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Getting Ready for the Third Reconstruction

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(NNPA) On August 27, 1963, the day before the historic March on Washington, one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th Century passed away in his exile home of Ghana. Having been driven out of the U.S.A. through the endless harassment and hounding by the Us.S. government, DuBois, the noted scholar, activist and leading Pan Africanist, was provided a home in Ghana by its President, Kwame Nkrumah. Dubois’s death was mentioned to the marchers and there was a moment of silence, yet many of those in attendance, including many of the organizers of the March, had remained silent when DuBois was subject to the anti-communist persecution that he experienced, particularly from the late 1940s onward.

It is important to remember DuBois today not simply because he died on the eve of the great March on Washington, but because he was a prime mover in the reexamination of the post-Civil War period known as “Reconstruction.” Reconstruction was one of those rare moments in U.S. history where this country could have gone in a very different direction. The slaves had been liberated and, along with poor Whites in the South, had the chance to shatter the legacy of enslavement. Reconstruction was defeated, however, by an alliance of the Southern elite and Northern industrialists in the mid-1870s after the Southern elite accepted a subordinate role to that of the Northern capitalists.

In the 1960s, the U.S. experienced a “Second Reconstruction.” Through struggles of the Black Freedom Movement, along with other movements for social justice such as the women’s movement and the Chicano movement, democracy was expanded. Yet, the ruling elite of this country was only prepared for things to go but so far. Our victories were met with the so-called “White backlash,” especially by many angry men who did not want gender roles to change. We have been on the defensive ever since.

The 2013 commemoration of the March on Washington was actually our chance to announce that our sights should now be set on a Third Reconstruction. A Third Reconstruction is badly needed; it is a movement towards an expansion of democracy; a movement for ecological justice and survival; a movement for the democracticization of the economy; a movement for genuine racial justice and gender justice; a movement for a foreign policy that makes the U.S. a partner rather than a bully. Rather than looking backwards, we need to be paying attention to what it will take to get us to the Third Reconstruction. That may be one of the best ways to honor those who brought us the 1963 March on Washington, and to honor W.E.B. DuBois, all of who many on the political Right would rather that we forget.

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.

21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom

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"Almost 50 years ago, I gave a little blood on that bridge in Selma, Alabama for the right to vote. I am not going to stand by and let the Supreme Court take the right to vote away from us."

- Rep. John Lewis at the 50th anniversary March on Washington

(NNPA) Last weekend, tens of thousands of citizens from around the country converged at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and to dedicate themselves to a continuation of the fight for jobs, voting rights and a host of other challenges that are having a disproportionate impact on African Americans and other communities of color.

Just as 50 years ago, the National Urban League was on the front lines of last week’s march activities. I had the honor of addressing the multitude from the same location that Dr. King and Whitney Young did during the 1963 March. Approximately 5000 Urban Leaguers and friends marched with us to the Lincoln Memorial in a pre-march rally. We came in full force.

Our participation was shaped by our determination that the 50-year anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as well as of Dr. King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech, would be both a commemoration and a continuation of the unfinished work of building our more perfect union. To that end, we convened a Redeem the Dream summit on Friday, bringing together civil rights legends and new generation leaders for spirited discussions of the work that lies ahead as we confront both the progression and regression of equal opportunity in 21st century America. We, along with a coalition of civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders – the African American Leaders Convening (AALC), also introduced our 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom joined.

While the agenda was developed during meetings in Washington in December 2012 and January 2013 with the help of the dozens of leaders that compose the AALC, the effort was led by the presidents of the National Urban League, the National Action Network, NAACP and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. This growing coalition has produced a domestic policy agenda that lays out five urgent domestic goals for the nation:

- Achieve Economic Parity for African Americans

- Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity

- Protect and Defend Voting Rights

- Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities

- Achieve Comprehensive Criminal Justice System Reform

The civil rights and legislative successes that followed the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom laid the foundation for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and decades of progress. But, recently we have witnessed concerted efforts aimed at turning back the hands of progress in numerous areas from voting and civil rights to workers’ rights and criminal justice. In addition, high unemployment and other economic, social and legal disparities that continue to plague African Americans and low income and working class Americans underscore the urgency of our demand.

We cannot wave the flag of victory when so much work remains to be done. These injustices have, in fact, sparked the flame of a revitalized 21st Century Civil Rights Movement. The AALC will hold future meetings to discuss strategies and tactics in support of the agenda. We will also be calling on elected officials and candidates to commit their support for the agenda and to work for its implementation. Until we meaningfully confront these challenges, we jeopardize our ability and potential as a nation to fully live up to our ideals of liberty and justice for all.

