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Julianne Malveaux

After the March on Washington

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(NNPA) The 1963 March on Washington was a pivotal moment for African Americans, a day when people joined to fight for jobs, peace and justice. More than 250,000 people traveled to Washington, coming by busses, trains, and occasionally planes. They came despite the scourge of segregation, which meant that many who were driving had to carefully select the places they could stop and eat (actually most brought goodies from home) or relieve themselves. Despite obstacles, a quarter of a million people showed up in Washington, gathering peacefully and with dignity. As a result of the March, the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was passed with more than three-quarters of the House and Senate supporting both Acts.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. continued his activity for jobs, peace and justice helping to organize the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, which was interrupted by Bloody Sunday. He spoke, in 1965, to Playboy magazine, suggesting that “compensation” (he didn’t use the word reparations) would be the only way to close the economic gap between African Americans and Whites. He began connecting poverty with war in his 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam.” When he died, he was organizing the Poor People’s Campaign, envisioned as a way to bring tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. to demand that each department of the federal government recognize and ameliorate poverty issues in housing, education, health, and other areas. The Poor People’s campaign was more muted than expected in the wake of Dr. King’s 1968 assassination, but some of the people came anyway.

Even before the 2013 commemorative march was organized, estimates were that 100,000 would join that March. In 1963, about 1.3 percent of our nation’s 18.9 million African Americans marched. Before the 2013 march (numbers may change as t) the 100,000 estimate represents just .2 oof one percent of our nation’s 44 million African Americans. Proportionately, the 1963 march drew 5 times as many African Americans as the 2013 March.

What does this mean when we look at the status of African Americans then and now?

In 1963, the movement had clear goals. African Americans had been denied employment rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and voting rights. The hundreds of thousands of African Americans who came to Washington were protesting, not only the restoration of these rights, but also a stop to the police brutality that had killed or crippled supporters. People were so focused that change was made, and when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he articulated his vision for our nation. He said:

“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” He set out an agenda that was economic, social and political. Fifty years after the March on Washington, we have yet to achieve the metrics that Dr. King offered. Millions experience “food insecurity”, or have nothing to eat several times a month. The education gap has not been closed, and African American students are differently treated than others in the K-12 education system. Where is the equality? Paraphrasing Dr. King, African Americans have twice the negatives and half to positives in terms of equity. Little freedom has been achieved, especially when trillions are spent on senseless wars, while our national unemployment rate exceeds 7 percent and the unofficial black unemployment rate is 25 percent.

In the five years after the 1963 March on Washington, there were setbacks, but also the achievement of far-reaching goals. After the commemoration, the several events in Washington, DC, parallel events in other cities, and the NAACP’s online march, what will be the results? Will this generation be as effective as Dr. King and his generation was? Will we mobilize around Voting Rights after the setback of a Supreme Court decision? Will we push to close the employment gap between African Americans and others?

In 1963, African Americans were desperate to effect change. In 2013, there is neither desperation nor a passionate push for implementation. In five or 10 years, when there is another commemorative gathering, how will history judge us?

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

Russell Simmons Violates Harriet Tubman

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(NNPA) Every time I hear the voice of Russell Simmons, I hear a cool, clean, clear meditative voice, especially on Twitter where he drops his yoga knowledge in a reflective way. I guess he wasn’t folding his legs and saying a centered “Om” when he decided to ridicule an African woman. How did his voice distort itself to decide that he would post a You-Tube video on a space where everybody could watch a so-called parody of “Harriet Tubman” having sex with her White slave master with the intent of filming it and blackmailing him? How could he, this forward-focused man, decide to demean an emancipation heroine? Choose to demean her by making her a sexual object? Even as he took the offensive tape off his website, please tell me, somebody, what Simmons was thinking? (In my first draft of this column, I called this man a “brother,” but really I mean the brother from another mindset.)

Harriet Tubman is credited for freeing more than 400 enslaved people. She is credited for pulling a gun on some who ambivantly embarked on the Under Ground Railroad, then wanted to turn back to massa. It’s complicated, but no matter how complicated it was, the depiction of Harriet Tubman a sex object is not only disparaging to a freedom fighter, but to every Black woman who stands on her shoulders.

