Forward Is Where We Have to Go

Forward Is Where We Have to Go


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



 “Black Politics” clearly broadened by Obama to include a progressive coalition

in the most ambitious attempt to show that Black Politics in its most progressive

meaning is the struggle for a People’s Democracy here in the US



Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone  / The Essence of Reparations / Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems  / Blues People

 Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka / Selected Poetry of Amiri Baraka/LeRoi Jones / Black Music

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Forward Is Where We Have to Go

By Amiri Baraka

What the young(?) people with the signs in St. Petersburg sd to Obama “You’re undermining the (Black) Revolution” is merely one more sign of how confused and misdirected too many who style themselves “revolutionary” have become. For one thing it is certain that these folk do not even understand what revolution is. I would guess they are more of the tiny throng captivated by anarchism and infantile leftism who think revolution means standing on the sidelines calling who they think are their enemies names.

If you want to stand around with signs of some significant show of political clarity, they should at least be aimed at the crypto fascist McCain.  To not even be able to identify who is the main enemy at any given stage of struggle is patently non-revolutionary. To think that Obama is the principle target of our struggle is, at best, infantile left and anarchist. It could be pro McCain.

If we go back to basics, revolution is the seizure of power. The aim of revolutionaries, at most stages of struggle, is the seizure of power, to picket Obama is to move to seize power for McCain.

What is also not understood is the tortuous path of revolutionary struggle. Obama, along with quite a few other “post 60’s” developments, is the product of the 60’s struggles, a direct result  of the turbulent civil rights and Black Liberation movements. Whether you yet understand it or not, Without Dr. King, Montgomery, Malcolm X, Robert Williams, Rosa Parks, CORE, The Freedom Riders, The Black Panthers, SNCC, CAP, there could be no Barack Obama . Without those bloody struggles against Black national oppression, racism, discrimination, segregation, there could be no Obama candidacy, certainly not of this magnitude.

Jesse’s two runs were admirable, and yes, they were part of the sledgehammer of Black politics from the 50’s through the 80’s. And just as that force created the visible use of Powell and Condoleeza Rice as negro “buttons” within the rightwing establishment of US bourgeois politics , none of that was possible without the Black movement itself, as contradictory as that might seem. The internationally perceived racial conflict in the United States was the most glaring contradiction to US claims as the almighty white angel of world politics.

The colored Secretaries of State provided some of the cool out necessary not only to sublimate that image but to foist on this world of colored people a confusing tactic, so that when the US Secy of State hopped out of plain somewhere in this mostly colored world, friends, and  righteous enemies would be startled by who was carrying the message.

So that now it’s come all the way to the “top” of US government, this need for another, Yeh! Black, face to cool out the ugliness the last 20 some years have mashed upon the world. We might not agree with the intention of this playacting, but at the same time we must recognize the forces that make this necessary. Recognize those forces, because we are a large part of them. And with that recognition must come the understanding of what is the next step in this protracted struggle to ultimately eliminate imperialism and monopoly capitalism, which are the base of continuing national oppression, racism, gender oppression, anti–democratic hegemony anywhere in the world.

The very  negative side of the “post racist” line that Obama runs is that the die is cast for nitwits to say that racism is done and gone and that if you still in the ghetto or still don’t have a job, it’s on you. Bah, Humbug! Obama’s best intention is that there is the making of a post racist coalition that can provide the muscle for his campaign and victory in the election. But reality, the cops, the jails, the unemployment figures puts all that down every day.

But it is a very pimpable figment. The New York Times recent cover story “Is Obama the End of Black Politics?” is a very stinking example of its pimpablity. One obvious answer to that is “Only if Obama is the End of White Politics” which we see even in the way the Clintons as well as McCain and the overwhelming racism of the media are running the primaries, is certainly not the case. One could hope that an Obama victory wd signal an incremental leap in the direction of more democratic allowance for highly skilled operatives within the system, which is what Obama certainly is. But “post racist”?…, gimme me a break.

