As we move toward an historic national Black convention
in the first quarter of 2006 – “Going
back to Gary,” as convener William Lucy, President of the
Coalition of Black Trade Unionists phrased it, referring to the
1972 National Black Political Convention in that Indiana city
– it is imperative that we reexamine the language of our political
discourse. Otherwise, we will wind up talking nonsense – or worse,
speaking against our own interests.
In the 33 years since the Gary
convention, corporate-speak has become ever more deeply embedded
in the national conversation, reflecting the assumptions and aspirations
of the very rich, who have vastly increased and concentrated their
power over civil society. This alien language saturates the political
culture via corporate media of all kinds, insidiously defining
the parameters of discussion. Once one becomes entrapped in the
value-laden matrix of the enemy’s language, the battle is all
but lost. We cannot strategize ourselves out of the racist-corporate
coil while ensnared in the enemy’s carefully crafted definitions
and points of reference.
“Going back to Gary” must mean going back to straight
talk, from the African American perspective. The political consensus
among the Black masses remains remarkably consistent, but
has been relentlessly challenged since 1972 by 1) the rise of
a small but vocal corporate class of African Americans who see
their own fortunes as linked to larger corporate structures, and
2) aggressive corporate subsidization, beginning in the mid-Nineties,
of a growing clique of Black politicians who define Black progress
in terms of acceptance among rich, white people.
Thus, the internal contradictions in African American
politics have greatly multiplied since Gary. This has not occurred
because of increasing conservatism among a much enlarged Black
middle class over the last three decades – a corporate-concocted
slander for which there is no factual evidence – but by the determination
of Big Money to impose an alternative
leadership on the recalcitrant Black masses.
Time for confrontation, not celebration
The 1972 National Black Political Convention took
place in an atmosphere of euphoria over the demise of Jim Crow,
which unleashed the shackles of those Black social sectors that
were prepared to take advantage of new opportunities, and empowered
a new set of politicians who found themselves in majority Black
jurisdictions. When the call to convention went out, everyone
was welcomed, and as many as 5,000 showed up. Although much worthwhile
political work was accomplished, the general atmosphere was celebratory.
We were “Movin’ on Up” to “Celebrate Good Times.” Most believed
there “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now – We’re on the Move.”
Essentially, the Gary-era Black discussion centered
on consolidation of the gains made during the previous civil rights
decade. Short shrift was given to those who had called for deep
structural change in the United States, whose demands (and often,
lives) were snuffed out by U.S. police and intelligence
agencies amidst the carnival of No-Mo’-Jim-Crow. There seemed
to be great promise for Black America under a post-segregation
regime – and certainly there was, for some. As long as that promise
seemed attainable, demands for basic change in American (and world)
power relationships were deemed by the upwardly mobile African
American sectors as passé, distractions, quaint, but dated.
This self-satisfied analysis was encouraged by a
(mostly) white corporate class that harbored larger plans for
total world domination: for the absolute, planetary rule of money.
By the mid-Nineties, important elements of this class finally
got over their reflexive racism – the aversion to sitting in a
room with more than a few Black people – and invited some Black
folks to join the club.
In 1972, Black collaborators had to work hard to
get paid even a pittance to advance the corporate agenda that
is inextricably entwined with the ideology of White American Manifest
Destiny. Today, they are actively solicited, and handsomely paid
in monetary, media and political currency. Corporate-speak is
mimicked in many high places of Black American society. For example,
corporations dominated the leadership-selection process of our
largest mass organization, the NAACP.
Corporations have always had a special place in the National Urban
League. Corporate influence has reached unprecedented levels among
of the Congressional Black Caucus – while most members stand firm
with the historical Black Consensus. And corporations have created
out of whole cloth a number of purportedly “Black” organizations,
such as the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO),
which serve the interests of Wal-Mart
and the rightwing Bradley Foundation – and are now also subsidized
by the Bush regime.
Under Bush, the Black clergy have been subjected
to wholesale cooptation, through the Bradley Foundation-invented
Faith Based Initiatives bribery schemes. This massive subornation
of a critical Black institution resulted in only a net two
percent change in Black party affiliation – from nine percent
to eleven percent Black GOP voters in 2004. The base remains
steadfast, but the leadership institutions have been infected
by corporate and Republican money.
Even so, the major Black Baptist denominations this
year reaffirmed their allegiance to the “social gospel” that is
our proudest legacy, and has generated and encouraged so many
other movements that have pushed the envelope of civilization.
Who, then, should be welcomed to the next “Gary”
convention, tentatively scheduled for March, 2006? Everyone, just
as in 1972.
