Russell Simmons, Larry Hamm and Julianne Malveaux on the Millions More Movement

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Ten years after the Million Man march, the Millions More Movement is heading to Washington DC. This time around the event is open to women and is supported by a broad coalition of groups. We speak with grassroots organizer Larry Hamm, economist Julianne Malveaux and Russell Simmons, founder of Hip Hop label Def Jam records. [includes rush transcript]

This weekend marks the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, which was first conceived by Louis Farrakhan in 1995. That historic march brought hundreds of thousands of African-American men to Washington D.C and this weekend, The Millions More Movement will commemorate the occasion. This time around the event is open to women and is supported by a broad coalition of groups. The main event takes place at the National Mall on Saturday and will bring together social justice advocates, members of congress, hip hop artists, media pundits, academics and business leaders.

The goal of the Millions More Movement is to mobilize people to change policies that keep many African-Americans in poverty. And the event has been shaping up as a forum for black America to respond to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The day will begin at dawn with a public memorial service for those who died in the disaster.

  • Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam and organizer of the first Million Man March.

Filmmaker Spike Lee has also expressed his support for Saturday’s march. His 1996 film Get On the Bus chronicled a group of men traveling from Los Angeles to Washington to attend the Million Man March.

  • Spike Lee, filmmaker.

We host a roundtable discussion on the Millions More Movement.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, an organizer of the first Million Man March.

LOUIS FARRAKHAN: We decided before Katrina that there is a disconnect between the learned scholarship of our people and the condition of the masses, so we felt that the Millions More Movement should put a program in place that linked the skill and intelligence of the gifted members of our community so that we can lift our people from the condition that we are in.

AMY GOODMAN: Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Filmmaker Spike Lee has also expressed his support for Saturday’s march. His 1996 film Get on the Bus chronicled a group of men traveling from Los Angeles to Washington to attend the Million Man March. This is Spike Lee.

SPIKE LEE: We’ve gone forward, we have gone backwards. And I still think that for me that was a positive event. People might say, 'Well, we're still where we are — ’ you know, when that whole thing started, but I think that many lives were affected forever. So, if I believe that, then I must — then I believe it was a positive event.

AMY GOODMAN: That was filmmaker Spike Lee. We are joined right now by Larry Hamm, Chair of the People’s Organization for Progress, also Chair of the New Jersey State Organizing Committee of the Millions More Movement, which is sending more than a hundred buses to Washington, D.C., tomorrow. We are also joined by Julianne Malveaux, who is an economist, author and commentator. Larry Hamm, let’s begin with you. What are the plans for the weekend?

LARRY HAMM: Well, here in Jersey, we have right now close to 150 buses coming out of Jersey, primarily from the major urban areas. These buses have been organized by 16 local organizing committees in 16 major urban areas in the state. And most of the buses are full now. We’re trying — in fact, many of our L.O.C.s are trying to get more buses to go down. The buses will be leaving — some of them will be leaving like 1:00 a.m. this morning, some will be leaving at 3:00 a.m., others at 5:00 a.m., and so forth. And we hope to all be down in Washington certainly as early as possible, probably around 10:00 a.m., and then we will stay on the Mall. We’re not going directly into Washington. We’re going to take the metro line into Washington and then march over to the Mall and join the rally there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Russell, I remember covering — I’m sorry, Larry, I remember covering ten years ago the Million Man March, and the size of the crowd, of course, became a huge dispute with the corporate media trying to downplay the numbers, as well as officials in Washington. What do you expect the size of the mobilization this time compared to ten years ago?

LARRY HAMM: I think it’s going to be very large. I think that there will be people there from all over the country. I think there will be different responses from different parts of the country. I know here in Jersey our response has been pretty consistent with what we had in 1995. Certainly more than 10,000, perhaps between 10,000 and 20,000 men came out of New Jersey for the 1995 event, and we expect an equal number of people to come this time, because the march is now open to a number of other constituencies.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, as a result of the Millions Man March, in that controversy, the Millions Man March sued the police in Washington for underestimating the march, showing that it was over a million people, and since that time, the police will not estimate marches. Julianne Malveaux, it’s great to have you on. Last time it was the Millions Man March. This time it’s Millions More. Your response. Are women being included?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely, Amy. I am on the national executive committee and have been working closely with Minister Farrakhan and the others on a program committee to ensure a significant participation of women in the program. As you may recall, in 1995 I was very opposed to the march. I didn’t think that the African American community could afford to be divided along gender lines, and I was privileged to just have a long conversation with the minister about that earlier this year and agreed to work with him. It’s been quite a learning experience around issues of diversity in the African American community, but I assure you that women’s participation is there.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We’re also joined on the phone now by Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. Welcome to Democracy Now!

