no illusions about whether we’re going to win some freedom. They’re not going to put freedom for Black people on the ballot, that’s not going to be one of the ballots.
blackmattersus.com
Now let’s talk about the events you have this calendar year, you have a September convention in Ferguson where you are a key speaker. What key points are you planning to speak on?
Omali Yeshitela
Well, one of the real serious issues that we continue to be confronted with right now is that a lot of people are coming to political consciousness now, but they are without the benefit of having any kind of revolutionary consciousness, revolutionary agenda, revolutionary history and what have you. You’ve got to remember that you mentioned Malcolm X, but the assassination of Malcolm X was a part of that whole process that decapitated much of the African liberation movement in this country and around the world. And so what we’ve seen is that most Africans have gone for more than two generations without the benefit of any kind of revolutionary politic or any essentially revolutionary organization, and certainly without the benefit of a revolutionary agenda being generalized in the consciousness of masses of people. So you’ve got people suddenly coming to political life as of a courageous act of a young working class African of Canfield Drive in Ferguson on August 9 2014, but they haven’t had the benefit of any kind of leadership. So what’s happening with the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement is to open the whole process, to forge, to work to forge, to contribute to forging, an actual agenda. To put forth the agenda for self-determination. This is what we have to do to be a free and self-determining people and to take us out of this ambiguous place where we’re simply, again, talking about hands up, don’t shoot and Black Lives Matter. Here is towards what end: towards self-determination, and when we were laying out the programs to Africans Charge Genocide, to get Black community control of the police, to defend the fight for justice for the 3 Black girls that were drowned by the Pinella County Sheriff’s Department in St. Petersburg on March 31st of this year, to lay out an actual campaign. And also, I like to say that we are concerned about defending all of the African people in this country and in the world. As far as we’re concerned, there’s no justification for the oppression, exploitation of any Black person, not because of gender, not because of sexual orientation, what have you, Black people have to be free, and that’s one of the things that we will be talking about and that’s one of the things you’ll hear expressed. There’ll be discussions about the elections which will be happening in November, I think that among the persons, in addition to myself, in addition to Sister Kalambayi, who is the young woman president of InPDUM, we’re looking to see people like Glen Ford, Zaki Baruti, who is the leader of the Universal African People’s Organization out of St. Louis, just a host of people who’ll be coming from throughout the U.S to participate in helping to shape this discussion, to challenge the existing narrative and to build the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement. 
blackmattersus.com
Yeah, and about taking our power, do you think that Black people should be able to take guns and fight against white supremacists?
Omali Yeshitela
I don’t know what the ‘white supremacists’ here means but I’m talking about the fact that our struggle is not against the group of people who might call themselves or who we might call white supremacists. They are governments, states like the United States of America, France, Germany, Belgium, they have power over our lives. They control us in Africa, they control us here. So whatever white supremacy is, I’m not talking about some gangster organizations like the Ku Klux Klan because the forces that we’re up against are governments with air forces, with national guards, with military troops, some of them domestic that they call the police that can be poured at will to occupy our communities on a daily basis, and it doesn’t matter whether they like us or not as individuals. Some of them are actually married to, sleeping with African people, but they are the government that maintains the oppression of African people. That’s what we’re up against, and sometimes, often and perhaps most often, you see representing the stupid white people who – when I call supremacists or what have you – have been convinced of their superiority, white people over Black people, but our struggle is with those with the power. And after you’ve got rid of every Klan member in the world, you’ll still have to contend with the power of the United States government, the French, the Belgians, and all these white entities that dominate and control Africa and African people. We have to push them out of our lives and take back our own power.
blackmattersus.com
Now let’s talk about more recent issues. Police brutality. What is your mind about the police brutalizing Blacks, or police violence on the Black community?
Omali Yeshitela
Well, the police function in our community like a colonial occupation force functions in every community. The problem that we have is people somehow are convinced that every killing, every act of brutality is some kind of accident or something that’s due to a lack of training, a lack of sensitivity or a lack of cameras, etc., when the reality is if you look at what the police do to us in America, you see it functioning in the same way as the Israeli Defense Forces function in occupied Palestine that they call Israel. You see it acting in the same way as American troops act in Afghanistan, it’s the same thing no matter where you are, under colonial occupation you get killed by occupation forces because that’s their job. The police don’t kill us because they are making a mistake, they kill us because it is their job, their responsibility. Police is an arm of the government, it’s not just a group of guys who get together and invade our community, this is an expression of the government and their killing African people represents government policy no matter what else they say in the world, that’s what it is that we’re looking at. When the system is in a state of crisis, you’ll see an escalation of this kind of violence being directed at African people. So it’s not unexpected to us. It’s not new. We were introduced to America at gunpoint. In fact, the police department in this country was founded as a part of the process of capturing African people who were escaping from this slavery that they had imposed on us. So it’s not something that surprises us and we recognize that what we’re looking at is an enemy force. The police take the African population like an enemy population and from a colonial perspective, we are an enemy population. Anytime you colonize, you should be an enemy population, anytime somebody controls you, takes away your life, your livelihood, the future of your children, put you in a situation where you know that your children will not have a future. I just read something the other day that it would take the average African family in this country 288 years to accumulate the amount of wealth the average white family has. That means never, that means forever our children are doomed to this kind of relationship. And if we are not trying to overturn this relationship, there is no way that we are ever going to catch up especially when the one we’re trying to catch up with determines the speed with which we can move.
blackmattersus.com
What are you doing as a movement to fight police brutality?