It is the job of the conveners and organizers of
the next National Black Political Convention to set the terms
of the Great Black Debate. In large part, this is a function of
language – to craft a language that is not infested with assumptions
born of white privilege, imperialism, war-mongering, and anti-social
ideology. In other words: Let’s talk Black. Among our own people,
that kind of conversation wins the day, every time. Amen.
The apologists, collaborators, and opportunists
cannot confuse us if we speak directly to the issues that our
people care about most deeply. Let the turncoats come – and be
exposed. Some may even be saved.
No rule of law?
It is at times of crisis that precise language becomes
most important. The Bush regime has plunged the entire planet
into crisis – their grotesque version of globalization. While
serving as White House counsel, the current Attorney General of
the United States, Alberto Gonzalez, derided
the Geneva Convention – the basis of international law, and codified
as U.S. law – as “quaint.” The 2002 Gonzalez memo signaled that
the regime was preparing to launch, not a War on Terror, but a
war against world order, and against the rule of law within U.S.
borders. We must reject his proclamation, in precise language
that affirms the magnificent wording of the Geneva Convention,
which outlaws aggressive war and upholds the right of all peoples
to self-determination. That means get out of Iraq now,
and no further threats to the independence and self-determination
of other nations.
Black America is the firmest national constituency
for peace, having opposed U.S. adventures abroad in greater proportions
than any other ethnic group. We arrived at this more civilized
state of being through our own gory experience of White American
Manifest Destiny, which declared that a Black person has no rights
“that a white man is bound to respect.” George Bush is acting
out this vicious dictum on a global scale, and we know it. Therefore,
we must tell the truth, as the masses of Black folks understand
it: the United States is an aggressor nation in the world, and
we demand that it cease, immediately. The problem in Iraq is not
U.S. casualties, which are the result of George Bush’s crimes,
but the predicate crime of U.S. aggression, a violation of international
Mass Incarceration is Genocide
Black America has always stood for the rule of law,
despite the fact that American law has so often ruled against
us. It does so every day, in vast disproportion to the anti-social
behavior of some African American individuals. Guantanamo Bay
is, indeed, part of an international “gulag” of American prisons,
dotting the globe, as Amnesty
International has declared. But the largest “gulag”
in the world is in the United States – half Black and only 30
percent white, in a 70 percent white country. Fully one out of
eight incarcerated human beings on earth are African American,
the casualties of an internal war that has not ceased since the
Euro-American aggressions against Africa. Rather, it escalates.
At our next grand convention, we must state in no
uncertain terms that the real crime wave is being committed against
us by all levels of U.S. governments, which have placed
Black people under surveillance for the purpose of incarcerating
them, and devised laws that impact most heavily on our communities.
Mass Black incarceration is a legacy of slavery and, therefore,
a form of genocide. “We
Charge Genocide,” again – because our social structures are
being deliberately destroyed through government policy. Our language
must make that plain.
This language is not meant for the oppressors’ ears,
but for those of our own people. Black conventions are meant to
mobilize Black people. Others are invited to take note. Our object
is to galvanize African Americans to take action.
Our history tells us that others follow our lead.
Therefore, as a people that believe in the oneness of humanity,
we are obligated to lead. We must reject the entire edifice of
language that justifies a U.S. war machine that costs more than
all the rest of the world’s militaries, combined, and then claims
there is no money for the people’s welfare. We know where
the money is: it is engaged in criminal, global corporate enterprises,
such as war. We demand these enterprises cease, and that the national
treasure be redirected to domestic concerns, and to righting the
wrongs that the oppressors have inflicted on humanity throughout
the planet – including the wrongs committed against Black people
in the United States.
We must not argue on corporate terms, about the
“affordability” of national health insurance, or housing. We have
a right to life, and to live somewhere. There will be no negotiation.
Human rights trump property rights and corporate rights and warmonger
rights. State it clearly.
A real social contract
Corporate politicians and media deploy the code
words of “working people” and “middle class” to mean “white people”
as the “deserving” members of the national community. We must
reject such language, which is intended to exclude all
Black people, including those who work, but explicitly dismisses
the unemployed. We must not accept that corporate decisions to
eject or bar people from the workplace, should have moral authority
or political effect. All citizens have a right to live a decent
life. We must demand a national minimum income, in addition to
living wage standards.
The cost of the Iraq war and related U.S. military
deployments would finance a fundamental change in the average
American’s life expectations – and life span. Nobody needs such
a change more than Black folks. The rich can afford it. We need
to say so, and dare the rich to go to some other country with
their money. Nobody else wants them, and nobody else will fund
their military, which is the savior of their holdings.
