Glen Ford

We Need Real Black Community Control of the Police

A key activist in the early Sixties grassroots movement to overthrow American apartheid recently asked if the current Black Lives Matter campaign will be able to sustain itself. In the near term, the answer is almost certainly yes. The momentum of the mobilization will be propelled forward by the dogged determination of a new generation of activists, building on the skills and experience of previously vetted organizers and the quickening, soul-wrenching drumbeat of police murder and repression. However, the nascent movement’s momentum will soon – very soon – propel it to a “Where do we go from here?” historical moment, when activists must choose whether to challenge the foundations of the system that made black lives immaterial in the first place, or be sucked into the morass of patchwork reforms that enfeeble the movement while failing to alter relationships of power.

Keep reading... Show less

The Central Park 5: 'White in America' Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry in a Meaningful Way

A settlement will soon be finalized, in New York City, that will award five no longer young Black men $40 million for spending between 7 and 13 years in prison for a crime they did not commit. Twenty-five years ago, the Central Park 5 – Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson and Kharey Wise – were almost universally described in the media in animalistic terms. They were a “wolf pack” that had gone “wilding” on a mad rampage of lust and brutality, raping a 28-year-old white jogger and beating her almost to death. The cops – experts at psychological operations against Black teenagers – coerced confessions from the 14, 15 and 16 year olds, and they were convicted in 1990.

Keep reading... Show less

The Pentagon Funds 'Terror Studies' to Dissect and Neutralize Dissenters

Since the meltdown of 2008, U.S. universities have collaborated with the Pentagon to study dynamics of social movements, worldwide. The goal of “terrorism studies” is “to find possible vectors of resistance, which are to be identified and eradicated, like a disease.” The Minerva Initiative, like NSA spying, sees the entire planet as “enemy territory.”

Keep reading... Show less

Private Prison Corporations Are Modern Day Slave Traders

The nation’s largest private prison company, the Corrections Corporation of America, is on a buying spree. With a war chest of $250 million, the corporation, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, earlier this year sent letters to 48 states, offering to buy their prisons outright. To ensure their profitability, the corporation insists that it be guaranteed that the prisons be kept at least 90 percent full. Plus, the corporate jailers demand a 20-year management contract, on top of the profits they expect to extract by spending less money per prisoner.

Keep reading... Show less

The State of the Apocalypse

Annual State of the Union Addresses usually present themselves as opportunities for various constituent interests to measure the chief executive's national assessment against their own wish lists of priorities. The pomp and ceremony of the occasion, in which all three branches of government are arrayed in one setting, is designed to affirm the stability of foundational national institutions, and to assure the public that normalcy -- or at least a kind of predictable order -- reigns.

Such cannot be the case, however, in 2007 -- the year in which the accumulated crimes and contradictions of the Bush administration's six years of global and domestic rampage must be massively confronted by an alarmed people and their representatives -- most especially, by people of color and those who purport to represent their interests, but also by every human being whose ultimate allegiance is to the species.

The Bush cabal has from its very beginning waged war against the rule of law among nations and within U.S. boundaries, and against the very concept of a national social contract.

Although the Bushite ranks are now demoralized and their public support at low ebb, they have never abandoned their crusade for a new world order based on raw, unilateral U.S. military force, a planetary "market" to be constantly restructured according to the whims of unfettered, hyperactive capital. This global dream regime of theirs recognizes no boundaries, no zones of protection from the predations of aircraft carrier-buttressed capital, whose imperatives they consider synonymous with, not only the "national interest," but the intentions of the Almighty, himself.

In the face of total disarray in Iraq, which was to be the staging area for further conquest, the Bush men choose to escalate the conflict against the clear wishes of the American public, and to the horror of an international community that has come to perceive the U.S. as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world" -- as Dr. Martin Luther King recognized in 1967. Relentless, with no other vision but that which leads to apocalypse, the administration persists in its preparations for wider war in the region, and opens yet another offensive centered in Somalia, the eastern flank of an American military buildup that stretches across the northern breadth of the African continent.

