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Burning Spear News

Uhuru organizer speaks out on why the struggle with Obama 

On Friday, August 1st I led a contingent of the Uhuru Movement into Barack Obama’s town hall meeting in St. Petersburg, Florida to raise the question, “what about the black community, Obama?” Without the benefit of a big media budget, our organization attempted to bring the serious issues experienced by African working class people across this country into the national political debate.

These issues include the targeting of African and Latino communities with predatory “sub-prime” mortgages – a scheme that has made millions for people like Obama’s chief financial advisor Penny Pritzker, while stripping black families of billions of dollars, the greatest loss of wealth our community has suffered since being brought in chains to this country. We also challenged Obama to take a stand against the police shootings of unarmed African people, and explain why he has publicly defended the judge’s acquittal of the NYC police who murdered Sean Bell.

He has said that he cannot speak out on behalf of those who have been historically oppressed for fear of offending other people. Yet in Miami, he promised the Jewish community, which considers itself a historically oppressed community, that he supports turning all of Jerusalem over to Israeli control, despite the internationally enforced sharing of that city with the Palestinians. When Obama speaks to black audiences, he attacks us, attributing our community’s poverty, not to systemic oppression, but to bad culture and lack of work ethic.

Barack Obama has criticized African fathers for abandoning our children, although a recent study showed that black fathers stay more involved with their children after a split from the mother than white fathers. And Obama says nothing of the unjust imprisonment of 1 in 9 black men of child-bearing age, the overwhelming majority of whom are locked up on minor drug or other non-violent economic violations stemming from conditions of desperate poverty. He has failed to achieve any meaningful program of economic development for the African community. In speaking to a group of black legislators, Obama said “a good economic development plan for our community would be if we make sure folks weren’t throwing their garbage out of their cars.”

Barack Obama wants to increase military spending and praised Clinton for abolishing AFDC and welfare. He has reversed his position opposing the death penalty and speaks out against reparations. He wants to escalate the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and has threatened Venezuela and Iran with military aggression. He has upheld the FISA, supporting wire-tapping and government spying on citizens. He receives unprecedented financial backing from Wall Street. His close advisors and potential cabinet members include war criminal Richard Clarke, Tri-lateral commission founder Zbigniev Brzezinski, Madeleine ‘it’s worth the price of 1 million dead Iraqi children’ Albright, and Free Trade advocates Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee.

Some argue that we must support Obama or else we are supporting McCain. We in the Uhuru Movement don’t believe our community should restrict our political options to a choice between one white ruling class party or another. In fact, the black community’s most recent experiences in the U.S. electoral arena have resulted not only in the Republican Party’s theft of our votes, but prior to that we suffered some of the worst attacks on our community at the hands of the Democratic Party administration of William Jefferson Clinton, who put 100,000 more police on our streets to murder our people, privatized the prisons to exploit our unpaid labor, and discontinued the public subsidies for impoverished children and families that had been won by African people as a concession to our movement of the 1960s.

African people’s experiences with these last several elections and the desperate conditions facing our community have created a willingness by our people to seek independent political alternatives. In response to this crisis, the white rulers put forward Barack Obama – a pied piper taking African people back into clutches of the Democratic Party. If anyone looks seriously at the positions, programs and advisors of Barack Obama, they will see that he does not stand for any kind of real change, but for the defense of the same old status quo, with a new face. America is in an economic crisis and the white ruling class hopes to save itself by deepening the exploitation of African people in the U.S. and on the continent of Africa, where the world’s biggest reserves of oil and precious minerals lie. How better to do it than with an African face at the head of state?

Our success as a people requires that we achieve our own independent political agenda. African people’s votes should be contingent on the willingness of a candidate to support and fight for that agenda. The International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement has invited Barack Obama, John McCain and Cynthia McKinney to attend our annual convention on September 27-28 in St. Petersburg, Florida to clarify their position on the question, “what about the black community?’ Based on their response, we will consider endorsement of a U.S. presidential candidate.

Diop Olugbala is the International Organizer for the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement

www.inpdum.org

Umoja Village gets burned again! 