RUSSELL SIMMONS: Good morning.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Russell, of course, there are some groups, the ADL, for instance, that recently blasted again African American leaders for refusing to make clear their positions, in terms of Louis Farrakhan, who is the chief convener of the march. And you responded recently in an open letter. Your thoughts on some of that criticism?

RUSSELL SIMMONS: I’m the Chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Rabbi Snyder is the president. And our job is to promote dialogue. There are not enough organizations that base their work on bringing ethnicities together. Usually it’s one group defending themselves against all others. So what the ADL or even the NAACP or any of these organizations do, it can be very, very effective, and their intentions are always good, but sometimes a public dispute like the one that Abe Foxman brought up is — people misunderstand it. In other words, Abe Foxman, I know — in the sense I’m friends with all the heads of the World Jewish Congress and a lot of the other people who are perceived as powerful in the Jewish community; they don’t have the same view as Abe Foxman.

African Americans — I don’t think Abe Foxman has met an African American leader that he liked, anyway, ever. I think he’s attacked every single leader we’ve had, so I think it’s better not to, you know, to put too much weight on his words. He’s already proven a number of times that his credibility — I think the whole Jewish community — not the whole, I mean, lots of members of the Jewish community in their press have attacked him and his intentions. And lots of times he gets paid by figuring out who the boogeyman is. That’s what his job is.

You know, we also just conducted a survey on race, and we found — the foundation did, and the survey results are disturbing regarding Americans and their divisions regarding race ideas. But we found that the black community and Jewish community were more similar than any other two groups in our survey. And that result will come out in The New York Times, and it’s just an interesting point. And I think when Abe Foxman gives us false information regarding the relationship between blacks and Jews, it polarizes those who are separate, you know, even further. So what we don’t want to do is feed into the negativity and then make that negativity grow.

AMY GOODMAN: Julianne Malveaux?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: If I could jump in here — you know, I got two of these Abe Foxman letters. That man has absolutely no moral authority to speak to African American people. When you look at his letters, you want to ask, 'Well, what has he done for African American people lately?' I didn’t see Abe Foxman responding to Bill Bennett suggesting that there should be genocide in the black community, that all black babies should be aborted. I don’t — you know, he has literally no moral authority and has become a diversion.

LARRY HAMM: But he doesn’t speak for Jewish people. That’s a very important point, as well. I’m sorry, go ahead, please.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Yeah. No, he doesn’t, but while he does not speak for Jewish people, he sits on top of a major organization, and what he also does is — I was at the press conference yesterday that Minister Farrakhan had at the Press Club, and literally the Foxman letter was the basis of two or three questions, so he keeps up a lot of junk.

What’s going on here right now is that you have people who are mobilizing, because we all believe — we have nationalists; there are liberals, you know, along political lines; we have people, you know, we have whites who are going to be there, Latinos, Native people. It’s a broad-based coalition around mobilizing, because our country is sick. I mean, it’s the only way you can say it. You come out of Katrina and you find an administration that will cap wages for poor people, but not cap profits for Halliburton. This becomes the issue. If you cannot see this sickness, this illness, this rot in the way that we’re thinking and that we’ve allowed ourselves, not only as black people, but also as Americans, to drift since 1995, which was a moment of hope at some point. But we have drifted into, you know, $300-and-how-many billion spent in Iraq, 2,000-plus lives lost between Iraq and Afghanistan. You know, Katrina blew the window off the notion there was a level playing field. And then this brother who was just beaten by the police. If there was no other reason for this mobilization, look at a 64-year-old school teacher having his eye socket broken by six police officers. You know, so Foxman is not even a footnote.