To read the full text of our 21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom visit: http://iamempowered.com/21st-century-agenda-for-jobs-and-freedom.

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

Israeli/Palestinian Talks: Negotiations or Choreography?

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(NNPA) How can there be honest negotiations when one side – which has the lion’s share of the weapons, including a nuclear arsenal and the support of the U.S. government – decides that it is appropriate to go forward with illegal settlements on Palestinian land? This is the question that haunts the current round of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians. It also raises serious questions as to what a future agreement might portend.

While the U.S. and Israeli media made a great deal out of the Israeli release of Palestinian political prisoners, it was of greater significance that the Israelis have not stepped away from the continuations of their settlement policy. In any other field of negotiations, one would assume that actions that preclude a constructive result would be avoided. That is not the case when it comes to talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The Israelis seem to be determined to assert that they hold the upper hand. And in a situation of what is sometimes called “low intensity warfare” they are nevertheless able to convince too many people that their intentions are noble.

There is a significant danger that an ‘agreement’ may be reached between the two sides, blessed by the USA, which brings nothing close to peace and justice to the region, let alone to the Palestinians. Looking at a map of the occupied Palestinian territories resembles looking at an x-ray of a cancerous lung. There is little that is cohesive. It is filled with the holes that delineate Israeli settlements. And that map may end up being the Palestinian “nation-state” unless something radically shifts the terms of the current negotiations.

The Palestinians face the prospect of the peace of the graveyard rather than peace with justice unless there is significant international pressure exerted. The pressure on the Palestinians to settle for just about anything will be tsunami-like, particularly coming from the US government that desperately wishes to proclaim the end of hostilities. What we, however, need to understand is that the imposition of the peace-of-the-graveyard will not bring about such a result. It will result in a continued, protracted and painful conflict, perhaps Palestinian vs. Palestinian and Palestinian vs. Israeli. Should you have any questions about this, ask the people of Northern Ireland. The British and their Loyalist supporters thought that everything was wrapped up when they imposed a “compromise” settlement on Irish nationalists in 1921. Things did not quite work out the way that the British and Loyalists had planned.

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 www.billfletcherjr.com.

No Rosa Park Moment for Keystone Opponents

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(NNPA) Fifty years ago on this August 28, hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in our nation’s capital to fight for racial equality. The March on Washington proved to be a turning point in one of the most profound moral crises our country has ever faced. But in the half century since, the rhetoric of racial justice has become a tool for scoring cheap political points.

This tactic is quite apparent in the shameless moralizing deployed by opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline. A disturbing number of critics have sought to silence informed debate by comparing the issue to the struggle against racism. Besides being deeply offensive to anyone who has ever suffered the effects of institutional prejudice, such tactics do a disservice to those who risked their lives to defend the dignity of Black Americans.

If completed, the Keystone XL pipeline would deliver oil from Western Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. Whether this infrastructure project is a worthwhile investment is a complex issue on which reasonable people can disagree.

According to some environmentalists, however, opposing the pipeline is a moral cause on par with fighting for racial equality.

In a column imploring President Obama to block the final phases of Keystone XL construction, Minnesota-based journalist James P. Lenfestey called the decision “a Rosa Parks moment” for the president. “A small, seemingly inconsequential decision,” he went one, “can influence how the entire world views the oil industry, the way a small, stubborn action on a Montgomery bus changed the nation’s tolerance toward Jim Crow.”

Lenfestey was following the lead of popular author and environmental activist Bill McKibben. He regularly shames individuals into divesting from energy companies by comparing his cause to the anti-apartheid movement. “Once, in recent corporate history, anger forced an industry to make basic changes,” McKibben wrote last year in Rolling Stone. “That was the campaign in the 1980s demanding divestment from companies doing business in South Africa.”

Not to be outdone, writer Ted Glick has referred to the president’s foot-dragging on the pipeline as “Obama’s Lincoln Moment.” Glick thinks that “there’s a potential analogy between Obama and the 3 ½ years he has left as president and Abraham Lincoln after the Civil War broke out.” He goes on to explain how Lincoln evolved from trying to preserve the union to seeing emancipation as the greater moral cause. “The world needs to see a similar evolution with Barack Obama when it comes to the climate crisis,” he wrote.

When, exactly, did it become acceptable to equate one’s contentious opinions about energy infrastructure to the fearless acts of Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela, and Abraham Lincoln? Parks made a stand against barbaric Jim-Crow-era discrimination at a time when lynchings and cross-burnings were real threats. Nelson Mandela spent nearly three decades in jail at the hands of an unjust government to further the cause of human dignity. And Abraham Lincoln freed America’s slaves, and for that, he paid with his life.