Domestically, Bush clings to the doctrine that executive power trumps both other branches of government and every previous interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, especially under conditions of a "war" they have proclaimed to be perpetual. Under this legal construction, no civil right is safe: all are subject to the exigencies of wartime executive "necessity" -- the factual justification for which is nobody's business but the executive's.

For Black people and other people of color, the new civil rights regime is a desert. Racial profiling -- the arbitrary exercise of state power based on law enforcement operatives' (and even common citizens') perceptions of ethnicity-based threats -- has risen like Lazarus from the grave that years of civil rights struggle had dug for it, and is now considered a legitimate tool of national watchdogs. Racial prejudice is, once again, patriotic.

The mushroom cloud called Katrina signaled that the modalities of Bush's foreign aggressions would be deployed against despised domestic populations -- even enlisting many of the same corporate actors as were commissioned to carry out the Iraq mission. Rejecting the ancient premise that all people have a right to place, the administration and its state and corporate ethnic cleansing co-conspirators engineered the exile of hundreds of thousands of New Orleans residents, creating a domestic diaspora that is intended to be permanent, and which nullifies the very concept of an American entitlement to domestic tranquility.

No peace, no law, no social contract -- that is the state of the union, thanks to the Bush regime. In the wake of six years of such savage mauling, the nation and the world require reparations -- repair! -- for the damage done by the administration's assaults on the fragile edifices of civilization, erected over centuries.

Instead, the newly-installed Democratic congressional leadership offers a bland soup of easily-passed (albeit worthy) measures crafted to give the impression of dynamism, but which fail to confront the fundamental challenges presented by Bush and his cohorts.

If impeachment is "off the table," then executive power as conceived by Bush remains operative, encased in immunity, and the rule of law is still in question.

If the military buildup continues -- even after the U.S. is inevitably ejected from Iraq -- then the Bush men will ultimately succeed in "starving the beast," as they call it, leaving no funds for social programs and entitlements.

If corporate globalization -- "euphemistically dubbed 'free trade'" -- is not checked, the impoverishment of the United States will continue apace, in a Wall Street-refereed "race to the bottom."

If the exiles of New Orleans are not returned and restored, then the congress will have confirmed that no social contract exists with Black America.

In the face of such challenges to "the American way of life" and the future of the planet, the formulaic applause and empty rituals of the State of the Union ceremony seem -- obscene.

Bigger Than Hip-Hop

"It's bigger!" roared T.J. Crawford. "It's bigger!" the crowd shouted back, in traditional call-and-response fashion. "It's bigger than hip hop!"

Crawford, chairman of the National Hip Hop Political Convention (NHHPC), deployed the hook of a song by hip hop's iconic "conscious" group, dead prez, to bring home the point: Members of what marketers have labeled the "hip-hop generation" are concerned with much more than just nodding their heads to the beat. Politics is more important -- bigger! -- than music for activists who have felt swept aside and demobilized by black elders whose outlook was forged in the crucible of civil rights organizing. These young crews, along with the elders who hang with them on political issues, aim to seize leadership of what's left of the movement -- although they're not quite sure how to do it.

Hip-hop politics emerged from the musical movement launched in the South Bronx in the late '70s -- itself a reaction to the unfinished business, the arrested development, of black politics. The late-'60s demise of segregation allowed black professionals to escape the inner city, to climb corporate ladders and achieve elected offices. However, budding corporate executives and elected officials have little use for mass movements, except on election days or when corporate careers are threatened by institutional racism. As a class, these "New Negroes" left the rest of the African American population still locked in the ghetto, to their own devices.

"The birth of hip hop, the environment, grew out of the early '70s, police brutality, poverty, unemployment -- all these social ills that were affecting marginalized and oppressed people," says Angelica Salazar, an ethnic studies major at University of California, Berkeley, and an activist in the Coalition for Black-Brown Unity and the NHHPC movement. "One of the reasons that hip hop has been so globally successful -- so critical in reaching our people and crossing borders -- is that every marginalized people who have been oppressed and put into 'reservations' can relate to that experience. You are trying to recreate what was stolen from you."