AMY GOODMAN: Julianne Malveaux, Russell Simmons and Larry Hamm, we have to break for a second, and we’re going to come back to you. We are speaking with Julianne Malveaux, economist, also on the board of the Millions More March that is going to take place in Washington, D.C., tomorrow; Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, President of Hip-Hop Summit Action Network; and Larry Hamm, Chair of People’s Organization for Progress in New Jersey.


AMY GOODMAN: Our guests are Larry Hamm, Chair of the People’s Organization for Progress in New Jersey. They’re sending over 130 buses to Washington for the Millions More March tomorrow; Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam Records, President of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network; and Julianne Malveaux, economist, author and commentator. Juan?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Yeah, I’d like to ask Larry: you know, throughout the 1990s there was an enormous emphasis on the drop in the crime rate and major social changes that were occurring, and most of the changes were ascribed to governmental policies. Very little attention was paid to the possibility that the original 1995 march had an amazing impact at the grassroots level, in terms of how people redirected their efforts at community levels to take back their communities and change things. Your thoughts on this emphasis that it’s always the government and law enforcement that makes progress and change, and not the people themselves?

LARRY HAMM: Well, I definitely disagree with that. I think the Million Man March of 1995 had a tremendous impact on our community. One of the clear evidences of this is that African American men, in particular, and African Americans, in general, increased their voting numbers significantly, both relatively and absolutely, after the Million Man March in 1995. There was, for a brief period, a decline in the crime rate. There was an increase in adoption of black children. There were many, many affected.

And besides the broad social impact the march had, I think the most important thing was the transformative — individual transformative impact it had on many of the men’s consciousness. And many of those local organizing committees that came out of the Million Man March in 1995 continue, in fact, continue to this day. The Camden Local Organizing Committee in New Jersey, the Montclair Local Organizing Committee, the Jersey City Local Organizing Committee, right here in New Jersey, they never stopped. They never disbanded, and they kept going and kept evolving and organizing in the community. So, I think that it had a major impact.

But I want to say this, too. Rather than concentrating on people who are making these criticisms about the Millions More Movement, we should really urge people to come out on Saturday. This is an opportunity for us to make a strong statement for social, economic and racial justice in this country. The strongest possible statement we could make would be to have hundreds of thousands of people out there in Washington. So I urge everybody that can hear this program to get on a bus. Find out where there’s a bus, and get on it.

AMY GOODMAN: Julianne Malveaux, quick question: Reading the Washington Blade, where you are, Washington D.C.; it’s a piece by Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg, and it says, “Just days before the commemoration of the Million Man March this weekend in Washington, black gay activists said they were confused about the status of a pledge by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to include a gay speaker at the rally with some activists threatening to boycott the event. Farrakhan requested a last-minute meeting with members of the National Black Justice Coalition. During that meeting Farrakhan assured them a person who identifies as gay and who is a member of the NBJC would be invited to speak at the rally.” It’s — this according to H. Alexander Robinson, the executive director of the group. He said, “It was pretty amazing. I went into this effort with some level of skepticism with our history of us being excluded,” said, “The MBJC is still seeking full participation in the Millions More Movement.” Your response.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Well, Minister Farrakhan did meet with the gay community, I believe, on Wednesday. He and the Reverend Willie Wilson, who the gay community apparently has been very disturbed by, did have a meeting, and my understanding is that there has been a slot offered. We have not had final details on that, but I know that all along Minister Farrakhan has said that he wanted this to be inclusive. When I met with him back in February, we talked at length. Obviously, there were some, you know, wounds among feminists, especially about the 1995 march, and many of those have been dealt with.

We have sisters from a broad array involved, and so I don’t think there was ever any issue of exclusion. But one of the things that we clearly learned in this process is that while we can come together as African American people, there are significant disagreements among us. And so we’re juggling the issue of advancing the cause of our people, including our people, and then looking at some of the micro issues or other issues where there are disagreements. The meeting, I believe, I was told by Minister Farrakhan, was very productive, and a lot of issues were put on the table.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Russell Simmons, the involvement of the hip-hop community and of musicians and other entertainers is quite breathtaking, in terms of the numbers of people that are scheduled or are supporting the march and are going to be there. Your thoughts? You’ve been very active in the whole issue of getting more hip-hop stars involved directly in social causes.