The Times article, predictably, uses the most visible of stealth negroes, i.e., those who, while profiting by the opening in US politics provided them by the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movement, and getting substantial Black support at the polls, believe that they have “made it” by virtue of their own impeccable greatness. Booker in Newark, Nutter in Philadelphia,  Fenty in DC come to mind.  Booker, whom I sent a copy of Marvin X’s book How To Recover from An Addiction to White Supremacy. Though more crafty than Nutter, who played gun bearer for Bonnie & Clyde during the Democratic primaries, Booker has raised Newark taxes 8%, fired 4 or 500 mostly black city hall workers, claiming to have a budget problem but hiring at the same time a half dozen  non-Newark natives as “deputy mayors” at $176,000 a piece. 

My son, Ras, was deputy mayor for four years and took no salary. The top 10 police officials, including both the Police Director and the Police Chief are white. Fenty who claims his biracial parentage has made him see ”more” than merely black struggle. Booker says “I don’t want to be the person that’s turned to when CNN talks about black leaders…I’m Popeye,” he says… “I am who I am.” Naturally these wd be the people the Times would use to give an obituary for “Black Politics.” But certainly, these kinds of “wooden negroes” are not entirely new on the scene, they are just the most recent crop of negroes claiming they are greater (or safer) than mere black people.

The struggle between Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen was essentially the same, when Langston says in “The Negro Artist & The Racial Mountain” (1926) “One of the most promising of the young Negro poets said to me once, ‘I want to be a poet—not a Negro poet’  meaning subconsciously, ‘I would like to be a white poet’, meaning behind that  ‘I would like to be white’ And I was sorry the young man said that, for no great poet  has ever been afraid of being himself.” In a recent Esquire Booker comes on like he thinks he is Will Smith in I Am Legend, a single human scientist trapped in a city full of vampires.

When Nutter says, “I never asked anybody to vote for me because I was Black,” he is missing the essential historic fact of Black life in America and trying with all his might to dismiss it. That he couldn’t even run for mayor being Black. He might have had to run for his life, if he even said such a thing. It was Black people’s unity and struggle that has made even  this delusion of self anointment possible.

Black politics will only disappear when the Black majority disappears. And even the wish fulfillment of New York Times “liberals” can never achieve this, nor the creepy self hatred of those incognegroes the Times wants to anoint as post black negroes. Still the question of Obama’s candidacy is a quite different consideration. As I have said, in print and in the flesh at many forums, no matter what is said by whoever thinks to deny this, or even what Obama says himself, the foundation of Obama’s successful candidacy is the 90% support by the Afro-American people. A fact that I’m sure he understands.  Obama also understands that it is the rest of the American people he must reach out to, no matter how attempts he makes to do this are questioned, even by Black people. Even 90% of 12% is not enough to win the presidency.

So that for the so called militants, black or white left not to understand that the logic and strength of Obama’s candidacy is the 21st century manifestation of the Civil Rights and Black Liberation Movements, impossible without it. Jesse Jackson’s two impressive candidacies were also part of that motion, not to accept both these phenomena as positive aspects and results of our collective struggle is to lack “True Self Consciousness.”

The real question now is what is the next step, what is the key link in that chain of progressive struggle that if  grasped will hoist the whole of us incrementally to the next level of unity and struggle. For those forces so duped by their erroneous understanding of what constitutes revolutionary movement. The consistent idealism of those who wd waste their vote on people whose most positive contribution would be to point out even more forcibly the link between McCain and a swifter fascist future for the US and  critically support Obama’s outright liberalism, but issuing a critical list of planks for a more progressive Obama campaign.

