Interview with Eljeer Hawkings, Black rights activist and a member of Socialist Alternative.
My name is Eljeer Hawkings. I’m a member of Socialist Alternative. I was born and raised in Harlem, New York. I’ve been an activist for over 22 years and I’ve been writing about race, class, sexuality and gender, with a particular focus on the Black struggle historically and contemporary.[/interview]Our next guest on your voices is Eljeer Hawkings, a community activist from Harlem, New York, who has been a member of the Socialist Alternative for over 21 years. He is an international speaker on topics such as the Black struggle in the United States, the horrors of capitalism and racism. He is also actively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement. Eljeer gave a speech at a recent event organized by Black Matters US in memory of Mike Brown. We caught up with him today to learn about his thoughts on the current Black struggle, and what work he’s doing as an activist to create positive change for Black people here in America.
— Eljeer Hawkins (@EljeerHawkins) October 26, 2016
Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Eljeer Hawkings. I’m a member of Socialist Alternative. I was born and raised in Harlem, New York. I’ve been an activist for over 22 years and I’ve been writing about race, class, sexuality and gender, with a particular focus on the Black struggle historically and contemporary.
Please, tell us more about the Socialist Alternative organization and what you, as its memeber, do.
We’re an organization that has been around for about thirty years. We helped to get the $15 minimum wage bill passed in Seattle, Washington, back in 2014. We helped to get the first socialist city councillor elected to the Seattle City Council in a hundred years, and we’ve led different campaigns in solidarity with the Georgia State prisoners’ strike. We’ve helped to organize and unionize workers, we’ve done tremendous work on the front of raising the need for a political alternative, but even more crucially, raising the ideas of socialism, which this younger generation, particularly African Americans, is very open to. Historically, Black folks have always been anti-imperialist, have always been standing in solidarity with folks who are oppressed around the world, have always been the tipping point for other movements to develop and for other folks to find their own voice and courage to fight against the political elite, US and global capitalism, and international racism.
Does the organization have any connections with Black rights groups like the Black Lives Matter?
We have collaborated with the Black Lives Matter organization in Minneapolis, here in New York, in Seattle, Washington. Of course, Black Lives Matter is very different in every city or state, and it’s very autonomous as an organization. But one of the key things that we just collaborated with different activists was the Black Block the Bunker, which was against an attempt by the Seattle Police Department to open up a new police station. Through a coalition of different activists and organizers, we participated in that struggle, and we were able to stop the police department opening up the station. We believe that for Black Lives Matter to really get a process of digging deeper roots into the Black and brown working class, and among young people, we’ve got to take on certain issues of economic demand as well, like the $15 minimum wage, fighting for affordable housing, fighting around questions of reinstating the citizenship of our formerly incarcerated sisters and brothers. So those are the things that we’ve attempted to engage and try to elevate the conversation.
How long have you been supporting Black rights movements and what inspires you?
I’ve been ever since I was eighteen years old. When I first picked up my first book, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, it set me on fire in the sense of our global struggle. Malcolm X to me, in many ways, is my political father. I met him before I met Karl Marx and he helped me in many ways as a young man from Harlem who didn’t get a lot of Black history at home or in school. What has inspired me is the simple fact that I’ve had the great opportunity to go to Ferguson on three occasions after the murder of Mike Brown. And the subsequent rebellion of the youth of Ferguson, I saw with my own eyes, young people, young women in particular, standing up and declaring that, “When we say Mike Brown, we say fight back.” That was somewhat the chance for the young people in Ferguson to engage in over a hundred days of protest, occupying the very space of his death on one side and the Ferguson police department. That’s the kind of stuff that inspires me, and I’m proud to have those opportunities to engage, to write about, to speak about what has been going on for too long now and how we can, in many ways, begin to challenge the edifice of capitalism and international racism.
You recently took part in the Mike Brown rally which was organized by Black Matters US and you gave a speech. Can you tell our readers what it is that you spoke about?
I tried to make the connection between Mike Brown and Emmett Till, a 14-year-old kid from Chicago, Illinois, who was sent down to Money to stay with his family and was murdered by racists. The imagery of his death and the decision by his mother, Mamie Till, to allow his body to be viewed for the whole world to see what white racism meant for Black folks in the United States in 1955, in many ways, was the linchpin to what we know as the civil rights movement. Some people say it was Rosa Parks, but I would argue that it was Till and his death that really helped to spark the whole process of the civil rights movement. BLM begins after the death of Trayvon Martin, and it is this situation that helped found the hashtag. But I think in the more current situation, the events after Mike Brown really help to shed light on how deep the crisis of capitalism that many working people and of course different people of color are faced with. I also make it very clear that we’re trying to have a sustained movement and continue to grow this movement. We want to build in every community, every workplace, every school. But we’re seeing some Blacks connected to BLM and some not, and I’m thinking of Colin Kaepernick the football player, Jesse Williams and his speech at the Black Entertainment Television Awards, I’m thinking of so many people that have decided to really put under a microscope, American capitalism, so-called American democracy and also the messages of slavery and Jim Crow in bringing the history of racism that we face today.
What do you think about protests around the country against police brutality? Do you support them?
I support them. I also know that we need to have organized concerted efforts that link not only oppressed people but working people, no matter the nationality, ethnicity, sexuality or gender. I think some of the lessons that we can learn from the historic Black struggle, particularly the work of the radical Dr. King and the Poor People’s Campaign, or the Black Panther Party, and the Radical Labor Coalition that was founded in Chicago by the leadership of Hampton is the idea that we need to work together in solidarity with the white working class, poor people, young people, Black and brown, Latino, Asian, gay, lesbian, queer, bisexual, trans, we need a movement of the people by the people. I think we’re at that stage where the protests now have become more of a sustained process that interlocks with the needs and demands like $15 minimum wage, affordable housing, nationalized healthcare, free public education. I think the current situation demands an equal response similar to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
What events or rallies do you have planned for the rest of the year?
Right now we just participated in the Standing Rock demonstration here in New York and also in different Standing Rock mobilizations around the country to support that struggle against the oil pipeline. We’re standing with the indigenous people who have been annihilated by the messengers of big business and the capitalist class. It’s a question of water rights, sacred land and self-determination of indigenous people, so we’ve participated in those demonstrations and have raised our voices in solidarity with those sisters and brothers who are on the frontline against law enforcement terror that has been unleashed on indigenous people as an extension of the same terror that has been unleashed in communities of color, particularly Black and brown communities.
Thank you for spending some time with us today. What are your parting words for our readers?
I have to say thank you for the opportunity to speak. Let’s to continue to organize, let’s continue to focus and let’s get free.