Someone asked me the other day for advice on collecting the best essays of the past 20 years. I recommended the new collection of Glen Ford’s called The Black Agenda. I recommend it to everyone — including people who are not black. I’m not black.
Glen Ford was my friend and an ally in the struggles for peace and justice. He was a leader and a brilliant and an always reliable speaker, writer, and organizer on anti-racism, anti-oligarchy, anti-poverty, and anti-war work. He was a key part of efforts to impeach George W. Bush (whose record we should all read Glen’s book to be reminded of it seems).
This book is worthwhile just for the preface by Margaret Kimberley and the autobiographical introduction by Glen. I’ve considered Glen central to U.S. activism since about 2000, which seems a long time to me, yet his incredible saga, recounted in his introduction, actually breaks off just about when I met him. The essays, however, are from the past 20 years
Glen Ford died in July 2021. He was executive director of Black Agenda Report and was previously co-founder of BlackCommentator.com. He had decades of experience in written media, radio, and television. He launched influential programming such as America’s Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television, and Rap It Up.
Black Lives Matter drew on what Glen had been saying and writing for decades — even if leaders of Black Lives Matter could receive his powerful criticism when they eliminated foreign policy from U.S. politics. Prison abolitionists have learned and will go on learning from Glen.
You shouldn’t read these essays because Glen was a great friend and ally. But you should understand that his acerbic denunciations of some relatively good people came from someone who was a great organizer at the same time as being a fearlessly honest truthteller. I don’t think I ever quarreled with Glen. I think I probably offended him by suggesting that we’d have been better off without the U.S. Civil War if the very same thing could have been done nonviolently (as it was in much of the world). But Glen didn’t have time to take offense. He just changed the subject.
Of course the big sticking point for millions of people (albeit a shrinking crowd) will be that Glen goes after both Republicans and Democrats. That ought to go without saying, given that I’ve already indicated his honesty. That it doesn’t go without saying is one reason we need to read Glen.
His book opens with an unmatched takedown of the holiday of Thanksgiving, and rolls right through every culturally monumentalized bit of white supremacy. Yet, Glen saves a great deal of his analysis for the damage done by the Black Misleadership Class, by the Congressional Black Caucus, and by that More Effective Evil Barack Obama (I’m using Glen’s vocabulary). Glen actually rejected harm he’d done to Cory Booker’s political campaigns when he saw how much slicker and more destructive Obama was capable of being.
In this collection we have Bush, Cheney, Iraq, Katrina, and all the now-rehabilitated evil of the gangs that Glen Ford compared to Pirates. And we have the Obama years, during which Glen lamented that black voters had become more in favor of foreign wars and civil liberties abuses and secret agencies than white voters for the first time ever. We even have Trump and Biden in this feast of Ford essays.
Glen wrote with unmatched erudition and knowledge of mass media, at least unmatched among those willing to look as directly at the horrors before us as he was. He goes after those who would vote against Bernie. He goes after the outrageous shortcomings of Bernie. He goes after Facebook. Now outrage was safe. From here on out there will be no new injustice that I won’t wish I had a Glen Ford article about. Let’s make the most use possible of those we have.