Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Lecture on Movement Building

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has made it clear: "This ain't Yo Mama's Civil Rights Movement!!!" In the words of my friend Donna Rogers, "That is the one thing they got right." To many, the BLM movement is "fragmented," "splintered," and "unorganized," and it's obvious that Hillary Clinton feels the same. What began as an attempt to confront Clinton during her closed campaign event quickly turned into a lecture on movement building. 

As Julius Jones eloquently droned on about the plight of Blacks in America, a history that Clinton is well aware of, at the end of the day, his pressing question was: "What in your heart has changed that will change the direction of this country?" The fact that Clinton didn't directly answer the question actually answers the question: NOTHING! However, Clinton did provide some excellent advice, as she pointed to successful movements, past and present. "...The people behind that consciousness raising and advocacy, they had a plan ready to're going to have to come together as a movement and say, 'Here's what we want done about it...'" This is exactly why the BLM movement is not "Yo mama's civil rights movement." Those who led the Civil Rights and other notable movements had a plan, a platform, and demands, some of which were met.

Coincidentally, BLM has a list of demands (?): 

  • After reading the demands, my thought was, "Go on with yo bad self, but now that I know what you plan to do, what are your demands?" Language is a strange thing. One word can make a difference. Thus, when a group of people demand something, they use the phrase "WE WANT": "want" being the operative word, and a word that Clinton, herself, used when instructing the group on movement building: "...come together as a movement and say, 'Here's what we want done about it.'" 

    Can you imagine Huey P. Newton asking a politician, "What in your heart has changed…?" Never! Huey probably would have asked, "We want to know your plans for undoing the damage done by the Violent Crime Control Act of 1995, which your husband, Bill Clinton, enacted?" Direct and to the point! The Black Panthers had a plan, a platform, a program, and demands within a year of being formed:

    The Panthers made their demands clear. They initiated the free breakfast program, taught self-defense to local residents, held weekly meetings to teach and keep the community informed, which is important to any movement that plans on longevity. How dare a movement ask for favors without outlining what they intend to do to help their condition. This is something else that is absent from the BLM movement: a program to help lift Blacks out of their situation. Building programs is also important to any movement that plans on longevity. 

    Yeah, I miss my "mama's civil rights movement." It was organized, it had a clear plan, a platform, programs, and demands. Many say that the BLM movement is still young, and that is true, but Huey and Bobby Seale had their act together within a year of being formed, and the two were about the same age as those in the BLM movement, so that's no excuse for poor planning.  

    In closing, the BLM movement can learn a lot from my mama's civil rights movement because it's not as though BLM has started anything new. However, that would require them to actually look at movements that have worked and follow their templates. For sure, it's not enough to wrestle mics from middle-aged men or stand and be lectured to; there has to be more. BLM would do well to work towards building a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic movement, but their actions have turned some possible advocates off, but it's not too late to win them back. Again, I will turn to Ms. Rogers, Start by seeking assistance from those with experience in movement building. “Jesse Jackson's door is always open; Tom Burell is a great strategist, and Vernon Jordan is a behind the scenes king maker. Rather than reinventing the wheel, go to the source of knowledge and stop embarrassing yourselves." Although the Panthers had a good program, their movement was infiltrated and thwarted because it was not multi-cultural or multi-ethnic, but my mama’s civil rights movement was, which is what made it successful.

    Sunday, August 16, 2015

    Your Struggle Ain’t Like Mine

    "Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge; I’m tryin’ not to lose my head; it's like a jungle, sometimes; it makes me wonder how I keep from going under." Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame artists Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five made their mark in the world of Hip-Hop with their hit, The Message. According to Rolling Stone MagazineThe Message is "the first song to tell...the truth about modern inner-city life in America." The Message may have been the “first,” but it certainly was not the last. Shortly after The Message had been delivered and well received, myriad rappers began spreading the message of economic struggle, urban blight, racial profiling, and police brutality: East Coast, West Coast, the Dirty South... No matter the geographical location of the artists and their stories were the same. By the mid-80s, the stories of racial profiling and police brutality resonated the loudest in the Black community. Consequently, it was the beating of Rodney King that brought attention to police brutality in America’s inner-cities, but the acquittal of the four officers involved in King’s beating sent its own message: Black lives don’t matter, for “regardless of the lofty ideas engraved on paper in such documents as the Constitution or Declaration the basic nature of the European American white man remains virtually unchanged," as does the condition of Blacks in America. Thus, Blacks in America in the 21st Century still suffer from conditions faced while enslaved in America. Many would be shocked to discover that slavery for Blacks still exist in America. From Restaveks to prisoners, Blacks are still providing free labor to America while being denied due process and equal protection under the law, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

