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Do we need to have a new type of activism? Part 2

CONTEMPORARY MOVEMENT: Black Lives Matter has gained momentum in the last few years after a spate of videoed instances of police brutality against black people (image credit: Every Voice)

PART 1 of this piece was published yesterday at 7am GMT.

PART 2:

However, this does not necessarily mean that the Conservative government under her leadership is about to seriously make changes to deal with the issues her comments highlighted or take up its IDPAD obligations.

Although her government’s response to enquiries about IDPAD elicits a “no specific plans” answer, activists nevertheless need to challenge her on not only her mission “to make Britain a country that works for everyone” but also United Kingdom’s obligations to effectively address the structural issues that give rise to UN initiatives such as IDPAD, Anti-Racism Day, and the International Convention On The Elimination Of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination.

It’s worth noting that it’s only in recent times that the Conservatives have been able to attract people of African descent away from their traditional political home, which is the Labour Party. So although since 2005 the Conservatives have been slowly producing black MPs, and currently have five including Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah, compared to Labour’s eight, many in our community do not see the Tories as the party to redress the issues that traditionally play out on the streets.


TAKING IT TO THE STREETS: American protestors (image credit: Anti Gravity/Adrienne Battistella)

Among the thousands returning to, or supporting, the Labour Party since the socialist Jeremy Corbyn became party leader, are a growing number of African-Caribbeans. In a bid to gather support for Labour, party activists are positioning their party as the only alternative for people of African descent. They point to the fact that all the race relations laws introduced in the UK came from Labour governments.

Black politicians also have key shadow cabinet posts, such as 30-year parliamentary veteran Diane Abbott, and Kate Osamor, who entered Parliament after the 2015 general election. The fact that Corbyn is a long-standing anti-racism campaigner is another reason put forward for aligning with Labour. But, a different type of campaigning is not just about engaging with politicians.

The Internet is increasingly being used by activists for putting out online petitions. There’s even a Government-run petitions website through which getting 10,000 signatures means the Government will provide a written response, while 100,000 signatures means the issue will be considered for debate in Parliament. In 2017, activists should also be engaging more with the power of lobbying for political change.

In the absence of paying for professional lobbyists, being within or around party politics is one of the effective ways open to most ordinary people to lobby in order to influence political decisions.
However, as the BLM movement shows, while there are many young activists on the ground, there is no formal process whereby the baton and experience is handed by the elders to the young activists.

BLACK POWER

For example on April 1, Trinidad-born Darcus Howe, a stalwart of political activism, died aged 74. Although the paperback edition of his biography Renegade: The Life and Times of Darcus Howe was published earlier this year, his passing highlights an opportunity lost for young activists to learn from one of the greats.

Howe of course was one of the Mangrove Nine, a group of black radicals who stood trial after raids on the Mangrove community hub. It was a political trial in which The Establishment sought to discredit the leadership of the growing British black power movement. The Mangrove Nine were acquitted and the decision forced the first judicial acknowledgment of “racial hatred” in the Metropolitan police force.

Thankfully the likes of Howe’s comrades such as Professor Gus John are alive. Tapping into his experience of how they negotiated with police and politicians during a politically-dark period could provide useful lessons for young activists to further their cause.

Imagine what the BLM movement could achieve if its young leadership had discussions about strategies and politicking with some of the elders, such as Marc Wadsworth who was hugely instrumental in organising Anti-Racist Alliance marches and was part of the Labour Party Black Sections, from which came a number of African Caribbean and Asian MPs and councillors. Or Linda Bellos, who went on to wield real power as a council leader in the 1980s.

Hopefully in 2017, activists will imbibe the spirit of Sankofa, by learning from the past, combining this with the opportunities on the streets, online and the political process, in order to better challenge racism, injustice and discrimination.

Kwaku is a London-based history consultant and community activist.

Part 1 of this piece was published yesterday at 7am GMT.

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