“W.E.B. Du Bois. He really gave us the language; James Baldwin gave us the style.”
On February 23rd and 24th in Philadelphia’s historic Church of the Advocate, The Saturday Free School organized an event titled Pan Africa and Pan Asia: A World United for Humanity. The Saturday Free School is a center of community organization and transformative political study, completely free to community members. The event kicked off The Saturday Free School’s celebration of revolutionary Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois’ 150th birthday and included a call to action to become involved in the School’s Year of Du Bois. It will also mark the release of the official newspaper of The Saturday Free School, The People’s Mirror. I spoke with the Saturday Free School’s Elías Gonzalez to discuss his involvement with these projects as well as his thoughts on US imperialism’s intensified assault on independent journalism.
Could you give readers a background of who you are and what influenced you to join The Saturday Free School and help create The People's Mirror?
My name is Elías Gonzalez, a creative, committed fighter for peace, freedom and truth. I joined The Saturday Free School after my involvement with organizing The Black Radical Tradition Conference in 2016. Joining The Saturday Free School was casual at first, and as we began to uncover more and more truth together, I became an active member, which just means I'm there every Saturday! The People's Mirror came out of a lot of things; firstly, it began after talks of beginning a writing group as some folks wanted to improve their personal writing. I had envisioned a newspaper sector or the group becoming a newspaper in my dreams. The Saturday Free School had so many ideas and the principle of intercivilizational unity was one that needed to be defined more than ever, especially once we began reading W.E.B. Du Bois. He really gave us the language; James Baldwin gave us the style. As with anything involving dedicated Saturday Free Schoolers, once the idea was clear and the people believed in it, we got to work. The Editorial Board held its first meeting in August 2017. The support of The Saturday Free School kept us motivated through months and months of hard work into the final product.
The Saturday Free School has declared 2018 the Year of W.E.B. Du Bois. Could you explain what the Saturday Free School is doing to actualize the declaration and how The People's Mirror will fit into these activities?
We are spearheading an initiative entitled, "Philadelphia Reads W.E.B. Du Bois", where in over 15 sites around the city reading groups will be held twice a month and we will read Du Bois. Throughout the year, we will be holding symposiums on various concepts around W.E.B. Du Bois’ work, and it will be a time to reflect on the knowledge and questions gathered within the readings groups. The People's Mirror serves, as our statement outlines, to provide ideological clarity in a time of deliberate confusion. We strive to provide a different narrative, one that not only recognizes dark civilization, humanity and truth, but also fights for it. When we sit every Saturday to think, debate, discuss, investigate, and rework framework, we believe that it amounts to something. The ideas and knowledge that is produced in that space is real. The People's Mirror serves the people with the tools to understand their situation and inspire them to change it.
In the opening statement of The People's Mirror, the concept of Intercivilizational Unity is defined as "the principled unity of the dark nations in the struggle against white supremacy and imperialism.” In 2018, US imperialism remains the largest military empire in human history, endlessly waging and threatening wars, including on independent media that represents the voices of the dark nations of the world in the guise of the "Russia probe." How does The People's Mirror reflect Intercivilizational Unity and how is the principle related to the current world situation?
Intercivilizational Unity is reflected in our ideas. The first issue is focused on that concept because it is the most fundamental concept we stand on. The key words are "principled unity" because that instills the notion that the darker civilizations are NOT the enemy in the fight against white supremacy. We are under ideological attack, as you mention about independent media, and the enemy will point at the symptom and not the cause, the source, or the root of the problem. The attack on W.E.B. Du Bois from the State is still happening, decades later. They restrict access to his books and actively slander him in the realm of academia. There is an attempt to slander who James Baldwin was, what he stood for and what he fought for. Cuba and Fidel Castro are still seen under a colonial, anti-civilizational framework. Martin Luther King's revolutionary standpoints, ideas and courage are overlooked. The Black Panther Party is still under attack, over 50 years later. The university system has attacked any form of real knowledge production and intelligence. The only way to see through all of the lies being produced in these cauldrons is to move towards a world united for humanity. We need this now more than ever; the framework of Intercivilizational Unity will show you more connections and empower you to act on them. It is a tool to see through the lies.
What about the media landscape in the US and West makes The People's Mirror a necessary intervention and organizing tool for the Saturday Free School?
The U.S. and Western media has become embarrassingly obvious. Whatever they focus is on is a lie. You know it's a lie because even when we see it happen blatantly in front of our eyes, they report it differently. That is the white world's media. Black America has a different set of problems, perceptions, and investigations. When Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were murdered in December 1969, The Chicago Black Panthers opened the scene of the crime to the people and published in their newspaper the truth of what happened: the police raided their home and shot to kill. The newspapers and other media reported one side and the Panthers another. I view The People's Mirror similarly; it is a tool that speaks differently about the world to the people and not to the white world. Someone must step up and speak the truth, like Angela; Du Bois; Baldwin; Huey; Fred; because if they have taught the world anything, it's that the people are worthy of the truth and those who are capable must fight for it. The People's Mirror is also a sophisticated intervention. We take the people seriously and that is something the Western media, including "The Left," fails to do. We want people to think for themselves, we simply serve as the tool to help.
Since late 2016, the US and Western corporate press and political establishment has been obsessed with the notion that Russia has infiltrated US and Western democracy, influencing elections through the promotion of “fake news.” This accusation has produced grave consequences for alternative media outlets and journalists, with publications such as RT and Black Agenda Report labeled dupes of the Russians and subsequently censored by internet search engines such as Google and social media like Facebook. What is the People's Mirror's position on the "fake news" scare and the anti-Russia narrative that produced it?
We concur that anything produced by mainstream media is a fraud. The narrative is always framed in the interest of U.S. imperialism and colonialism. One reason we went with print over digital to begin was to reach the true masses, specifically the intergenerational connection. We concluded that holding a piece of paper that you can share, read aloud, and pass along was the most effective avenue. It'll also build connections through face-to-face conversations, creating unity between the people. These are things the mainstream media cannot do. To each their own medium, but we saw printing as the best way to avoid censorship. A digital version is on its way of course, but we are currently focusing on the print version.
What are some subjects that people can expect to be covered by The People's Mirror? How are these subjects chosen and writers developed?
We choose our subjects and writers depending on interest and necessity. The timing seemed excellent to release our first issue at the launch of the Year of Du Bois, Pan Africa & Pan Asia: A World United for Humanity and so we named our first issue “Intercivilizational Unity.” The articles are all seams of the same garment. We divided them up into five sections: The Collapse of Europe, Afro-America, Pan Africa & Pan Asia, and the Arts. We called upon Africa, India, Black America, the Americas, Artists, and the Youth to understand their connection to each other. There is original art work, poetry and writing all nodding to the ancient connections of the darker civilizations. The writers and artists are participants of The Saturday Free School, including the Editorial Board. The Editorial Board met for weeks deciding what was crucial to be said in this moment and what would be new and exciting to the people. After we produced our principles everything in that regard became much more clear.
Where can people find The Saturday Free School and The People's Mirror?
The Saturday Free School meets every Saturday (yes every Saturday) at The Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. The People's Mirror can be bought at any of our symposiums, on Saturdays at our meetings, most of the reading groups for Philadelphia Reads Du Bois, and you can email [email protected] for any inquiries. For all information you can visit saturdayfreeschool.org, yearofofdubois.org, or check us out on Facebook!
Danny Haiphong is an activist and journalist in the New York City area. He can be reached at [email protected]