FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Bruce Dixon: A Giant Walks On

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

A giant has joined the ancestors. Black Agenda Report editor, lifelong organizer, and deep thinker Bruce Dixon made his transition on June 28, surrounded by his family in Atlanta, Georgia. I always hesitate to use a phrase like “joined the ancestors,” a phrase derived from African traditions, for fear of sounding like some white person who imagines they’re Black, but I think Bruce would be OK with it here. He often helped me navigate cross-cultural terrain.

Once I called to ask him whether “Black” was, as I imagined, a uniquely American construction. He told me it couldn’t be more American, and that James Brown had sealed the deal in 1968 when he recorded “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” The term has been used in other contexts and countries, usually with a small “b,” but without reference to Black America’s distinct cultural heritage.

I told Bruce I’d used the term “Black” in conversation with some of my East African friends and one had responded, “We’re not black; we’re brown,” to which Bruce laughed and said, “What do they know?” He had a terrific sense of irony.

I had been writing for the Black Agenda Report for six or seven years by that time because its editors appreciate the time I’ve been willing to put into studying and writing about conflict in the African Great Lakes Region, most of all the Democratic Republic of the Congo and its eastern neighbors Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, all of which suffer from Congo’s unparalleled resource curse.

Bruce had asked me to write something about fearless Rwandan political prisoner Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza and I soon found a lot more common ground with him and the other Black Agenda Report editors and contributors he introduced me to: Glen Ford, Margaret Kimberley, Ajamu Baraka, Danny Haiphong and more. I can’t quantify how much I’ve learned from them, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.

Bruce grew up in one of Chicago’s working class neighborhoods and spent most of his life there. He joined the Black Panthers in the 1960s alongside Fred Hampton and organized in the city’s housing projects. He once told me about a time when he was still a kid and had more than one job just to keep it together. As a nighttime security guard, he would chew and swallow coffee beans to stay awake.

Despite numerous electoral successes, Bruce told me that the organizational success he took greatest pride in was recruiting and training the first Local School Improvement Councils for five Chicago public schools in the rough Cabrini Green neighborhood in the 1988-1991 period. He said the TV series “Good Times” rightly depicted a family struggling to do the best they could in the Cabrini Green housing projects.

Bruce went to college for only one year, but then educated himself and became widely known as one of the best organizers and deepest thinkers on the left. A year ago, after the Left Forum, he wrote “What Would an Authentic 21st Century US Left Look Like?,” which began with the realistic assessment he shares with other BAR writers: “Let’s face it, the US left is a long way right now from contending for power.” That was far from enough to make him give up; instead it made him think about why and what could be done. An authentic left, he concluded, must be independent of the Republican and Democratic Parties, independent of corporate and church philanthropy, unconditionally opposed to empire and white supremacy, and class conscious in its opposition to capitalism. He also wrote that it must give birth to a revolutionary working class party and create “economic and social organizations which prefigure the world we want to build.”

In 1983, Bruce went all in to elect Chicago’s first Black mayor, Harold Washington, who served from the time of his election till his death shortly after his reelection in 1987. He organized and advised many Chicago campaigns that repeatedly beat the infamous Daley machine. He later spent years working for the Chicago Department of Elections.

After all that, however, he came to describe himself as a former Democrat in denial. Every time he and fellow organizers made electoral advances, he said, the Democratic Party changed the rules to undermine them. In 2006, after moving to Atlanta, he joined the Georgia Green Party.

Bruce and I were both active Greens, despite the party’s failures to get to the 5% threshold in a presidential race that would make it an official national party qualifying for general matching funds. After the 2016 election he said, “Who knows how many votes we really got?” with reference to widespread election fraud evidenced by Wikileaks’ release of the DNC and Podesta emails and multiple election irregularities.  However, that didn’t stop him; Bruce knew more about voting rights, elections, effective campaigning, and much needed electoral reforms than anyone I’ve ever met.

I once asked him whether the Greens might be better off putting their energy and resources into, for one, creating community gardens in major cities all over the country, and he responded that most of the community gardens he knew of had been shut down by those with wealth and power. There is indeed no sign left of Los Angeles’s famous South Central Farm, the largest urban farm and perhaps the greatest community organizing success in the US from 1994 till 2006, when it was bulldozed by a real estate developer.

Bruce gave far more thought than I ever have to what it would take to make the Green Party viable, and he invariably won me over to his thinking. The party, he said, should be supported by dues so that it could hire staff, rent space, and sustain effort. He also thought that instead of focusing solely on electoral politics, Greens should build the party into wraparound communities that serve the same social needs that churches do for many Americans. At the 2016 Green Party Convention in Houston, he explained that during a Georgia prison strike, the Atlanta party had needed space and more phone lines to field all the calls it was getting from prisoners and their families.

