gary '72: in search of a post-civil rights politics / "pressing relentlessly against the limits of the 'realistic'"

exclusive feature
Robert Bland
The Liberator Magazine


The debate over the strengths and weaknesses of "post-racial" as a category to explain our current political moment has mostly exhausted itself. The recent dust-up between Cornel West and Melissa Harris-Perry over the Obama administration's failure to protect the interest of poor and working class folks illuminates some of the ways race has returned into progressive political conversations. Where the Right has not so subtly used white populist dog-whistle politics to paint Barack Obama as "the other," politicians on the Left have dropped explicit references to race from their discursive strategies. Partially because multicultural coalitions are now firmly crystallized on the left side of the political spectrum; partially because the right has successfully demonized anything that may appear to be "reverse racism."

At a moment when race still marks the lives of millions of poor and working class folks, it may be instructive to return to the historical moments when it was critical to national political strategies. In the last gasp of the New Deal order, before the Right began successfully capturing the votes of the former white working-class.

The National Black Political Convention, held in the Spring of 1972 in Gary, Indiana, was convened in response to the radical shifts occurring in the black political Left. Black Nationalists, Marxists, integrationists, and black elected officials came together to carve out a National Black Political Agenda that would address questions of education, healthcare, community control and economic self-determination. While idealistic, the NBPC recognized that only through idealism could a wholly new, equitable society be realized:

"At every critical moment of our struggle in America we have had to press relentlessly against the limits of the 'realistic' to create new realities for the life of our people. This is our challenge at Gary and beyond, for a new Black politics demands new vision, new hope and new definitions of the possible. Our time has come. These things are necessary. All things are possible."

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