by Cameron Orr
Originally published @ PeoplesWorld.org (link)
On the weekend of June 17-19, 65,000 people from near and far arrived in the Martin Luther King Park of Buffalo, NY. They came to celebrate Juneteenth, a holiday marking the end of slavery. And the New York district of the Communist Party was there. Watch and listen to the story here.
On June 19th, 1865, Union troops led by Major General Gordon arrived in Galveston, Texas to declare that all former slaves were now free. This was two and a half years after January 1, 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation had become effective. The withholding of this news for so long meant that many people continued to labor illegally under the conditions of racialized chattel slavery. It greatly benefitted the planter class who had more harvests to reap and more profits to make. Many of them refused to acknowledge the authority of President Lincoln over their states. Despite whatever attempts were made to resist the advancing social order, progress could not be stopped. The arrival of the news was met with both shock and jubilation and the first Juneteenth was born.
The city of Buffalo, NY is the second largest city in New York State. It also suffers from the fourth highest rates of poverty in the nation. It is the sevebtg most segregated city in the nation, and the children of Buffalo are the third most deprived. Buffalo, like many cities around the country, is also suffering from rising rents and gentrification, dominated by the profiteering real estate and financial corporations.
When the #Fightfor15 won an incremental wage hike in New York City that will rise to $15 an hour minimum wage by 2018, the city of Buffalo was excluded, along with most the of the state. The working people of Buffalo will see their wage floor rise much more slowly. By 2021, it will be capped at a mere $12.50/hour. This is not a living wage.
Buffalo, a city in Erie County, also faces the challenge of being represented by right-wing lawmakers. The majority leader of the county, Joseph Lorigo, is a member of the Conservative Party. These are forces which present a major obstacle to progressive reforms. Their reactionary politics create a major barrier to progressive trends in the Democratic Party. They weaken the strength of organizations like the Working Families Party in the efforts to build an electable political party to unwaveringly represent the 99%.
However, the #Fightfor15 continues to build worker power. Under its banner, workers are winning battles around the nation towards a $15 an hour minimum wage and the right to join a union. The movement is battling police terror and other forms of state sanctioned violence against people of color. It is supporting demands for real immigration reform, for affordable child care, and affordable housing. To further the development of this great democratic force in our nation, 14 members and friends of the New York District of the Communist Party USA traveled from New York City to attend Juneteenth in Buffalo, NY. They joined members and friends in this city to support the #Fightfor15 in a community that greatly needs it.
The Juneteenth celebrations in Buffalo presented a wonderful display of a resilient community proud of its heritage and determined to build on the victories of the past. The parades were joyful, rich with music and dance. The fair was abundant with handicrafts, food services, clothes and textiles rooted in the cultures of the African diaspora, and with the cultural innovations of their American traditions.
The Communist Party USA and Young Communist League were very much welcomed in this important community event. A tent was set up with colorful banners representing the Party, the Youth League, and PeoplesWorld.org. A book table was set out along with literature put out by the New York District, including a booklet on the Black Lives Matter movement, a summary of capitalism, socialism, and democracy, and the story of the Party’s success in building the movement in northern Manhattan. Lemonade was offered to the people passing by. Over 2,500 copies of a new pamphlet called “Why Buffalo Needs 15” were handed out. Much interest was generated in this movement which is making the connections between poverty wages, racial oppression, the oppression of children and women, and for-profit housing development.
Spirits were high in the bright sun that glittered all around the festivities. People gathering in clusters around the CP/YCL tent to engage in dialogue, to collect and read the literature on display, to sign contact lists, and to the receive the pamphlet specially made for the people of Buffalo, frequently resulted in traffic jams in that area of the fair. Hundreds of copies of Party literature were received, and many books were sold. 175 people requested to remain in contact with the Party. Over 40 of them were young people wanting to be in touch with the activities of the Young Communist League, which continues to grow in the New York District. Two friends traveling in the vans on the six hour journey from New York City joined the Party. Four Buffalonians joined our movement. Including two adults who joined the Party, and two young people who joined the YCL.
The young people traveling with the New York City party clubs expressed their gratitude in having been a part of this important trip with CPUSA. As one young woman named Nia wrote, “The trip to the Juneteenth celebrations in Buffalo was a reminder to me what it meant to be free and what I had to do to keep that freedom. It’s a celebration, but also a reminder. I could have been enslaved had it not been for people who saw the injustice. We need people to always intervene for injustice even when we face resistance.”
A Buffalo worker that spoke to us had this to say: “I think the #Fightfor15 may help to decrease crime and improve health. The reason a lot of people are out here in the streets selling drugs and robbing others is that they are quite desperate. It seems better than taking a job where they will be over-working themselves to barely make ends meet with no health benefits. They will have no paid vacation in case a crisis or injury occurs. If they do seem to make ends meet, they barely have any time of their own or cannot take care of other aspects of their lives. Families and single moms with these jobs will not be able to keep up with household work, or have child-care, car insurance, education, or good nutrition. We are in a system that enslaves us and still gives us unequal rights.”
In addition to the relationships that were developed on this trip with the working people of New York City and Buffalo, new relationships were made with organizers in unions and community organizations in the city of Buffalo, including housing justice groups. A gathering with old and new friends was had in the backyard of a union organizer. These relationships are quickly bearing fruit in the development of the movement in both cities.
A veteran member of the Party reflected on the experience with a quote from Lenin: “Revolutions are the festivals of the oppressed and the exploited.’ There is no better way for us to realize the harmony of culture and revolution than by advancing the #Fightfor15 in the city of Buffalo as its people celebrate the emancipation of the formerly enslaved. Our presence here is nothing more and nothing less than a continuation ‘of the very same struggle that has brought and will continue to bring power to the working families of the United States.” In a similar vein, a Latina friend of the YCL told us, “Seeing the many different people get together and celebrate with dancing, singing and the different food showed what society looks like.”
The involvement of the Communist Party USA and its youth league in the New York District in this great celebration of freedom brought home the importance of being a part of the people’s celebrations and organizations. It was a fresh reminder of the rich inspiration to be drawn from mass based activity. The political revolution will be driven by the people, and it is our relationships with them and our rootedness in their communities that will reap the greatest rewards.