RUSSELL SIMMONS: Well, first let me say the minister has been a great inspiration to a lot of the members of the hip-hop community for some time. In fact, he spoke in 2001 at our first Hip-Hop Summit, and the Summit was — discussed the power of hip-hop and how we could use it as a transforming cultural phenomenon. And we got from him such an inspiring speech, and we made so many commitments — individual commitments that we formed the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. And his inspiration has been a great support system for us throughout.

So, the hip-hop community, as you probably all know by now, is the most important cultural — never mind important, powerful phenomenon that America has seen ever. The jazz, the blues, the rock 'n' roll, they were great movements, but as lifestyle movements and as transforming movements, cultural and what they’ve done for race relations and what we’ve done to have people all over the world recognize the voice of people who come out of a lot of struggle, a lot of poverty, a lot of ignorance, is the basis for a lot of this dialogue, this poetry. There’s expression of a lot of people for a lot of people who would be voiceless.

So, the hip-hop community, the best brand-building community in this country, has a huge voice. If they say the Phantom Rolls Royce is cool, it is. They say a Franck Muller watch is okay, then it is. If Coca-Cola is good, it’s good; if not, Pepsi’s good. So if they say something that’s inspired by the minister or by any spiritual teacher, then it’s uplifting to people of all races and ethnic — religious and all — see, this is the best melting pot base that we’ve ever had in America, hip-hop. The hip-hop community is multi-racial, multi-religious, but all singly cultural.

So when they say things, it matters. When they — like 50 Cent said, “Change the drug laws,” then the government changed it after 30 years. When Puffy came out and said, “Put some money in the education budget,” the mayor put $150 million in the budget, because when their voice comes out, they promote a lot of dialogue. A lot of times politicians can talk all day, and they can have an agenda, and they can be sincere and hardworking towards achieving that agenda, but the people are not listening. But when a music artist, or especially a rap artist, or one of these poets, these rap poets, get behind an idea, and then the rest of the hip-hop community gets behind the idea, there is no stopping it. So we have that power, and the idea is to get more people to inspire them to use that power. The Summit is based on getting artists to use their celebrity to uplift their community.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Larry Hamm of the People’s Organization for Progress about the issue of police brutality. This happening, though planned well before, after the beating of the 64-year-old African American retired school teacher in New Orleans walking in the French Quarter, Robert Davis. Larry, you have dealt for years with the issue of police brutality. How central is this going to be, not to mention the whole response to Hurricane Katrina in this march this weekend?

LARRY HAMM: I’m glad you asked that question, Amy, because it is at the core of the issues that are propelling this march at this time. Let me just give you one example. When Minister Farrakhan came to Newark for the leadership meeting that was held there, I had made a request to him to meet with the mothers of sons who had been killed just here in New Jersey as a result of police brutality.

Not only did Minister Farrakhan meet with them, he embraced them, he introduced them to all of the leaders that were gathered at that meeting, and he made a suggestion — not a suggestion, I guess it was a kind of directive for us that are doing the work here on the ground. He wanted us to bring the mothers of the victims of police brutality, the mothers of the victims of street violence and the mothers who have lost sons and daughters in the war in Iraq. He wanted to us to bring them. He wanted them to bring poster-sized pictures of their children, and they would want to stand with him at the march on Saturday — at the rally on Saturday, tomorrow in Washington, D.C. So this is very central.

And what happened to that brother in Louisiana was an outrage, but it happens every day. Amadou Diallo is all over this country. I mean, we had Earl Faison here in New Jersey. We are bringing the mother of Rasheed Fuquan Moore, who was killed by Newark police in January, and the mother of Richard Guy, who was shot by Newark police, along with Fuquan Moore. We’re bringing them down on our bus, along with the family of Earl Faison and other victims of police brutality.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Hamm, Russell Simmons and Julianne Malveaux, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Larry Hamm of People’s Organization for Progress; Russell Simmons, Def Jam Records; and Julianne Malveaux, economist, author, and commentator. When we come back from our break, we are going to go to Michael Eric Dyson, one of the people who will be at the march, giving a speech recently in Washington, D.C., on the issues we’re addressing right now.

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