Nearly 20 years ago, Professor Anita Hill stared down a Senate Committee and spoke of the sexual harassment she experienced from now Associate “Justice” Clarence Thomas. The judiciary committee dismissed her claims as “erotomania;” interestingly, others who had similar claims were not allowed to testify. Despite the best legal representation out there, Hill was excoriated in the media. From my perspective, her best statement was “they don’t know me” in response to those who used minutia to claim special knowledge of her life and daily living.

When you don’t know African American women it is easy and lazy to reduce us into stereotypes. Does Russell Simmons know Harriett Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Anna Julia Cooper, Sadie TM Alexander, and Mary McLeod Bethune? Does he know Coretta Scott King, Myrlie Evers, Betty Shabazz, C. Delores Tucker. Does he know us, or does he simply see us as the fodder for parodies?

The Simmons drama is especially offensive because when we have African American people lifted up, the lifting is mostly about men. Still, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would not have made it without the enthusiasm of Coretta Scott King.

Harriett Tubman saved hundreds of enslaved people, yet her name is rarely lifted when we speak of emancipation. African American women’s role in our history is neither admired nor appreciated. When our brothers call the roll, she is given no credence, unless it is an afterthought. Brother Simmons if you just picked up a history book, you’d find African American women who have made a major difference in our lives and in our movement.

Russell, do you know Ella Baker, the stalwart sister who stood beside and behind Dr. King and others to do organizing work? Do you know Professor Joyce Lander who before being an academic was a tireless civil rights worker? Do you know Alice Walker, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Maxine Waters.? Or a bit younger, do you know Congresswomen Yvette Clark, or Donna Edwards? The work these women have done and continue to do is possible because they stand on the shoulders of Harriett Tubman and our other ancestors.

Your apology doesn’t address the mindset that allowed this parody in the first place, the dozens of editors, producers, and assistants who saw nothing wrong with this, and the many Simmons “fans” who laughed at the depiction of a historical figure such as Harriet Tubman as a sexual object who used her vagina for “freedom.” It is as if you are laughing at every Black woman who was enslaved and had no choice when “massa” decided to rape her repeatedly. It is as if you do not recognize the painful history of every Black woman who was raped, not only during slavery, but thereafter, when the goal was to keep Black men “in line” by violating Black women. It is as if you put myopic blinder around your eyes, and chose to ignore history and its resultant pain. Can you imagine (often happened) the violation of a child, a violation so intense that baby girls who dreamed of being mothers were told they could not have children?

Russell Simmons, once upon a time, you were the ambassador of a generation. Even now, people are mesmerized by your gentle manner, your quest for peace and spirituality and your practice of yoga and Pilates. Wrap your spirituality around your video and tell us where the two intersect. How could you? Why would you? How dare you?

When you diminish our legacy for entertainment purposes, “pulling” the video is not enough. You need to work at eliminating a mindset that makes you and others think that the denigration of African American women is okay.

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

Dropping the Leadership Baton

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(NNPA) Research shows that this generation of young people, no matter of their race, are likely to do less well than their parents did. Shackled by a trillion dollars worth of student loans and a flat labor market, the New York-based Demos organization says the student loan burden prevents young people from buying homes and amassing wealth. While there are some racial gaps, many young people enter the labor market already behind the space their parents occupied.

As I spend time with young people, especially young African Americans, I understand their frustration. They want to know what the civil rights generation has done to pass the baton of activism and improvement to them. They want to know how they should move forward. While they are willing to participate in marches and civic action, they want to know what’s next. And they want to know why their voices are not heard in Black leadership.

Those who are seasoned offer their history of activism as proof that they should lead. They forged the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and didn’t ask their elders for permission. They pushed elders to move to a more active position and when elders would not meet them, they pushed themselves. There was no shame in their game. Whether militant or moderate, they embraced parts of the Black Panther Party political program, which begins with these words, “We want freedom, we want the power to determine our destiny.” Too many of us, African Americans, young people, progressives, do not determine our destiny now. We flow with the wind.

Too many have dropped the baton, but continue to act as if they are clasping it. Too many mouth their interest in young leaders, but fail to bring them to the table. Too many who are 40 and 50 describe themselves as young, but if you tell the truth and shame the devil, these folks are solidly middle aged. So where are their protégées, those who will take, not snatch, the torch from them.

