Stanford Review - Archive - Volume XXX - Issue 1 - Front Page
by Bob Sensenbrenner
Two distinctly different viewpoints on the future and race relations were presented the night of Wednesday, February 19, 2003, at Tresidder Union. Shannon Reeves, Chairman of the Oakland NAACP and California Secretary of the Republican Party, and Omali Yeshitela, Founder of the African People's Socialist Party, delivered addresses to roughly 30 members each of the Stanford community.
Political activists Omali Yeshitela and Shannon Reeves spoke at Stanford during Civic Engagement Week about means of minority empowerment. The conservative, individualistic Reeves (top) presented a stark contrast to Yeshitela's socialism.
The audiences, however, differed as drastically as did the viewpoints. While Mr. Reeves spoke to a diverse audience, Mr. Yeshitela's pool of listeners consisted almostly exclusively of members of the Stanford Students of Color Coalition, members of his group, and members of the Green Party from the surrounding community who regularly protest on campus.
Mr. Reeves stressed personal responsibility and the need to give back to one's community. In doing so, he delivered his personal story of how he became an African-American Republican after interning at Jessie Jackson's campaign. Mr. Reeves's story explained the applicability of conservative ideology and personal accountability to minority. Mr. Yeshitela explained his revisionist theories on the development of the modern world, attributing most of society's ills to what he described as faults inherent in the imperialist United States and Europe.
Mr. Reeves, who spoke first, began by wishing the audience a hearty Black History Month before proceeding to deliver a bright message of self-empowerment. He spoke of his personal experience triumphing over obstacles and helping others to overcome obstacles by emphasizing the need to take responsibility for one's actions. His dictum--"I'm my own man; I make my own decisions."
Because of this closely held belief, Mr. Reeves finds it easy to reconcile his membership in the NAACP with membership in the Republican Party. A member of the NAACP since age 13 serving his fourth consecutive term as chairman of its Oakland chapter, Mr. Reeves is also a Board Member of the California Republican Party. As such, he said he has the "Number 1 right to criticize" the NAACP because of his unique pairing of deep involvement with a sense of perspective. He emphasized how one should remember the community from which one hails by working to open up opportunities in one's own community. He stated his mission as follows: first, to help people believe they can improve themselves; then, to help them help themselves by "focusing on positive change."
Mr. Reeves also discussed his conversion from Democrat to Republican. Serving as an intern for the Jesse Jackson campaign in 1988, He first began questioned his party affiliation when Jackson was not chosen as the Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominee despite receiving the second most votes of any Democrat in the primary. According to the Democrats, "the country was not ready for a black man on the ticket."
The predominance of this notion among Democrats led Mr. Reeves to a journey of self-questioning and self-discovery that eventually made him realize that he agreed more with Republican principles and that he had become only a Democrat because his mother was a Republican. A self-described "conservative, but not crazy," he advocates compassionate treatment of urban issues while retaining belief in the principles of conservatism. He also emphasized that leadership is not acceptable just by virtue of it being black. Rather, it is acceptable only if it is accountable.
A short interlude followed Mr. Reeves's talk before Mr. Yeshitela addressed the audience. He declared that the government of the United States currently functions as a "Predator State" claiming for itself supremacy over the entire world. He theorized that, in society, one is punished for being black and rewarded for being white, citing Michael Jackson's experience as an example.
He continued by postulating that Europe had gained its industrial wealth and rebounded from the Black Plague by raping and pillaging the world. Mr. Yeshitela even went so far as to refer at one point to Europe as "the Great Parasite." Continuing to explain his revisionist view of history, he stated his belief that the "Opium Wars" were merely wars to make China into "a nation of junkies." Furthermore, he traced problems in Africa and other nations around the world to a systematic imperialist system of oppression that first began with the European empires and supposedly continues to this day, affirmed by the second imperialist war--commonly known to the rest of us as World War II--whose leaders only sought empires, leading him to say "Churchill made Hitler look like a Boy Scout."
Proceeding from his view of global politics as systematic oppression exercised by an imperialist system, Mr. Yeshitela explained how the war against Iraq was not to remove an evil man from power but to cover up the uprisings of the masses against an international system of oppression. He even went so far to say, "Saddam Hussein could not live long enough to be as bad a man as George W. Bush." He also declared that he stands on the side of the Iraqis and portrayed the conflict between France and the U.S. over going to war in Iraq as a contest for imperialist hegemony.
To solve injustices within the system, Mr. Yeshitela emphasized the need to overthrow the system and engage in national revolution to achieve freedom by any means necessary. Lauding Castro and his "magnificent revolution," the revolutionaries of Iran, and the Sandanistas, he declared the need for social justice and the right to national liberation. Thus, he renounced support for peace, instead calling for the breaking of "the monopoly of violence in the hands of the oppressors."
The two men's speeches contrasted starkly. Mr. Reeves emphasized personal responsibility and the concentration of resources in one's community to help oneself and others rise up. These messages of empowerment applied not only to the minorities in the group but served as lessons on life applying to all. Mr. Reeves, who is consulted regularly by Republican leaders, works to reach out to the inner cities and help reform them through conservative principles. His style of popular motivation served as a potential prelude to greater Republican outreach to inner-city and urban issues.
In contrast, Mr. Yeshitela used his platform to espouse neo-Marxist rhetoric that called for the overthrow of government because of its imperialist objectives. His message for the world was one of blaming others rather than self-empowerment, a stark contrast to the constructive lessons of personal accountability taught by Mr. Reeves.
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