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Power to the People: Reflections from the People's Congress of Resistance, September 16-17, 2017

By Caitlin Cocilova and Kristi Matthews

"I was generally inspired by the People's Congress of Resistance...I also got choked up when marching from Howard University to the White House almost to the point of tears because of the energy I felt from the other marchers!" - Michael Wilkerson, People Power Action member

"The People's Congress was a powerful learning experience that we believe will move this country forward.” - Donya Williams and Juanita Williams, People Power Action members.

On September 16 and 17, we had the opportunity to attend the inaugural People’s Congress of Resistance event at the Blackburn Center at Howard University. Over the course of the weekend, 727 people from 38 states and 160 towns and cities from across the US and as far as South Korea joined together in true solidarity to create connections, learn from each other, and discuss strategies and tactics for fighting against harmful imperialist and capitalist motives that keep wealth and power in the hands of a few elites. Upon entering the main ballroom where the conference was held, the energy was palpable. Saturday began with powerful, motivating opening speeches, which included talks by ONE DC leadership and members Yasmina Mrabet, Dominic Moulden, and Eugene Puryear.

Click here to watch coverage of the People's Congress: "Empire Files: Voices from the Anti-Trump Resistance"

People then attended sessions on independent media and community control over the news, how to support immigrants and undocumented people in the era of mass deportations, freeing political prisoners and exposing the global nature of the U.S.’s overbearing prison system, incorporating revolutionary ideals into everyday organizing efforts, and organizing in rural areas. In between sessions, attendees mingled with people from other areas, sharing ideas, knowledge, and contact information to further develop relationships and build a base for a unified people’s movement. Day 1 concluded with a series of large group sessions on domestic and foreign policy, specifically highlighting the lives lost at the hands of police officers and governments, as well as the current resistance efforts by people in Venezuela and South Korea.

Day 2 began with an introduction into the processes behind the People’s Congress, specifically regarding the action steps needed to ensure the People’s Congress will be a sustainable, long-term decision-making body. During the following breakout sessions, Brookland Manor tenants and People Power Action members - some of whom are also members of ONE DC - led a panel on housing as a human right and the influence of local politics and money on the DC housing market, which has led to vast displacement and increased homelessness. The beauty of this conference was that even though there were particular presenters discussing issues in their local regions, it was evident that many parallel fights existed across cities, states, and even countries. During the housing panel, for example, groups from East Harlem in New York City raised almost identical displacement struggles. Such similarities resounded across sessions, reiterating the importance of convenings like the People’s Congress, so fights can be connected, resources shared, and people supported in whatever ways possible.

Sunday afternoon consisted of collectively voting on resolutions introduced to the People’s Congress, indicating what specific issues would become the first subjects of the Congress’s on-the-ground energies. Passed resolutions ranged from anti-war efforts with withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan to fixing the contaminated water in Norfolk Prison to focusing on the significant impact of police brutality, the prison system, housing, and transit on disabled people. Groups shared ways in which others could sign onto petitions, spread information, and support each other’s work from near and far. The sessions concluded with several impassioned speeches and a march through the streets of DC to the White House, bringing our message to the epicenter.

The resounding message from this conference is clear: The people united will never be defeated. So long as we recognize the purposefully divisive tactics used by people in traditional positions of power to keep various groups and issue areas separated, we will be able to band together as one unified force to create a society for the many. We must stand in solidarity with people across the country and the globe - from DC to California, Mexico to Venezuela, Palestine to South Korea. The conference was only the beginning. Though more convenings are on the horizon, the work must continue on the ground in our own respective communities. Like Assata Shakur said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win.” Together, in resistance, we will.

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