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Marching for the Sake of Marching

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By Julianne Malveaux

NNPA Columnist

Every time I see a march or rally, I think of the rally of all rallies – the 1963 March on Washington. Forty-nine years later, there is nothing that equals that march in results. These days folks march to make a point, but back in the day, we marched to get legislative action.  Shortly after the March on Washington, both the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were passed.  I challenge anyone to tell me what other marches or rallies have yielded.  They’ve made a point, and galvanized people, yet they had no direct or immediate results.

I am thinking, in some ways, of the Occupy Movement, a self-admittedly leaderless group that has brought attention to corporate greed and growing wealth gap in our nation.  In many ways Occupy has been extremely effective in making a point, but the point has been lost with their many skirmishes with law enforcement officers, with the condition of the camps they set up, and with the vagueness of their demands.  It is specious and ineffective to call for the collapse of capitalism, as desirable as they feel such a goal might be.  Instead, the Occupy folks might agitate for tax reform that is redistributive, favoring the poor and middle class instead of the wealthy.  Such legislation will not end capitalism, but it will give people something to rally around.

Many people believe that the March on Washington was a spontaneous movement, but the march took months of planning.  The highly disciplined organizers vetted every speech and were mindful and deliberate about their goals.  To counter negative impressions of African Americans, many of the marchers dressed in their Sunday best.  All of the signs spoke to the civil rights movement, not to other issues. Today, marches seem to be a grab bag, with everyone with a cause carrying signs offering up their issues.  Again, people are marching almost for the sake of marching. The Montgomery bus boycott and the March on Washington were exceptional because of their focus and also because of their utter audacity.  Nearly 100 years after Emancipation, people of African descent were standing up for their rights, and given the long period of relative acquiescence, it was wholly unexpected that oppressed people would offer resistance to the status quo.  It was wholly unexpected that Black people would have the audacity to stand up. And, it was totally unexpected that a movement of African American people would inspire so many others to also stand up, In the wake of the March on Washington, the National Organization for Women (NOW) was founded.  In the wake of the march, the National Council of La Raza was founded, and in their own words, “traces its origins to the civil rights movement of the sixties.” The Stonewall riots happened in 1960, and gay rights marches began in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the right win has appropriated some civil rights tactics with their own marches and movement.  Also, unfortunately, civil rights activism has become professionalized, with many activists now on the payrolls of either the government or of organization that rely on foundation funding.  In either case, activists are relatively muzzled, so that the radicalism of the 60s is muted by funding realities or government restrictions.  That former President Bill Clinton jettisoned Lani Guinier and President Barack Obama did the same thing to Van Jones is instructive.  Can activists coexist with government moderation?  Probably not.

Still, the nomination of Paul Ryan to be second on the Republican ticket is a cause for concern to anyone who has the slightest progressive tendency.  Ryan would trim the size of government, eliminating key agencies.  He opposes contraceptive rights and a woman’s right to choose.  He has not taken a position on any civil rights issues, but there is no evidence that suggests he is an ardent supporter of equality. Whether people take it to the streets or to the voting booth, it is clear that those who care about freedom have much to oppose on this Republican ticket. We can take a page from the March on Washington to organize a highly disciplined opposition to the odious positions that the official representatives of the Republican Party have taken.  Or, we can be silent, absent ourselves from the polls, and suffer the consequences.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.  She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Thieves Are Costing Businesses Big Time With Stealing Copper

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With copper selling for $3.50 a pound and recycling centers eager to buy and make money, stealing copper wiring has become a quick way for some criminals to earn money. Some have even lost limbs and their life trying to get copper from people’s air conditioners, city streetlights, and even utility companies generation stations. Legislators have started enacting laws to regulate the re-sale of copper. Law enforcement in Riverside and San Bernardino counties have even assigned units to help, but the problem continues and is rising.

This subject particularly hit home for us this week when the San Bernardino office of the Black Voice became the target for someone to make a quick buck by stealing copper wiring. In the process, they destroyed four a/c units that not only impact the office and staff, but our insurance, as well as the units themselves of course this happened on perhaps the hottest day of the summer.

We were not the only business affected this weekend. The reporting officer stated that four other businesses had been hit.

It is not only businesses that are hit some residents have found their home units have been stripped of copper so it is a problem that must be addressed by the community with law enforcement leading the discussion for solutions.

Walmart and Under-Employment

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By Bill Fletcher, Jr.