If Lenfestey, McKibben, Glick and the like had any appreciation for the plight of minority groups throughout our country’s history, they wouldn’t be so quick to exploit the legacy of these remarkable figures.

What’s even more disgraceful is that they are evoking these heroes in a way that betrays the ideals of reason and free expression that remain central to the struggle against racism. The point of their comparisons is to avoid a frank exchange about important issues by smearing their opponents as immoral oppressors.

Jim Crow laws, apartheid, and slavery were indefensible evils. The Keystone XL pipeline, on the other hand, is a strategy for becoming less dependent on oil from foreign governments that are genuinely oppressive, and in some cases, still tacitly condone slavery. The project could support over 500,000 new American jobs by 2035 (according to api.org). And according to an eight-volume State Department study, the pipeline would increase America’s annual carbon emissions by only one third of one percent.

I remember a very tense moment when my family was driving through Birmingham on our way to a segregated Washington, D.C. (1964). We pulled into a gas station and my brother decided to use the rest room. He was shouted out of the front office for asking for the door key. My aunt exclaimed “We just passed the Civil Rights Act” and marched up grab the key off the wall and escorted my brother to the door. The employee started towards my aunt. My father jumped out of the car, popped open the trunk where his shot gun was waiting for times like this. The employee backed off and we all sighed with relief. Now, that is a Rosa Parks moment.

When Americans marched on Washington in the summer of 1963, they were raising issues that had been ignored for far too long. To use the legacy of that movement to stymie honest, necessary debate is an insult to the cause of racial justice, its ideals and its heroes.

Harry C. Alford is the co-founder, President/CEO of the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Website: www.nationalbcc.org, email: halford@nationalbcc.org.

Agent Orange and the Continuing Vietnam War

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(NNPA) In a 2009 visit to Vietnam I asked a retired colonel in the Vietnam People’s Army about the notorious toxin “Agent Orange.” The colonel, who was also a former leader in a Vietnamese advocacy group for Agent Orange’s victims, spoke fluent English and was a veteran of the war with the United States. I asked him when had the Vietnamese realized the long-term dangers associated with the Agent Orange herbicide used by the U.S.A. His answer was as simple as it was heart-wrenching: ”When the children were born,” was his response.

In an effort to defeat the National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army (the Vietnam People’s Army), the U.S. concocted the idea that if it destroyed the forests and jungles that there would be nowhere for the guerrillas to hide. They, thus, unleashed a massive defoliation campaign, the results of which exist with us to this day. Approximately 19 million gallons of herbicides were used during the war, affecting between 2 million and 4.8 million Vietnamese, along with thousands of US military personnel. Additionally, Laos and Cambodia were exposed to Agent Orange by the USA in the larger Indochina War.

Despite the original public relations associated with the use of Agent Orange aimed at making it appear safe and humane, it was chemical warfare and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that it was genocidal. The cancers promoted by Agent Orange (affecting the Vietnamese colonel I interviewed, as a matter of fact) along with the catastrophic rise in birth defects, have not only haunted the people of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but also the United States. Those in the US military involved in the dispersal of Agent Orange, and those who were simply exposed to it, brought the curse home.

The United States government has refused to take responsibility for the war of aggression it waged against the Vietnamese. This includes a failure to acknowledge the extent of the devastation wrought by Agent Orange. Ironically, it has also failed to assume responsibility for the totality of the horror as it affected U.S. veterans, thus leaving the veterans and their families to too often fight this demon alone.

Congresswoman Barbara Lee recently introduced House Resolution 2519, “To direct the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance for individuals affected by exposure to Agent Orange, and for other purposes.” In many respects, this bill is about settling some of the accounts associated with the war against Vietnam. The U.S.] reneged on reparations that it promised to Vietnam and to this day there remain those in the media and government who wish to whitewash this horrendous war of aggression as if it were some sort of misconstrued moral crusade.

HR 2519 takes us one step towards accepting responsibility for a war crime that was perpetrated against the Vietnamese and that, literally and figuratively, blew back in our faces as our government desperately tried to crush an opponent it should never have first been fighting. For that reason, we need Congress to pass and fund HR 2519. HR 2519 should be understood as a down payment on a much larger bill owed to the peoples of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, and to the US veterans sent into hell.

[For more information on HR 2519 and the issue of Agent Orange, contact the "Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign" at www.vn-agentorange.org.]

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and national board member of the “Vietnam Agent Orange Relief & Responsibility Campaign.” Follow him on Facebook and www.billfletcherjr.com.

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