Omali Yeshitela
Well, we’re organizing everywhere, again, to fight for Black community control of the police. Right now we don’t have the ability to remove the police totally from our communities so we are organizing African community control of the police.  Black community control of the police is what we are organizing and last year, 2015, in Ferguson, we organized a national conference on Black community control of the police where Africans came from throughout the U.S. Many of us understand that that’s the demand that we have to put out in the world, that there’s a reason why the president of the United States and Hillary Clinton and other people in all the media are simply talking about Black Lives Matter because it doesn’t take you anywhere. But we are organizing everywhere, again, to win Africans to Black community control of the police. In various communities where we’re located, this isn’t just an empty slogan but we’re actually involved in actions, in demonstrations, and around every case of police brutality, murder, demanding Black community control of the police. The other thing we’re doing is we talk about the National Black Political Agenda for Self-determination. This convention that we’ll be having in Washington, D.C in November, on the top of the agenda or near the top of the agenda, is the demand for the immediate withdrawal of the police from the African community for those police forces to be replaced by Black community control of the police. So the most important thing we’re doing is trying to generalize this demand for Black community control of the police.
blackmattersus.com
And what are the dynamics of involvement of the youth in the movement today?
Omali Yeshitela
It’s rapidly growing, younger and younger. In fact we have here in St. Petersburg just these impressive leaders. One of the most impressive leaders in our party in St. Petersburg is someone who just turned 17 a couple of weeks ago and she’s also the person who just led an action at a church that was where the chief of police was supposed to be talking about improving racial relations and things like that. She led the action that disrupted that and put out an incredibly powerful statement, so our movement is growing increasingly young.
blackmattersus.com
Do you collaborate with the HBCU?
Omali Yeshitela
No, we have no open collaborations with HBCUs. That hasn’t happened. In fact, while there are college students involved in the movement, I dare say the majority of the young people are from the community.
blackmattersus.com
Is the current fight only political or you have other means in which you are fighting?
Omali Yeshitela
I don’t know what you mean by ‘only political’ because we see most of what happens as political. We saw the action of Micah Xavier Johnson in Dallas as political, so when you say only political what do you mean? As Malcolm X said by any means necessary, we haven’t closed the door on any method of struggling, what is the question for us is to struggle effectively, to struggle in a fashion that’s consistent with the times in which we live, and by that I mean we have to adapt to certain technology as it’s available to us. And so any means, there are no limitations. We do economic work, we do electoral work when that’s appropriate, we do mass street work, we organize in our communities every day, we’re out with the Burning Spear, our newspaper, every day in our communities taking political education out among the masses of people without whom we’ll never have any real freedom. So there are no limitations that we’ve imposed on ourselves in terms of how we will fight for this freedom.
blackmattersus.com
Have you been able to send some activists or volunteers to help with the current floods in Louisiana?
Omali Yeshitela
No, we have not had the ability to do that. And what we have done through the All African People’s Development Empowerment Project, is to organize an entity that’s called the Black Ankh and we were impressed to do this by what happened with Katrina in Louisiana with African people being trapped where we were and nothing coming from the Red Cross and what have you, and recognizing the responsibility to actually develop our own capacity. In fact, that’s one of the things the All African People’s Development Empowerment Project has been fighting to do, but we have not had the capacity up till now to do what needs to be done in Louisiana subsequent even to Katrina.
blackmattersus.com
Finally, what would you like to say to our readers? Many of them have friends and family who have been killed or brutalized by cops and many of them worry about the future and safety of the Black community in America.
Omali Yeshitela
What I would say is that the people should not despair. That, again, I think it’s really important to remind people that we are oppressed. But for there to be oppression, there must be an oppressor. If we will open our eyes, what we’ll see is that our oppressor is in big trouble all around the world. We can see the decline of white power right before our very eyes, and sometimes what we see is a desperate state. This animal that’s been sorely wounded is lashing out and creating greater crimes against our people. What we have to do is organize and take it upon ourselves to win our own freedom and not rely on a hostile American government. Join the Uhuru Movement, join the African People’s Socialist Party, get organized and we can get freedom. UHURU!

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