Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Speech for May 19 2015 Political Science Graduation at San Francisco State University

NOTE:  This beautiful plaque was presented to me on stage at McKinney Auditorium right after my speech.  I was stunned.  The whole experience was surreal -- a completely unexpected honor.

First I want to thank you and my neighbor, Candice Bell, for this honor and opportunity to speak to your graduating class in political science.

I think of myself as a political social scientist and a revolutionary journalist.

I was active in the Black Panther Party from 1969 to 1971, where I was introduced to Marx, Mao, Che, and Fanon – and committed my life to serving the people and fighting their enemies.
As Frantz Fanon noted in The Wretched of the Earth,

“Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it...”

That’s the question to ask your selves individually and collectively.

We’re now living in a period replete with dangerous threats to our very survival as a human race.  BTW, the Genome Project breakthrough in 2000 proved conclusively that there’s only one biological race, the human race; there are no subspecies.

We’ve already seen the extinction of a myriad of plant and animal species due to pollution and climate change; more and more floods, drought, heat waves, storms, tornados, earth quakes, sea rises, coral reef destruction and so forth – with more to come, no doubt.

If the unsustainable environment doesn’t wipe us out, the endless war on terrorism will. War against a tactic?  Kill lists and drones? Black sites and Guantanamo? We’re seeing the horrific results in the escalating, widening conflicts engulfing the entire region of the Middle East, Northern Africa and beyond, producing millions of desperate refugees fleeing the carnage, not to mention the blowback being felt in retaliatory strikes here in the States.

At the same time, we’re living in an era of unprecedented wealth and economic disparities. For example, just one individual member of the 1%, namely, Bill Gates, owns about $80 billion.

According to the Pew Research Center, The wealth gap between America’s high income group and everyone else has reached record high levels since the so-called economic recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-09, with nearly all of the increased wealth going to upper-income families and no growth in wealth for middle- and lower-income families.

Just last month, in his piece titled The National Shame of Child Poverty, Paul Bucheit reported,
America’s wealth grew by 60 percent in the past six years, by over $30 trillion. In approximately the same time, the number of homeless children has also grown by 60 percent..

Over half of public school students are poor enough to qualify for lunch subsidies, and almost half of black children under the age of six are living in poverty.

Nearly half of all food stamp recipients are children, and they averaged about $5 a day for their meals before the 2014 farm bill cut $8.6 billion (over the next ten years) from the food stamp program

$5 a day for food — But Congress thought it was t­oo much.  They spend that much on a cup of coffee!  Moreover, their Congressional salaries are at least $174,000 a year, not to mention perks, and the current Secretary of Commerce is a billionaire! 

In 2007 about 12 of every 100 kids were on food stamps. Today it’s 20 of every 100. And for every two homeless children in 2006, there are now three.

But hunger and homelessness are not the only problems our children are facing. The U.S. ranks near the bottom of the developed world in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education.
Early education should be a primary goal for the future, as numerous studies have shown that pre-school helps all children to achieve more and earn more through adulthood, with the most disadvantaged benefiting the most. But we’re going in the opposite direction.

Since most of you are or will be parents, the issue of elementary education is of vital importance.
A global education survey reported when it comes to math, reading and science, teens in the 
U.S. rank 36th in the world.

However, the U.S. ranks #1 in mass incarceration of adults and youth. And recently, 47 states have made it easier for children to be tried as adults,

Approximately 500,000 youth are brought to detention centers in a given year.  And this data doesn’t reflect all the juveniles tried as adults..

There are only two nations that still refuse to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child: South Sudan and the United States.

In the words of our revolutionary elder, Grace Lee Boggs,

Real poverty is the belief that the purpose of life is acquiring wealth and owning things. Real \wealth is not the possession of property but the recognition that our deepest need, as human beings, is to keep developing our natural and acquired powers to relate to other human beings.
We can begin by doing small things at the local level, like planting community gardens or looking out for our neighbors. That is how change takes place in living systems, not from above but from within, from many local actions occurring simultaneously.”    

Today, May 19, we honor our martyred hero, El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, Malcolm X, who would be 90 years old had he survived another 51 years. But he was assassinated Feb. 21, 1965 in NYC’s Audubon Ballroom at age 39.

I want to share with you some quotes you rarely hear expressing Malcolm’s changed ideas.  Only about a month before he was killed, he clarified his positions on race, segregation, and capitalism.  E.g., In Jan. 1965, he said:

"I am not a racist. I am against every form of racism and segregation, every form of discrimination. I believe in human beings, and that all human beings should be respected as such, regardless of their color.

In the past I permitted myself to be used...to make sweeping indictments of all white people, the entire white race,-- and these generalizations have caused injuries to some whites who perhaps did not deserve to be hurt. Because of the spiritual enlightenment which I was blessed to receive as a result of my recent pilgrimage to the Holy city of Mecca, I no longer subscribe to sweeping indictments of any one race.... I can state in all sincerity that I wish nothing but freedom, justice and equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all people.”

In addition to becoming anti-racist, Malcolm was also anti-capitalist. “You can’t operate a capitalistic system unless you are vulturistic.  You show me a capitalist, I’ll show you a bloodsucker.”

In a famous speech, Malcolm posed the question “The Ballot or the Bullet,” In today’s political (and military) context, I would raise the question, the ballot or the boycott? Particularly in lieu of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that has unleashed billions of dollars to virtually buy political offices in this country.

Departing from Malcolm for a minute, I’ll quote political prisoner, Jamil al-Amin, aka, H. Rap Brown:  “If voting could change the system, they would make it illegal.”

Getting back to our martyred hero, “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression because power real power, comes from conviction which produces action, uncompromising action.  It also produces insurrection against oppression.  This is the only way you will end oppression – with power.”

“Our people have made the mistake of confusing the methods with the objectives  As long as we agree on the objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different methods, or tactics, or strategy.”

I urge you to carefully study the last year of Malcolm’s life, 1964-’65. Had he lived another 50 years, I think he would have continued to learn, grow and change as he had during his brief, revolutionary life.

In closing, let me say that after over 45 years of being in the liberation struggle, I can testify that freedom fighting is indeed liberating. Of course, I’m still a work in progress, as I continue striving to be the new woman:  overcoming institutionalized ideas, starting with racist or prejudicial thinking and behavior, sexism, individualism, and consumerism. Developing more patience along with more unselfish consideration of others, more courage, creativity, discipline, and self-control, more love and kindness, as well as the constant struggle to learn through study, observation, and experience, always the best teacher.

I hope you will likewise struggle to be the new woman, the new man -- using your talents, skills and intelligence to make a difference.

Thank you for listening, and

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