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by danps

‘Nuns on the Bus’ passes through Cleveland

1:20 am in Uncategorized by danps

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

On June 17th the Catholic social justice lobbying group NETWORK launched a 15 day Nuns on the Bus tour. (As befits their budding rock star status, they are selling a tour shirt as well.) They are speaking out against the House Republican budget because, as they write: “When the federal government cuts funding to programs that serve people in poverty, we see the effects in our daily work. Simply put, real people suffer. That is immoral.”

On Tuesday they stopped in Cleveland where, as they do at each stop, they engaged in four activities: Spending time at a site where women religious are working (emphasizing a hands-on, feed the hungry/clothe the naked vision), meeting with at least one political leader, meeting with the media and holding a “friendraiser” – a combination open meeting and rallying of the faithful to the priorities being highlighted. The friendraiser had a full and enthusiastic house:
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by danps

Race and standing in the Occupy movement

3:58 am in Uncategorized by danps

One of the themes that has developed during the Occupy movement has been the involvement (or lack thereof) of people of color. Chris Hedges described the suspicion among some in the minority community this way:

Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected.

While Hedges uses that promising start as a jumping off point for yet another archaeological dig into the 60′s (short version: hippie embrace of counterculture over economic justice doomed the possibility of a multi-ethnic coalition), that sense of suspicion towards white liberals as being a little too selective in their outrage is very real. In addition to its being sounded in Twitter streams and other social media, commentators like Kenyon Farrow have begun to elaborate on it.

Farrow’s first reservation – that whites who throw around terms like “slavery” too casually alienate those for whom they have a much different meaning – is well taken. As he points out, that is territory well marked by Rush Limbaugh (and others on the rightnot all of them white). Invoking such freighted language without any apparent understanding of its history is a sure fire way to turn off those with a much closer connection to the real thing.

He also points out that minorities may be reluctant to put themselves in positions of confrontation with authorities because their interactions with them have historically been so much more negative. This also makes a lot of sense. Given the higher levels of harassment, arrest, and incarceration in minority communities it is perfectly reasonable for them to let someone else be on the front line of confrontation with police, thank you very much.

But Farrow and others start to lose me when they dismiss attempts by white liberals to begin to address these issues. He mentions only in passing last week’s march by Occupy Wall Street to Harlem in protest of the city’s stop-and-frisk practice. Then at the end he dismisses it entirely: “Rather than trying to figure out how to diversify the Occupy Wall Street movement, white progressives need to think long and hard about their use of frameworks and rhetoric that situate blacks at the margins of the movement.”

Are these things mutually exclusive? Does thinking long and hard about their language preclude the possibility of reaching out and attempting to work together? Do we have to wait on a 100% Farrow-approved rhetorical framework before any kind of collaboration can occur?

There is an undercurrent of imagined slights (“Though blacks and Latinos are never mentioned directly,”) and resentment in some of this criticism. It is as though the portion of white liberals who have lately been radicalized on issues of economic and social justice are not qualified to speak on them because of the lateness of their conversion. I can understand a certain feeling of impatience and exasperation towards them – what took so long, eh? – but better late than never right?

Instead of disparaging it, why not use this as an opportunity to bake a more inclusive spirit into the movement? That does not have to just mean changing the nature of Occupy, either. It can mean finding ways to build coalitions and work together on similar but distinct issues. (“Environmentalism” might mean fracking to someone in a white rural area, lead paint and asbestos to someone in a black urban area. Let’s figure out ways for those groups to keep in touch, and for each to occasionally spare some energy for the other.)

The implication that there is no room for collaboration seems counterproductive to me. White liberals do need to make an effort to reach out to people of color, to listen to their concerns, take their counsel, and incorporate their concerns into their activism. Many are already grappling with this issue, and (I believe) doing so in good faith.

Events like the march to Harlem show a willingness to break down exactly the kind of marginalization Farrow concludes his piece warning of. But if the response to these overtures is to dismiss them because those making them haven’t paid their dues long enough, or put it in precisely the right way, that will tend to separate us more than unite us. Who does that help?

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

by danps

Mansfield Frazier: Inclusion is the only answer for Progressives

4:20 pm in Uncategorized by danps

By Mansfield Frazier

“White people got more in common with colored people then they do with rich people”

– Fictional character Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth

During the 50′s, 60′s and much of the 70′s Blacks literally owned the Civil Rights Movement in America. We went from the back of the bus, to a seat on the front of the bus, to, in some cases, even driving the bus. The next logical step was to occupy seats on the boards that ran the bus companies – and that too has haltingly occurred, albeit quite a bit more slowly.

