Reporting on the 10th Anniversary of the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation and the Emergence of a New American People
by Emily Dong
On the last two weekends of this past September, the Saturday Free School for Philosophy and Black Liberation celebrated its 10th anniversary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, entitled “Knowledge and Recapturing the Revolutionary Spirit for Our Time.” The 10th anniversary spanned across the city, holding symposia on Martin Luther King Jr. and his uncompromising faith in the future of the American people; documentary screenings on James Baldwin and African revolutionaries such as Marien Ngouabi, Modibo Keita, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, and Amilcar Cabral who, hand-in-hand with Asia, led a world struggle against colonialism and imperialism; panels dedicated to pedagogies for the moral, spiritual, and political education of youth and children; and a closing intercivilizational concert and tribute to heroes whose lives are an example to the youth.
In a time of domestic and global crisis, where the actions of the American ruling elite pose an existential threat of nuclear war, the Saturday Free School’s 10th anniversary declared that now is the time of a heightened struggle of the American people to forge a new nation and a new people. What is happening in the U.S. is not what the Western media, intellectuals, or large parts of the so-called Left insist. The American people are not becoming more fascist and more white supremacist. There is an increasing crisis of legitimacy, where the American people do not trust their government to serve their interests, and the government is wholly ill-equipped to know which direction their people will head and how they will respond.
These developments are positive and have revolutionary potential. It may not be clear to those outside of America that this country has a revolutionary tradition and history. The Saturday Free School’s 10th anniversary explained that America has had three revolutions, each of which has elevated the capacity of the American people, qualitatively changing them in the process: 1776, Civil War and Reconstruction, and finally the Civil Rights Movement.
Today, we are on the cusp of achieving a new nation. Contrary to popular claims, this is not a counterrevolutionary moment. It is the opposite. The Saturday Free School considers today possibly a pre-revolutionary situation in America, ushering in a Fourth American Revolution that can complete the unfulfilled democratic goals of the Third American Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement. The 10th anniversary’s vision statement declares:
Despite the uncertainty and chaos of the moment, we are at the beginning of a Fourth American Revolution. The central democratic goal of the Fourth American Revolution is to bring to actuality the yet unfinished goals of the Third American Revolution. To achieve Democracy and Peace, we as a nation must grasp the moral, spiritual and political values articulated by Martin Luther King Jr. Based on these values and the vision that inspired them, the people must take power. If we are to have a future, a new democracy anchored to the people and their aspirations must be established.
A large advancement the Saturday Free School made in its 10th anniversary was putting forth a new theoretical framework which synthesizes W.E.B Du Bois and V.I. Lenin. It is Du Bois who offers us the necessary science and knowledge to recognize that there is a revolutionary process and essence in the United States. Leninism, the highest form of Marxism, is not enough on its own to help us understand America today and our path forward. Only a new synthesis of Du Bois and Lenin allows us to not only understand America’s past – its revolutionary history. But also to understand our present and any possible future.
Thus, despite false “movements” pushed by the ruling class, and cynicism pushed by so-called progressives and leftists, it is clear to us that the American people are more united than ever not only in their discontent with the state but in their desire for and movement toward a new America – one where they can earn enough to retire and give their children a future, one where democracy guarantees peace, safety, and development.
The American people have the capacity to achieve a new nation. It is not a question of whether they will do so; the 10th anniversary asserts that the American people are already in the process of emerging as a new people. We know this because there is a qualitative change in the American people from 100, or even 50, years ago to now. The Civil Rights Movement, defined by the ideas, philosophy, and vision of Martin Luther King, who we consider to be the Father of a New Nation, fundamentally transformed the American people.
W.E.B. Du Bois explains in Black Reconstruction that during the Civil War, the white poor were unable to “look forward” – imagine beyond the aristocratic and existing systems which their economic position, identity, and existence had all depended on. They refused to join the masses of formerly enslaved black workers in creating a new society out of the ruins of the cotton kingdom. Many white workers responded violently, blaming black people for their low status, homelessness, and unemployment, and only knowing how to report their suffering to the government rather than organize. The recently freed African Americans were different. They self-organized, helped each other, armed with the deep belief in their destiny for freedom and democracy:
"The most discouraging feature was the utter helplessness of the white community in the face of the terrible problem. Almost any thoughtful traveler could see that the majority of the whites were parasites, idlers and semi-vagabonds. According to Sidney Andrews, 'The Negro, as bad as his condition is,' said he, 'seems to me, on the whole, to accommodate himself more easily than the whites to the changed situation. I should say that the question at issue in the South is not 'What shall be done with the Negro?' but 'What shall be done with the whites?' (General Hatch, p. 143-4 of Black Reconstruction)
Unlike the reconstruction period, today the white working class and poor are coming to understand that their suffering will never be alleviated by the powers that rule this country. Problems of the people are addressed when convenient and profitable to those in power, or to suppress the masses’ growing discontent. Today ordinary white Americans are understanding what King declared in his opposition to the Vietnam War: that the enemy of the American people are the intertwined evils of war, poverty, and white supremacy (and whoever upholds and profits from them). Like Henry Winston, former Chairman of the National Committee of the Communist Party USA said: “The oppressors themselves are never divided by color.” The only solution is a united struggle for a new society which serves the people.
How could the American people not see the enemy today? Today the people experience the devastating fallout of a promise that they believe to have been broken but in actuality was never really given. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently announced this December that the average American’s life expectancy fell to its lowest since 1996 (76.4 years). Besides the Covid-19 pandemic, this large drop in life expectancy is blamed on a rapidly growing drug epidemic, in particular fentanyl addiction. Drug overdose deaths have jumped from 28.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020 to 32.4 in 2021. Most Americans are poor, and inflation has made basic necessities such as food, gas for cars, and heating oil so expensive that “rising wages” don’t mean net gain. Local governments have no effective solutions for rising violence in major U.S. cities. Homicide rates in rural America rose by 25% in 2020 (the largest increase since tracking data in the 90’s), while homicide rates spiked by 30% in metropolitan areas. A prosecutor in Arkansas said “she felt helpless. ‘I don’t know what to say, besides y’all stop killing each other.’” American neighborhoods may differ in their geographic location and racial makeup, but they share the same deep trauma.
Martin Luther King was assassinated for speaking the dangerous truth that the American people, white and black, have everything to unite around and fight for during the Vietnam War to make America truly free. We see white people today asking why does my child have to die from drug addiction, suicide, unemployment, broken dreams, and unfulfilled promises by the government and state? Why is a country so rich and noble enough to send “aid” to Ukraine, and so democratic enough to lecture Russia and China on just governance and morality, so disinterested in finding my husband a job and giving my child an education let alone keeping them safe? These are the questions which challenge the legitimacy of the state, American democracy, and the existence of freedom in American society.
These white workers in deindustrialized areas are not the backwards, white supremacists that the Western media insists them to be. They are the white people in the impoverished, deindustrialized parts of Pennsylvania, often living in their communities for generations, experiencing firsthand time pass by in America but life not getting much better. They are the workers who see fewer job opportunities in their communities and barely earn enough at the jobs available to provide for themselves and their children. I know women who choose to work just enough hours to count as a part-time employee, not because they don’t want to work more hours, but because they need to qualify for state health insurance. There are workers who call off sick, not because they are ill and can’t make it to work, but because they sometimes don’t have enough money to pay for the gas to drive to work. They call off sick out of embarrassment and because their supervisors tell them to budget better next time.
Despite how much the media or woke ideology works overtime to convince people that white workers and black workers have little in common, to the point of demonizing the white workers and poor, white workers in upstate Pennsylvania are sociologically not that different from black workers of Philadelphia. Today, they share much in common: their threads of consciousness, discontents and sense of betrayal, their agreement that there is a deep crisis in the United States with implications for the world, and that there is undeniably a better, alternative future that we must win. Attended by and in partnership with the Church of the Overcomer, Church of the Crucifixion, Nation of Islam, and Mother Bethel AME, the 10th anniversary confirmed that the American people are more of one people than ever before.
In fact, the main ideological white supremacists are the ruling class dedicated to dividing and neutralizing the American people in one of the greatest crises of legitimacy this country has experienced. The ideological white supremacists are the banks and corporations who promote Black Lives Matter and create “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” committees but are committed to keeping Americans poor. The ideological white supremacists are the nonprofit, labor union, and progressive leaders who hypocritically reinstitute a new form of the color line, spending their time and money on convincing the black, Latino, and Asian poor that the white poor are what’s wrong with America. Sadly, many alleged leftists and liberals are on board with this project of the ruling class. The real fascist is the consolidation of this country’s government, intelligence agencies, high finance, military industrial complex, and media, committed to pushing Russia, China, and North Korea to war by any means necessary. For what?
So-called leftists claim that the history of America is the history of counterrevolution and that the U.S. state was not forged in a revolutionary anticolonial struggle but in its opposite – a struggle to consolidate slavery. The historian and scholar Gerald Horne, speaking from what he believes is the Left, advances a racist, anti-people, anti-working class, and anti-struggle thesis which gives the upper hand to the ruling class and its ideology. He does this at a time of perhaps the greatest political crisis in this country, containing the possibilities of a revolutionary democratic resolution of the crisis.
There is a future for America. It is with the world’s people who are already embracing a new world order. The American people, too, are moving in joining humanity’s march forward – for themselves and their children. The Saturday Free School, which anchors itself in the people and in the Du Boisian thought, views the Black Proletariat, formerly enslaved, as the advanced guard of the multiracial peoples’ democratic peace and humanistic aspirations. Such a democratic remaking of American society and ultimately as envisioned by Martin Luther King Jr., the emergence of a new people who in fighting for democracy opens the door to the establishment of a socialist United States. It is our responsibility to join them. To nurture and protect the youth’s revolutionary potential, and to instill in them the confidence to love themselves, each other, and change the world. To inspire people to have, like Martin Luther King said, “an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind.”
Emily Dong is a union organizer in Philadelphia and a member of the Saturday Free School.