By mass political education what we mean is a process where comprehensive history, ideology, and philosophy is read, without question, but that is only one facet of the program. The material must be read in groups and those groups must commit to engage in that process on a consistent basis i.e. bi-monthly, monthly, weekly, etc. Other key components of this process are facilitation of the sessions should be rotated so that everyone has the opportunity to lead discussions of the material. This is critical because this practice helps prepare all participants with the skills to facilitate sessions, not just one or two dominant individuals. The rotation also ensures everyone is participating and providing their unique perspectives of the material because the more perspectives, the broader the understanding of what is being read and discussed.
The other components of this process are criticism/self-criticism and democratic centralism. The book describes in detail how criticism/self-criticism and democratic centralism should be properly carried out so we will not go into detail doing so here. What we will do is provide a clear example of democratic centralism in action in real life and how that process of democracy works to strengthen our work even in the most adverse of circumstances.
In late May 1992, the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) organized African Liberation Day (ALD) as a commemoration of our worldwide fight to build a Pan-African fighting force to run the capitalist/imperialist crooks out of Africa, regain our homeland, and build a socialist future for the African masses. ALD had been the template institution for African liberation since 1958 and the A-APRP had been organizing ALD commemorations on its own and in coalition since 1972. In 1984, the A-APRP expanded its organization of ALD beyond just Washington D.C. to multiple other cities throughout the U.S. Sacramento, California, U.S. was one of those additional cities and it was during the A-APRP’s first organized ALD in Sacramento in 1984 that I signed up to join the A-APRP. From that year forward, every year, the A-APRP has continued to organize ALD. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, we played a role in organizing ALD commemorations in 17 cities worldwide of which most of those events were in Africa (as it should be). In 2021, we continue to organize on the ground ALD commemorations throughout Africa as well as some select other locations, including a major webcast ALD on May 22nd, and May 25th. From 1984, through 2008, we organized on the ground ALD commemorations in Sacramento that attracted thousands of people each year. During that stretch we had in person participation from people like Tupac Shakur (1991 – see the video of his performance on youtube), Dead Prez, Mutabaruka, and the Coup, but none of the years stand out to me beyond 1992.
That year we had a serious tussle with the city of Sacramento with getting a permit for our event. The park we had carried out the ALD rally from 1984 through 1991 – McClathey Park, or what the local Africans called “the big Park” in Oak Park, Sacramento, was having a stage constructed in 1991/92. The purpose of the city building a stage was to facilitate the city organizing music events in “the Big Park” as a part of their plan to land grab and gentrify Oak Park away from the African, Indigenous, and poor European masses who dominated the neighborhood during those days. Prior to 92, no city events took place in that park. In fact, nothing took place in that park besides drive-by shootings, drug deals, and other innocent and/or often nefarious activities. The city had all but abandoned the park until this revolutionary Pan-African A-APRP began having its ALD commemorations there. This involved us constructing our small sectional stage (that I stored in our garage) in that park the night before the ALD rally and me and other comrades sleeping in the park to protect the space. Sleeping in that park year after year during that period I observed all types of things. We broke up countless fights that involved weapons, including guns. We gave shelter and fed countless people and we used those opportunities to engage in thousands of conversations with the African masses, the lumpen proletariat, about the work we were doing. As a result of our success with our ALD commemorations, the city saw the opportunity and built their stage. And, from 1993 through 2008 we continued to organize ALD on that new stage while the park became more known for the city sponsored events that included big name entertainers like Eric Bonet and Hally Berry. Our events continued without a single hair ever being out of place with no security except our own A-APRP forces while the city events – equipped with armed police and private security – had numerous violent episodes to the point where they eventually ceased having events in the park they reclaimed from us. Their arrogance never once permitting them to wonder why we had none of the problems they regularly encountered.
So, due to the stage construction we needed a new venue for 1992. The next viable option was William Land Park in the center of the city. We didn’t want Land Park because it was surrounded by a petti bourgeoisie European neighborhood which made our pre-rally march, an annual event in Oak Park, ill-logical. Plus, Land Park was the apple of the city. The open stage area which was frequently used for drama events sat right across from the city zoo and the playland facility. Not the place the city really wanted to relinquish to African revolutionaries. And, to be honest, we couldn’t really see ourselves operating in that location either, but our options were few. After having established ourselves in that side of town for the previous seven years, we didn’t wish to move the event across town. Plus, there were not many other options that had a stage and the other amenities we needed (dressing rooms, electricity, etc.). Still, the city hadn’t changed their minds so initially, they rejected our application. We had to seek out legal representation when the city told us they were not issuing permits for social events in the park. We filed documents indicating that African Liberation Day was no social event. It was a political demonstration against the oppression African people face and a call to action for African people to become free. The city suggested we take our claim to the state and try to hold our rally at the state capitol. We explained to them that our event was not to make a demand of the capitalist government, but to call our people to action and that is why the event had been organized within the community. Despite the fact we were not going to be at the Big Park that year, we felt confident that the people would travel the extra mile or so to join us in Land Park if we had the event there.
Forced with facing a first amendment violation, we are sure the city’s attorney’s advised them to approve our permit, but the city issued the permit for Land Park usage while denying us a sound permit. When we protested they told us that city ordinances prevented any noise in the area from interfering with the musical sounds coming from playland and the zoo. Our attorneys confirmed their right to do this and we were forced to consider how we would proceed.
That decision resulted in several contentious late night meetings to discuss how we would proceed. There were several contributing factors. May of 1992 was just weeks after the L.A. rebellions as a result of police terrorism against the African masses. It was also weeks after the U.S. government had bombed the home of Libyan Jamahiriya leader Muammar Qaddafi’s home in Tripoli, Libya, North Africa. The mood of the African masses was tense and none of us were in a compromising mood. The internal debate was over whether we would honor the fact we had no sound permit (how would we do that) or just defy the ban and have our sound amplified which would have been a violation of the law that the city made clear to us would result in legal, including criminal, charges being filed against us.
This is where the effective usage of democratic centralism within our organization came into play. I particularly remember the discussion held the night before the ALD rally. It was a Friday night in our house. About 25 people. We debated back and forth, vigorously for hours until at least 3am Saturday morning. The positions were articulated repeatedly and painstakingly. Adding to the tension was my own household occupied different positions on the issue. My comrade ex-wife was always one of the pragmatic forces within our work. We had already taken a hit from the city a few years before when complaints filed against us for wheatpasted posters of Muammar Qaddafi led the city to pull our address from previous permits and sue us for damages. We had successfully fought that and won, but the stress was apparent in our house because she didn’t want to face another challenge like that. I didn’t either, but more important to me was not letting the city dictate our direction, especially not at such a crucial time. We collectively argued back and forth and at about 2:30am, after no new points were being introduced (you know, that place where everyone starts repeating things – the clear sign that its time to take a vote), the question was called. I don’t remember the count of the vote, but I do remember that the vote to use sound won out. I also recall that my comrade ex-wife was irritated with me as I was one of the loudest voices of defiance against the city. The point here is that democratic centralism (and the principled stance of my ex – the reason we maintain respect for each other today) was apparent. Once that vote turned out as it did, after repeated battles over the years and people demonstrating their commitment to principled struggle over and over, everyone in that room knew that if anyone of us went down due to our decision, we would all go down together. Thus, is the nature of democratic centralism. Everyone has the collective responsibility to abide by the decision, even if you disagreed with it. In fact, those that disagreed had the responsibility to work the hardest for the outcome that won out because that would be the only honest way you could assert the correctness of your position. Obviously you couldn’t do that if you did anything to sabotage the outcome. That would actually validate the opposite position.
