Bruce Dixon: ¡Presente!

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AS here: Word has come over the wire today that Bruce Dixon, editor and scribe at Black Agenda Report, has passed away.

The readers who don’t know Bruce either via his writing or his acquaintance have missed out on a truly extraordinary man of letters. In the future, radicals will hopefully look at his bibliography for study and instruction on how journalism and political analysis with a progressive edge is done right. If it comes to pass that he be ignored completely, a common practice for the white supremacist press, or that his corpus be managed in a fashion that presents an untrue representation of his politics, something that has happened to W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin, the entirety of American journalism would be poorer for it.

If Bruce’s legacy were solely defined by his writings, it would be worthy of legendary status. Here was a former member of the Black Panther Party who followed the familiar trajectory into the Democratic Party, rising so high in Chicago politics that he attended the wedding of Barack and Michelle Obama. But unlike so many others, he broke with American liberalism, writing over the past decade-plus a tell-all account of the machine that told no lies and claimed no easy victories. This itself is one of the masterpieces of 21st century whistle blower muckraking, a project that causes much discomfort to so many of his peers in American progressive circles precisely because he was not informed by a dogmatic sectarianism that fuels many a Lefty in American letters. In all my years reading his words, I never once came across a sentence that drew a kooky, quasi-Talmudic analogue from the Russian revolution or a canonized saint of the radical litany. Rather than shout from atop barricades about dead Lefties and their antique theories, he spoke in a distinctly African American cadence about why he saw no hope for the Democratic Party and the efforts of its tame Progressive caucus.

But he was so much more than just a whistleblower that spilled dirty secrets about liberal imperialism. His essays on culture, such as the contrarian movie review of Marvel’s Black Panther film or his polemic about the pitfalls within radical organizing spaces under the headings of “intersectionality” and “Afro-pessimism,” were antidotes to the banality of standard radical journalism even when you disagreed with him. His championship of the Green Party, a cause many others thought to be Quixotic verging on madness, gave bravery and stamina to many in the past five years, including this author. And that was because both of these were buttresses to his activism and organizing. He put shoes on the pavement to make these things more than just pontification. As he was slowly dying in the past several years, he continued to be a street fighter for liberation, taking the road less traveled (and certainly less popular) in order to change the world for the better. While his comrade and collaborator Glen Ford at Black Agenda Report continues the more didactic Leninist-derived style of polemic, Bruce embraced a plainspoken lilt that might be misconstrued by superficial readers as having less political maturity. But when placed properly in the spectrum of African American nonfiction literature reaching back to the slave narratives of the antebellum period, the true proletarian memoirs of this hemisphere, he shines among the pantheon of greats because of his bold bravery, speaking truth to power rather than selling out.

I would merely add that my limited time speaking with him on the phone recently was one that left me with a smile. Speaking about a Green Party project, he quickly divulged that he was dying of cancer. What made that quick aside memorable, however, was that he did so in the form of a very good joke! His entire approach was laced with humor! When you encounter someone that handles their mortality with a whoopie cushion, you know that the world is a little dimmer because they are gone.

When we talk about lithium, we usually think about its applications in healthcare as an antidepressant. But there’s another property of lithium we don’t think about. It’s an element that is so volatile it begins to spark and crackle as it hits the atmosphere. You need to store lithium in an emulsion of oil because contact with the air will cause a chemical reaction. That’s what Bruce Dixon’s writing is like. Reading him makes your brain feel like it has been lit on fire by a righteous element.

This merely skims the surface of a truly astonishing life and fails to acknowledge many more dimensions that are beyond my own capacity to articulate. In the coming days and weeks others will do this far better than I could ever attempt.

Here we syndicate words of his friend and comrade Tony Ndege of the North Carolina Green Party (NCGP).

It is with a very heavy heart that I bring to you the news of Bruce Dixon’s passing this afternoon at approximately 2:30pm. Many of you may not have had the pleasure of knowing Bruce. However those who did, are aware of his indelible influence on so many of us in NCGP. He had been battling a form of blood cancer for several years.

Bruce was a co-editor of Black Agenda Report and long-time GA Green Party cochair. He is most recently well-known for making the prophetic term Democrat “sheepdog” popular- particularly among those of us disaffected with the duopoly.

Bruce had a biting wit, razor sharp sense of humor and tremendous passion for challenging all of our notions. At his best Bruce was a tremendous writer who made fearless critics of various left issues that almost no one else of his prominence was bold enough to make and he always did so with a no-nonsense, plain-speak bravado.

I became interested in Bruce Dixon and Glen Ford’s strong take downs of President Obama’s policies around the time of the 2012 DNC protests in Charlotte NC. I was hungry at the time for hearing a strong radical black critique of Obama. Many of us who felt the same way felt quite isolated in our criticisms, even among the Left – particularly as Obama’s reelection approached. Bruce played a role in changing our perspectives and confidence in our views. He was also a catalyst in getting me involved in the NCGP when he asked me to help with a tour of Jill Stein in Fall of 2015. His talks about party organizing along with Howie Hawkins helped to inspire NCGP make the correct decision to become a dues paying membership-based party.

For this reason and many many more we thank you Bruce!

Rest In Power Friend.

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