NNPA Columnist

As University of California-Berkeley Labor Center Professor Steven Pitts regularly notes, African Americans not only face a crisis of lack of jobs, but we also face a crisis centering on the quality of those jobs. In fact, “underemployment” has been a recurring theme in Black America, where we find ourselves forced into jobs that are low wage, few (if any) benefits, and insufficient hours.

Walmart, for all of its fancy advertising and suggestions of a family-friendly environment, is one of the main perpetrators of underemployment on the U.S. scene and this has particular ramifications for Black America. Walmart, the largest employer in the USA (which has a workforce that is 18 percent African American), and a very significant multi-national corporation, is the quintessential representative of everything that is wrong with the current U.S. economy. At the top, the Walton family is among the richest in the country, with more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of the population. By contrast, Walmart associates (employees) are at the other end of the ladder. At salaries of an average of $8.81/hour, paying for healthcare insurance becomes nothing short of overwhelming.

The Walmart example is important to note because it points to the fact that a demand for jobs must be qualified with a few additions. First things first: workers in the USA do not live part-time lives; they do not have partial rents or mortgages or partial grocery bills. Holding jobs that keep you near the federal poverty line is of little help when you are trying to cover the expenses of a family. Yes, having a job is better than not having a job, but the scourge of underemployment means that you have to run around trying to piece together additional work or additional hours just to break even.

There is little pressure on Walmart to change. The company is often quite strategic is donating funds to various causes so that their profile is beyond reproach. Yet the workers in their various stores do everything that they can to keep a smile on their faces and to keep standing with some degree of respect. Consumers go to Walmart stores in search of bargains, rarely questioning why this company is able to make so much money and why the workforce scrapes by. Nor do they stop and ponder the fact that for all of its rhetoric, Walmart is a net destroyer of jobs, costing 3 jobs for every 2 “created.” Their business model, in fact, undermines existing, local retail jobs.

There is no particular reason that the wages and benefits of the Walmart workers need be so low. The profits accumulated by the company could adequately raise the compensation of a very hardworking workforce without creating much of a dent in the halls of avarice of the Walton family. Many Walmart workers realize just this and they have begun to organize for justice. Known as Organization United for Respect at Walmart (OUR Walmart), this organization of workers–which is not a union but has the support of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union–has been pressing Walmart for justice and respect. Without greater attention, and certainly in the absence of community support, their cause will be a very uphill struggle.

Perhaps it is time for the rest of us to give a damn. It is not just about the Walmart workers; it’s also about our community.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, the co-author of Solidarity Divided and the author of “They’re Bankrupting us” – And Twenty other myths about unions. He is the chairman of Retail Justice Alliance steering committee and can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

Valuing Some Lives over Others

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By Julianne Malveaux

NNPA Columnist

The national support for the victims of the recent Colorado shootings is great. However, if we believe in the equivalency of life, what about the lives of young men in Chicago, where there have been more deaths than in Afghanistan so far this year. While the hospitals in Aurora say they will cover hospital bills for those without insurance (one in three in Colorado), who will cover bills for those who are hospitalized after a drive-by? We mourn some deaths and ignore others, which suggests that some life is valued and some life is cheap.

Does it have anything to do with media attention? In Tuscaloosa, Ala., a crazed man walked into a bar looking for “a Black man”. He shot a man who did not know him, and with whom he had no beef. He also wounded 17 other people. Why has this story received only limited national attention?

If we spend a minute watching any news, we have heard about Veronica Moser, the 6- year-old who was massacred in Aurora. We’ve seen pictures of her smiling face and of her playing. Certainly we can all mourn the tragedy of her young life being snuffed out by a madman. Still, some young lives are valued, while others are not. One of the young deaths that rocked my soul was the 2004 murder of Chelsea Cromartie, who sat in her grandmother’s window playing with her dolls when she was killed by a stray bullet. She wrote, in a classroom exercise, that she was an “amazing girl”. We don’t have to go back to 2004 to find a child’s death. Two weeks ago, Heaven Sutter, who had just had her hair styled for a trip to Disney World, was shot. Again the culprit was a stray bullet.

Details of the lives of those who are killed humanizes them and tugs at our heartstrings. In Aurora, we have learned about a man whose wife just gave birth, about another who died saving his girlfriend, of a young woman who missed a Toronto mass murder by a few seconds, aspired to be a sports journalist, and was killed in Aurora. Rarely do we hear about the lives of those who are killed in the inner city, about the lives of Chelsea Cromartie and Heaven Sutter.

