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An Open Letter to Democratic Party Fundraisers

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(NNPA) I am deeply concerned by the sorts of emails and hard-mail communications that I have been receiving from you folks. The sense of panic and the sky-is-falling approach toward the November 2014 midterm elections has led me to immediately delete emails and rip to shreds the hard-mail. Let me explain.

If you are going into battle and want to inspire the troops, the last thing that you want to do is to keep telling them that the situation is catastrophic. You want your forces to both understand what they are up against AND you want to inspire them to do more than they might otherwise do because you have a plan that just might succeed. In the case of fundraising, you want potential funders to believe that their contributions can and will make a difference rather than that their funds will be useless since the cause is hopeless.

I am being very blunt. Midterm elections are always difficult for the party that occupies the White House. This is compounded this year (as it was in 2010) by an Obama administration and a Democratic Party that seems less than excited about hitting the Republicans where it hurts: in their racism, sexism and anti-worker bias.

Instead, I feel that we those of us who are interested in progress are treated to are endless suggestions that the world will end on November 4th unless we make X,Y, or Z financial contributions and unless any Democrat gets elected.

What I want to hear from you fundraisers is about winning strategies. I want to hear about how my few dollars will help move organizing and mobilizing teams. I want to hear about the media messages that need to be constructed—and are being considered—to expose the avarice and greed of the political Right.

I am not interested in hearing gloom and doom. Let me put it more directly in case you have missed my point. If you are interested in depressing me, you have succeeded. If you are interested in getting my money, you have failed.

Any questions?

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist, educator and writer. He is the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Jim Crow's Ancestors – and Children

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(NNPA) At first glance, one might be hard-pressed to think that a recent opinion piece on the 1970s origins of the religious right as a political force and a new book on the causes of America’s founding, the war of independence of the 1770-1780 decades, would have much in common—beyond the fact that both were written by distinguished historians.

But both exercises do have a great deal in common.

For one thing, they show how history – the truth of what happened at particular moments or periods in the past – can be buried beneath more palatable myths. For another, they reveal how race and racism have always been at the center of the American experience. For still another, they underscore that anti-Black bigotry has always been the cornerstone of America’s tradition of exclusion – the “evil twin,” if you will, of the nation’s vaunted tradition of inclusion.

For example, contrary to the naïve predictions of the first weeks after President Obama’s 2008 election, his tenure has proven how a powerful force what one might call the Jim Crow Impulse remains in American society.

Writing in the May 27 issue of Politico.com magazine, Dartmouth College historian Randall Balmer corrects the notion that religious right was formed to oppose the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion.

Actually, as Balmer shows in “The Real Origins of the Religious Right,” much of the evangelical leadership at the time either approved of the decision or was largely indifferent to it. One reason for that, Balmer writes, was that many considered the campaign to outlaw abortion a “Catholic issue.”

He contends that the religious right’s true beginnings occurred nearly half a decade earlier. That’s when White evangelicals in the South began establishing all-White “Christian academies” in response to the possibility that the political victories of the Civil Rights Movement would actually bring integration to public schools throughout the region.

Balmer cites the Green v. Kennedy federal court lawsuit of 1970 as pivotal.

The previous year, a group of Black parents in Holmes County, Miss. had sued the U.S. Treasury Department to prevent it granting tax-exempt status to three new Whites-only K-12 private academies there. The backdrop to the suit was that when federally-mandated desegregation had been implemented in the county’s public school system that very year, the number of White students in the public schools declined from 771 to 28. The next year, 1970, every White school-age student in the county was enrolled in a Whites-only academy.

The Black parents argued that those schools’ discrimination policies made them ineligible for federal support. A federal court issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the parents; and later that year the Nixon administration ordered the Internal Revenue Service to issue new regulations denying tax-exempt status to all such “seg academies.” The religious right’s fury at that ruling festered until 1979, when, as Balmer writes, its leader “seized on abortion not for moral reason, but as a rallying cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term. … Because the anti-abortion crusade was more palatable than [its] real motive: protecting segregated schools.”

Gerald Horne, professor at the University of Houston, contends in his just-published book, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origin of the United States of America, that it wasn’t “liberty” but the protection of White economic and racial advantage that forged the successful settler rebellion that created the United States of America.

In other words, the American War of Independence wasn’t a revolution. It was a “counter-revolution” to protect the British colonists’ use of African slavery as the foundation of their economic well-being. That’s one reason it was overwhelmingly led by wealthy merchants – not only slave owners and slave traders in the South, but titans of the Northern-centered banking, insurance, manufacturing and shipping industries as well. (In fact, the most prominent slave traders of the period lived in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.)

