ILWU unites antiracist activists

February 19, 2009

SAN FRANCISCO--On February 14, less than two months after the police murder of 22-year-old African American father, Oscar Grant, nearly 200 people rallied against racism and police brutality at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 hall in San Francisco.

In addition to the dozens of Local 10 members, the event united activists and organizations from across the Bay Area, including Rev. Cecil Williams, the Labor Action Committee to Free Mumia Abu-Jamal, Prisoners of Conscience, the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the Haiti action Committee, the San Francisco 8, the International Socialist Organization and many more.

Unaffiliated activists and community members who heard about the event from public listings and e-mail publicity also attended the event, demonstrating the lingering anger and desire to organize that has marked the Bay Area since Grant's murder on New Year's Day. Many speakers referenced the eruption of protest in Oakland that eventually led to the arrest of Grant's murderer and former member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police, Johannes Mehserle.

Speakers were also quite clear about the racist contradictions that are still evident in the handling of Grant's case as in the justice system in its entirety. Mehserle, for example, has already been released on bail and, as J.R. from Prisoners of Conscience pointed out, none of the other officers involved in detaining Grant were ever even tried.

Martina Correia, the sister of Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis, reminded the crowd of the systemic nature of racism in the U.S. She cited the failing public school system as a cause of racial injustice, describing it as a "school to prison pipeline" for people of color.

Relating her brother's case to the murder of Oscar Grant, she stated, "I'm not just standing up for Troy Anthony Davis...I'm standing up against a system of racism, a system of bigotry, a system of violence, a system that we have to stop." The crowd stood up and chanted "Free Troy Davis!" as Correia finished her speech.

The recent election of the first Black president has emboldened many in the Bay Area to set higher sights and focus greater initiative in the fightback against racism. Already, community meetings with BART officials have elicited testimony of racist conduct, not just in the Grant case, as well as demands to disarm the BART police.

The ILWU itself was founded in 1934 after the police murder of two striking workers and has continued to challenge racism and government oppression ever since. ILWU members Clarence Thomas and Jack Heyman echoed the sentiment of many other speakers by stressing the need to organize from the ground up among the rank and file of workplaces and communities in order to truly challenge institutional racism and police repression.

Clarence Thomas will also be speaking on February 26 at Mission High School in San Francisco as part of the Voices of a People's History of the United States event with Howard Zinn.

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