Jo Freeman's Republican Convention Diary: Cleveland’s Other Gatherings
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.
Pictured: Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Eddie Glaude, former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner and Rev. Dr. Colvin at the Olivet Baptist Church, Cleveland
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 Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the American Friends Service Committee (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 pass-outs 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 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.
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