    Slavery in America? Meet the Restaveks 

    Human trafficking is a disturbing tale, but human trafficking tale that goes untold involves the enslavement of Black children in American homes and/or businesses. One such group of enslaved Black children are known as restaveks: children brought from Haiti to perform domestic duties and run errands. According to the article “10 Horrifying Examples Of Modern-Day Child Slavery” by Kristance Harlow, “There are an estimated 50,000 slaves in the United States and an additional 17,500 are being trafficked into the country every year. That is more people being enslaved annually than during legal slavery in America’s dark history.Unfortunately, the damage done to young Black lives does not end in American homes.  Black children are being brought to America to work in the Black hair industry. In 2010, CNN reported on the enslavement of girls from West Africa who were brought to America on the promise of a better life only to find themselves working in New Jersey and New York hair salons, and although these girls are not restaveks, they suffer the same fate. Many of these children were brought to America under the guise of a better life, but such is not the case. These children are treated poorly: inhumanely. Locked in cramped rooms with little ventilation, they are not allowed to attend school, they’re medical needs go unchecked, and many have to scavenge for food. Little is known or said about enslaved Black children in America today because, like Tupac says, “Unless we're shooting no one notices the youth.” Subsequently, equally disturbing is the mass incarceration of Blacks in America. 

    From Plantations to Prisons

    It’s a fact that Blacks suffer disproportionately under the criminal justice system. Ironically, the system, as it is today, was specifically developed with Blacks in mind. After the enactment of the 13th Amendment, there was no system in tact to control the newly freed Blacks, so the criminal justice system that had previously catered primarily to the wealthy was revamped to also cater to the concerns of Southern whites. To pacify Southern whites who had lost the Civil War, Black Codes were enacted to keep Blacks in check under white supremacy, the new law of the land. Despite various laws such as the 14th Amendment or the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Blacks were, and are still, viewed as sub-human, second class citizens. The chart illustrates the disparity faced by Blacks who fall prey to America's justice system. Although Blacks make up a mere 12% of the total U.S. population, they make up a great portion of the U.S. prison population, and this is not because Blacks commit more crimes; this phenomenon was created by design. According to noted civil rights advocate and attorney, Michelle Alexander, "Mass incarceration is a massive system of racial and social control. It is the process by which people are swept into the criminal justice system, branded criminals and felons, locked up for longer periods of time than most other countries in the world who incarcerate people who have been convicted of crimes, and then released into a permanent second-class status in which they are stripped of basic civil and human rights, like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, and the right to be free of legal discrimination in employment, housing, access to public benefits." It was President Nixon's former chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman who identified the targeted audience: “The whole problem is really Blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this without appearing to.” This gave birth to the rise of the new Jim Crow system that is in place today.

    The New Jim Crow

    In March of 2013, Alexander addressed the plight of Blacks under America's current criminal justice paradigm, siting various "get tough" on crime initiatives enacted to fight the "War on Drugs" that helped perpetuate a situation, which laid the ground work for the private prison industry. According to Alexander, policies enacted during Bill Clinton's tenure as POTUS only served to exacerbate the destruction of many Black communities, lives, and families.

    The year was 1994; former Pres. Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control ActVCCA. For those who are unaware of the provisions of the Act, it is well worth the read--You may be surprised to discover that the original bill was written by, then, Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, who is now considering another run for the presidency. However, what's worth mentioning in relation to this article are the following provisions...
    1. Gang Crimes: Provides new and stiffer penalties for violent and drug trafficking crimes committed by gang members.
    2. Juveniles: Authorizes adult prosecution of those 13 and older charged with certain serious violent crimes.  Prohibits the sale or transfer of a firearm to or possession of certain firearms by juveniles.  Triples the maximum penalties for using children to distribute drugs in or near a protected zone, i.e., schools, playgrounds, video arcades and youth centers.
    3. Three Strikes: Mandatory life imprisonment without possibility of parole for Federal offenders with three or more convictions for serious violent felonies or drug trafficking crimes.
    Coincidentally, these three provisions focus on a particular subset of American society: young, Black males. And we should never forget the message sent by Hillary Rodham Clinton as she reminded us, that "for a lot of well-meaning, open-minded white people, the sight of a young black man in a hoodie still evokes a twinge of fear.” But what about the fear Blacks face when confronted by law enforcement officers?

    "Don't sentence me judge; I ain't done nothin' ta nobody..."

    Meet Brandon Noble. Noble serves as an example of those who spend countless years in the correction system as a result of Clinton's VCCA. According to HuffPost Politic's, "Noble is serving more than 13 years behind bars in Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro. His crime: being caught with the equivalent of two joints' worth of marijuana in 2010...The state used two of the felony charges --1991 and 2003 convictions for possession of small amounts of cocaine and marijuana -- in their branding of Noble as [an] 'habitual offender' under Louisiana law. That allowed them to sentence him to the maximum of 13 years and three months, no parole."  Despite signing into legislation decreasing penalties for simple marijuana possession earlier this year, another candidate for president, Louisiana's governor, Piyush "Bobby" Jindal, supports his state's "get tough" initiatives. If not, why are there countless Blacks housed in Louisiana's prisons for minor drug offenses? Sadly, Noble's case is not an anomaly; it's a practice. 