The supporting evidence Horne presents from the decades of 1688 to 1776 that are the book’s focus is voluminous and persuasive. It includes his extensive discussion of the intrigues and wars among Britain, France and Spain over their North American possessions; the influence of the continual slave revolts in the Caribbean as well as on the North American mainland; and, ultimately, Britain’s use of African soldiers in the troops it sent to police its increasingly troublesome colonists.

All this, and more, Horne asserts played a role in the “grimy origin” of the United States. But at its center was the issue of the presence and status of the African-becoming African-American peoples whose enslavement was the source of White wealth and power in the New World.

That’s a perspective worth remembering as the U.S. prepares to celebrate its counter-revolutionary war of independence.

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

Obama’s Reprehensible Foreign Policy

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I was reading an editorial criticizing President Obama for not doing more in the international realm. Specifically, it suggested that he was too weak. He was supposedly not responding sufficiently to the alleged Russian threat to Ukraine, for instance. Another example is that some critics believe that the administration should have done more in response to the Arab Spring, in particular, offering more assistance. The editorial dribbled on.

I found this to be an odd criticism. When I look at Obama’s foreign policy I actually see a high level of international engagement; it is just that much of it is reprehensible. Let’s note a few and you see what you think.

  • Drone strikes: Hundreds of people have been killed in drone strikes during the course of the Obama administration. These strikes violate the sovereignty of various countries, e.g., Pakistan, Yemen. Civilians are killed; nations protest; terrorists are encouraged; yet they continue.
  • Destabilization of governments: The government of Honduras was overthrown and, while the Obama administration initially complained, it not only did nothing to restore the democratically elected government. Yet, it got in the way of the restoration. In Venezuela, despite the initial overtures by the late President Hugo Chavez, the administration has given a cold shoulder to the Venezuelan government and, even worse, given encouragement to the opposition to persist in efforts to undermine the government (despite the government’s clear electoral mandate).
  • Continuous support of Israel and frustration of justice for the Palestinians: Despite rhetorical interventions, the Obama administration has been steadfast in supporting Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories, including ignoring the expansion of illegal settlements and sanctioning the inhumane blockade of Gaza. While Secretary of State Kerry was allegedly attempting to work out a peace deal, he was putting pressure on the Palestinians – who have very little to give – to concede more and more, while the Israeli government thumbed its nose at Kerry. Yet, there were no consequences.

So, when the Republicans and some Democrats assert that the Obama administration has been timid, I ask “How?” When they suggest that the administration seems to have no foreign policy, I ask, “What world are you looking at?”

And when regular people ask “Is this what we voted for in 2008 and 2012?” I answer: ”No it is not, but since we did not keep the pressure on Obama, it is what we were handed.”

It’s not too late for those who believe in global peace and justice to insist on a different course of action.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer, educator and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

Housing Recovery Bypasses Blacks and Latinos

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(NNPA) Scholars from several of the nation’s most-esteemed colleges and universities jointly concluded that the nation’s so-called housing “recovery” is bypassing communities of color and working- class neighborhoods. Underwater America, their new report, analyzed negative equity and foreclosure data using zip codes in metropolitan areas.

According to the report, nearly one in 10 Americans or – 28.7 million – live in the 100 hardest hit cities from the housing crisis. Among the 395 hardest-hit zip codes across the country, Blacks and Latinos represent at least half of that population. And in 57 cities, at least 30 percent of all mortgaged homes are still underwater, defined as owing more on their loans than their homes are now worth.

Published by the Haas Institute for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of California at Berkeley, the report’s authors come from Occidental College, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The New School and George Washington University.

Commenting on Underwater America, john a. powell [Yes, that’s how he writes it], Haas Institute Director and Professor of Law, Ethnic and African-American Studies at UC-Berkeley, said, “The Underwater America report is important because it reveals that a large part of the country is not only not recovering, it is largely being ignored. These are disproportionately Black and Latino communities.”

Today, homeownership represents 92 percent of the net worth for Blacks and 67 percent for Latinos. Whites, by comparison, only have 58 percent of their wealth in their homes. And despite rising home prices in many areas of the country, owner-occupied housing still remains $3.2 trillion below 2006 levels.

By examining trends by zip codes, the new report determined which states had the highest housing hardships. In order of severity they are: Georgia (61), Florida (55), Illinois (47), Michigan (38), Ohio (33), New Jersey (32), Maryland (24), Missouri (21), California (17), Nevada (10) and North Carolina (10).