It’s often said that a politician, thinker, writer, or artist was a master of their craft but thoughtless or even mean in their personal relations, but nothing could be further from the truth with Bruce Dixon. He was kind, compassionate, loyal, and humble despite his many achievements. During the last year of his life, we often discussed his concerns for his family, including both his biological children and those of his second wife. One of his last personal struggles was to save one of his stepsons from being deported to Jamaica where the health care he needs will not be available.

You can read Bruce’s own account of his lifetime of commitment to social justice on his Green Party US page. You can also listen to Glen Ford’s tribute to Bruce at last weekend’s Left Forum panel “Black Strategies for Liberation in the Empire of Exceptionalism.” As he said:

It’s going to be quite difficult continuing without Brother Bruce. We’ll try because he didn’t let multiple myeloma slow him down until it stopped him cold. Up until the Wednesday before last he was determined to be here today, until the doctor told him to go into the hospital the next day and he never emerged. But Bruce will never leave Black Agenda Report. He is a permanent fixture. We must consider what Bruce would have said and how Bruce would have moved this project forward every time we come upon a problem, an idea, or an opportunity.

More articles by:

Ann Garrison is an independent journalist who also contributes to the San Francisco Bay View, Global Research, the Black Agenda Report and the Black Star News, and produces radio for KPFA-Berkeley and WBAI-New York City.  In 2014, she was awarded the Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza Democracy and Peace Prize by the Womens International Network for Democracy and Peace.  She can be reached at ann@afrobeatradio.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
November 14, 2019
Laura Carlsen
Mexico’s LeBaron Massacre and the War That Will Not Cease
Joe Emersberger
Oppose the Military Coup in Bolivia. Spare Us Your “Critiques”
Ron Jacobs
Trump’s Drug Deal Goes to Congress: Impeachment, Day One
Paul Edwards
Peak Hubris
Tamara Pearson
US and Corporations Key Factors Behind Most Violent Year Yet in Mexico
Jonah Raskin
Love and Death in the Age of Revolution
Robert Hunziker
Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness
W. T. Whitney
To Confront Climate Change Humanity Needs Socialism
John Feffer
Examining Trump World’s Fantastic Claims About Ukraine
Nicky Reid
“What About the Children?” Youth Rights Before Parental Police States
Binoy Kampmark
Incinerating Logic: Bush Fires and Climate Change
John Horning
The Joshua Tree is Us
Andrew Stewart
Noel Ignatiev and the Great Divide
Cesar Chelala
Soap Operas as Teaching Tools
Chelli Stanley
In O’odham Land
November 13, 2019
Vijay Prashad
After Evo, the Lithium Question Looms Large in Bolivia
Charles Pierson
How Not to End a Forever War
Kenneth Surin
“We’ll See You on the Barricades”: Bojo Johnson’s Poundshop Churchill Imitation
Nick Alexandrov
Murder Like It’s 1495: U.S.-Backed Counterinsurgency in the Philippines
George Ochenski
Montana’s Radioactive Waste Legacy
Brian Terrell
A Doubtful Proposition: a Reflection on the Trial of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7
Nick Pemberton
Assange, Zuckerberg and Free Speech
James Bovard
The “Officer Friendly” Police Fantasy
Dean Baker
The Logic of Medical Co-Payments
Jeff Mackler
Chicago Teachers Divided Over Strike Settlement
Binoy Kampmark
The ISC Report: Russian Connections in Albion?
Norman Solomon
Biden and Bloomberg Want Uncle Sam to Defer to Uncle Scrooge
Jesse Jackson
Risking Lives in Endless Wars is Morally Wrong and a Strategic Failure
Manuel García, Jr.
Criminalated Warmongers
November 12, 2019
Nino Pagliccia
Bolivia and Venezuela: Two Countries, But Same Hybrid War
Patrick Cockburn
How Iran-Backed Forces Are Taking Over Iraq
Jonathan Cook
Israel is Silencing the Last Voices Trying to Stop Abuses Against Palestinians
Jim Kavanagh
Trump’s Syrian See-Saw: From Pullout to Pillage
Susan Babbitt
Fidel, Three Years Later
Dean Baker
A Bold Plan to Strengthen and Improve Social Security is What America Needs
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Trump’s Crime Against Humanity
Victor Grossman
The Wall and General Pyrrhus
Yoko Liriano
De Facto Martial Law in the Philippines
Ana Paula Vargas – Vijay Prashad
Lula is Free: Can Socialism Be Restored?
Thomas Knapp
Explainer: No, House Democrats Aren’t Violating Trump’s Rights
Wim Laven
Serve With Honor, Honor Those Who Serve; or Support Trump?
Colin Todhunter
Agrarian Crisis and Malnutrition: GM Agriculture Is Not the Answer
Binoy Kampmark
Walls in the Head: “Ostalgia” and the Berlin Wall Three Decades Later
Akio Tanaka
Response to Pete Dolack Articles on WBAI and Pacifica
Nyla Ali Khan
Bigotry and Ideology in India and Kashmir: the Legacy of the Babri Masjid Mosque
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail