June 18, 2004
I began this day in Turin, Italy. And actually, today for me began in your yesterday. I haven't had access to the internet for three days. And I haven't been able to research and prepare the way I normally would for remarks and an audience of this magnitude.
So, in advance, I ask you to please pardon me.
My son just graduated from the International School of Turin; that's what took me to Italy. But with his graduation ceremony having been accomplished, there was nothing that was going to keep me away from you tonight. For in my estimation, NCOBRA is the preeminent activist black organization of our day.
During the two years that I've been out of Congress, I've had the opportunity to travel to places far and near. From Philadelphia, USA to Berlin, Germany, a contingent of NCOBRA members has always been there to greet me. Your engagement in every nook and cranny of America, and globally, positions you for 21st Century leadership.
In Philadelphia, I asked the question, "What becomes of a community when it has allowed all its tree shakers to be 'neutralized' and all the fruit is gone?"
Just for the record, I cast my lot with the tree shakers, as I know you do. Marcus Garvey; Malcolm X; Martin Luther King, Jr.; Fred Hampton; all the Black Panthers murdered and incarcerated as a result of the FBI's illegal and immoral activities during the COINTELPRO era were tree shakers. This country has only lived up to its ideals when tree shakers got busy doing what tree shakers do. John and Bobby Kennedy were tree shakers, too. J. Edgar Hoover, George Herbert Walker Bush, and George W. show us what our country can become when we don't field a steady team of tree shakers. Patrice Lumumba and President Aristide are reminders of what can happen to us when we fail to field a full team, equipped with fresh replacements.
Our struggle is a relay race, not a marathon. It's not fair for us to pass little progress on to the next generation. The tree shakers create opportunity for others because they bring the fruit--the fruit of inclusion, the fruit of prosperity, the fruit of justice--within easy reach of everybody. The 14th and 15th Amendments are fruit--the result of tree-shaking. Reconstruction is fruit--the result of tree-shaking. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act--all the results of massive tree-shaking. Even Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson--the results of tree-shaking--were setbacks that let us know exactly where we stood with our beloved America. They are the work of dedicated, activist tree shakers like us. They taught us that tree shaking can take place in law office suites as well as in ghetto streets. But one thing is clear--tree shaking bears fruit.
But what else should be clear is that tree-shaking can also be dangerous. Tree shakers have to agitate. And if they're not protected, they can be picked off one by one.
Marcus Garvey shook the tree, the Garvey family paid the price. Geronimo Pratt Ji Jaga shook the tree, Geronimo Ji Jaga paid the price. But from the sacrifice of them all, I picked up the fruit, you picked up the fruit. But also, Ward Connerly, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Clarence Thomas picked up the fruit, too.
And that's the remarkable thing that's happening before our very eyes. When you and I pick up the fruit, we make ourselves and our children strong for the next round of tree-shaking, agitating, progress. But when they pick up the fruit, the agitation ends and self-satisfaction begins. The relay--the handoff to the next generation--gets weaker rather than stronger. And now it seems there's more of them than there are of us--unless we make our voices louder.
It seems that the court priests have proliferated on our watch. The court priests are the COINTELPRO leaders who cry peace, peace when there is no peace. The media tell us we should look up to the court priests: they include many of our politicians and our organizations. The court priests are the ones National Security Council Memorandum #46 referred to when it said that they would get "their" blacks elected and appointed to office because they would be more loyal to the system than to our community. And once we understand what has been done to our leadership, then we can begin to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive looks the same in almost any city in America. Despite the ascent of thousands of blacks to public office, for far too many the conditions remain abject: abject poverty, or abject abuse, or abject injustice.
How else could Hull House in Chicago produce a report last year saying that it would take black Chicagoans 200 years to close the black-white quality-of-life gap? Or United for a Fair Economy in its State of the Dream 2004 Report informs us that the racial disparities on some indices are worse now than when Dr. King was murdered. Or the 2004 National Urban League State of Black America report that reminds us that at this country's inception we were counted as three-fifths of a white person, but that over 200 years later, our "net equality" has only grown by 13 percentage points. Or the Harvard University symposium that found that even with money and insurance, black patients receive a lower standard of health care. The recommendation? Go to black doctors!
United for a Fair Economy tells us that it will take us a decade to close the high school graduation gap; seven decades to close the college graduation gap; 581 years to close the per capita income gap; and 1,664 years to close the homeownership gap. Our children sing "I wanna lick you all over" and network television is the balm that encourages us to laugh at ourselves rather than to change these statistics.
While the black body politic is becoming comatose, the court priests tell us all is well. In fewer than ten years after the glorious successes of the 1960s, our body politc received its first blow: the Bakke Decision that gave rise to the whole "quota" debate. Subsequent Supreme Court decisions took turns delivering sustained and effective blows: economic affirmative action in Croson and Adarand; political affirmative action in Shaw v. Reno and my redistricting case, the Johnson v. Miller case.
The end of the Second Reconstruction is nearly complete.
The black body politic has been invaded by COINTELPRO agents, rendering us impotent and near dead. Our community didn't organize a defense when the tree-shakers were targeted. Now the trees bear strange fruit.
A strange fruit, indeed with at least three 21st Century lynchings.
And so, with defenses down, you could say that the black body politic has been invaded by a foreign, hostile agent. Thus, my question in Philadelphia: What happens to a community when all the fruit is gone?
The reason I've braved 15 hours in various airports today is because I believe you are the doctor, the prescription, and the pharmacist. You are the organization to bring the black community back to good health.
When a body gets cancer, nothing short of irradiation or extreme chemotherapy is called for. Radical action is required to get at the root of the problem. Sometimes even, the body is shocked by the treatment. But the treatment heals the body and completely excises the cancerous cells from it. You are here in Washington, DC to begin the irradiation.
But the treatment cannot be local. This cancer has spread and treatment must be administered to every extremity. In addition, in order to be effective, the medication must be able to discern the healthy cells from the cancerous ones. The medication has to call the bad cells out! The medication, though severe, eliminates the problem and the physician keeps watch over the patient to prevent any return of the disease.
The answer to my question, then, is clear. Either the community that loses all its tree shakers and its fruit dies or it is revived.
COINTELPRO was about the black body politic dying. Ever since J. Edgar Hoover wrote in 1919 that Marcus Garvey "excited the Negroes," all it has taken to get targeted has been the ability to "excite the Negroes." Let's get excited ya'll! Cause that's when we're healthiest.
But, when a community's leadership is targeted by government action to "neutralize" it; such that the community is unable to defend itself against its intentional destruction; and when that destruction comes at the hands of a government, then I call that genocide.
I ask that this conference not be considered an event, but a process. Please include me as a part of your process. For I believe that you are our last great hope before complete collapse.
Be bold, be braze, but be prepared.
Literally the whole world is watching and wishing us success.