Over 800 gathered in Charleston Sept. 5-6 for the Days of Grace Mass March and Strategy Conference against racism and for economic justice. We traveled from all over the United States. Guest speaker, Clarence Thomas of the International Longshore Workers Union Local 10, came in from Oakland. Several Bay Area organizers all journeyed together, including dock workers all the way from Seattle.
National activist, DeRay McKesson came in from St. Louis. Organizers with the Fight for $15 pressed their way from as far as Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee. The Boston-based Mass Action Against Police Brutality came down from Massachusetts. Workers World Party sent a delegation representing Durham, Virginia, Atlanta, Los Angeles and New York; while the Southern Workers Assembly proved to be one of the most energetic contingents in the march.
As old and young, black and white, women and men stood together, we remembered the fallen nine of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. We lifted the name of Walter Scott, fatally shot in the back by a cop in North Charleston. We honored the countless victims of police brutality, nationwide. As nearly a thousand marched through downtown Charleston, our display of unity, resistance and sheer determination could not be ignored. Our will to fight could not help but be heard as tourists and onlookers took note.
As you looked over the crowd, there were placards and banners commemorating the life work of Denmark Vesey, Robert Smalls and Harriet Tubman. Key issues included police terror and discriminatory enforcement; minimum wage and the exploitation of low-wage workers; health care, public education, collective bargaining and new strategies toward achieving black liberation.
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Keynote speaker, the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, took attendees to the mountaintop of truth and grace. We’re in the embryonic stages of the third reconstruction, Barber said, noting that many of the same issues from 100 years ago are still with us today. The first consciousness we have to change is the consciousness of the people, he said, noting that it will take a mass movement to move state legislatures to win progressive concessions for the oppressed.
Following Barber, Clarence Thomas gave a stirring speech calling for workers to shut down the economy, referring to the recent May Day shutdown of the docks on the West Coast. In a beautiful show of internationalism, a solidarity message from the National Network on Cuba was read from the stage.
Following the march was a mass convening at the International Longshoremen Association Hall on Morrison Drive that hosted workshops, vendors and teach-ins. Angaza Laughinghouse, vice president of the United Electrical Workers Local 150 and Black Workers for Justice, led a session discussing the economic plight of Southern workers who are mostly un-unionized and without collective bargaining.
Local Black Lives Matter organizer Muhiyyidin dBaha conducted a teach-in on Strategizing Against Police Terror. During the Sept. 6 final plenary, Ajamu Dillahunt, organizer with Black Workers for Justice, reminded us, this march was very unique. We had the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15. Dillahunt was absolutely correct. This brand of working-class unity is something the U.S. South hasnt seen for decades.
Though the number of attendees was a little lighter than expected (held on Labor Day Weekend), it is very important to note that most of the organizers and participants were actually based in the Southern Black Belt. Such developments will only aid in the process of organizing the same region where Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker once fought.
The Days of Grace was only a start. From Ferguson to Charleston, a new surge of resistance is running full speed ahead.
Lamont Lilly is a contributing editor with the Triangle Free Press and organizer with Workers World Party. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In February 2015, he traveled to Syria and Lebanon with Ramsey Clark and Cynthia McKinney. Lilly lives in Durham.