One of the main reasons the movement slowed down (other than the fact the obvious “in-your-face” racism was replaced by a more subtle, more difficult form to combat) was that Black Civil Rights leaders didn’t expand the moral franchise they owned lock, stock and barrel. When the movements for Women, Native Americans, Gays and other disenfranchised peoples came along (all spurred in some part by the success Blacks had experienced), instead of reaching out, embracing, and providing strategies, support and succor, Black leaders – especially after the death of Dr. King – demonstrated a conservative bent that rivaled the reactionaries they had been fighting so hard against.

Based in part on custom, and in part on wacky readings and interpretations of religious tenets found in the Bible, the Black Civil Rights Movement (which was largely lead by clergy) turned its back on a grand opportunity to advance the cause by strengthening its numbers via inclusion. Indeed, the same racist, right-wing bigots we Blacks were fighting against, these other marginalized Americans were fighting against too. If we had only reached out, together we all truly could have “overcome.” Our Black leaders seemingly forgot the aphorism “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

History – which has an uncanny (and sometimes nasty) habit of repeating itself – appears as if it’s about to do so again. As the Labor Movement – along with other Progressives – attempts to fend off efforts by conservatives to turn back the clock on workers’ rights in state after state around the nation, they are by and large ignoring a demographic that could aid them in winning their battles at the ballot box: The formerly incarcerated.

It’s not surprising that folks with felony records – especially Black folks with felony records, which, here in Cleveland, OH constitutes half of the adult male population – are often overlooked as foot soldiers when forces are marshaled to protect the working class via the voting booth. Historically, those in charge of mounting such efforts have reached out to minority communities only as an afterthought, quite literally taking them for granted. Why not, what else were they going do to, vote for conservative positions or persons? No, they often just stay at home.

Retail, street-level politics has been operating in the same manner within most ethnic communities for years and years: Money trickles down from national or statewide campaign headquarters to locals who operate get-out-the-vote campaigns…with varying degrees of success. However, White voters (and to some extent Black voters too) today are more geographically dispersed, better educated, and less inclined to be controlled by an old-style ward boss.

Additionally, in the Black community shifting demographics complicate matters even more: The issues that are of most concern to the largest pool of potential Progressive voters yet unregistered – prisoner reentry and social justice – are all but foreign to the usual would-be powerbrokers that pretend they control and deliver the Black vote.

It’s somewhat complicated and goes back a long way. As educated Blacks strove to enter into the middleclass (which often meant to be in the good graces of Whites who controlled the economics) they were convinced to abandon their less educated and so-called “criminogenic” brethren. If they wanted to be accepted as “good Negroes” they had to disassociate themselves from the “bad Negroes”…to leave them behind. In addition to leading to a significant stratification of Blacks in America, it has caused a degree of distrust on the part of the Blacks who live on the margins of society: under-employed (more often unemployed) and saddled with felony convictions that effectively keep them locked out of the prosperity and progress that is supposed to be America.

This is the population unions and Progressives need to reach, but the folks in the Black community they usually reach out to…the ones they entrust to reach their people, don’t know how to reach this demographic…since these really are not “their” people. They possess no legitimate currency with this underclass population, which is not surprising.

Nonetheless, if this cohort of untapped voting power (which has grown exponentially nationwide in the last three or four decades) can be effectively organized and tapped into it can become a game-changer. Simply look at how Conservatives nationwide use every mean – fair or foul – to limit the franchise among formerly incarcerated persons and their potential strength becomes all too obvious. Those nefarious right-wing efforts have to be effectively countered, but they can only be countered by giving this population a reason to believe their votes can make a difference, and make a real difference in their personal and family circumstance.

In other words, they can’t just be promised – they’ve got to be delivered – a piece of the American prosperity pie if their participation is expected and truly desired. Fair is fair all over the world.

Unions cannot afford to turn their backs on this population – similar to how Blacks turned their backs on others seeking the same justice they were seeking in the 60s – not if they expect to win. Progressives have to embrace and advocate for everyone who would be on their side…and this means the formerly incarcerated also. They no longer can just talk the talk – now they’ve also got to walk the walk.

Mansfield S. Frazier is Executive Director of the community revitalization group Neighborhood Solutions Inc. For more information please see its home page, http://www.neighborhoodsolutionsinc.com.