BOSTON – More than 1,300 activists in the fight against racism from across the United States gathered here October 10-12 for the second conference of the National Student Coalition Against Racism (NSCAR).
Boston, much in the news in the American bicentennial celebrations as the cradle of the American Revolution, is now the scene of continuing racist violence against Black schoolchildren who are being bused to schools in white neighborhoods to get a better education. Boston has become the major focus of a national campaign against busing that is being led by President Gerald Ford and the leaders of Congress. The purpose of this racist campaign is to weaken and divide the Black community, block desegregation efforts in the schools, and help push back many of the social and economic gains Blacks and other minorities have won during the past two decades.
After an extensive and wide-ranging discussion in the plenary sessions, special panels, and numerous workshops, the NSCAR conference overwhelmingly voted to reaffirm its support of busing. The participants decided to launch a national campaign to defend school desegregation and fight racism.
The conference set November 22 as the date for nationally coordinated activities to be held around the country. November 10-15 was also set as a week of protest in universities and high schools against tuition hikes and cutbacks in funds for education.
The conference registered the growth of NSCAR as an organization. The 1,300 participants came from more than sixty NSCAR chapters, as well as a broad range of other organizations. They came from as far away as California, Utah, Colorado, and Texas. Applause greeted a speaker from a newly established NSCAR chapter in Louisville, Kentucky, another focus of reactionary attacks on busing.
The wide support from individuals and organizations backing NSCAR was reflected at the rally October 10 that opened the conference. Perhaps the high point was the testimony of three Black high-school students. They spoke of the racist abuse and physical attacks they have had to endure in their fight to establish their right to attend South Boston High School, previously an all-white school. Other speakers included:
- Luis Fuentes, the first Puerto Rican school principal in New York City, who was suspended from his post as school superintendent of New York’s District 1 because of his views favoring the right of Puerto Rican, Black, and Chinese parents to control the schools in their communities.
- Robert Allen, managing editor of Black Scholar magazine, and author of Black Awakening in Capitalist America.
- Alice Cummings, a special representative of the National Education Association, whose recent conference, representing about two million teachers and education workers, endorsed the NSCAR conference and pledged to support all legal methods necessary to implement the busing program.
- Joe Madison, executive director of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
- Gary Kampel, vice-president of the National Student Association (NSA), representing 500 student governments across the United States.
- Jerry Paul, chief counsel for Joanne Little.
- Florynce Kennedy, lawyer, feminist, and civil-rights leader.
- Mary Watkins, mother of J.B. Johnson, a Black youth framed up by the St. Louis police.
- Maceo Dixon, a national coordinator of NSCAR.
- Arturo Rivera, president of the Federación Universitaria Socialista Puertorriqueña (FUSP – Puerto Rican Socialist University Federation), a Puerto Rican student organization that sent a large contingent to the conference.
The well-known Black activist Robert F. Williams sent greetings to the conference, as did Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Several members of Congress also sent messages supporting the activities of NSCAR. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, who received a less than honorable discharge from the air force for openly proclaiming that he was gay, received a standing ovation when he addressed the conference. Peter Camejo and Willie Mae Reid, Socialist Workers party candidates for president and vice-president, also sent a message of support.
Although the Socialist Workers party and the Young Socialist Alliance actively supported the conference, some other groups on the left were conspicuously absent. The Communist party and the youth organization associated with it, the Young Workers Liberation League, for example, attended the founding conference of NSCAR in February and argued for their political positions, but did not participate this time. Similarly, the Progressive Labor party and Maoist groups such as the October League, the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, and the Revolutionary Student Brigade were absent.
A representative of the Workers World party spoke, promising support to the antiracist struggle and describing the work of the East Boston People Against Racism. But the Workers League, an extremely sectarian group that claims to be Trotskyist, limited its participation to distributing a tract outside the conference on “Security and the Fourth International.”
Several dozen members of the Spartacist League attended, and although they stated they fundamentally disagreed with NSCAR and refused to be part of the organization, they argued for counterproposals on almost every point on the agenda.
The main resolution – adopted overwhelmingly by the conference – launched NSCAR on a national campaign to defend school desegregation and fight racism, with actions around the country on November 22. The resolution holds that the key issue is “the democratic right of Blacks to go to any school of their choice and their right to go to the best schools that the city, state and federal governments can provide....
“For Blacks to get an equal education, we must support their right to go to any school they want. The reason why Black people support busing of whites to formerly Black schools is not to force whites to attend inferior schools. It is to pressure the school committees to improve these schools so that Blacks and whites can get the best education possible.”
The resolution also pointed out that support to busing for desegregation “is not at all counterposed to the rights of other oppressed minorities – for example, Chinese, Puerto Ricans and Chicanos – especially in regard to their rights to maintain bilingual, bicultural education programs and to take steps to win equal education.
