Walk This Way: Reviewing Anne Braden’s Letters, Speeches and Writings 

Photograph Source: http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showthread.php?t=325174 – Fair Use

Anne Braden (1924-2006) was a freedom fighter in the US South. She talked and walked left. Ben Wilkins’ book “Anne Braden Speaks” (Monthly Review Press 2022) is a collection of her path-breaking advocacy to form a mass movement to challenge and transcend the economic system and its handmaiden of the color line, e.g., Jim Crow and white supremacy.

The book under review has an Introduction, three parts and an Index. In part one, we read a thoughtful letter that Braden penned to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to reject anti-communism. That theme of the Cold War weakened unions and, Braden writes, hamstrung the civil rights movement.

The following piece, “The Southern Freedom Movement in Perspective,” is the longest in Wilkins’ book. Braden tackles a number of thorny issues. One, for instance, is employers’ use of automation to weaken the working class via the threat of unemployment. Call this the starvation factor.

In her view, a solution is for unions and workers generally to organize and mobilize in way that address class and race barriers to emancipatory economics and politics.

That struggle continues in the era of artificial intelligence or AI. Braden would back the movement of artists demanding that AI tech firms, developers, platforms, digital music services and platforms end their use of AI “to infringe upon and devalue the rights of human artists,” an open letter details.

There is an interesting piece of Braden’s about the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC in part two of Wilkins’ book. A point that Braden makes and to which she returns throughout her career frequently is this. It is up to whites
to help other whites to combat racism. Braden set an example of this approach in ways big and small while living and working in the American South.

In the third and final part of the book, Braden unpacks many key aspects of class and race from 1980 through 2006. Her perspective as an anti-racial capitalism activist and writer gives her a comprehensive, dare I say a dialectical, analysis of domestic and foreign policies. The bombs that Uncle Sam dropped on the people of Vietnam also exploded on Americans living in urban and rural communities experiencing poverty, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. came to understand in no small part because of Braden’s advocacy.

Her prescient thinking puts into digestible context the systemic nature of racial capitalism’s enduring force to destroy human beings for reasons of profits. Take Uncle Sam’s paltry spending to end homelessness. Contrast that with Washington’s tens of billions of Americans’ taxpayer dollars for weapons to Israel and Ukraine to wage war without end.

Raytheon and other US monopoly war corporations are laughing all the way to the bank. As Braden hammers home, war and waste are central to—not peripheral from—the social order of profits first, people and the planet last. Her theory of class, race and power enlightens and informs the pages of Wilkins’ book for a new generation confronting interlocked environmental and social crises.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com