Miami Commission concedes land to community controlled housing project; decision overturned by city's white rulers

/old_site_images/2007-08/umoja-village-burned/umoja_village_burns.jpg alt=""/> Umoja Village was burned down on April 26, 2007 under suspicious circumstances. Residents had been fighting the city government whose gentrification policies made many homeless.

MIAMI, Florida -- Less than one week after voting 4-0 to support the conveyance of land to the Umoja Village residents, city of Miami officials completely reversed themselves after a wealthy, high-powered lobbyist unilaterally killed the entire deal. The political settlement won by Take Back the Land was scrapped as those with the real power vetoed the vote and maintained the status quo, to the benefit of those in power and at the expense of the black community.

The Umoja Village Shantytown stood for just over six months -- directly feeding and housing people and challenging the notion that developers should control land in the black community -- before it burned in a tragic fire on April 26, 2007. After the fire, the city offered the land to the residents and organizers of Umoja, in order to build supportive housing, a deal ultimately accepted by Take Back the Land. The city was embarrassed and hostile towards the Umoja Village. However, overwhelming community support and attention forced officials to deal with the crisis.

After months of planning and last minute wrangling, the city of Miami Commission voted to support the conveyance of the land to the residents and organizers. Technically, the vote approved of the idea, and ordered the city manager to work out the details for a final and official vote in less than a week. The implications of the victory, which was now within grasp, for the black power and broader social justice movements are significant, a fact not lost on local gatekeepers and power brokers. Just hours after the initial vote, the real powers-that-be went to work.

White rulers veto city government's concession

/old_site_images/2007-08/umoja-village-burned/RonBook.jpg alt=""/> Ron Book began moving to defend the interests of the white ruling class immediately after the city's concession to hand the land over to the Umoja Village residents and organizers.

Ron Book, one of the most powerful lobbyists in the state of Florida and operating as the chair of the Homeless Trust, employed his lobbying skills to kill the deal. He not only registered his opposition to city and county officials, but he intimidated the development partner, who depends on Trust for their funding. Equally as significant, he used his position as the chair of the Trust to threaten the funding. With the project funding gone (valued at up to $20 million), the development partner ready to bail, and elected officials on notice, the deal was effectively dead the very next day. Book's justification for his stance was that no public land should be conveyed to an organization without a bid process, and that the Homeless Trust does not financially support no-bid deals, even when legal and transparent and even when the Trust does not own the land in question.

The obvious question arose: has Ron Book or the Homeless Trust ever supported a no-bid deal? With Book -- who has multiple clients and a controversial professional record -- finding instances of his support for numerous no-bid contracts was easy. In February 2006, an apartment building located at 6000 NW 12th Avenue, just seven blocks from the Umoja Village site, was conveyed to New Horizons for use as supportive housing for free by the city of Miami in a no-bid process. In that virtually identical situation, the Trust supported the deal and continues to fund the project today. Not surprisingly, in addition to being the chair of the Homeless Trust, which directly funds New Horizons and others, Ron Book is also a paid lobbyist for New Horizons. He was paid no less than $40,000 by the non-profit organization in 2006, while making decisions about their contracts. This information was brought to the Miami Herald, the local paper of record, along with citations and public records proving the allegation. While a reporter supposedly worked on the story for at least four days, the story was never published.

Miami's government and laws are just tools of white rulers

/old_site_images/2007-08/umoja-village-burned/IMG_3373.JPG alt=""/> Max Rameau speaks to a crowd at African Liberation Day 2007 in Washington, D.C. about the Umoja Village struggle.

The fact is that the black community built enough power to win a significant political victory at the city of Miami, the alleged decision making body. However, there are unelected forces with more power than lowly local governments, who make unilateral decisions without public hearings, and those powers have an interest in ensuring the black community cannot exercise self-determination. A wealthy white power broker and an unelected agency effectively vetoed the political settlement approved by a city government, a move with serious implications for the social justice movement and basic democratic rights.

This turn of events also confirms a truism of power: once a set of rules begin to benefit the people instead of those in power, those rules are subject to change. In the mean time, the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing rages across Miami-Dade County and the U.S. We have an obligation to feed and house people in our community, an obligation which is only heightened by the refusal of governments to provide those services. Having failed at engagement with the system, Take Back the Land will continue to meet our obligations.

Check out the chronology of events and more at www.takebacktheland.net or takebacktheland.blogspot.com

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