GOP Dead in Water, Put Our Feet on Their Necks and Drown Them

This post, written by David Swanson, originally appeared on After Downing Street

The Take Back America Conference in Washington DC on Tuesday included a panel discussion of "Poverty and Politics: Katrina's Clarion Call." Arlene Holt MC'd. Professor Peter Edelman began by stressing how little attention is paid in this country to poverty and race, and how much is needed. Edelman recommended this report:

He said the response to Katrina was a question of race, but a lot of solutions are race and gender neutral: wages, EITC, refundable child tax credit, etc. But we also, he said, have structural racism. We have a criminal justice system that arrests more, processes more, incarcerates more people of color. It's a racial issue and we're going to fight it as such. Schools too. The worst schools are the schools provided for people of color. Gentrification too.

Maude Hurd, President of ACORN, said that ACORN (The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has over 350,000 families in its membership. We have to have low-income folks at the table where decisions are made to get real change. In 1982 an organizer knocked on Hurd's door and it was the first time anyone had asked her what her concerns were. Everyone else had always told her what the concerns were. She and her neighbors joined ACORN, paid dues, held a meeting, cleaned up a vacant lot, dumped the trash at City Hall, and established a program to clean up publicly owned vacant lots. She's been active in ACORN ever since. Hurd also described ACORN's efforts to register and turn out voters. They knocked on 1.5 million doors to turn out voters in 20 states in the last elections.

Rinku Sen began her comments by pointing out that the word "race" had been in the original title of this event, and that it was replaced with the code word "Katrina." Sen talked about racial divisions in reataurants in New York, where hosts tend to be white and kitchen workers tend to be people of color. Progressives like to avoid talking about race when dealing with the minimum wage or health care, in order to avoid conservative backlashes. The hope is that conservatives won't figure out that a policy will benefit disproportionately people of color. But conservatives are conservative, they're not stupid. The racist attack is inevitable. Our silence won't avoid it. Are we ready for it? The key to that is to go on the offensive: redefine racism as being about the rules and structures, not individuals' opinions. We need to ask not "Is that person racist?" but "Is that person promoting policies that will help reduce the racial gap?" And we need to connect racial disparities to the conditions that cause them. Otherwise we leave it up to the rightwing to explain things their way (e.g. through welfare queens and pathologies). Color Lines has racial justice report cards on politicians. People of color need to be at center of progressive movement.

Rep. Maxine Waters says our voices have been muted by right-wing talk shows defining us, rather than we defining ourselves. When you mention race, you get accused of using the race card and race baiting. Many elected officials started backing off. They were being called race baiters, and the progressive community wasn't defending them. When you talk about this president's tax breaks for the richest one percent, you're accused of being divisive and putting the poor people against the rich. I wish we COULD pit the poor people against the rich. Look at what America discovered about poor people when Katrina happened. And the rest of the world looked at Katrina and said "Oh no, these are the folks with their great democracy who try to tell the rest of the world how to run their countries."

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