In Chicago last Friday, March 10, no less
people hit the streets, bringing the city center to a standstill
with the largest demonstration
in its history. They marched in protest of legislation which
has already passed the House of Representatives making the "unlawful
presence" of immigrants in the U.S. a federal felony. If
enacted the new laws also make an instant felon of anyone who
offers medical care or rents a room to, shelters or even gives
directions to an "unlawfully present" human in the U.S. If
enacted, it would provide up to five years in prison for each
While Chicago's sizeable African and Caribbean communities
were much in evidence, the main flavor of the day was Mexican. Hispanic
media played a major role in getting the crowds out. In the
closest thing to a general strike in the city's living memory,
Latino factory workers, students, janitors, hotel staff, teachers
and the self-employed called in sick, asked for or gave themselves
permission to be absent. Many employers looked the other
way, and workplaces along the march route emptied into the street.
Prexy Nesbitt is a veteran human rights activist and one of
the architects of the global anti-apartheid campaigns of the 70s
and 80s. He summed up the feeling of the city's progressive
black leadership thusly:
"It's another nail in the coffin of Bush's policies, which
aim to subjugate all people of color, and a major statement
from hundreds of thousands of Latinos that they reject divide
and rule politics. It reflects the growing consciousness
of Latinos that their destiny is inextricably intertwined with
that of us, and especially with black America."
"African Americans tend to be
sympathetic to the plight of nonwhite immigrants," says James
Thindwa of Chicago Jobs With Justice, an African immigrant himself.
"I've addressed more than one
black audience where a woman or someone gets up and launches into
a diatribe about 'those Mexicans taking all the jobs' but by the
end of the evening that person is often preaching tolerance and
solidarity to the crowd herself. It's a mark of the moral
character of black America that African Americans are very reachable
and teachable on that issue, and very accepting of the right message,
when that message reaches them."
The message however, has not reached some black
Georgia state legislators. Atlanta's Kasim Reed, DLC Democrat,
has authored a particularly loathsome anti-immigration bill which
he hopes will mirror
and exceed the racist immigrant-baiting of his Republican colleagues. Reed
proposes to lock up anyone who tries to get a job with a piece
of false ID for five years. Unsurprisingly, this morally
bankrupt attempt to outflank Republicans on the right has been
embraced by leading white Georgia Democrats.
"The magnet that gets people to Georgia is
not social services,'' according to Georgia Senate Democratic
leader Robert Brown. "They're enticed here for work.
If you really want to deal with the issue, you have to do it at
the point of the spear.''
When an African American legislator volunteers himself
as spear-chucker for white racism against brown people, something
is deeply wrong. It's something that goes beyond a single
morally compromised black politician. Georgia's Democratic
party, as BC pointed out back in 2004,
has been on life support for some time now.
Only a shell of its former self, the party has
been hollowed out by the defection of most white voters and
office-holders to the White Man's Party, the GOP – a process
that began in the 1960s and continues to this day. Several
white Georgia Democratic state legislators defected just last
year, and the current Republican leader of the Georgia State
Senate is a former Democrat.
Georgia Democrats did the rest of the damage to
themselves, by embracing the Bill Clinton/Democratic Leadership
Council (DLC) brand of dollar-politics. This fatal, corporate-financed
strategy encouraged white and Black Democrats to adopt watered
down Republican positions in an ever-rightward search for white
Georgia's governor is a former elected white Democrat,
and each election cycle is still marked by its cohort of whites
who get elected as Democrats and switch parties before being sworn
in. With few Republicans in his Atlanta district, Reed seems
to want Republican votes and Republican money without the formality
of political rebirth. The former campaign manager of Atlanta's
current mayor, he is thought to be the business community's favorite
to succeed incumbent Mayor Shirley Franklin. With the dispersal
and emptying out of Atlanta's chocolate inner city long underway
thanks to the policies
of thirty years of black mayors, popular wisdom is that electing
another black mayor in Atlanta may be impossible. But by
nakedly pandering to white racism against brown people, Reed may
hope to better his chances in a future mayoral race when Atlanta's
black voters are no longer a majority.
Beyond the corruption and enfeeblement of Georgia's
DLC-led Democratic party lies another and large factor enabling
Reed's and other treacheries. That factor is the continued
shrinkage, and in Atlanta, the near absence of local news coverage
in the mainstream media. Democracy
Now's Amy Goodman, nailed it in her March 14 broadcast:
"...a new report from the
Project for Excellence in Journalism warns that there has been
a seismic transformation in the media landscape as media companies slash
the amounts of resources put into original reporting. The
study said, ‘The new paradox of journalism is more outlets
covering fewer stories.' The report notes that in Philadelphia
the number of newspaper reporters has fallen from 500 to 220 in
the last quarter century. Five AM radio stations used to
cover news in Philadelphia. Now there are two. Nationwide
it's estimated that there are 3,500 fewer professional newsroom
jobs since 2000, a drop of 7%. Just last week, the Washington
Post said that it would cut 80 newsroom jobs."
A local news whiteout
of news coverage of what should have been a 2005 mayoral campaign
garnered Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin the Saddam-like total
of 93% of an alarmingly low turnout, and assured the installment
of compliant meat puppets on the city's school board and city
council. Atlanta is by no means unique.
Although broadcasters are granted licenses to serve
the public, and journalism has its own constitutional amendment
so it can fearlessly tell the truth, corporate media, including
starves communities across the land of the information we need
about how our own affairs are handled. Hence, aside from
Latino media, news of the historic Chicago march was scarcely
covered outside that city. And clowns like Kasim Reed can
count on continued non-coverage freeing them to move against the
prevailing moral current of their own constituencies and of black
Harry Belafonte likes to tell the story of how Dr.
Martin Luther King confided in him in moments of doubt, as we
all do with our friends. King sometimes pondered the question
of whether he might be assisting the integration of African Americans
into the moral and political equivalent of a burning building. Dr.
King's answer, Harry's answer, and ours was and ought to be that
black America must be the moral conscience of all America, demonstrating
by our example how the fires of racism, sexism, economic injustice
and inequality can be extinguished.
BC caught up with another companion
of Dr. King this week. SCLC's Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery, wisely
opined to BC that Kasim Reed's cynical pandering
"...sounds like a rather insensitive
and unkind way to approach the immigration problem. The Bible
calls us to be careful how we treat strangers in our land, that
it's a measure of how we ourselves might be treated some day. To
solve the immigration problem we have to deal with it at its root. We
have to improve the quality of life for people in Mexico and other
places. It doesn't help when corporations close down operations
here, move jobs to Mexico and still pay slave wages. People
want to come here and make a better living, to send money back
and keep their families alive. And once they're here, we're
all, in a sense, immigrants."
Dr. Lowery swims confidently in the moral mainstream
of black America, just as Dr. King did a half century ago. SCLC's
motto, chosen at its 1957 founding was "to save the soul
of America." Ever the optimist, Dr. Lowery added that
he'd like to talk to Kasim Reed sometime real soon about his immigration
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