The zip code analysis also revealed negative housing patterns in specific city neighborhoods. Again, ranked by the rate of severity, the following cities had serious and multiple neighborhood problems: Las Vegas, Atlanta, Jacksonville (Fla), Orlando, Chicago, Tampa, Detroit, Miami, Memphis, Virginia Beach, Riverside (Calif.), Kansas City (Mo.), St. Louis, Cleveland and Milwaukee.

For example, in Atlanta, more than 400,000 consumers remain underwater on their mortgages. Another 5,400 homeowners in 2013 went into either default or foreclosure. Additionally, the market’s home prices are still 27 percent below their peak levels.

“These challenges faced by cities represent opportunities for communities to empower themselves to save their homes, their neighborhoods and restore their community’s wealth,” added powell.

The irony to this still-unfolding saga is that over succeeding generations, buying a home was a reliable gateway to building wealth and financial security. Owning a home ‘free and clear’ was a cause for celebration attested to family financial security.

But as earlier research by the Center for Responsible Lending, which was cited in the Haas report, revealed, the years leading up to the housing crisis found communities of color – Black and Latino – targeted for high-cost, risky loans even when borrowers qualified for lower-cost and more sustainable mortgages. Instead of earning home equity, many borrowers of color lost thousands of dollars in what is often the single largest investment of a lifetime.

Underwater America states, “For African-American and Latinos specifically between 2005 and 2009, they experienced a decline in household wealth of 52 percent and 66 percent, respectively, compared to 16 percent for whites. This reflects, in large part, disparities in foreclosure rates among these groups, since for most Americans, and particularly for people of color, their homes are their largest source of wealth.”

According to powell, “These challenges faced by cities represent opportunities for communities to empower themselves to save their homes, their neighborhoods and restore their community’s wealth.”

The report recommends remedies that include a defined role for nonprofit organizations in addition to efforts by governments and banks. The three stakeholder groups working together could and should reverse the losses of recent years.

According to Saqib Bhatti, one of the report’s authors and a fellow with the Nathan Cummings Foundation, “We believe that if banks are unwilling or unable to write down underwater mortgages to the current market value of the homes, then local officials should take the decision out of their hands.”

Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at: Charlene.crowell@responsiblelending.org

What is going on in the Congress of South African Trade Unions?

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(NNPA) The crisis that has rocked the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) over the last year has frequently been portrayed as revolving around a scandal involving the organization’s General Secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi. The principal leader of the largest labor federation in South Africa, Vavi was accused of conducting an inappropriate relationship with a female employee of the organization. Although Vavi publicly apologized on several occasions, he was suspended for several months, only to have been recently reinstated by an act of a South African court.

The Vavi case, however, is not the main cause of the COSATU crisis. The underlying causes go back to the early days of Nelson Mandela’s administration and the decision of his government to embark on economic policies that were contrary to those originally promised by the African National Congress in its fight with the apartheid regime. The ANC had advanced the need for the nationalization of key industries and the establishment of major social development programs.

In 1996 the government suddenly reversed course and instituted a new economic program called Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR). Despite the name, it was a program that conformed to the sorts of economic biases very common in the 1990s (and today), including privatization, downsizing, and elimination of trade barriers. South African workers were hurt very badly by this change and a struggle began to emerge within COSATU over how the labor unions should respond to anti-worker policies that their allies–the ANC–were advancing.

Over the last several years, General Secretary Vavi has become an outspoken critic of the ANC-led government of Jacob Zuma, particularly on matters of economic policy. Events became more intense when striking miners from a union that was not affiliated with COSATU, were gunned down at the Marikana mines in 2012. The horror of this act sent shock waves throughout South Africa, including but not limited to COSATU. Several unions that have been affiliated with COSATU began to raise questions about not only what had happened, but also the role of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM, a COSATU affiliate) in the tragedy.

As criticisms of the Zuma administration heightened, and as Vavi seemed to be a leading critic, a lineup within COSATU emerged that included unions that saw themselves as defenders of the ANC and the alliance that has existed between the ANC and COSATU. In that context, the allegations against Vavi have little to do with the actual facts of the incident. Vavi apologized repeatedly for inappropriate conduct, yet the anti-Vavi forces in COSATU saw this as their chance to remove him from the scene and to consolidate COSATU as an uncritical ally of the Zuma administration and the ANC.

While it is the case that Vavi has been, at least for now, restored to office and the ANC is helping to facilitate discussions between Vavi and his detractors, the focus on the individual misses the larger situation. To what extent will COSATU see itself as reaching out to the growing chorus of social movements critical of the ANC’s economic policies, or will COSATU reject such critics and hold fast to its relationship to the ANC? This will not be answered through one action or decision but we shall see it play out over the coming months of struggle.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the former president of TransAfrica Forum. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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