Looking to put black politics back on track, 4,000 people from across the nation, mostly but not entirely African American, flocked to multiple venues on Chicago's South Side for the convention. They hoped to build on the work of the first NHHPC, which took place in Newark, New Jersey in 2004.

The Chicago affair, like its Newark predecessor, strained to tackle the two fundamental questions that are constantly posed to younger blacks: Is there a generational divide among African American activists, or are the fissures more complicated? And how can the cultural force of hip hop be directed to affect social change?

The old school

Despite the gains that African Americans have made since segregation, social change is still very much needed. But a mass black movement has floundered. According to NAACP chairman Julian Bond, there were 10,000 separate anti-racist actions in the year 1963 alone. In the current era, one is hard-pressed to name a significant anti-racist demonstration in any given year.

While the older generation of civil rights activists is marching on, they're no longer at the front of the action. Last year, 20,000 braved Atlanta's August heat to demand reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in a march organized by the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, black churches and civic groups, and a strong union contingent. But considerably less than half the participants could reasonably be called youthful. "It was a significantly older crowd," says Bruce Dixon, Atlanta-based editor of BlackCommentator.com (of which I am executive editor) and longtime activist. "Back in the days when a real movement existed, the crowd would have been nine-tenths youth."

On the speakers' platform, among a cast that included Rev. Jesse Jackson, Harry Belafonte, and U.S. Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the youngest notables were singer Stevie Wonder, age 55, and TV's Judge Greg Mathis, 45.

Similar demographics dominated the throng that attended the Millions More rally on Washington's Capitol Mall in October 2005. The seemingly endless list of speakers, although representing virtually every political tendency in Black America, included very few below age 50 -- and these tended to be entertainers. Despite the presence of a vocal Howard University contingent, the atmosphere was more picnic-like than militant -- a Saturday gathering of mainly middle-aged folks.

Clearly, black movement politics has entered the geriatric stage -- if, indeed, anything worthy of the term "movement" still exists.

The NAACP's youth and college councils number about 100,000 people -- one-fifth of the claimed half-million overall membership of the only real mass organization in Black America. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is no longer a mass organization, and has nothing like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (defunct since 1970) under its umbrella. The National Urban League has never been a mass grouping. Operation PUSH/Rainbow Coalition is Rev. Jackson's vehicle, and functions as he wishes. PUSH has not developed an independent youth group, or anything else independent of Rev. Jackson.

All too often, critics dismiss the lack of younger activists at the podium as a function of a black "generational divide." Could it be that simple?

Divided we fall

Not according to Rev. Lennox Yearwood, the 36-year-old head of the D.C.-based Hip Hop Caucus. Instead of a generational schism, he sees a "cultural and geographic divide" that developed after the death of Jim Crow provided an opening for spatial and economic mobility to those blacks positioned to take advantage of it.

Traditional black organizations were most concerned with servicing the goals of these aspiring populations, according to Rev. Yearwood. "The church and other institutions have gone from being usable institutions for the community to being institutionalized" -- upholding rather that rattling the status quo. In contrast, he says, "Hip hop emerges out of the Black Power Movement, as a voice for the urban community."

Yearwood has been involved in an extraordinary range of political activities under the hip-hop umbrella, from Russell Simmons' Hip-Hop Summit Action Network to the AFL-CIO-affiliated Hip Hop Voices to Hip Hop U.N., "a coalition of all the hip-hop political organizations throughout the world." His organization describes itself as "a national and international coalition of hip hop, pop-culture, social and political organizations, community-based organizations, youth leadership organizations, and individuals who believe in the collective power of persons born after 1964."

