Tuesday, August 28, 2007

the rainbow council of elders

This week has been exhausting. we've only been here for 3 days, and already i'm only running on about 8 hours of sleep for all of those days combined.

Yesterday I saw Kathleen Cleaver, one of my personal heroes, at the opening ceremonies. She was walking around, doing interviews of folks throughout the forum, particularly young people. Kathleen Cleaver is the former National Communications Secretary for the Black Panther Party, and was the first woman to be appointed to their Central Committee. And there she was, in the flesh rather than on the pages of a book, talking with the youngest member of our delegation, a Latina sister from the Bayview Hunters Point area. Little did i know, she's also a member of the Brown Berets in Watsonville, and she and Kathleen are talking story, swapping experiences and she's interviewing Juana about here experiences at the Social Forum!

Now, i'm not one to have the star syndrome...i don't fall to my knees when i see celebrities. But Kathleen is not a celebrity in my mind...she's a movement hero. And any time that one has the opportunity to be in the presence of someone who's seen so much, sacrificed so much, for me and others like me, i feel that's reason enough to be humbled.

so as i'm thinking these thoughts in my mind, exhausted from what felt like a 5 mile march in the sweltering hot sun through the downtown of Atlanta, as i come back to where my body was, i see juana gesturing toward me and waving me over. Unfortunately, my movement hero obsession got the best of me, and i completely lost most ability to speak during the relatively short encounter that we'd had.

This afternoon, i sat on a panel about building black/brown unity, with Betita Martinez, Community Coalition, HOMEY, and Miami Workers Center. We talked about the different strategies that our organizaitons use to build strong political relationships between Black folks and Latinos in our respective communities. After the panel, Kathleen walks in and starts up another conversation with Juana, who'd sat in on the panel. as we're leaving, she tells us both that there are other elders here at the Forum, and that folks are trying to convene an encuentro for young people to dialogue together with some of the elders in the space.

the encuentro included elders from the Black Panther Party chapters in Oakland and Chicago, brothers from the Young Lords Party, and Ward Churchill from AIM. it was a small gathering of folks, maybe about 40 youth and 5 elders. they rapped with us about their experiences--how they'd come to join a revolutionary organization, what were the conditions that led them to want to be involved, and what was important about joining an organization. At the end, they announced that they were in the process of forming a Rainbow Council of Elders, comprised of elders from different social movements in the 1960s and 1970s, which would include I Wor Kuen and other revolutionary organizations.

As we left the panel, i was nudging Juana...can you believe that we were just in the midst of such amazing heroes? did you exchange information with that sister? what kinds of things was she telling you about? Juana looks over at me and says, "You know, she's fresh! But, what's important about that panel is that the elders are recognizing that they need to get back in the mix, that the young people today need our elders to be able to connect our experiences." As i thought about what she said, i realized that she was right...that there is a major gap that exists between the elders of the social movements that came before us (or paved our way) and the social movements of today. I'm excited to see if the thing actually moves forward, for what a valuable opportunity...to be able to use the experience and wisdom of yesterday to inform, compare, and challenge the wisdom of today.

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