INTRODUCING THE NATIONAL AFRICAN AMERICAN CONGRESS: PRINCIPLES AND PROGRAMS
The African American Convention Movement has its origin in 1830 with the advent of the National Negro Convention held at the historic, Bethel A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia, Pa. Out of this gathering, an organization was born, The American Society of Free Persons of Color, to be led by Bishop Richard Allen. This monumental organizational effort was among the first of its kind to harness the collective talents, knowledge and energies of African Americans towards the end of defining, developing and defending our interests as a national community. Though the conventions, conferences and movements that followed, sought to raise the aspirations of America’s people of color, none took on the meaning and significance of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), under the able and visionary leadership of the Honorable Marcus Garvey.
The UNIA became a practical expression of what others only theorized about. It encouraged Blacks to be self-determining, to own their own shops and businesses and to profit together from them, to manage the internal and international affairs of our national community, to know, understand and build on our rich history and to pursue our unique interests as a community of free, proud and productive people.
Later, it would be the artists, writers, performers, poets, dancers and even fashion designers such as Madame C.J. Walker, who would inspire a generation to engage in a cultural renaissance that would instill dignity, respect and self-determined action to free ourselves from the triple evils of racism, oppression and exploitation.
As the United States traversed its way through the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars, many of its People of Color sought to realize the ever illusive American dream, leading to the massive migrations to northern urban centers. Awaiting these dream seekers were many influences, including those of Paul Robeson, Mary Mcleod Bethune, A. Phillip Randolph, The Honorable Elijah Muhammed and W.E.B. Du Bois.
Fast forward to the 1960’s, where activism took on a new character as it sought to challenge the power structure of the dominant society, unlike any other time in this country’s history. This period was marked by many contending ideological tendencies; integration, assimilation, black power, black cultural nationalism, Marxism/socialism and Pan Africanism. As Komozi Woodard points out in his book, “Nation within a Nation”, this period, as in the former ones, was punctuated with various Unity Formations, some of which were the three Black Power Conferences, National Black Assembly, Republic of New Africa (RNA), Gary Convention, Independent Black Political Party, Congress of African People (CAP), and later the National Black United Front. In addition to the governments’ COINTELPRO program, other factors leading to the demise of these organizations were lack of leadership and organizational skills, character questions, debasement of woman and ideological conflicts.
In formulating and fashioning the National African American Congress (NAAC), we tried to take the above factors and history into account. Key to building a NAAC structure, is the emphasis of developing a COMPREHENSIVE and MULTI-DISCIPLANARY approach to the myriad issues that affect the National African American community. This calls for black professionals, community activists, scholars and artists to unite towards the goal of formulating policy, positions, analysis, proposals, programs, projects, strategies and tactics in at least seven basic areas of black social and cultural life. These seven basic areas include:
3. Social organization
4. Political organization
5. Economic organization
6. Creative production (Art, Music, Dance, Fashion, Literature, Technology, Theater, Cinema, Spoken Word)
7. Ethos – Collective psychology and it’s defining characteristics
The National African American Congress stands on several principles to which its constituent organizations and advocates believe and adhere to.
1. Self determination – In the African American context, this principle is best defined as the recognition of the right and responsibility to define, defend and develop our interests as a people and national community, and to step back on the stage of human history as a free, proud and productive people.
2. Operational Unity - Entering into and engaging in a principled and practical unity that does not seek to deny autonomy, but rather, to foster a spirit of working together towards common goals and objectives, the ultimate of which, is to build a more perfect and harmonious union in the interests of our National Community.
3. National Community – this is recognition of the fact that African Americans share a common history, culture, life experiences, consciousness and therefore the same or similar life chances. Because of these we also have the right and responsibility to build the structural and institutional capacity to create and contribute to human progress in our own image and interests, as a free and self-determined people.
4. Social Space as Liberation Zones –
The most controversial principle of the National African American Congress is social space as liberation zones. While it is a general truism that land is the basis for all revolutionary movements, as Malcolm admonished us, we also have learned from Cabral, that each national liberation movement must adjust to the social conditions and environment in which it finds itself. NAAC takes the position that we, as a national community, cannot wait until a land base in the south or on the African continent, is secured before building the structural and institutional capacity to control key areas of our social and cultural existence. Many of our national organizations address specific need areas in our communities. The NAACP, for the most part addresses legal issues. The National Urban League addresses the need for jobs. As a national organization, NAAC seeks to address the myriad of issues that affects African Americans in a comprehensive and multi-disciplinary manner. In short, this means to take a total look at any given issue or issues, form analysis, and formulate correctives and/or remedies drawing from multiple disciplines, as needs are assessed. Having a land base or approaching challenges facing us as a collective group in a piecemeal or band-aid manner will not bring the kind and degree of social transformation about that will empower us.
What NAAC argues, is that African Americans need to occupy critical areas of social space that have traditionally controlled our lives. In the dominant society, areas of social space are associated with Law, Medicine, Finance, Science, Technology, Pop Culture, and Media, Industry and Electoral Politics. These areas of social space have worked together to support a system of dominance and White Supremacy for over a 400 year period. Therefore, NAAC posits that there are at least Seven Areas of Social and Cultural Life that Black Americans need to engage as Liberation Zones in order to attain degrees of empowerment in order to control our communities and to create a realm of freedom that allows us to pursue our interests as a national community. In the Angolan, Mozambiquan, Cuban, and Nicaraguan Liberation Movements there was no question about the land base that they were fighting for. Therefore, their Liberation Zones were land based. In our social milleu land based solutions remain problematic. As a matter strategy for struggle, we maintain that by engaging our people in a movement for community control over key areas of social space, i.e., history, spirituality/religion, social organization, economic organization, political organization, creative production and Ethos, we in fact open up new battlefronts at a time and place of our choosing, where conditions are favorable to us, and allows us to provide needed services and goods to our communities. NAAC seeks to identify these key areas as liberation zones, in as much as they determine our cultural and social life, and the more we are empowered in these areas, the less control our oppressor has over our lives. The more we control these key areas of social space over our lives, the closer we move our people to full and final liberation. This strategy is not offered at the exclusion of or alternative to others, but in addition to and to broaden our options as we look for practical liberation strategies.
To achieve this end, NAAC proposes the following:
1. To harness the wealth of talent, intellect, experience, knowledge, creativity and wisdom in our national community and direct them towards nation building projects.
2. To Build the processes and structural capacity to develop national policies, programs, projects, i.e. a National Agenda, that produces models and paradigms that can be implemented at the regional and local level.
3. Formulation and implementation of a Cooperative Economic program from a national perspective.
4. Design and formulation of a National Youth Corps that will have the capacity to develop and defend our community’s interests, both, internally and externally.
5. Support and provide a National Platform for a National Woman’s Movement, which lends itself to development of a National Culture and also integrates women into every fabric of our national life and community.
6. To build and support the building of Pan African relations in the areas of trade, cultural exchange and preservation, people to people relations, Pan African universities, and to engage in meaningful dialogue as to what path to development for the African continent.
7. To support the building of a national governing entity that seeks to develop new paradigms of governance, trains a new generation of leaders who put character first, develops an African-centered political culture and develops a plan to hold national plebiscites when necessary.