The dis proportionality of death commentary hits home when one remembers the stories in the New York Times after September 11, 2001. For months, postage stamp sized photos accompanied short but revealing blurbs about those who lost their lives. On one hand, the blurbs were humanizing. For me, though, they were a reminder of the equivalency of life and the lives we choose to ignore.

There were 12,000 gun-related deaths in the United States in 2008. Eighty percent of the gun deaths in the world’s 23 richest countries happened in the United States, as did 87 percent of the deaths of children. We have more than 270 million privately owned guns in this country. When we add the number of military (police, sheriffs) guns, there is at least one gun for every man, woman, and child in this country. Some hark back to their Second Amendment rights in their gun ownership, but the Second Amendment was passed before assault weapons and Glocks.

If people have the right to bear arms, do they have to right to have 6,000 rounds of ammunition, obtained on the Internet? If we can’t limit guns, can we at least regulate the distribution of ammunition? In the same year that there were 12,000 gun deaths in the United States, there were a scant 11 gun-related deaths in Japan. Indeed, while the United States has 90 privately held guns per 100 people, the next largest per capita rate of privately held guns is in Yemen. In contrast, China has three guns per 100 people.

The National Rifle Association loves to say, “guns don’t kill, people do.” As usual, they display limited thinking. People with guns are the ones who kill! Why won’t we address that by dealing with issues of gun and ammunition control? The 12 people who lost their lives represent a fraction of 1 percent of those who die from gun violence annually. As we mourn these lives, let us mourn the lives of the thousands who were also killed because it is easier to buy a weapon than it is to buy marijuana in most parts of our nation.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer. She is President Emerita of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.

Sick of Healthcare Lies

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By Bill Fletcher Jr.
NNPA Columnist

The on-going debate about healthcare reform hit me this week when I became quite ill. I am one of the lucky ones. I have an employer-provided healthcare plan so I was ultimately able to go to a medical facility, get diagnosed and begin treatment. My co-pay was minimal, and certainly would not have put me under water. But what if I had not been so lucky? I use the term “lucky” quite specifically since having healthcare, at least until President Obama’s reforms, has been the luck of the draw: Did you belong to a union? Did you have an employer that provided insurance? Did you have enough money to pay for it on your own? Not to mention the actual quality of your plan, if you were, like me, lucky to have one.

Obama’s healthcare reform did not go as far as it needed to, and, with all due respect, made too many compromises with private-sector interests. In that sense, the struggle is not over for universal healthcare. President Obama, both because of his connections with corporate America and his early belief in bi-partisanship, sincerely seemed to believe that reasonable people could strike a compromise. He could not accept, and perhaps still cannot completely accept, that the Republicans from Day One of his administration — have been out for blood.

We needed and still need full healthcare reform. We need, in other words, the extension of Medicare to cover us all. We have to reject the false notion that this means a loss of jobs. While I have been ill this week I have considered many of the arguments raised by the Republicans against Obama’s plan, a plan that has now been upheld by the Supreme Court as constitutional. The most ironic of the arguments comes from Mitt Romney, who is in no position to criticize the plan since it is largely based upon the one that he initiated as governor of Massachusetts.

But the arguments of the Republicans actually are deeper and meaner than Romney’s flip-flopping. They go to the question of whether there are, or should be, a “deserving” population and an “undeserving” population. This may sound vaguely familiar, and so it should since it goes back to the Reagan era separation of the poor into the “deserving” and the “undeserving.” In both cases, a right-wing moral judgment has been cast against a segment of the population. In today’s situation, the notion is simple: the right-wing argues that there is a segment of the population that has done little to earn any of the so-called entitlements that they receive. Therefore, these should be cut.

Flowing from this fuzzy line of thinking is Republican opposition to Obama’s plan — Romney’s hypocrisy notwithstanding — becomes more understandable and equally unsettling. As far as they are concerned, let the so-called undeserving swing in the wind and look out for themselves. And if this means that this undeserving population cannot get access to quality healthcare, jobs, food housing, proper education, etc., as far as the right-wing is concerned, so be it. Just in case you think that the right-wing is not talking about you, let me clarify who they see as the undeserving populations: the poor (the right-wing is not making the distinction anymore between a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ section); people of color; youth; immigrants of color; low-waged workers; and in many cases, anyone who makes less than $100,000/year. Do you see yourself in that picture?

This is what the November 2012 election is all about. It is not about Obama and his record. It’s really about whether you have a right to be treated for illnesses in such a way that you are not cast into the bottomless pit of debt and poverty. Sick or not, there is no way that I am staying home on Election Day.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of Solidarity Divided. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.

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