In Jersey City, N.J., 25-year-old Hassan Salaam helps public school kids with their homework and teaches chess to youngsters through a National Urban League program. He's also a hip-hop activist with the Grassroots Artist Movement, which secures healthcare services for artists. Salaam is confident that his cadre of artists is in tune with the black political/cultural continuum.

"There's no difference to me," says Salaam, who equates Grandmaster Flash's classic "The Message" with the works of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane. "Within hip hop, we're talking about the same things the older people talk about."

"There is a generational divide, but it's not the primary problem," agrees Troy Nkrumah. A lawyer under 30, he assists political prisoners and radical youth organizations in Las Vegas, after doing similar work in the San Francisco Bay area. From Nkrumah's perspective, it is the political timidity of established black leaders that has led to the current generational tensions. "The civil rights folks got into comfortable positions," said Nkrumah. "In their minds, they thought they were still down with the movement, but they resisted the radicalism of the young."

If the cutoff date for the hip-hop generation is a birthday in 1964, then a majority of black people now belong to it, Nkrumah told me. "Hip hop grows every year," he continues. "Until it dies out, it will grow. Hip hop is not just music, dancing, graffiti -- it's activism."

Angela Woodson, the 36-year-old co-chair of the Newark convention, presents a starker view of the youth cultural scene. "There are three worlds of hip hop. There's the corporate world, the political world -- and the stupid world."

That "stupid world" grew out of the gangsta rap genre that corporate record labels have been pushing since the early '90s. The corporatization and segmentation of black music has been crucial in driving a wedge between generations.

"Me and my parents listened to the same radio station: WBLS-FM -- that was the campfire," says New York native and Bay Area radio personality Davey D, who is not yet 40. "Now the same company uses one station to target one age group, another station to target the other. If you look at the types of venues where wisdom was dispersed, you don't have elders talking to younger people."

This generation lives in a different media world than their elders -- one stripped of relevance. The content of corporate-owned stations is dumbed down and apolitical. During the mass demonstrations for immigrant rights in Los Angeles, KKBT-FM ("The Beat") completely ignored one million people in the streets. "It was similar to the Million Man March right on their doorstep, yet to KKBT and its listeners, it didn't exist," says Davey D.

So, culture, class issues, consumerism and varying degrees of complacency all divide African Americans, as much if not more than generational differences.

In fact, to reduce the fragmentation of black politics into a generation gap is to play into the hands of the right. Republicans have shown that it can play the youth game as well as the left -- better, because they have more money.

Take the victory of Newark's new African-American mayor, Cory Booker, who was an obscure, 33-year-old, one-term Newark city councilman when he starred at a power luncheon at the Manhattan Institute, the right-wing outfit that specializes in media influence, in 2000. Booker had earlier hooked up with the Bradley and Walton Family (Wal-Mart) Foundations, to become a director of their political invention, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) -- a pro-school vouchers group. After losing the 2002 election, Booker raised $6.1 million for another run, garnering universal corporate media endorsements. He based his campaign on the need for "new blood" and criticisms of the "tired civil-rights generation."

All together now

Seeking change, young and old came together at both the 2004 NHHPC and the one that took place this year in Chicago's historic Bronzeville neighborhood.

The oldest speaker at the first day's Intergenerational Dialogue, Illinois Secretary of Human Services Dr. Carol Adams, was possibly the most militant of "The Movement Continues" panel participants. "To think that we have to begin our revolution again every generation is sad, indeed," said the sixtyish black civil servant. The crowd exploded in cheers.

NHHPC activists were quick to distinguish themselves from the rich entrepreneurs and poseurs who claim to be the voice of a younger generation.

"I don't know that I need Fat Joe [an Afro-Puerto Rican/Bronx rapper] to be the next black leader, the next Malcolm X," said Cedric Shine, a recent graduate from Temple University who works for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C. "I don't think me and P-Diddy are going to have similar goals in life."

