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Realising the Dream: Rev Al Sharpton’s UK Rally

Do something with your life, take a stand for justice! That was the message from civil rights leader Rev Al Sharpton, as he addressed a packed rally to inspire the Black vote ahead of the general election.

The iconic campaigner and one-time presidential hopeful was on blistering form last night as he wowed an audience of almost 2,000 in central London last night.

Rev Al Sharpton took the stage to rapturous reception, but he was clearly intent on challenging complacency rather than telling people want they want to hear.

‘When everybody is on your side, it’s usually because you haven’t taken a side’, he said.

‘People say “Reverend, why are they always after you?” Well, that’s because I’m always bothering them!

Rev Al Sharpton

‘How you define yourself is how you confine yourself. You have all this technology, Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry’s. And you’re telling me you can’t get ten black Britons to go and vote?

‘At a time when we can elect Presidents, there is no excuse for us to be sitting down and not doing anything, and avoid recognising that it’s a new time.”

He said that showing love for our people means taking action that impacts the Diaspora across the globe. ‘There are enough blacks in Britain to make a difference, so why are we not doing it?’ he asked.

‘Everybody in here should live for something better. Ask yourself “if this was your last day, what can they say my life meant?” And if you are not satisfied with your own answer, then you need to get involved. For yourself. Not for him, or for Nelson Mandela, but for you.”

He added: ‘When I am gone I will not leave millions. But when it comes to the campaigns for Rolan Adams and others, I was marked present.’

Driving home the point even further, he reminded his audience that in the days of the American civil rights struggle, grandmothers used to look at biting police dogs in Alabama and say “we shall overcome.” ‘History remembers those that stood, and you’ve got to decide who’s side are you on?’

OBV's Simon Woolley

Rev Sharpton said that in the eyes of people with power, demands for change are always coming “either too early or too late. It is never on the calendar of the powers to deal with your liberation; you must put it on the calendar.”

Earlier in the day he met with UK international development secretary Douglas Alexander to press the case for more aid to Haiti, an issue he has been closely involved with. Rev Sharpton opened his speech by putting Haitians suffering in an historical context.

‘What you’re looking at in Haiti is an economic policy that made Haiti impoverished. So when you keep hearing poorest nation in western hemisphere, that’s not a natural condition. It is because they were the first nation to rebel against slavery. These people, in quest for freedom, did what was right 200 years ago, and we need to do what’s right for them now.’

Turning back to politics, Rev Sharpton mocked the “post-racial” debate in the United States, which has also recently emerged in Britain following the “class not race” headlines generated communities minister John Denham’s speech.

‘Today, we are twice as likely to be unemployed and three times more likely to be incarcerated, and four times turned down for bank loan’, Rev Sharpton said. ‘We are not post-racial. We are in a better position, but do not confuse positioning with arrival. We have not arrived until every black has equal opportunity.’

Audience at Friends House

He went on to talk about a conversation he had with a black professional who claimed that race campaigners did not do anything for him.

“Its true civil rights did not write your resume”, he told the professional. “But civil rights made somebody to read your resume”, he added.

‘We were qualified to be President before Barack Obama came along. We just had to wait for America to grow up.’

He added: ‘If those of us sound like the activists of yesterday, it’s because we’re fighting the same dogs [issues] that the likes of Dr King and Paul Roberson fought. The same dogs are still here. And as long as we face them dogs we’ve got to face them telling the same story.’

Defending Obama, he reminded the UK that the president endured ferocious political attacks from the very start of his campaign, while many African-Americans refused to believe he would be successful right up until the final vote was counted.

‘Look what they did with Barack Obama, went after his minister, they went after his business dealings. But he kept going and did not allow the distractions to knock him off focus. So now he’s too cool!’

Drawing on his experience campaigning against the n-word, during which he has taken on some of the biggest hip-hop artists, he said: ‘It’s bad enough being down. Its worse having a culture that celebrates being down.

‘Who decided that our goals and ambitions now to be hoodlums? How did we go from standing behind black heroes to now on rap music calling us bitches and hoes? This thug mentality is a social trick to hold back the future of our race.’