As I move around the country to speak, organize, motivate, I am stunned by events that focus on youth, but have only a few (and often no) young people present. Imagine if young people had the opportunity to have meaningful exchanges with their elders. Too often young people are segregated into a “youth” program when interaction with adults would be both motivating and stimulating to them. If we kick young people to the curb, we drop the baton that was handed to us. We baby boomers have a responsibility to both Generation X and Generation Y. We have shirked that responsibility.

I do not know how to describe Rev. Cecelia Bryant. I could call her mentor, role model, or friend. Or I could say that she is a great inspiration and, in a simple sentence, she has encapsulated the work that we must all to do move our community forward. You have to replicate yourself seven times, she said, and you have to ask those you replicated to replicate themselves seven times. In other words, there has to be an embrace, and a responsibility to embrace the next generation not only politically but also personally.

Who are the people who will come behind you? Who will incorporate your work into their own? Who will understand that you put your hand on them because somebody put their hand on you, and who will feel obligated to put their hand on others?

The civil rights generation made massive progress, but in many ways they dropped the ball. While they made it clear that there was work to be done, too many of them did not choose those who would do it. Too much energy and focus has been placed on one or two people, and we need cohorts of the next generation to work together.

My Baby Boom generation has dropped the ball as well. We have been beneficiaries of the Civil Rights Movement, but we have not passed our largess or our lessons on. The Baby Boom generation has been, in many ways, one of the most economically privileged generations of African American progress. So why do so many of us, who enjoy the legacy of this progress, fail to recognize the people and organizations that have brought us to this place.

Rev. Willie Barrow says that we are not as much divided as disconnected. When the baton has been dropped, what can we expect but a generational disconnection?

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

What is a Living Wage?

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(NNPA) Last week, workers at fast food restaurants demonstrated outside their places of work, highlighting the low wages they receive and demanding more. They say twice as much, or $15 an hour, will provide them with a living wage. In Washington, D.C., the City Council has sent legislation to Mayor Vincent Gray requiring “big box” stores such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy to pay $12.50, which is more than the D.C. minimum wage of $8.25 an hour. In response, Wal-Mart says it may not build all of the six stores it had slated for D.C. Responses depend on whom you talk to, with some of the unemployed saying that an $8.25 job is better than no job, and others saying that $8.25 is not a living wage.

Let’s do the math.

Someone who earns $8.25 an hour (which is a dollar more an hour than the federal minimum wage) earns $17,160 per year if they work full time (40 hours) all year (52 weeks). Although taxes for the low income are low, they are still deducted, especially the Social Security tax (about 7 percent). Too many minimum workers don’t work full-time, full-year. Many have their hours cut so that companies can avoid paying benefits. This means full time, full year work is the best-case scenario. For many, it can be much worse.

The poverty line for one adult and two children is $19,530, which puts the $8.25 worker below the poverty line. The parent who earns this scant wage struggles to make ends meet, and often cannot. Too often, this parent has to choose between transportation and shoes for their children, between children’s books and food. A two-parent family has a higher poverty threshold of $23,550, about 20 percent more than the minimum wage worker earns.

Federal and state supplements often make the difference between swimming and sinking. Many families who live below the poverty line use supplemental nutrition programs (formerly called food stamps) to enhance their food budget. Congress is in the process of cutting SNAP so low that 5 million of the roughly 47 million people on the program will be cut. Some receive medical assistance through Medicaid. Some cities subsidize summer programs or other efforts, offering day care possibilities for those who struggle to afford it. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the average cost of childcare in the District of Columbia is $1,300 a month, or $13,600 a year. Poverty line $23,550, childcare costs $13,600 per year. Go figure.

In other parts of the country, full-time, full year workers earn less than D.C. workers. Those who earn the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour earn $15,160 per year, less than the poverty line for one parent and one child. Those who earn $12.50 per hour, the proposed wage for D.C. big box stores, will earn $26,000 a year. The $15 an hour that some fast food workers suggest would push their wages to $31,200 a year.

Some feel these low wages are acceptable, especially some Tea Party members of Congress, yet they earn at least $174,000 per year. Actually, if fast food workers were as productive as this Congress (which has produced little of nothing so far this year), they wouldn’t earn a penny. Yet those who are well paid and well supported show little empathy for those whose lives and work are daily struggles.