There are even some utterly backward cultural nationalist negroes who say “Obama is their enemy” because he is not demanding that black people stop speaking English and speak their mother tongue (my mother tongue is Afro American) or that he blame the Jews for the world’s ills.  My God! You couldn’t win on those planks even if the election was for the NAACP or the Black Panther Party or the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

We cannot go backward or even contemplate it. A revolutionary must first find out what it is the people want; what they need. Unfortunately for some, the definition of revolution is to construct some elitist cultural nationalist, religious or infantile leftist, position,  the “further out” the better, so they may claim, since few others will get down with that, that they must be the most revolutionary of all. Too often this is just a means of hiding out from the real work of educating and organizing and settling for being the hippest chump in the closet.   

What we must be aiming for at the present level of US politics is a People’s or Popular Democracy, rather than the tongue constructed false democracy real dictatorship (of wealth) that exists today. That must include the replacing of the monopoly capitalist-imperialist domination of US politics at every level with a United Front, which shd be led by the working class in alliance with farmers, the progressive petty bourgeoisie, oppressed nationalities and progressive national bourgeoisie. The loose Obama coalition, as it exists now.

For the Afro American people a National United Front, Democratic Assembly, would be a huge step in the right direction, as what was attempted by the Convention Movement of the 19th Century, the National Negro Congress in the 1940’s and the Gary Convention in 1972. It is this kind of organized force that would be powerful enough to maintain the correct orientation of any National Coalition of multinational forces to win this election and help steer the ship of state.

The fiercest opponents to such a victorious coalition, the first steps toward moving toward a United Front US government, rather than one dominated by corporate Imperialism, are the racist right and the juvenile delinquent left (some of whom are quite rightist and even some quite racist, e.g., how can Nader put Obama down for “sounding white” . . . what does “white” sound like? And how come Nader don’t sound like that?).   

Ultimately this political period will be characterized by what kind of political force Blacks and progressive Americans can put together to secure Obama’s election and push him ever to the Left.   What is even clearer and a piercing denial of the NYTimes distortion is Hubert Harrison, the Black Socialist, writing in the New York Call, ca: 1911:

Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the proof and reveals the falsity of it. . . .True democracy and equality implies a revolution  . . . startling even to think of. 

Jeffrey B Perry.  Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism 1883-1918  (2008)

So the question of “Black Politics” must be inextricably bound to progressive politics in this country and just as we fought as Black people and with progressive allies of many nationalities even to vote, or for that matter drink out of public drinking fountains or ride anywhere in a bus, so it is this same “Black Politics” clearly broadened by Obama to include a progressive coalition in the most ambitious attempt to show that Black Politics in its most progressive meaning is the struggle for a People’s Democracy here in the US. This is what the Obama campaign asserts boldly. We must see that it continues to do so right into the Oval Office and beyond.    

The following are a few exploratory planks of a document that shd be added to by the willing and serve as a basis for a mass-supported document to present to Obama:    

Progressive Agenda for Obama


1.      End Iraq War, cancel preparations for Iran War. Re-establish that it is Congress that declares war

a.      End so called “National Security Government”: Close Guantanamo, end Homeland Securitydomination of US political and

 social life.

2.      Make racism a criminal offense  assault 1

3.      Use of the N Word (by anyone)  assault 2

4.      Use of the B Word  (by anyone)  assault 2

5.      Begin to push for change in Political Culture of US**

 A. End the Electoral College System B. End Winner Take All System C. Initiate One Person One Vote D. Abolition of US Senate—replace with Unicameral system (one House of Representatives based on One Person One Vote).