    The following charts illustrate prison population by offense and incarceration rate by race, respectively. According to the prison population, close to 50% of those in federal custody are there on drug offenses, and most of them are Black. What's truly interesting about the chart, however, is the fact that it reveals that the "War on Drugs" targets Blacks as a population, for the best place to capture those in possession of drugs is our nation's college campuses, but law enforcement has yet to raid Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or any other college campus. However, should law enforcement 
    decide to raid a campus, rest assured it will be an HBC: Historically Black College because despite evidence to the contrary, when one envisions a "drug dealer" or "drug user" a Black face appears, and we are immediately viewed as criminals. As criminals, any punishment meted out in order to curb our "innate desire" to commit crime is welcomed by America, in general, and white America, in particular without a thought given to the devastation done to the Black community and/or the Black family. 

    Part-time Mutha

    In 1991, rapper Tupac Shakur debuted his first solo album: 2Pacalypse Now. Among the tracks are two that speak to the condition of the Black family: 

    Brenda's Got a Baby: 
    I hear Brenda's got a baby
    Well, Brenda's barely got a brain
    A damn shame
    Tha girl can hardly spell her name
    (That's not her problem, that's up to Brenda's family) 
    Well let me show ya how it affects the whole community...
    Part-time Mutha: 
    Meet Cindi, she's twenty-two, lives right on the dope track-Used to be fat, now weighs less than a Tic-Tac. Now what's that say about, this big epidemi, this hypocritical world, and the people in it? Now, speaking of in it, Cindi loved to get buckwild, fuck with a smile--single file--she'll bust nuff styles. That would be cool, if she was your lover, but fuck that, Cindi was my dope fiend mother. Welfare checks never stepped through the front door Cause moms would run to the dope-man once more All those days, had me fiendin' for a hot meal. Now, I'm a crook, I steal, I do not feel. So don't even trip...when I flip...with my 38. Revenge is a bitch, and my hit shape the murder rate. Word to the mutha...I'm touched. When moms come by, niggaz hush or get rushed. Maybe one day she'll recover. But what will it take, to shake, or break My part time mutha?
    Solution?: Organize/Revolution

    For sure, not all Black boys and girls live under the conditions relayed in Tupac's tales, but many do, especially those whose fathers are/were incarcerated. Children whose fathers are locked away tend to grow up in poverty, often finding themselves incarcerated. When these fathers are released, many find themselves unable to provide for their families without having to revert to a life of crime, usually selling drugs. Any child coming up under similar conditions is fighting an uphill battle, and there are many. Such conditions have been legislated and mandated by those we've entrusted to work in the best interests of all Americans, and if you don't get that the enslavement of Blacks in America, is problematic for all Americans, it could be because your struggle ain't like mine. You've never feared being pulled over by law enforcement and having the landscape of your life changed in an instant. You may not know--unless a member of the Mob Wives Club--the struggles of having to raise children whose fathers are behind bars, and unlike Mob Wives, Black wives whose children's fathers are locked up are not living the same life-style as their Italian-American counter-parts. 

    Luckily, when concluding her speech, Alexander provides a solution: organize a "multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement" to "abolish" the system of mass incarceration. Fortunately, for Americans there is a movement that is uniting Americans across the nation. This movement seeks an end to discrimination, it seeks equal protection for all, it seeks an end to policies that serve the 1%. That movement is Sen. Bernie Sanders campaign for president; it's a POLITICAL REVOLUTION. Sen. Sanders has a 12-Step plan for reviving America.
    1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
    2. Reversing Climate Change
    3. Creating Worker Co-ops
    4. Growing the Trade Union Movement
    5. Raising the Minimum Wage
    6. Pay Equity for Women Workers
    7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
    8. Making College Affordable for All
    9. Taking on Wall Street
    10. Health Care as a Right for All
    11. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
    12. Real Tax Reform
    Blacks in America have been living on the edge for centuries, begging acceptance from a society that view Blacks as sub-human. For sure, there are whites who empathize with the plight of Blacks in America; many champion Black movements that seek to end bigotry and discrimination. It's number 11 of Sen. Sanders' plan that gives me hope: "Protecting the most vulnerable Americans," and according to the data, that would be Blacks: #BlackLivesMatters. However, Blacks cannot abolish any system alone. Just as the abolition of slavery in the 1865, it's going to take that multi-racial, multi-ethnic movement that Alexander suggests to abolish current day slavery, whether it be human trafficking or trafficking bodies through prison complexes. The movement is forging ahead despite being shunned by mainstream media, but we must be cognizant of those we choose to support. I suggest that before voting we vet those who are running for office. I have, which is why I support Sen. Bernie Sanders for president. I've reviewed his record and have compared it to the record of others in the race. His is consistent, a voice that has spoken out against injustice for decades. The others, well, their records speak for themselves, especially that of Hillary Rodham Clinton, so when people ask why I support Sanders over Clinton, the reasons are obvious. It was a Clinton who ordained mass incarceration, and although he has apologized, the damage has been done and it continues to be done. His policies stripped Blacks of basic civil rights, and Hillary does not plan to rectify the situation.  Therefore, there is only one dog in this race, and that is: 
    And if you still don't understand, it's because your struggle ain't like mine.