The issue of unemployment must be taken into account when we look at the matter of poverty lines and minimum wages. With an overall unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and a Black unemployment rate of 12,6 percent as of July, too many households with two adults have only one earner in the household. Another concern is that the federal poverty line is published as a national rate, yet it’s much cheaper to live, for example, in rural Mississippi than it does in New York City. In many instances, the poverty line does not reflect differences in housing costs, health care costs, or even transportation costs.

The Economic Policy Institute (epi.org) has developed budgets for “adequate” living in certain cities. (Full disclosure – I sit on the organization’s board). This tool shows the wide variety of realistic and adequate living costs, which range from more than $90,000 in New York City, to around $40,000 in parts of Mississippi. These are adequate living standards, not extravagant ones, taking into account rent, transportation, and other costs.

Many quibble over the minimum wage, but the more relevant issue is the living wage. Millions are pushed below the poverty line because too many employers do not take the cost of living into consideration when the set wage levels. Paying workers less than they are worth drains our economy because these workers will not be spenders or “economic expanders.”

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

Student Loan 'Solution' is not Good Enough

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(NNPA) The United States Senate finally stepped up to ensure that student loan rates would not double. There have been weeks of back and forth, but now Senators says they will tie student loan rates to the federal funds rate, which means that in the short-run the lowest student loan rates will be 3.86 percent, up slightly from 3.4 percent. The bad news is that these loan rates may rise up to a rate of 8.25 percent, depending on prevailing interest rates. All other loan rates, including those for graduate student, for Parent PLUS loans, and others, will rise as well.

It may seem a victory that student loan rates don’t rise much higher than they were in June. The connection of rates to the federal funds rate, however, connects the notion of supporting student to the oscillations of the economy. We need talented students to enter the labor force, as encumbered as they might be, whether the economy is rising or tanking. The notion that student loan rates will be tied to the federal funds rate offers students no security.

One might argue that many have no economic security. The mortgage holder with a variable mortgage is subject to interest rate fluctuations as they manage a balloon payment. Those with underground mortgages are victims of interest rate variables as they try to dig themselves above ground. Surely, though, students who are financing their education in order to invest in the health of our nation should have different rules. When I graduated from college in 1974, interest rates hovered between 9 and 10 percent. The student loan interest rate was 2 percent. Why? My cohort was no more or less brilliant than any other. We were part of our nation’s plan for its future, which should be the case for today’s young people.

Many hoped that the deal on student loan interest rates would take into account the federal funds rate (the rate to which the Federal Reserve Bank offers to banks) is well below 1 percent. From that perspective, even the existing rate of 3.4 percent suggests that the government is taking in more than it gives out. It’s complicated – there are other costs that must be considered in the lending process. It’s complicated, but shouldn’t our students get as close to the same deal that banks and others get?

Allowing student loan interest rates to fluctuate, to the detriment of students in an environment when rates are certain to go up is to slap our students in the face. President Obama says he wants more students to graduate from community college or four-year institutions; we need more graduate and professional students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs.

It seems hypocritical to articulate these needs and then to undercut the means to meet them. There are more than one 1 trillion dollars outstanding in student loan obligations. The average student graduates with $27,000 in debt. Since nearly half of all students graduate with no debt at all, this means that the average debt for those who borrow is closer to $40,000.

Many students with a talent for organizing, human resource allocation, or classroom teaching are diverted from their goals because their first priority is to pay student loan debt. We are starving our civil society institution, and those who would serve them, by placing money over affinity and creativity. This has been happening for decades, but the current student loan dustup reminds us that we have not provided the safe space for our young people that we should.

The Senate bill passed 80-18 with some Democrats rejecting it because of its flaws. Others, like the progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), elected as a financial whiz and people’s advocate, chose to go with the one-year “okey-doke” rather than dig her heels in for the long run fight.

In some ways, Warren is right. The finger in the dike approach saves students this year, and so it is better than nothing. When, though, is better than nothing simply not good enough. Stay tuned. The vote on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act will happen next year. Are students waiting and watching? What about parents? Is there a political lobby to turn this mess around?

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

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