 E. Parliamentary System= As many parties as represent ideological groups, as in Europe, so that Coalition politics emerge F. Ban on private monies in elections G. Restoration of Voting Rights to Ex Felons

6.       Review of National Debt by National Forum

7.       Executive Support for Reparations—Establishment of National Citizens Committee

8.      General Investigation & Review of Criminal Justice System

9.      Appointment of Progressive Supreme Court & Other Judges

10.  Review Diplomatic Relations with all Nations. By National Panel with recommendations

a.      Haiti   b. Cuba. c. Venezuela d. Saudi Arabia e. Iran  f. Israel  g. Strengthen Committee on Africa, investigate relations

11.  Investigate Need for Cabinet level Office of Afro American Affairs

12.  Review Affirmative Actions statutes, reverse negative trends

13.  Housing: “Everyone must have a place to live” bill

14.  Education—Reaffirm support with action for Public Education. Veto attempts to weaken PE budget

15.  Minimum Wage

16.  Investigate Bush-Cheney years, including their election, with National Forum, Recommendations

17.  National investigation of 911

18.  Review FDA—Reverse Bush  Rule eliminations

19.  Review Environmental Protection Agency—role, laws

20.  International treaties review—Oslo, Nuclear, Ballistic missile, Trade

21.  Plan for direct monitoring and supervision of Voting Apparatus Nationally. Stop “suppression of the Black & Latino vote”

22.  Executive intervention for National Health Care plan

23.  Presentation of Progressive National Immigration Bill

24.  New initiative for National Cultural & Arts Support

25.  New Public Works Program to put US back to work

26.  Push programs for Regulation of Capitalism, Stop excessive outsourcing, end big capital’s abandoning of factories, cities, industries

People who keep saying, “The president can’t do anything” shd review FDR’s “First Hundred Days” aimed at ending the great Depression.  “On his first day in office, Mar 4, 1933, FDR called Congress into a special session. He then proceeded to drive a series of bills through Congress that reformed the US banking industry, saved American agriculture and allowed for industrial recovery.  At the same time wielded the executive order creating the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Public Works Administration (WPA) and the Tennessee Valley Authority. These projects put tens of thousands of Americans back to work building dams, bridges, highways and much needed public utility systems.”  ( What was called “The New Deal”.

What we need from Obama is a Newer New Deal. What we need from ourselves is the political clarity and will to ensure Obama’s election!


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Dear Amiri, I have been an admirer of yours since 1968 when you came to Baltimore on the invitation of the Soul School (a group of cultural nationalists; Babatunji lives; Ali is dead) to present one of your plays at a church on Edmondson Avenue, around the corner from Fremont Avenue, where they had their shop and school. I do not recall which one of your plays was acted out that night. I am sure it was not the Dutchman, maybe it was The Slave rather than The Toilet. The former seems much more appropriate for such an occasion.

It was the ambience, being on the scene, the overall coming together of negroes to talk black and be black, in defiance. That was the thing—the drama of the times. I had just come up from the countryside three years earlier and had never heard of black folks talking so openly about white folks, and so stridently. It was thrilling. The chains were falling way; the barnacles on our eyes were cracking. I had just dropped out of Morgan State College to join the revolution and to work with Bob Moore and SNCC, and to face the draft. Your coming to town was one of those events that helped to shape my youth and my thinking.

I had heard of you slightly before then, maybe in Negro Digest or Black World. Of course, your work was not part of the curriculum at Morgan State. I was about 19 then. Stokeley Carmichael was there at that church gathering as well and spoke to the blacks after he had asked the whites to leave so there could be a family discussion. Later, I rode with you across town to a house party, sponsored by two VISTA workers, Selena and Gloria. It was one of the most memorable events of my youth, me sitting next to this little cat, they called LeRoi. You probably were in your early thirties. I don’t recall whether you were still LeRoi, then, or whether you had become Baraka. It was one of many presentations you made during that period, I’m sure, going from city to city raising “black consciousness.” We’re in your debt. Surely, my being there with you at that moment was rather an inconsequential event for you.

Later, I read your Blues People. Except for a few poems, most of your poetry was beyond my understanding. I wasn’t into poetry then. We were still learning then how to be black, which was an all-consuming moment. I really loved your Black Mass, maybe that came later. Maybe you had a piece, called “Nation Time,” too. I do not know where all those LPs are now. I would love to have a tape of the Black Mass, to listen to now. That was Sun Ra, providing the music behind the narrative of Yacub, wasn’t it? I might have seen you in Gary; a group of us drove up to the so called “Convention.” Certainly, I don’t recall the proceedings in detail. All seemed rather confused and there was a lot of jostling back and forth. I was still rather young and you all were political experts.

