The December 12th Movement celebrated its 34th anniversary this past Sunday. At a moment in time when the conditions which brought D12 into being are repeating themselves but at a more intense level, members, veterans, and supporters—both old and new—gathered to recount three decades of struggle.
The gathering was hosted by Viola Plummer, the energetic and seemingly ageless chairperson of D12. A question from the audience, “Why December 12th” led to a recounting of the organization’s origin in December 1987 in response to a New York State-wide attack on Black people by law enforcement and vigilante white supremacists.
Viola, the last living member of the original leadership, spoke about the roles they—Sonny Abubadika Carson, Coltrane Chimurenga, Elombe Brath and Fr. Lawrence Lucas—played in the growth of the organization. She and other members recalled the December 12th march and rally in Newburgh, New York, followed a few days later by the historic first “Day of Outrage” which shut down all transportation from Brooklyn across the entire city.
The underlying theme and explanation for D12’s continued existence, vitality and leadership is tied to their “faith in the masses.” As Viola repeatedly said, citing the mantra of the 1969 “Miracle” New York Mets, “You gotta believe!” And D12 believes that the masses make history, that they make revolution, and the role of revolutionaries is to make them conscious.
D12’s work over these past 34 years reflects its relationship to the needs and desires of the masses of Black people for self-determination, liberation and human rights. Colette Pean noted, “On the national and international level, we have been in the leadership of the Reparations struggle. In 2001, we, along with NBUF, took 400 people to the U.N. World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, which produced the first international declaration of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and Slavery as crimes against humanity…In 2002, we were the catalysts for the first national demonstration for reparations, the ‘Millions for Reparations’ rally in Washington, D.C.”
Kamau Brown recalled, “In 2005, when Katrina struck New Orleans, D12 organized a relief campaign, collecting and driving 5 truckloads of supplies to the embattled area. When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, we went there to deliver 12,000 gallons of water.”
When the real attacker of the Central Park Jogger confessed, D12 brought the community pressure necessary to have the convictions of the 5 wrongfully convicted Black and Latino youth overturned and to secure their reparations.
Lateefah Carter spoke about setting up the Afrikan Peoples’ Farmers Market. “We provided quality fruits and vegetables to the community for 22 years at affordable prices. We also held programs on health and nutrition.”
Omowale Clay noted the importance of Sistas’ Place as a “liberated zone” in the Bed-Stuy community. “We have been here 26 years and regularly present the greatest artists of what our music director Ahmed Abdullah has named ‘Jazz—a music of the spirit.’” In 2015, New York State Assemblywoman Annette Robinson awarded landmark status to Sistas’ Place.
Participants highlighted the work done in the U.S. to lift the U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe, including the gathering of over 4,000 people who came to hear then-President Robert Mugabe speak at Harlem’s renowned Mt. Olivet Baptist Church.
Members fondly recalled the down-to-earth wisdom, political acuity and work ethic of Robert “RT” Taylor and Olive Armstrong, two members of the leadership who have passed.
These are only a few of the many activities that were spoken of. There is not enough space in this article to describe them all.
As always with D12, the program ended with the call for carrying on the work. Brother Majid said, “On a local level, we are waging a struggle to ‘Stop the Killings.’ We are out in the streets every week, organizing Black men to join us and to take the lead in ending the random gun violence which is destroying our community.” Vinson Verdree spoke of D12’s active support for the Amazon workers’ struggle for unionization in Bessemer, Alabama and Staten Island. Clay reminded the group, “This May 19th will be the 32nd year of our successful shutdown of businesses on 125th Street to honor the birth of Malcolm X.” Finally, Malik Callender summed up: “On a national level we are currently leading a campaign to have President Biden issue an executive order for reparations which would include a $50 billion down payment to provide state-of-the-art healthcare facilities in Black communities across the U.S.”