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King's Unfinished Symphony of Freedom

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(NNPA) This weekend, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, best known for Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Dream.”

Fifty years later, the dream challenges us yet. It is alive because it is not static. The dream of equal rights and equal opportunity, of being judged for character, not color, has transformed this nation. Much progress has been forged; much remains to be done.

One way to think about the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s dream is as a symphony of freedom. The first movement was the movement to end slavery, which required the bloodiest war in American history. Then came the drive to end segregation, the disfiguring legal apartheid of the South. In that victory, the movement freed not only African-Americans but also the South to grow, and opened access to libraries and hotels, trains and restaurants, pools and parks. Rosa Parks could sit wherever she wanted to on that bus.

The third movement was the movement for empowerment, for the right to vote. That movement culminated in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, challenging the various taxes and tests and intimidation used to deprive African-Americans of the power of the ballot box. This year, the five conservatives on the Supreme Court weakened the act. Conservative governors and legislators are pushing to constrict rather than expand the vote. We still have no constitutional right to vote. Surely, that is the next step toward the dream.

The fourth movement of the freedom symphony features the trumpet call for equal opportunity, and the clash over extreme and growing inequality. Here, Lyndon Johnson’s promise to fulfill the movement’s pledge that “we shall overcome” has been frustrated. African-Americans continue to suffer twice the unemployment as Whites. Poor people of color, often isolated in ghettos and barrios, have less access to healthful food, good schools, public parks and safe streets. Inequality is the new de facto segregation, with the affluent withdrawing to gated communities and private schools, and the poor huddled in impoverished neighborhoods.

Dr. King knew this final movement was the most difficult. He saw Johnson’s war on poverty being lost in the costly folly of Vietnam. He worried that we might be “integrating into a burning house.” He was murdered while standing with sanitation workers organizing for dignity and a decent wage. When he died, he was organizing a new march on Washington — a Poor People’s Campaign that would bring the impoverished of all races and regions to a Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., to demand a renewal of the war on poverty.

The fourth movement — the movement for real equality of opportunity — remains unfinished. Its agenda speaks to poor and working people of all races: full employment, a living wage, child nutrition, a good public education from pre-K to affordable college, high-quality health care, affordable housing in vibrant communities, workers empowered to share in the profits and productivity they help to produce.

We have gained freedom without equality. Globalized capital and communications have been used to push workers down rather than lift them up. We continue to squander scarce resources policing the globe. Inequality has grown worse, and the middle class is sinking.

The symphony of freedom is unfinished, but its powerful themes still resound and stir its listeners. Dr. King called on each of us to march for justice. He understood the power of people of conscience when they decide to act. As we remember his dream, we are called to action, for there is more work to be done.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org.

More UFO Sightings than Voter Fraud Cases

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(NNPA) Prior to the 2012 elections, I found myself in a discussion with a colleague concerning Republican efforts at what has come to be known as “voter suppression.” I was informing this person, who is well educated, that voter fraud is not a problem of any significance in the U.S.A. This individual rejected my contention, arguing that he was aware of countless examples of alleged fraud and that the efforts to make voting more difficult were justified.

A fascinating article in Mother Jones from July 2012, which I only just discovered , contains the sorts of ammunition that is needed in this debate, ammunition that really can not only end the argument but open up the real question: Why are the Republicans trying to make it more difficult to vote?

The article, by Hamed Aleaziz, Dave Gilson and Jaeah Lee ["UFO Sightings are more common than voter fraud," www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/voter-id-laws-charts-maps] contains this little factoid at the end: Between 2000 and 2010 there were 649 million votes cast in general elections; 47,000 UFO sightings; 441 Americans killed by lightning; and 13 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation.

How is it possible that with no evidence of massive voter fraud that legislators around the nation have moved to narrow voting? The answer, to a great extent, has to do with race. First, the people making the allegations tend to be White and rich. They are playing into the growing fears among many average Whites that the U.S. is becoming a Black and Brown nation, and, to be honest, they are scared. Many of them still cannot understand how it was that a Black man became president of the United States.

Second, the criminalization of Black America and the assumption that we are up to no good – as demonstrated most recently in the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin – opens up the door to the belief that African Americans are somehow involved in trickery and voter fraud. We do not have to have ever done anything. It is more about what many Whites believe that we are capable of doing that matters.

Yet voter suppression, which is not going away, is about more than the antipathy of many rich Whites for Black people. The voter suppression laws are not aimed solely at African Americans. They remain part of the larger scheme to neutralize the growing majority in this country, a majority of people of color, youth, women and working people, that threatens the privileges of the rich and (in-)famous. Thus, we not only have voter suppression but we have gerrymandering of electoral districts to ensure that certain districts remain in the hands of Republicans and that cross-racial political coalitions are less likely to be built.