SNCC was dead then and James Forman was trying to take us to a new level, to encourage us to go into the factories and organize black workers. I, however, was not industrial minded—Bethlehem Steel and General Motors. I did join the labor movement to organize health care workers in Baltimore. That was extraordinary; we organized 5000 health care workers in less than six months, mostly black women. I went into hospitals and nursing homes. Wages averaged a buck sixty five then in Baltimore. Of course, our success could not have been possible without the Black Power movement and some of the consciousness-raising that you were doing during that period. That was in 1969. You were a cultural nationalist for sometime after that. You all went much farther than I was willing to go. Some were truly sadden when you abandoned all of that.

What was memorable about the Gary Convention? For me, little or nothing. In retrospect, I’ve seen some film clips that included you.  I think that originally the Convention was supposed to have been in Chicago. Something happened and it was moved to Gary, which is not that far from Chicago. Bob Moore and I drove over to Chicago and searched out the Southside and found a night club in which Junior Wells was behind the bar serving drinks. There was a blues band that performed that night and the guy said he was the son of Muddy Waters. That Southside night club adventure carried much more weight for me than all the craziness occurring at the Convention. I don’t recall whether you all endorsed anyone for president that year, 1972. But I am certain it was no one black, surely not Shirley Chilsom, who was black and female.

A couple of summers ago I read your Autobiography. No offense. I just have not have not been able to align my time, my leisure like I would have wanted to. So much going on. For my money it is the best of your books and I hope I can read it again. After that I read your latest book of short stories, Tales of the Out & the Gone and most of those I like as well. I recall too your struggles in New Ark and how the cops beat you down like you were their dog and how you and other got Gibson elected. I have always been amazed by your courage, daring, and commitment. None can deny you that. Y’all almost took over Newark but those Italians had a different agenda.  And the negro leaders too once they got in office.

Look I won’t go on talking about the turning back and the dashing of our hopes for political power in the early 1970s that would be representative of the people’s needs and their longing for dignity and respect.

Now you are an Obama enthusiast. I was one myself during the primaries and went to the polls for the first time in ages. He dashed me with a fire truck hose of cold water with his Father’s Day Speech. I will be a long time forgetting that. As you say, we should not revert to infantilism in response to such political tactics and stay away from the polls. Of course, I do not think that is going to happen with black voters. Still it was a poor and reactionary tactic by the Obama campaign. He chose, however, not to inspire young urban blacks, but rather to fall back on old stereotypes. He might have changed the politics of southern urban centers, by raising the consciousness of our younger brothers to register and go to the polls in November. But he did not consult you for your expertise.

You might want to check out another “progressive agenda,” as well,

An Open Letter to Barack Obama.” Clearly, it is not as far-reaching as your own suggestive 26, but they too are concerned about “troubling signs” in his campaign rhetoric.

The Father’s Day speech that’s all water under the bridge. My forecast is that Obama will win, nevertheless. His opponent, McCain, is weak and he just made a huge blunder by the remark, “We are all Georgians.” That was a major foreign policy piece of stupidity and he had been to Georgia. Moreover, he was sidling up to the a “ruthless and corrupt totalitarian,” mafioso, Mihkail Saakashvili. In effect, McCain was pushing us into a major major war, this time with Russia, a country with enough nuclear weapons to destroy us all. He wants another Cold War. It was all  rather stupid and few will forget it when they go to the polls. In any case, if Obama loses, it will be by his own hands, by his own background, which unsettles many white Americans. Your finding scapegoats among us should not be your role.