The trust in all of us honoring democratic centralism, regardless of personal positions was important to me that night because without a march, the start of the rally would be the time when our decision would come into play. And, as the M/C, I would be the one up there. I would be the target. I wasn’t afraid of that. My largest concern was not letting the people down. If the police stormed us and shut down the event we would not only lose credibility, but our people would get the message that we cannot organize and represent for ourselves and there was nothing I wanted to do more than prevent such a negative message from happening. So, after 3am, our task was to get some sleep. Since we were not in Oak Park, it was no longer required to sleep in the park with our stage, but after such a contentious debate, and the requirement to be at the park early, the idea of sleep was unrealistic. I remember laying awake and attempting to think it through. We knew from past work that if we had enough Africans in that park, there would be little the police could do. If we didn’t have enough people, we were in trouble. The uncertainty of whether people would show up to the new location kept me up. I recall that at about 5am my ex and I started making contingency plans in the event one, both, or more of us were arrested. Within the A-APRP we operated in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s “jail, no bail” principle meaning if you are arrested, you are on your own. We didn’t intend upon ever making the mistake the Black Panthers did by making getting people out of prison our primary work (the Free Huey campaign helped the authorities recognize that they could derail the Panthers by locking up as many of the leaders as they could). Money was scarce, but despite our disagreement about the issue, we quietly discussed options in that bedroom in that house full of people who were undoubtedly having the same tensions. We knew, even in that bedroom that whatever happened, we would try to find some way not to leave anyone behind who was subjected to harassment by the police.
An hour or some and I was at the park. By 8am we had another meeting at the location to lay out our strategy to start at 1pm, no matter what. I was extremely nervous. Not for my role, but in the hopes people came out. By 9am it was already super hot. On its way to a triple digit day, I was unsure that people would be willing to come all the way to Land Park. I kept positioning myself into the bleacher seats which at least sat under shade trees. I prayed intensely to our ancestors.
Under what felt to me to be an intense atmosphere of tension we prepared. When the sound system was set up we did sound checks while watching for the police, expecting them to come down and try to arrest all of us.
By 12:45 you could cut the tension with a knife. It was about 95 degrees and I was sweating profusely. Not entirely from the heat, but I was also determined to represent our ancestors as best as I could. At about 12:55pm a phalanx of police, about a dozen of them, appeared at the top of the bleacher seat area, looking down upon us, but this this didn’t intimidate me, it emboldened me. My belief in our ancestors plus the knowledge that we were all there operating on the same page gave me more than enough strength. I couldn’t wait to hit that microphone and I did. I can’t even tell you what I said at 1pm, but it was probably one of my best introductions ever. I can tell you that I was highly inspired by the reality that despite the change in venue. Despite the heat. Despite no march, which always brought people into the event, there were at least 300 or 400 people already there and they were on their feet, participating with my words like a church audience with lots of verbal “talking back.” I talked about police terrorism in L.A. and everywhere. I talked about Africa being our home and how we would reach the point of organization where the police and the imperialist military would one day pay for their abuse of our people. The mike, the ground, everything seemed on fire to me as sweat stung in my eyes. I was up there continuing to fire people up with my eyes shut. I had almost forgotten all of the gestapos being there until I was alerted by comrade Nidamu that the police were approaching the stage. This prompted me to open my eyes, stinging and all. About eight of the police were marching down towards the stage as I introduced the first performer. I jumped from the stage to join Nidamu and other comrades in going to challenge the police when we were greeted by about 50 members of the audience who came down to intercept the police. Responding to my cries of this being our event and the need for us to exert our dignity in the face of repression, these wonderful African people were yelling at the police and telling them to leave. They surrounded the police and continued taunting them until a woman police smiled brightly and nervously towards me while offering a ring of keys in my direction.
“We just wanted to let you know someone left these keys in the trunk of their car!” She said in the sweetest voice. I took the keys and without acknowledging them further, returned to the stage. No one will ever be able to convince me that their intention was always to have eight police give us a set of keys, but once they saw the spirit of the people there wouldn’t be anything else they could do. Our strategy had worked! And even more important, our commitment and dedication to the principles of democratic centralism had ensured we would have the unity and focus to stick to our guns. Without that, there is absolutely no way I believe the events would have concluded that same way. I know I certainly could not have had the confidence I had without the assuredness that I had the full support of my comrades from that stage. People offered me praise for my performance that day, but I could never accept that. I knew that the victory was all of ours. I was simply the conduit of the expression of comradery and democracy we exhibited that night before. This is the strength of organized mass political education. This is the stuff that gives us the capacity to win. This is the formula that our enemies are afraid we will recognize and implement. This is the stuff we have to do because when we do, we will be unstoppable.