Before the civil rights leader took the stage, host for the evening Kwame Kwei Armah, the playwright and broadcaster, said he had just returned from the United States,where he heard President Barack Obama say that if Dr Martin Luther King Jnr was the Moses generation, then he was the Joshua generation.

“Are you the Joshua generation who can take us into the promised land?”, he asked, to much applause.

Simon Hughes, MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, criticised the fact that Britain only had two Black council chief executives and one council leader. ‘This is completely unacceptable, and unacceptable things can’t continue. We do not have a just fair or equal country’, he said.

Karen Chouhan, from the organisation Equanomics, talked about the need for economic justice. She said: ‘We cannot have any social inclusion without economic inclusion. And we don’t have it.

‘The facts are that 25 percent of white children live in poverty, compared to 56 percent of African Caribbean children, 60 percent of Pakistanis and 72 percent of Bangladeshi children.

‘There is a 15 percent gap black and white employment, and according to a Department for Work and Pensions study, if you are Black you are 14 times less likely to be interviewed for a job.

‘We are definitely not in a post racial society. What gives them the right to say institutional racism is no longer exists? While we have the vote but we don’t have economic justice.’

Chouhan said that Equanomics and a large number of other organisations were drawing up a Black Manifesto for the election because “just because you get who you want doesn’t mean you get want you want.”

By Lester Holloway

5 Responses

  1. Uplifting evening, congratulations to OBV for the good work. Hopefully these ripples will spread out into tidal waves.
    Did anyone not e the figures of black, african, asian & bengldeshi people not registered to vote mentioned by Kwame at the end ? Need them for a press release.

    Further to the points made by Rev Sharpton about Haiti an excellent article by Cythia McKinney at http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=17063
    I never knew Haiti had off shore and unexploited oil reserves….

  2. What an awesome evening!!!! the Rev was at his best, . Yesterday ‘s Rally will ignite the fire that smoulders quietly within us into a raging Bushfire in Harmattan. What next Simon Woolley? we are fired up now lets keep the Fire burning. Thank you as well for celebrating the our “Rosa Parks ” – Doreen Lawrence. It was great to hear from Lee Jasper, Simon Woolley and Kwame. The poet from South London was awesome, she has a great Gift. I thank the Rev for publicly saying positive things about Michael Jackson..the Black Community is yet to understand his genius and how it was he who was the first Blackman to be loved by all before Obama. If Michael had Political ambitions then he might have probably been the first African American President who knews?

    I also thank the OBV Team what a wonderful pleasure your hardwork gave us yesterday. Congrats Simon on your appointment it could be given to no better man. The best is yet to come. We have the dream now!!!!

  3. I enjoyed the Rev. Al Sharpton’s speech, it was well worth the attendance.
    However I would have appreciated the event even more if OBV asked the Reverend to also highlight on how the electoral process of the 2008 presidential elections was utilised by, and how it galvanised, our brothers & sisters in the U.S. to leverage their vote in order for it to benefit the black community as a whole. If addressed this would have been a major learning curve for us as we in the UK are embarking on new beginnigs by way of political savvy.


  4. I echo the sentiments of the posters above. I left feeling enthralled but wondering how we now take this forward.

    I was concerned that for all the efforts to get black people to galvanize their vote note one of the prominent politicians in power, or those being highlighted for future power were there. From the ground up this is why a number of apolitical and ditherers said they would not vote, as they have no idea who to vote for or what they stand for.

    Major kudos for hosting this event but we have a mighty work to do yet!

  5. ‘Epic!’
    This was the first word that came into my mind when I sat and saw and heard Rev Al Sharpton speak his wisdom and call.

    One man asked me on the night what was my best bit from the Reverend’s speech – I said i could not single out one, but MANY! One particular one was the downgrading of the boys final paper from A to F!!!! I had that happen on my first day of university after being used to getting A’s at O’level, A’level Eng Lit.

    Last night I was in the presence of a genius. Rev. Al quickly sent shivers of joy and awe down my spine and confirmed many things i believe and had confirmed last night.

    As he eulogised on Michael Jackson last year, he again pounded into us:

    we all have a gift of God inside us and it is up to us to go out there and let it beam its great light unto others.

    OBV last night was Biblical. I felt the energy of love, faith and determination in the audience!

    We must ALL now create a symphony of purpose.

    We can!!!!! I will.

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