The issue of voter suppression not only remains critical, but will especially be so in the 2014 elections. Being mid-term elections, turnout tis always lower than in presidential years under the best of circumstances. If you add to that the great difficulties that the average voter can anticipate in voting, the situation goes from bad to worse. This means that voting rights activists will have important challenges that include:

  • Voter registration
  • Ensuring that the voters have the proper documents
  • Constructing monitoring and protection mechanism to guarantee our rights and
  • Helping to bring forward compelling candidates who speak to the issues of the grassroots and, thereby, encourage greater turnout.

To this we should add one more task. Each time that you encounter an elected official who suggests that greater efforts need to be taken to stop alleged voter fraud, please ask them to provide you with documented evidence of a pattern of abuse. Please ask them to provide you with documented numbers. Please ask them to provide you with proof of convictions.

And, if they cannot provide any of this, please ask them to shut their trap.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author or “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

The GOP's Whites-Only Gambit

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By Lee A. Daniels
NNPA Columnist

The Republican Party, which has lost the last two presidential elections by appealing to the worst racial attitudes of White conservative voters, has come up with what it declares is a winning strategy for 2016: Appeal to the worst racial attitudes of White conservative and White Democratic-leaning voters.

The conservative echo chamber of political operatives and pundits has even produced a, to coin a phrase, white paper explaining how doubling down on its failed national strategy of 2008 and 2012 will work in 2016. More about that later.

One might consider that notion a modern version of the 1956 Southern Manifesto, the Congressional segregationists’ call for “massive resistance” by White Southerners to the 1954 Supreme Court Brown school desegregation decision. Or an updating of GOP standard-bearer Richard Nixon’s adoption in the late 1960s of a “Southern Strategy” of appealing to Whites made anxious by Blacks’ civil rights victories.

Or, one could say it’s just a continuation of the stance against Democratic presidents the GOP adopted during the Clinton presidency in the 1990s – in the words of former Republican congressman, Vin Weber: a maximum ideological polarization. That attitude is a far distance from the claims GOP leaders made in the weeks between President Obama’s re-election victory last November and his re-inauguration in January.

Then, they promised they had learned the benefits of “outreach” to the groups that made up the winning Democratic coalition – particularly women, Blacks, Latinos and gays and lesbians. Why, the Republican National Committee (RNC) even produced in March a much ballyhooed report that called for the party to leave its “ideological cul-de-sac,” confessing that the party had “lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

And how was that critique received by the GOP party faithful? Well, Rush Limbaugh, the conservative talk-show maven whose tail still wags the Republican dog, immediately announced it showed the RNC had been “totally bamboozled,” and GOP Congressional leaders comments’ about it were tepid at best.

In fact, the GOP’s actions and words beyond the RNC exercise underscored again that the party continues to be driven by a callous ideology that has prompted Republican legislators to double down on all the things which contributed to the failure of the Republican ticket in 2012: to enact more legislation restricting women’s right to an abortion; to pass more so-called voter identification measures to suppress the Black vote; and to bellow their opposition to efforts to enact sensible immigration-reform measures.

Nothing exemplifies the GOP posture more dramatically and more crudely that Steve King, the Iowa Republican Congressman. King, whose specialty is making vicious jibes about women and people of color, last month denigrated the DREAM Act legislation that would establish an arduous, long path to citizenship for the children of undocumented immigrants. “Some of them are valedictorians – and their parents brought them in. It wasn’t their fault,” King said, then added, “… But for every one who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds – and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’ve been hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

Realizing they had a public relations disaster in the making, the GOP leadership disavowed King’s comment. But the fact is King’s anti-immigration stance and that of the GTOP itself are one and the same: Both are designed to appeal to Whites anxious by the growing population and electoral clout of Black Americans and Hispanic Americans.

The solution essentially proposed by Sean Trende, a conservative pundit, and seconded by several of his fellow conservatives, is to minimize trying to broaden the party’s appeal to Blacks and Hispanics and concentrate on building the White conservative voter turnout.

Trende’s argument, laid out in four lengthy articles from June 21 to July 6 on the blog, realclearpolitics.com, is well worth reading because it clearly reflects the political decisions the GOP leadership has already made to continue its past practice of just pretending to be interested in “outreach.”

Black Americans would do well to pay special attention to Trende’s June 25 article, which predicts a decline in both Black voter turnout and the actual number of Black votes going Democratic. The piece contains many assumptions about how Blacks will vote when Barack Obama is no longer at the head of the ticket that are wishful thinking – but that, nevertheless, progressive Blacks and Whites need to consider.

But there is an even more urgent question Trende’s predictions about the Black vote raises but which he ignores: How much are his expectations of a decline in the Black vote in 2016 election dependent on the success of the voter suppression laws Republican-dominated state legislatures have put in place?

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

Labor Unions at another Crossroad

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(NNPA) Next month, the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the U.S., will hold its convention in Los Angeles. Breaking with tradition, the AFL-CIO will be opening its doors to community-based organizations, limiting the number of plenary speakers, and seeking to focus its resolutions on “action items” such as proposals that aim to produce a specific outcome rather than general statements. In preparation for the convention, “listening” meetings have been held around the country in order to seek greater input from labor activists regarding the future of the union movement.

