We Must Celebrate the Life and Work of Nelson Mandela

Young_Mandela.jpgI expected to hear the news.  I did not know when it would arrive.   I did not believe that he had much longer to live.  So, when, this afternoon, I heard that Nelson Mandela, at the age of 95, had passed away, I was nevertheless surprised at my reaction.  Actually there were two reactions.

The first reaction was that of the loss of an elderly relative.  I know that sounds melodramatic but i feel that i grew up with Nelson Mandela.  From my earliest days as a young radical I heard the name “Nelson Mandela”.  I learned about the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, and later the other forces that contributed to the South African Freedom struggle.  His picture was in my home in the form of a poster.  He was present in my life.  And, at the age of 95, one could not be surprised in hearing of his passing.

The second reaction was very different, and I am almost afraid to share it.  It was one of celebration, that is celebrating the very fact that this man lived and made the immense contributions that he made.  Celebrating his commitment and integrity; celebrating the extent of his courage, a courage that few of us can every imagine.  I found myself celebrating his comrades, some alive, many dead, who, against all odds, took up a multi-decades struggle for freedom and social transformation.  I celebrated the fact that Mandela believed so passionately in organization and did not wish to be worshiped as the ‘supreme leader.’  He saw in organization, that is the organization of the people, the key to liberation.

Nelson Mandela will be mourned and celebrated.  But something else will happen.  There will soon, probably very soon, be efforts to reinterpret his life.  I do not mean leaving things out, as happened in the otherwise excellent film just released about his life.  Rather, as we have experienced here in the USA with great leaders like King and Malcolm, there will be efforts to convert Mandela into a very safe character in order to advance the ends of the global elite.  We will, for instance, not hear much about Mandela’s refusal to renounce armed struggle against apartheid, even  though such a renunciation could have resulted in his release much earlier.  We will not hear much about his expressions of gratitude to the Cuban people for their consistent support to the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa who were fighting the South African apartheid regime.  We will not hear about Mandela’s consistent, unwavering support for the Palestinian people’s struggle for national liberation.

The battle over Mandela’s legacy will not await his burial nor will it await a period of mourning.  It happens immediately.  And for that reason how we interpret his life and work will determine which Nelson Mandela we are actually recognizing and praising.

Mandela was not a saint, a point that he himself frequently made.  He was also someone who made decisions and choices with which others in the South African movement–people of character and integrity–may not have agreed.  None of that should distract us from appreciating his significance.  After all, Mandela served to introduce the people of the world to the South African people.  He opened a door, through his presence and struggle, to the battle that was waged by millions of otherwise faceless but very human, men and women.

Mandela will be missed.  But we cannot end our thought there.  We must express our appreciation to the Creator of all things that this planet was blessed with Nelson Mandela and those who stood with him when the global elite declared the situation hopeless.

Amandla!

Bill Fletcher is the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of BlackCommentator.com; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of “The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941″; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of “Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice“; and the author of “‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions.” Fletcher is a life-long activist in labor and social justice movements in the U.S. 

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was first published outside the United States (and not published in the U.S. within 30 days) and it was first published before 1978 without complying with U.S. copyright formalities or after 1978 without copyright notice and it was in the public domain in its home country on the URAAdate (January 1, 1996 for most countries).

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership.

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
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Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
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Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

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Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
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Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
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Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

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Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.