Political conventions attract strange bedfellows. Over the weekend preceding the Republican Convention, two other conventions met to talk about issues that were almost polar opposites to those of the Republicans. Both were held in black Baptist churches. The traditional Sunday protest march was small and peaceful, organized by the Worker’s World Party, which is neither black nor Baptist.
The Convention of the Oppressed, aka the Black Unity Convention, met in the Second Ebenezer Baptist Church July 14-17. It was largely organized by Cleveland’s Black Lawyers for Justice, whose President, Malik Zulu Shabazz, was the primary speaker. He was joined by Dr. Cornel West, recently a Bernie Sanders appointee to the Democratic Party’s Platform Drafting Committee.
At the church, speakers mixed Islam with Christianity, and a lot of neither. At the meeting I went to Saturday night Dr. West took off his academic hat and preached a sermon on black power to about a hundred people, including a handful of whites. He and attorney Shabazz engaged in dialog with each other and a long line of speakers from the audience over the meaning of black, and how to get power.
A group calling itself the New Black Panther Party, wearing black semi-military dress, did security for the event, doing intermittent bag and body searches. The NBPP also stood security at the Saturday afternoon rally in downtown Cleveland. About 50 people and a dozen press heard a variety of speakers, while a dozen cops stood off to the side. Although Cleveland permits people to openly carry firearms, none were in sight.
At the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church, Rev. Jawanza Karriem Colvin greeted 500 participants at the Friday night opening of the People’s Justice and Peace Convention. Organized by the Cleveland Nonviolence Network, it brought together groups such as the Farmers’ Union, the Sierra Club, the IWW, the AFSC, and several black organizations, to hear speakers, run workshops and put together a People’s Platform.
As people were filtering into the sanctuary to be seated by white-shirted ushers, eight young people wearing black t-shirts marched up the sidewalk in military formation, chanting for Revolution NOW. On arrival their t-shirts and passouts identified them as members of the Revolutionary Communist Party, (RCP), a cult based in Berkeley, CA. As they entered the church, half a dozen black men wearing black t-shirts saying SECURITY emerged from the woodwork and barred their entry. They were removed to the sidewalk, where they were later joined by two RCP women who had entered the church earlier, wearing RCP t-shirts but without chanting.
There were no disruptions during the meeting. It closed with the audience singing two traditional civil rights songs, whose words were portrayed on a screen for those who did not know them. The first was “Lift Every Voice,” aka the Negro National Anthem. The second was “We Shall Overcome.” Missing among the words on the screen was the traditional verse “Black and White Together, We Shall Overcome.” The audience was about evenly split between blacks and whites.
When the PPJC reconvened on Saturday in the classroom section of the church, their numbers were reduced to about 200, of which about ten percent were black. Many were wearing Bernie t-shirts. On Sunday they met across town, because the church was needed for Sunday services. Numbers were down to 75, of whom only a few were black. Featured speakers were Rev. Lennox Yearwood, head of the Hip-Hop Caucus and Medea Benjamin, a founder of the women’s peace group CodePink, both of Washington, D.C.
At 4:00 on Sunday afternoon, about 200 people gathered about 3 miles from downtown Cleveland to hear speakers from a truck parked on the street proclaiming the Worker’s World Party’s presidential ticket of Monica Moorehead and Lamont Lilly. They didn’t have a permit, according to the Cleveland police who arrived shortly thereafter.
However, both cops and organizers agreed that there should be a peaceful march through downtown Cleveland. WWP organizers had planned to march on the sidewalk and stop for the lights, but the police gave them two lanes in the street with no stopping. In a walk of almost three miles, their numbers expanded to 500 marchers and declined to about 150 at the end, while the number of cops continued to grow to several dozen, mostly on bicycles.
Following a banner reading “Shut Down TRUMP and the RNC” the marchers included a dozen “Ladies of Liberty” who were CodePinkers dressed in pink, four from the black block of Akron, OH, clothed in black from head to toe and wearing the plastic masks that became famous during the Occupy protests in 2011-12, lots of Black Lives Matter signs, mostly carried by whites, one banner on weed (Marijuana) and one young man in a red shirt that said CCCP, which is Cyrillic for USSR. Some things never end.
About 100 feet behind all the others were a dozen RCPers, proudly wearing their black t-shirts, holding a large banner with the faces of blacks shot by cops saying “STOP murder by police.”
Overheated cops wearing black uniforms with bulletproof vests used their bikes to enforce turns. Once the march passed, they raced down the sidewalk to get ahead of them and block out the next turn. The only danger in the entire march was to the hapless pedestrians on the sidewalk when the cops wanted to pass.
About 150 people were left when the march ended at tall iron fences where Republican party-goers were trying to enter for the traditional delegate-media party on the lake shore. The cops let them rally for a while, then brought in horses to move them back up the street, where they dispersed. As the sun went down, the street was left to the partygoers with tickets for the food and entertainment on the other side of the fence. The RNCers and the STOP RNCers barely saw each other.
Jo Freeman covered the conventions for SeniorWomen Web. Her stories were initially posted at www.seniorwomen.com”