The September convention arrives at a critical moment for labor unions specifically and workers generally. The attacks on unions, orchestrated by the political Right and their corporate allies, have been intense in the extreme. Restrictions on the right to organize; restrictions on, if not the outright elimination of, the right to public sector collective bargaining; the expansion of so-called “right to work” laws (actually right to be greedy); along with the reorganization of global capitalism, have heightened the wealth and income gaps in the U.S. and in much of the capitalist world, and driven the living standard of the average worker back to a late 1960s level (after factoring in inflation).

Labor unions, while resisting these attacks, have had great difficulty accepting the extent to which they must undergo change in order to address the crisis they face. While more than half of non-union workers would like to join labor unions or employee associations, they frequently do not think of the labor union movement as being a movement for anyone other than those already in unions. What the unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO will have to grasp is that if they are to re-emerge as a vital force, millions of workers will need to see in them a vehicle in the fight for economic justice. If they are simply viewed as a lobby they are toast.

The challenge for the union movement is daunting, but not insurmountable. They must engage their own members in a broad discussion about what is happening in the economy, not only in the U.S.A. but globally. They must tackle the manner in which race, ethnic and gender prejudices/discrimination, have torn workers apart to the benefit of the employer class. And more than anything else, they must be perceived as being organizations that are fighting on behalf of workers, whether those workers happen to be in unions or not. This includes, but is not limited to, working to create a voice and vehicle for the unemployed, that segment of the population which is being cast aside by corporate America.

While the AFL-CIO’s pre-convention efforts are noteworthy, they will meaningless without results. Exiting the convention, there will not only need to be powerful resolutions, but there will need to be a commitment to substantive change in the manner in which unions operate. This is not a time for great rhetoric but timid action. This is a moment for audacity in the face of the arrogance of the rich.

Unions risk little in forging audacious change. Their very existence has been called into question as a result of the offensive that they have experienced at the hands of corporate America.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Double Standard on Using the N-Word

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By Raynard Jackson
NNPA Columnist

I typically don’t write about professional athletes doing stupid things because I have absolutely no interest and it serves no purpose. But Riley Cooper’s actions from last month can be very instructive and deserves my attention.

Riley Cooper is about to begin his fourth season as a wide receiver with Philadelphia Eagles of the N.F.L. The 25-year-old was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Clearwater, Fla. He played football for the University of Florida. By all accounts, he is a very good receiver and has been a model teammate during his years in the league.

Last month, he attended a Kenny Chesney concert in Philadelphia. He was denied backstage access before the concert and became visibly angry based on the video that has gone viral. In the video, Riley can be seen and heard telling security (who cannot be seen in the video and is said to be Black), “I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here, bro.”

After the video went viral, Riley issued a series of tweets apologizing for his actions and words, “I am so ashamed and disgusted with myself. I want to apologize. I have been offensive. I have apologized to my coach, Jeffrey Lurie, and Howie Roseman and to my teammates. I owe an apology to the fans and to this community. I am so ashamed, but there are no excuses. What I did…Was wrong and I will accept the consequences.”

The chairman and CEO of the team, Jeffrey Lurie issued this statement on behalf of the team, saying: “We are shocked and appalled by Riley Cooper’s words. This sort of behavior or attitude from anyone has no role in a civil society. He has accepted responsibility for his words and his actions. He has been fined for this incident.”

The team then posted a statement on their website: “In meeting with Riley yesterday, we decided together that his next step will be to seek outside assistance to help him fully understand the impact of his words and actions. He needs to reflect. As an organization, we will provide the resources he needs to do so.”

What Cooper said was stupid. But, what I am having a problem reconciling is the reaction of the public in general and the team and N.F.L. in particular.

I have had many professional athletes as clients and friends and spend a considerable amount of time with them both in public and in private. I am appalled at how freely the word nigger is used by these athletes in mixed crowds. Riley is White, but I can assure you that his Black teammates use the word nigger around him—on the field, in the locker room, and when they are together privately.

I am not making a judgment as to whether it is right or wrong; I am simply sharing my personal interactions with professional athletes in various settings. This is the dilemma the Black community has created for the broader public. We give rappers, entertainers, and other Blacks a pass when they use the word nigger, but then want to hold a White person to a different standard. There must be one standard when it comes to the usage of this word – it is not acceptable for anyone, under any circumstance to use it. Period.

Team management and N.F.L. officials hear the word used on the sidelines every Sunday during the games and every now and then league microphones picks up the word being used on the field during live games. Coarse language is part and parcel of the N.F.L., but is not for public consumption.

So, why is there no outrage by team and league officials when they hear these words on the sideline? Oh, I forgot, this feigned outrage over Cooper’s comments were caught on camera and the outrage is more of a public relations response—to protect their sport’s brand.

My point is very simple: If we in the Black community didn’t use the word nigger, then others wouldn’t feel comfortable using it, either. Cooper is totally responsible for what came out of his mouth; but the Black community is responsible for making him feel comfortable saying it.

Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a Washington, D.C.-based public relations/government affairs firm. He can be reached through his Web site, www.raynardjackson.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at raynard1223.

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