Serve the People Conference on Asian American Community Activism
The 1998 Serve the People Conference on Asian American Community Activism featured a mix of roundtable discussions, designed to provoke thought and debate on "large" questions facing all activists, and workshops and panels designed for activists in similar areas of work to open lines of communication with one another and to share lessons garnered through struggle. The choice of speakers was based primarily on their grassroots community work but also on concerns to have diverse geographic, ethnic, gender, and generational representation. A highlight of the conference was the opening panel on "Interracial Unity and the Struggle for Liberation," in which longtime, history-making activists Grace Lee Boggs and Yuri Kochiyama espoused upon why they have remained committed to revolutionary politics for decades.
With years of dedication to the Black Freedom Movement, both Boggs and Kochiyama served as living examples of the importance of unity among people of color. Boggs shared theoretical and practical insights from her highly praised autobiography Living for Change, which was a popular seller at the conference. Kochiyama brought the capacity crowd to its feet with her impassioned call to "Serve the people at the bottom... the people at the top don’t need your help!" They were joined by local activists Leon Watson and Bill Gallegos, veterans of the African American and Chicano movements, respectively. This inspirational opening plenary served to impart a radical tone to the proceedings and to bring out the best in participants, allowing the conference to maintain a pleasantly non-sectarian atmosphere throughout. The next morning, veteran activists of numerous since-dissolved cadre organizations engaged in a friendly yet critical conversation on the legacy of the Asian American Movement with some admittedly having not made contact with one another for upwards of 25 years. Overall, "Serve the People" provided an opportunity to interact with some of the most prominet community activists from around the country including Anannya Bhattacharjee of New York’s Workers Awaaz, Debbie Wei of Philadelphia’s Asian Americans United, Eric Mar of the Bay Area’s Asian Pacific Islanders for Community Empowerment, Jane Bai of New York’s Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, Joe Navidad of BAYAN-International, Kent Wong of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Meizhu Lui of Boston’s Health Care for All, Miriam Ching Louie of Berkeley’s Women of Color Resource Center.