Twenty-seven-year-old Adrienne Marie Brown was a key player in the 2004 NHHPC as well as an operative in that year's Democratic election campaign. Brown trained voter organizations and created voter guides in Ohio, and also worked through the League of Pissed Off Voters, whose "mission is to engage pissed off 17 to 35-year-olds in the democratic process to build a progressive governing majority in our lifetime."

Brown believes the younger black demographics are grouped in three political sections: youth activists in the civil rights movement, a hip-hop movement heavily influenced by "angry" black music, and the young middle class.

Young civil rights activists working in traditional organizations are blocked from taking power by an entrenched leadership, says Brown. The group she calls the "young middle class" are comfortable and complacent. "Most black middle-class young people -- a huge arena -- don't identify as hip hop or as civil rights. They just want to boogie. They don't want to mess anything up." Black leadership, for this cohort, is whatever power and media say it is. "They look at black leadership and see people like Condoleezza Rice. We in the hip-hop movement don't see Condoleezza Rice as evidence of progress," Brown says.

Brown is now executive director of the Ruckus Society, which "provides environmental, human rights, and social justice organizers with the tools, training, and support needed to achieve their goals." Her mission? To spark a mass movement.

Limitations in the movement

But can hip-hop politics provide a new way in the face of corporatization and complacency? Reviews are mixed.

Some were not happy with the organizers of this year's NHHPC. The 2004 Newark document set forth practical, progressive positions on education, economic justice, criminal justice, health and wellness, and human rights, but "somehow, in 2004, gender issues were not on the agenda," said Nkrumah, the Las Vegas-based human rights lawyer. Organizers in Chicago rushed to gather suggestions for positions on "womanism," the environment, gentrification, media, and a broader stance on "all forms of economic oppression, local or global."

However, it remained unclear what force the old or newly-adopted items would have since, as 2004 organizer Rosa Clemente pointed out, "We have not decided what type of organization we want to be." She is not optimistic that her cohort can repair the damage that has been done. "There was a complete failure of black leadership, and there's only so much the hip-hop generation can do."

NHHPC chairman Crawford conceded the amorphous nature of the organization -- the undefined relationships between the national steering committee, the local organizing committees, and the 14 separate organizations to which many of the key organizers belong. "This agenda expresses the political ambition of the hip-hop community," says Crawford.

A few attendees offered innovative approaches. Nimco Ahmad, an organizer from Milwaukee who was among the '04 convention leadership, uses sophisticated surveys to identify supporters of progressive candidates based on previous voting patterns. Volunteers are developed from these areas, and then further outreach work is conducted among groups of "disenfranchised communities" that tend to vote less frequently. "Those are your new base," says Ahmad.

Campaign Against Violence organizer C.J. Jenkins uses similar techniques to stop inner-city violence. "First, we create a grid showing the most violent neighborhoods" says Jenkins. Then they elicit neighborhood opinions about the sources of violence, and designate block captains to keep watch on local activities. Jenkins urged would-be organizers to "set up tables at barber shops and nightclubs. Hit every community event that you can. Work with black radio and print media to achieve high visibility. The people must know who you are, and that you are with and among them."

Listening to such speakers, it becomes plain that little has changed over the decades except that the rightist and racist enemy has regrouped and become more powerful, while progressive forces have often failed to do the basics of political organizing.

The fragmentation of black politics spells disaster, not just for African Americans, but for progressives of all hues. Last year, the Bay Area Center for Voting Research found that the nation's most "liberal" cities by voting patterns are also the blackest. The "left" lives in Detroit, Gary, Washington D.C., Oakland, Newark -- all the major African-American urban centers.

The hip-hop activists who have been set in motion are a conscious extension of the movement that came before. Their fate is to work on the unfinished business of the previous struggle -- plus the mounting threats of gentrification, mass black incarceration and raging imperialism. It's a task that is indeed "bigger than hip hop."

Rhythms of Resistance

"I don't think it's right that you take our properties. Over my dead body. I didn't die with Katrina." - Lower 9th Ward resident Caroline Parker.

