Losing Art McGee
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
I am never prepared for these phone calls. But today I received one telling me of the passing of a great guy named Art McGee.
Art McGee, a California social media expert, was one of the most talented and idiosyncratic activists I have ever met. We connected in the course of building the Black Radical Congress in the late 1990s. Dr. Abdul Alkalimat had put our effort toward constructing the BRC on the map through the creation of a website. It is hard to believe that in 1997/1998 having a website was almost revolutionary. But Alkalimat created one that was essential in the work that led to the founding of the BRC in June 1998.
But it is here that one must introduce Art McGee. Art became what we called the “cyber-organizer” for the Black Radical Congress. He went beyond the website, not only creating multiple listserves for our effort, reflecting a host of different constituencies, but truly using the Internet as a means of organizing and engaging activists in discussions and summations; indeed, in agitation. Art would monitor discussions, introduce questions to ‘prime the pump,’ and directly intervene with his own point of view. The cyber-organizing of the BRC caught the attention of many people and organizations in the Left and progressive movements and, I dare say, inspired others to develop their own approach to the use of the Internet and the Web.
Working closely with Dr. Cappy Pinderhughes, Art became an essential member of the leadership of the BRC. And it was a loss to the BRC when Art had to step back from the BRC in order to take on income-producing work. To be clear, the work that Art did for the BRC he did on his own time and without charging the organization a cent.
There were, in my experience, two Art McGees. There was the on-line Art. This was the first Art McGee that I met. In the late 1990s he was aggressive, very blunt and sometimes a bit terrifying. When I actually met Art in the flesh, however, I was stunned. He was completely different, reminding me of the wizard in the “Wizard of Oz”; actually reminding me of the man behind the curtain. The in-person Art was shy, soft-spoken, and very warm, something like a teddy-bear. He was a nice person to hang out with and was an excellent listener.
I have missed working with Art. There are not enough people in the movement who truly appreciate the necessity for both on-line/cyber-organizing, along with direct, face-to-face organizing. Art got it. He understood that both were necessary. And, at a point in time (late 1990s) when many of us on the Left underestimated the growing importance of on-line activism, Art was there to herald the new era and insist upon its importance.
Over the years I have thanked Art for his role. I have thanked him directly and I have thanked him when he was not around, but when I was speaking with people who never had the pleasure of meeting him. I thanked him for what he meant for the Black Radical Congress and I thanked him for being a wonderful comrade.
Art left us much too early.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica and was a cofounder of the Black Radical Congress.