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“Common Victims”: Movements For Racial Justice And Economic Justice Could Converge To Form A Powerhouse For Change

What happens to a dream deferred?

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode?

That was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools.

For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed.

It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at all—and demand inclusion in civic life.

The next 20 years were almost miraculous. From the small beginnings of local bus boycotts and sit-ins came the transformation of civil rights laws, finally giving African Americans full civic and legal equality, a hundred years after Lincoln.

The progress of the 1960s reflected a combination of the courage of the civil rights movements, the alliance with decent whites, and the leadership of an accidental president. Lyndon Johnson was able to prick the conscience of just enough of white America, to cajole and pressure just enough legislators, and to make a startling alliance between the White House and the radicals in the streets.

If you have never read or watched LBJ’s “We Shall Overcome” speech, you have missed a key moment in American history.

It helped that the economy was booming, so that economic progress for blacks did not equate to explicit sacrifices for whites (though whites did have to give up their role as a privileged caste). It helped that there were still liberal Republicans in that era, without whom none of the great civil rights laws could have passed.

So here we are, approaching Christmas 2014. Racism still taints the American dream. And unlike, say, in 1964 when there was a sense of a movement on the march with history on its side, it is hard to summon up optimism.

It is one thing when the government decrees that blacks can’t vote, can’t patronize restaurants, can’t apply for good jobs. That sort of racism shames everyone.

But when cops brutalize young black men, and prosecutors wink, and grand juries refuse to indict, that sort of racism is deeper in the social fabric and much harder to explicitly root out. It is encouraging to see outraged citizens on the march again, heartening that the marches includes whites as well as blacks and other groups.

Yet what sort of movement, what sort of policies, what sort of majority support in the country can we imagine that will fix what is broken?

New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio, whose bi-racial son Dante sports an Afro, has spoken of the need to “literally train him, as families have all over this city for decades, in how to take special care in any encounter he has with the police officers who are there to protect him.” That comment provoked outrage from the police.

Sunday, speaking on the ABC News program This Week DeBlasio threaded his way between outrage and support for law enforcement, declaring:

We have to retrain police forces in how to work with communities differently. We have to work on things like body cameras that would provide different level of transparency and accountability. This is something systemic. And we bluntly have to talk about the historic racial dynamics underlie this.

There have, in fact, been moments when thoroughly racist local police departments have been made over to discard their worst racist practices. The Los Angeles Police Department, after decades of strife and civic reform, is better than it once was. But it took a consent agreement with the Justice Department and five years of direct federal supervision.

President Obama, who did manage to summon up some outrage in the Trayvon Martin murder (“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon”), has been relatively circumspect, appealing both for reform and for order. He is not close to calling for federal supervision of local police.

Obama is no LBJ. And in fairness to Obama, in the absence of stronger public demands, the federal government is not well-positioned to remake local grand juries and police departments.

We have gone utterly backwards since the 1960s, a time when the Justice Department and the courts vigorously interceded to protect the right to vote. Now, the right to vote is being taken away and rightwing courts are tying the Justice Department’s hands.

We need a broad movement once again, to force government’s hand. As Dr. King appreciated in the last year of his life, it needs to be a movement for economic justice as well as civil rights, a multi-racial movement. Only when there is common appreciation that whites and blacks are common victims of an economic system that delivers all the gains to the top do we have a prayer of mobilizing the whole nation to demand action.

 

By: Robert Kuttner, Co-Editor, The American Prospect, December 10, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Civil Rights Act, Inequality, Racism | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Aggressive, Progressive Governance”: The New Populism Begins At The Local And State Level

As Republican obstruction keeps anything from moving in Washington (except, of course, the package of corporate tax dodges known as “extenders” that are likely to glide through with bipartisan support), populist movements and leaders are moving at the local and state level, from New York City to Seattle, Maine to Minnesota.

“Fate loves the fearless.” Quoting the fierce 19th-century abolitionist James Russell Lowell, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio summarized his first 100 days in office in a speech last week at New York’s historic Cooper Union. Embattled but unbowed, the mayor detailed what he’d been able to move of the populist agenda that he ran on.

De Blasio, no one’s fool, began with the good news on the nuts and bolts vital to running any city: Crime is down, pedestrian deaths are down, potholes are being filled faster and the winter’s record snowfalls got cleaned up.

He then announced success in gaining the most state funding in history for his pledge of universal pre-K. De Blasio’s previous call to pay for this by raising taxes on those making over $500,000 a year was sabotaged by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, a stalwart of the Wall Street wing of the party, but de Blasio still got much of the money he sought. Beyond this success, after-school programs are being made available to ever more students. The mayor announced a move away from high-stakes testing, with educators empowered to make more comprehensive assessments as to a child’s progress. Paid sick leave has been extended to half a million more New Yorkers. More affordable housing is being built, as the city made it a requirement for luxury developers.

Unfortunately for New Yorkers, Cuomo swatted away de Blasio’s effort to get authority to raise the city’s minimum wage. But across the country, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is championing a $15-an-hour minimum wage, with a commission set up to work out the details. Murray, considered a moderate in a city that just elected a socialist city councilperson, quotes Franklin Roosevelt on the need for “bold, persistent experimentation.” In addition to pay, he is pushing on public housing, renewable energy and universal pre-K.

San Francisco now has a minimum wage of $10.55, indexed to Bay Area inflation, and a working families tax credit to supplement the federal one. The city requires employers to provide paid sick leave, and has a Healthy San Francisco plan, that essentially offers universal health care with a public option to city residents.

And while Republicans refuse even to allow a vote on raising the minimum wage in Congress, Minnesota, Maryland and Connecticut have all recently passed minimum wage increases, with more states likely to follow.

Congress has blocked any major effort to capture a lead in the green industrial revolution, but cities are filling the gap. Seattle, blessed by plentiful dams, is carbon neutral. Portland gets half of its energy from renewable sources. Austin aims to be carbon neutral by 2020 and has devoted 10 percent of the city’s land to parks.

While national leaders continue to bolster the banks at the same time as they abandon underwater homeowners, in Richmond, Calif., a Green Party mayor is pushing to use eminent domain to take over underwater mortgages, refinance them at current value and allow families to keep their homes. The city has fined banks for not maintaining the homes that they’ve foreclosed on. Wall Street has retaliated, essentially boycotting the city’s last bond offering.

While efforts to shut down the offshore tax dodges used by multinationals have been blocked in Washington, Oregon just enacted a bill to tax the state’s share of profits stashed in 39 countries and territories; Maine’s state legislature just approved similar legislation and several other states are considering the same.

In his Cooper Union speech, De Blasio noted the “resistance from some powerful interests . . . people who have a stake in the status quo and don’t want to see these changes.” But he noted, “This administration is a product of movement politics. . . . A movement of people who share a vision . . . We believe we are at our best when everyone gets a shot at fulfilling their dreams.”

And the only vehicle for that is aggressive, progressive governance. De Blasio closed by quoting one of his heroes, Robert F. Kennedy, “Everything that makes our lives worthwhile — family, work, education, a place to raise one’s children and a place to rest one’s head — all this depends on the decisions of government. Therefore, our essential humanity can be protected and preserved only where government must answer — not just to the wealthy, not just to those of a particular religion or a particular race, but to all its people.”

The new populism is just beginning to form. In cities and states across the country, people are beginning to be heard and beginning to find leaders who will stand with them. And that offers some promise for the future.

 

By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, April 15, 2014

 

April 21, 2014 Posted by | Populism, Progressives | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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