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TEN The Emergence of a Legislative Caucus of Afro-Descendant Legislators in the Americas CONTEXT, PROGRESS, AND AGENDA SETTING Minion K. C. Morrison This chapter provides an update and contextual setting for the organization of Afro-descendant legislators. The group had its organizational meeting in 2003 with the major goal of bringing together all elected legislators of African descent in the Americas and the Caribbean. Its target membership therefore is those representatives from South and Central America, the United States, and the Caribbean. The working assumptions of the organizers have been that these legislators have a great deal in common: an African background that lends cultural affinities across the region; similar experiences in a racialized world where they suffer degradation and oppression as a group; and a belief that the group can benefit from solidarity of purpose and action in altering political and social isolation in the Americas. The Afro-descendant legislators movement can therefore be placed in the context of a long tradition of strivings for unity using the African background as a symbolic and practical tool for identity, mobilization, and political action. The context for this movement is Pan-Africanism, a historical movement that sought first to gain the liberation of continental Africa from colonialism, but which was organized by unified African descendants in the Americas. Its primary assumptions were that the oppression suffered by Africans everywhere was so general that little short of a common movement was required to fight these conditions. The focus of the movement for African liberation has thus always been intensely political, seeking self-determination for a people excluded from ordinary public participation and economically exploited. Therefore, the fundamental purpose of the organization of Afro-descendant legislators is to achieve full political participation for blacks wherever they are located in the Americas and to regularize the terms of community member- 249 Transnational Activism & Globalization 250 ship in countries where they have been relegated to second-class citizenship or rendered invisible as an identity group. This chapter proceeds from that assumption in updating and contextualizing the work of the organization of the Afro-Descendant Legislators. The analysis is divided into three broad sections. The first section considers the background and history of the Pan-African movement. It describes the theory of Afro-Diasporan unity, the history of the movement, and how it relates to continental African unity efforts. The second section considers mobilization efforts in the Americas, focusing principally on the United States and Brazil. This discussion is framed around the concept of representation and how elected officials who form a caucus fit into it. The last section focuses exclusively on the first two meetings of the Afrodescendant legislators, sketching their goals and accomplishments in slightly less than two years of operation. African Unity and Afro-Diasporan Unity There is a long history of African peoples seeking means for solidarity in the face of oppression, dispossession, and misrepresentation of their social and political interests. They, like others in history, have expressed the fundamental human desire to pursue their own ends in light of felt needs, core cultural expressions, and feelings of community owing to historical experiences. In the peculiarities of their relations with Europeans, African peoples have been particularly insistent and persistent about the preservation of their independence and freedom. This is not without justification. In the long history of relations between Europeans and Africans, the latter have had to contend with efforts to denigrate their cultural modes, humanity, and territorial space. There are spectacular markers of their interactions that serve to structure the African persistence in seeking independence. Perhaps the most notorious of these interactions was the enslavement of Africans and their transport across the Atlantic to the Americas (Du Bois, 1965; Curtin, 1969) It was a forced migration that so severely depopulated the continent that a full recovery has not been made to this day. A close second in symbolic/ representative encounters was the colonization of the African continent by the Europeans. This was reflected by a virtually complete alienation of Africans from their land and their complementary political domination (Balandier, 1965). Under these conditions it is reasonable to contemplate the continuous African striving for self-determination, and the contentious nature of relations between the two entities. This same striving characterizes the descendants of Africa in the Americas, the victims of the 251 morrison ) Caucus of Afro-Descendant Legislators forced migration and the degradation of a system of chattel enslavement that awaited them upon arrival. The continuity of the striving has most...


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