"Joe Canizaro, I don't know you, but I hate you. I'm going to suit up like I'm going to Iraq and fight this." - New Orleans East resident Harvey Bender, referring to the author of the city commission's "rebuilding" plan.

The overwhelmingly black New Orleans diaspora is returning in large numbers to resist relentless efforts to bully and bulldoze them out of the city's future. "Struggle on the ground has intensified enormously. A number of groups are in motion, moving against the mayor's commission," said Mtangulizi Sanyika, spokesman for the African American Leadership Project (AALP). "Increasing numbers of people are coming back into the city. You can feel the political rhythm."

Mayor Ray Nagin's commission has presented residents of flood-battered, mostly African American neighborhoods with a Catch-22, carefully crafted to preclude New Orleans from ever again becoming the more than two-thirds Black city it was before Hurricane Katrina breached the levees. Authored by Nagin crony, real estate development mogul and George Bush fundraiser Joseph Canizaro, the plan would impose a four-month moratorium on building in devastated neighborhoods like the lower Ninth Ward and New Orleans East. During that period, the neighborhoods would be required to come up with a plan to show how they would become "viable" by reaching an undefined "critical mass" of residents.

But the moratorium, itself, discourages people from rebuilding their neighborhoods - just as it is intended to do - thus creating a fait accompli: residents will be hard pressed to prove that a "critical mass" of habitation can be achieved.


"It's circular reasoning," said the AALP's Sanyika. They talk about "some level of neighborhood viability, but no one knows what that means. What constitutes viable plans? What kinds of neighborhoods are viable? Everywhere you turn people are trying to rebuild, but there is this constraint."

The commission is empowered only to make recommendations, but with the help of corporate media, pretends their plan is set in stone. "They keep pushing their recommendations as though they are the gospel truth," said Sanyika, who along with tens of thousands of other evacuees has been dispersed to Houston, five hours away. "There is confusion as to all of these recommendations, issued as if they are policy. The Times-Picayune contributes to that confusion. None of this is a given."

Activists believe the way to play this situation is for residents to forge ahead on their own. "Trying to figure out the logic of that illogical proposal is a wasted effort - all you're going to do is wind up going in circles," said Sanyika. He emphasizes that the commission's recommendations are not binding on anyone - certainly not on the majority black city council, which claims authority in city planning matters. They're not buying the nonsense. "The city council has rejected it. Nagin says 'ignore it.' I think it's dead in the water," said Sanyika.

The city council has attempted to block Nagin's collaboration with corporate developers - a hallmark of his tenure - voting to give itself authority over where to place FEMA trailers. (Only about 5,000 of a projected 25,000 trailers arrived, say community activists.) Nagin vetoed the bill, but the council overrode him. The council has also endorsed equitable development of neighborhoods, rather than shrinking the city. "We [the African American Leadership Project] are developing a resolution to that effect," said Sanyika. Odds are that it will pass - but the question is, who wields power in post-Katrina New Orleans, where only one-third of the city's previous population of nearly half a million has returned?

It is in this context that one must view Mayor Nagin's statement to a mostly Black crowd gathered at City Hall for a Martin Luther King Day march, on Monday: "I don't care what people will say - uptown, or wherever they are. At the end of the day, this city will be chocolate.... This city will be a majority African American city. It's the way God wants it to be. You can't have New Orleans no other way. It wouldn't be New Orleans."

Ray Nagin is probably the most disoriented person in the country, these days - the fruit of his own venality, sleeziness, and opportunism. A corporate executive, sports entrepreneur and nominal Democrat, he contributed to the Bush campaign in 2000 (Democrats dubbed him "Ray Reagan") and endorsed a Republican candidate for governor in 2003 (see BC November 20, 2003). Now he doesn't have a clue as to where the power lies or where his base is centered. "Nagin is playing a game, trying to have it both ways," says the AALP's Sanyika - but his options are shrinking as fast as the city envisioned by his buddy, Joe Canizaro, with whom he habitually worked hand in hand, but whom he now tells Blacks to "ignore."