“NSCAR activists should be crystal clear that any busing plan which cuts across the rights of other minorities must be amplified to uphold the rights of all oppressed minorities.
“The fight for equal education takes many forms. NSCAR supports the right and the struggles of Blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chicanos, Native Americans and Asian Americans to control their own schools. Struggles to implement this right are directed against racist, segregated educational systems. The fight for the right of students of oppressed nationalities to attend any school they want via busing is bound up with the fight of the same students to attend schools controlled by their own communities.
“Racist forces oppose both. To be fully effective in opposing the bigots, we must take them on at each front, championing both busing and community control.”
The resolution stressed the need to convince the majority of the American people that busing is necessary. “The way to do that is for the supporters of desegregation and busing to outmobilize the racists in street actions and meetings and to win over the majority of people in this country of all nationalities to the antiracist struggle.”
A small group of supporters of two narrow nationalist organizations – the All African Revolutionary People’s party, and United Black Strategists – had mobilized about thirty Black high-school students for the first part of the conference. They held the position that busing should be opposed and that whites should be barred from participating in the antiracist struggle. They did not attempt to present their position, but engaged in several acts of disruption, such as stealing one of the conference banners and attacking a white woman activist outside the conference hall.
The issue came up at a Black workshop attended by 200 persons, which passed a resolution urging the conference to repudiate any acts of violence, whoever they were committed by, and resolving to ask anyone repeating such actions to leave the conference. The resolution was endorsed unanimously by the conference steering committee and the conference itself.
The conference also went on record demanding that the government use all necessary force to enforce its own laws on democratic rights, including city police, state troopers, the National Guard, and federal troops. This question had been left open at the founding conference.
The Spartacist League strongly opposed this and submitted its own resolution. Virtually all others present, however, supported the resolution presented by the NSCAR coordinators. The Spartacists likewise were the only ones to oppose the resolution brought into the conference from the Puerto Rican workshop that affirmed support for bilingual, bicultural education programs. Many participants were shocked to discover that a group that bothered turning up to an antiracist conference could oppose such a demand.
The coordinators’ proposal projected an educational campaign leading up to forums, teach-ins, picket lines, demonstrations, rallies, and other actions on November 22. The theme of these activities will be “Keep the buses rolling,” “Stop the racist attacks on Black students,” and “Desegregate the schools now.”
The second focus of NSCAR’s activities in the coming months will be the fight against tuition hikes and cutbacks in funds for education. A resolution adopted overwhelmingly by the conference pointed out that because minority youth have long been denied equal access to educational opportunities, any cutbacks in higher education have an especially racist character. The first programs to suffer are those directed at redressing the balance – open admissions programs, special remedial programs, and Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Asian, and Native American studies programs, and other such programs won by minority youth and women.
NSCAR pledged to fight these attacks, calling nationally coordinated actions during the week of November 10 to 15, around the following demands: No cutbacks! No tuition hikes! No cuts in programs for Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, Asian, and Native American students! No cuts in women’s programs! A crash program of federal funds for schools and human services! Support school desegregation! Education is our right!
The conference also passed a resolution supporting and defending the implementation of all affirmative-action programs. The resolution demanded that such programs be enforced and extended and that there be no discriminatory layoffs against oppressed nationalities and women.
Workshops were held and resolutions of support passed on numerous defense cases that are being fought around the country. In many areas it was clear that NSCAR was the driving force behind these struggles.
A sampling of some of the cases the conference expressed solidarity with and pledged support to gives an indication of the breadth of this activity: the Delbert Tibbs case, a Black writer from Chicago who is on death row at the Florida State Prison; the J.B. Johnson case in St. Louis; the struggle to free Joanne Little; the struggle to free five Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners in the United States and the three being held in the Dominican Republic; the Philip Allen case in Los Angeles; the struggle for justice for the Santiago family in Philadelphia (five members of the family were burned to death when their house was fire bombed by racists); the Ray Mendoza case in Milwaukee; the San Quentin Six; and the struggle to win freedom for Hurricane Carter and John Artis.
After a democratic discussion – during which time was allotted for the presentation of all viewpoints, every resolution submitted was mimeographed and distributed to all the participants, and all those attending were given a vote – the conference unanimously adopted a proposal outlining some modifications in NSCAR’s structure and elected new national coordinators. Both these moves reflected the continuing growth and broadening that NSCAR has experienced since its founding conference eight months ago. In addition to three outgoing national coordinators who stood for reelection – Maceo Dixon, Marcia Codling, and Joette Chancy – the conference elected five more activists to lead NSCAR nationally: Mike Potoman, a leader of the fight against cutbacks at the University of Massachusetts; Sheryl Brown, a coordinator of the Boston coalition; Sam Manuel, a coordinator of New York SCAR and a leader of the cutbacks fight there; Tomás González, a national leader of the FUSP; and a national leader of the NSA, to be nominated by that body.