From the 16th to the 19th centuries 12 million Africans were hunted down, kidnapped and chained in the bowels of ships for the long middle passage to the western Hemisphere to be slaves for life. They were taken to the Caribbean and to locations all over Central and South America.
When I look out at this large multi-racial audience this evening (black, Latino, white, Native American Indian, Asian and Pacific) I see people who have had special relationships to the 12 million survivors of the middle passage.
W.E.B. DuBois estimated that an additional 13 million lost there lives in the capture and forced transport to the North and South American continents.
This is black history month but this story, this history, is not just about black people. This is a story of epic proportions that has had a profound impact, not only on our nation, but globally. The legacy of slavery has affected us all.
From slavery to today's struggles against structural racism and for democracy for all, the African-American people continue to play a strategic role.
Slavery and racial genocide and oppression were a decisive part of the economic and cultural development of US capitalism from the beginning. Today racism continues to be a main ideological weapon of the 1 percent. Racism is used to divide and conquer. For working people, it makes enemies of allies and allies of enemies. The worse expressions of racism come from the extreme right but it poisons all sectors of the ruling 1 percent.
Over 90 percent of African Americans are in the working class. They play a critical role in the working-class movement.
Because their struggle for freedom naturally combines the fight against racism and capitalist exploitation, the liberation movement of African Americans has a great revolutionary potential. Millions of African-American workers have a long history of civil rights and union activism and that gives them a higher level of consciousness and militancy when it comes to fighting against the system.
The centrality of the struggle of the African American people in the total fight for democracy and freedom is rooted in the class composition of black people and the culture of resistance and struggle that made it possible to survive the horrors of human bondage and oppression for over four centuries.
The struggle continues and we pick up the torch of liberation and freedom and we will not go back.
But what is the great challenge in the struggle for African-American freedom today?
It is clear to me that the main obstacle to progress today is the extreme right wing which is the dominant force in the Republican Party.
Who is the main block to all civil rights and pro-working-class legislation today?
Who is pushing voter suppression all over the country?
Who is fighting against any raise in the minimum wage?
Who is the most organized opposition to a woman's right to choose and marriage equality?
Who is pushing "stand your ground" and "stop and frisk legislation?" Who is the main proponent of mass incarceration of blacks and Latinos?
Who is opposed to any form of gun control?
Who is the main opposition to quality pubic education for all?
Who is blocking the extension of unemployment benefits and is pushing for big cuts in housing programs and food stamps?
Who is the main obstacle to doing something about climate change?
Who is the main supporter of fracking and openly opposes government creation of vitally needed public works and green jobs?
Who is the most active and open opposition to any government programs that help working families? Who is the most organized opposition to taxing the rich?
Who is openly for the destruction of unions and against workers rights? Who is the strongest organized movement that is for the total rollback of the New Deal reforms including Social Security? They are the main problem.
It is the extreme right wing, the tea party and libertarians, with billions of dollars in corporate money that has taken complete control of the Republican Party. Today they are the main obstacles to advancing the cause of racial equality.
They hate President Obama with a passion because on most of these domestic issues his positions are in harmony with the needs of the working class. Leo Gerard, leader of the Steel workers said, "They hate Obama mainly because he is black."
Their hate for the President is poisoning the political atmosphere and is discouraging racial unity and encouraging the racist lunatic fringe. That's how they think they will win elections. They are acting against the best interest of the nation.
With all the money and power they have you would think they couldn't be defeated. But they have been and will be defeated. They are in a fight for their political lives. Their reliance on racism and anti-communism is moving them to the political fringe. This is a weakness, not a strength. The main electoral base of the tea party and Republicans is among white male and Southern voters. They cannot win elections without voter suppression.
The Republican Party will collapse if it loses the South.
It matters who is elected to public office. We have to be a part of those who are for defeating the right wing Republican majority in the House.
It matters who is elected to public office. Trayvon Martin and Jordon Davis might be alive today if it wasn't for the Republican majority in the Florida legislature that passed "stand your ground."
The Arizona legislature recently passed a Jim Crow-type law against the basic rights of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. The law, had it not been vetoed, under pressure, by the governor, would have allowed a store or restaurant to deny service to anyone who is perceived as being gay. The legislator who introduced the bill said it was about "freedom of religion." What church does he belong to? The Church of the KKK?
Now we know about that and we know that they are opposed to civil rights and racial equality in general. Rand Paul says that the civil right act should be enforced in the public sector but not in the private sector. These are basically positions that will nullify the gains of the 1960s and legalize discrimination everywhere.
Your vote and your political work matters. The last election cycles show that. We cannot let our long term goals be an obstacle to getting involved in the urgent immediate struggles that are before us today. Understanding that reality is key to moving our country towards a new progressive era.
This is no time to retreat. We are not going back. On most issues, with struggle, these battles can and will be won.
So, in conclusion, I say 2014 must not be a repeat of 2010. 2014 must be a historic setback for the extreme right and a great opening to new victories for the people.
Jarvis Tyner is executive vice chair of the Communist Party, USA. The above are the remarks he made at a New York City celebration of African-American culture and struggle held on Feb. 26.
Photo: Moral Monday march in Raleigh, N.C. North Carolina NAACP Facebook page.