We must directly confront the idea – the unquestioned
Holy Grail of corporate politicians and media – that corporations
have the rights of citizens. Black and brown metropolises (the
top 100 largest U.S. cities have non-white majorities) are at
the mercy of corporate barons who shape the urban landscape to
fit their profit-driven needs. Inevitably, they move in white
people, the process that we call “gentrification.” This process
is mostly unchallenged, yet it decides where Black people will
live and work, and whether we will preserve the majorities that
allow us to even contemplate meaningful democracy in urban America.
While we are still majorities in these places, we must take action
to exercise the powers that cities possess, in the service of
our people. There must be a movement for Democratic
Development – development that serves the people who already
live in the city. This is perhaps the greatest challenge that
faces the next National Black Convention because, if it turns
out anything like Gary, in 1972, there will be plenty of Black
politicians in attendance who have not done a damn thing to preserve
the assets of the cities they nominally oversee, or to protect
their own electorate from being displaced by corporate power.
So be it. We must tell the truth, because our people are in crisis.
There is no solving the problem of urban education,
unless we can force the sharing of education funds. White people
in the mass have shown over the last four decades that they will
not share classrooms with us. But they must share the money, to
correct the gross disparity between suburban and urban schools.
Integration is not a one-way street, but citizenship is a shared
status. We must state clearly that we are entitled to equal funding
– that is, funding adequate for a white suburban district, and
additional monies to deal with problems that suburbs don’t have.
There are many other issues that must be tackled
as we struggle to escape the Race to the Bottom that has been
initiated by multinational corporations, and is politically empowered
by the historical racism of white Americans, and made lethal by
the military power of the U.S. state. The conveners of the next
Black Political Convention should keep the agenda as efficient
as possible, knowing that our assembled folks will add a plethora
of resolutions. But keep our eyes on the prize. Black folks understand
racism, but the whole world is getting an education in unbridled
corporate behavior, that leads to famine, wars, and the dismantling
of social services worldwide – including the United States, which
is intentionally being made to fail
as a society.
In the current configuration, globalization means
corporate rule – by the gun, if necessary. Privatization is part
and parcel of the deal, a divvying up of the spoils. National
rights and the rights of minorities are all subservient to the
rights of capital. Voting rights go down the toilet.
We must teach a lesson in resistance, and give guidance
to action – for our own people, and to those who look to us for
leadership in the desert that is the United States.
If we are to Speak Truth to Power, we must aim our
words with precision.
Black knowledge as a weapon
The Coalition of Black Trade Unionists is ideal
for the mission that faces us, since Black unionists have an intimate
understanding of both corporate ruthlessness and the racist machinations
that white privilege has found so successful through centuries
of plunder and rule. Black unionists know the animal up close,
and have smelled his foul breath. They also know the weaknesses
of white co-unionists, who are quick to claim white privilege
and abandon class solidarity. These are lessons learned painfully
– but become weapons in the hands of those committed to struggle.
We must not accept the legitimacy of the current
rulers of the United States. They are thieves: stealers of elections;
of the bodies of a million imprisoned African Americans; of the
minds that are enfeebled by their corporate media; of the countries
that they treat as plantations, and feel they can invade at will;
and thieves of the productive capacity of the world, which grows
every year, but fills only their own bank accounts.
The predatory lenders of the United States have
stolen a half
trillion dollars from the pockets of African Americans, according
to anti-racist reporter Tim Wise. They have also stolen whole
continents, and converted their populations into low-wage slaves
whose labor is used as a weapon against workers of the United
States, including the dwindling number of Black workers fortunate
enough to have jobs.
The global tentacles of multinational corporations
are not a logical consequence of human civilization, but a construction
of predators, whom we know all too well. It is our task to uphold
civilization, against the corporate machine that would crush all
humans underfoot. We know the feeling. We’ve been crushed before,
and reel from the butt of the gun. But still we rise, to indict
And we, alone, have a constituency that is ready
to march – if we tell them where and why to go. Let us choose
our words carefully.
Reaffirm the Black Consensus
We are not looking for drama, but for clarity. The
corporations and their war machines are providing the drama. A
nation and world in crisis need clarity. Black America retains
the power to speak, in the terms of our elders who identified
with – and were – the Wretched of the Earth. On this coming
Fourth of July, remember the words of Frederick
Douglass, our greatest thinker and leader of the 19th Century,
who spoke in the darkest hours of our people’s oppression, in