Remembering Afeni Shakur: Our Own Black Shining Princess (cont.)
I can't remember where or when I first met Afeni Shakur. I know we had come to know each other by 1981. As Chairman of the Black United Front (BUF), I delivered my annual message, primarily, although not exclusively, to the BUF members.
The meeting took place at my church, The House of the Lord Church, in Brooklyn, NY. A part of my message was critical of our Movement. I thought we had become too predictable in our verbiage and tactics. We needed to find language that could say what we wanted to say but would have a stronger and larger appeal.
I knew I would not get an overwhelmingly positive response from the membership. In fact, I was prepared for deep and extensive criticism, but Afeni was conspicuously vocal and demonstrative in support of the message. Years later, while sitting at the kitchen table at her home in Atlanta, GA, and talking about bygone years, I asked her, "Why were you so boisterous in support of my speech?" She said, "I had been saying the same things, but I was criticized and even threatened. They thought I had changed."
I want to share excerpts from my BUF speech. I believe my criticisms and suggestions have special relevance today. The Black Lives Matter Movement, along with other movements, have brought us to a time, not unlike the time of my NBUF speech. The concerns, issues, tactics, strategies, policies, and conditions bear striking similarities. Hopefully, something can be learned that will enable us to take giant strides in our continuing struggle for freedom, justice, and equality.
A Speech Delivered to the Metropolitan Chapter of the Black United Front at the House of the Lord Church, April 14, 1981.
“…We are in a war - a war that is sometimes subtle and sometimes flagrant, but always destructive. War means killing and destroying, and that is precisely what is happening to us. Thus, it is imperative that we learn and apply certain principles which are employed during times of war, and I am not necessarily talking about violence and weaponry. I am thinking about a more sophisticated kind of war-making: identifying allies and real enemies, developing different approaches at different times, knowing when to sound militant and when to moderate the language, when to threaten and when to talk peace, when to be diplomatic and when to be strident, when to confront and when to compromise, and when to brandish a sword and when to bury it.
"I am referring to the 'Art of War.' That is what Sun T. Yzu called it. Yes, war is an art. How do you think Mao won in China; Nkrumah won in Africa; Ayatolia Khomeini won in Iran; the Patriotic Front won in Zimbabwe; Maurice Bishop in Grenada; Toussaint L'Ouverture beat the French; Castro conquered Batista; Ho Chi Min won in Vietnam; and, everybody else? Is it because they had more firepower? No. They won because they learned the ‘Art of War.’ Remember, all the huge animals are gone - the Tyrannosaurus and the other dinosaurs, while the small animals are still with us. We must outthink our enemy, not outmuscle him. It is the best mind or the best thinker who wins in the end.
"Mao said, 'When the enemy advances, we retreat; when the enemy halts, we harass; when the enemy seeks to avert battle, we attack. When the enemy retreats, we pursue.'
"Lenin said, 'No war can be won by the adoption of a static attitude, to tie our hand beforehand, openly to tell the enemy, who is at present better armed than we are, whether we shall fight him and when is stupidity not revolutionism. To accept battle at a time when it is obviously advantageous to the enemy and not to us is a crime. And, the political leader of the revolutionary class who is unable to 'tack, maneuver, and compromise in order to avoid an obviously disadvantageous battle is absolutely worthless.'
***(I never understood President Barack Obama, or any leader, when they announce to the world, especially their enemies when they are going to stop fighting. Nor do I understand the critics of President Obama demanding to know his strategy for the war against our enemies. I must say that I agree with Donald Trump at least partially so when he talks about flexibility. Our friends and allies must be assured of loyalty and consistency. Our enemies need to know that we are flexible and we will try anything, anytime, anywhere.)
"This flexibility, this art of war, is not easy to adopt. The stiffest opposition will come from one's own people. They will strive to perpetuate an image of the leader and organization that they first knew or which first attracted them. They have grown comfortable with the image. If they have benefited or made some progress, to change or shift now, will be all the more difficult. But, there are times when a leader must lead, and it is always true that leadership is risky business. History often shows that a leader is crucified by his own people.
"Let me try something on you. We are always expressing our Anti-Americanism. We have heavy rhetoric on our hatred for everything American, and justifiably so. America deserves all the anger and contempt we can pour on her. But, what does this do? It wins some ‘yeah's' and 'right on's' from the brothers and sisters, but it keeps ordinary brothers and sisters neutralized for the most part, or at least, it does not expand our support among our own people. In addition, running a heavy anti-American, 'I-hate-the-flag' rap gives our enemies more ammunition.
"Posturing themselves as gleaming patriots, they condemn us for being unpatriotic, which we are, according to their definition and the definition they have made people accept. If you talk in those anti-American terms, the adversary will label you socialist, communist, etc. We would be wise to reject his definition of the kind of society we want. We should say, 'You can call it what you will, but I am describing a social order I would love to see exist.'
"You see, 'socialist', 'communist', and 'revolutionary' are terms you should be very careful about using because people in the United States of America have been brainwashed into believing that anybody who is a socialist, communist, or revolutionary is some kind of monster. To accept the socialist, communist, and revolutionary labels are to put you at an unnecessary disadvantage.
"As Malcolm X said, 'And, I don't believe that groups should refer to themselves as 'leftist,' 'rightist,' or middle-ist.' I think they should just be whatever they are. Don't let people put labels on themselves and don't put them on yourself, Sometimes, a label can kill you.’
"Suppose we say, 'Let's make America what America ought to be.’ First of all, it takes moral, patriotic posturing away from your enemy. Secondly, to say you want to make America what America ought to be can mean all the things we talk about in our wildest revolutionary moment.
"What is it that America ought to be? If you had the power what would you make America? Well, it ought to be a land where freedom, justice, and equality abide; a land where there is quality education, medical services, and employment for all; a land where democracy and economic fairness exist - where there is war against racist, fascist, and imperialist regimes anywhere; and, a land that supports freedom struggles in the world and opens its door to all who are fleeing oppression. Can anybody argue with that?
“As a person and/or movement grows they must find language to express their expanding vision; and, if the vision is authentic, it must encompass the world, yet include - in a special way - the most oppressed.” The greatness of Malcolm X and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther. King, Jr. surely was due to no small measure to this universality and particularity. They were ever-growing; and, therefore, ever reaching for language to articulate their universality.
To be continued…