 I received your new piece on Obama, and I have published it on ChickenBones. It is the best of the Obama pieces you have written. It is less strident. But there remains some stridency against the young black cats down in Florida, the Uhuru Movement. You say they make Obama the enemy. But you make them the enemy. I can find little difference in their tactics and yours when you get into that sort of criticism. Who are they compared to Obama’s reach and power? He was able to handle them well enough to satisfy white people and you and I both know they are weak and they are not really going to stop anybody from going to the polls that want to go to the polls. If they get a little media, so what? At that age, you as well were a firebrand. Crazy.

But, in any case, I find “Forward Is Where We Have to Go” one of the more well-reasoned of your Obama essays. I like too the tactic of the “Progressive Agenda for Obama.” I wish you and others had spent more time on it. The 26 items you list seem to be in no particular order, either descending or ascending. Some seemed rather frivolous, like 2, 3, 4. Those were laughable. Some were extraordinarily ambitious so that we know they will not happen (no. 5). Then there was the vagueness of so many reviews (nos. 10, 12, 19, 20, for instance) with no specificity. There was also one about the “minimum wage” (no. 15). I have no idea what that was about. It seems you could have at least made an argument for a “living wage.”

I won’t go through them one by one. But then you end the whole piece with FDR and the New Deal. Do you really think there is going to be anything like a New Deal in an Obama administration? I have heard nothing from his campaign that barely suggests that such a program has a possibility. Even he has been cautious, the country is bankrupt, in debt up to its eyeballs. I note as well you did not mention Afghanistan, for which he has been trying to bring NATO into an Asian arena with an increase in troops, especially from Germany. A progressive agenda might have included the disbanding of NATO altogether, for we see that it almost got us into a war with Russia. In short, your “progressive” agenda is not quite poignant enough for me.

The real question for me, Are you really interested in discussing any of these matters? Or do you just want a great arena like Gary to push through resolutions for the Black Left?—Rudy

15 August 2008

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 Dear Rudy, I was at that meeting in Baltimore when Baraka came to Bmore. I remember the Soul School and I believe I saw that play at the church on Edmondson—it was huge. I remember Stokely Carmichael at that church and how all of us young black folks were straining to see The Man.  He was exciting.  I remember that there were a number of young children with the Stokely group and others and they were told to go to the white people and white reporters to tell them to leave the building because Black people wanted to talk privately.  I remember the newspapers the next day as the white reporters were furious that they should be asked to get out of a church so that black folks could talk.  Those were the days and it was thrilling. I also remember being on the same program with Stokely here in Buffalo, many years ago. I also believe I was at that party on the “West Side.”  Those West Side blacks seemed to be more in the fighting spirit.  Anyhow, aside from the important questions you raise of Baraka, you brought back a lot of memories that I had closeted away.—Peggy

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Your mention of “New Ark” early on in this piece reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago part of an all echopractic poem unpublished manuscript titled “Night Gallery.” Check it out. Mary      

Spring Break   New Jersey Jacob Lawrence, 1946   The couple stepped out of Princeton took a New Ark. On the white sand color separated like oil and water Princeton perched under umbrellas drank from umbrella-topped frosted glasses. The sweat on the glass like the wet all around them night arms and legs lifting and toting with both sides, keeping their eyes down to keep the look in them from getting them fired.

Mary Weems

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             Juba, South Sudan Dear Rudy

Thanks for these reflections. There was a time, a long time ago, when I was living in Europe, when I bought every LeRoi Jones book I could find. Times change and it’s good to read that Amiri Baraka is making a contribution. He should not forget us over this side and in the Eastern Diaspora. Rudy, it’s good that you keep us linked up. There was a time we looked to Africa America for inspiration in Black leadership. Some of us are still looking. Best regards Bankie

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Books by Amiri Baraka

Tales of the Out & the Gone 

Somebody Blew Up America & Other Poems

The Essence of Reparations

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 15 August 2008



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