Who's in charge in New Orleans?

Canizaro is clearly the center of gravity on the "mayor's" commission which, although integrated, is essentially a corporate concoction. The commission's slogan, "Bring New Orleans Back," is a euphemism for bringing the city "back" to the days before Black rule by erecting multiple barriers to the return of Black residents. Of course, even when Black mayors hold titular office in New Orleans, Canizaro's crowd runs the show. His bio, posted on the commission's website, shows Canizaro to be the major domo of the city's real estate, development, banking, and pro-business political machinations. Canizaro is also a Trustee and former Chairman of the Urban Land Institute, the planning outfit that is determined to turn Black neighborhoods into swamp.

Since shortly after New Years, the commission has been feverishly working to appear to be an empowered governmental entity, tasking subcommittees to present reports and recommendations several days a week on Government Effectiveness, Education, Health and Social Services, Culture, and Infrastructure. What black New Orleans had been waiting for was presentation of the Urban Planning Committee Final Report, Wednesday, January 11. An overflow crowd at the Sheraton Hotel hissed Mayor Nagin and booed the hated Canizaro. Others cursed and vowed that they would be exiled only over their dead bodies.

"Four Months to Decide" read the headline of the Times-Picayune, on the day of the official unveiling of the commission's recommendations, a blueprint for the displacement of hundreds of thousands. In the packed hotel spaces, residents alternated between rage and deep anxiety at the ultimatum. "I don't think four or five months is close to enough time given all we would need to do," said Robyn Braggs. "Families with school-age children won't be able to even return to do the work necessary until this summer."

Cities with 25,000 or more displaced New Orleans residents include Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Memphis, and Baton Rouge. Others are scattered to the four winds. Their children will be enrolled in far-flung schools until the June deadline.

Former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, currently president of the National Urban League, called the commission's scheme a "massive red-lining plan wrapped around a giant land grab." With the situation so uncertain, and time so short, homeowners will have difficulty settling with their insurance companies in time. Said Morial: "It's cruel to bar people from rebuilding. Telling people they can't rebuild for four months is tantamount to saying they can't ever come back. It's telling people who have lost almost everything that we're going to take the last vestige of what they own."

And what about renters, who made up well over half of residents? Such people have no place in George Bush's "ownership society" - especially if they are black. Bush put his smirking stamp of approval on the corporate plan during an oblivious visit to New Orleans, last week. "It may be hard for you to see, but from when I first came here to today, New Orleans is reminding me of the city I used to visit."

Apparently, the president doesn't read newspapers because he is blind - except to the cravings of his class. Bush's Gulf Opportunity Zone Act provides billions in tax dodges for (big) business, while the threatened permanent depopulation of Black New Orleans would eliminate the possibility of return for the nearly 8,000 (small) Black businesses that served the neighborhoods.

Self-styled Black capitalists take note: this is the nature of the beast. Bush fronts for a class for which Katrina is not a catastrophe, but an opportunity. They believe devoutly in "creative chaos" - the often violent destruction of the old, so that new profits can be squeezed from the rubble. Through their Catch-22 ultimatums, they are deliberately inflicting additional "creative chaos" on the displaced people of New Orleans. The fact that the victims are mostly Black, makes it all the easier. Or so they assume.

The Resistance

Grassroots community groups, along with platoons of non-native volunteers, are refusing to acquiesce to the greatest attempted urban theft in American history. At a conference organized by Mtangulizi Sanyika's African American Leadership Project and affiliated organizations, progressive urban planners explored ways to make the new New Orleans a better place for the people who live there, rather than for ravenous corporations and new populations. The experts included Dr. Ed Blakely, of the University of Sydney, Australia; MIT's Dr. Phil Thompson, housing aide to former New York Mayor David Dinkins; and Abdul Rasheed, who helped rebuild the flood ravaged Black town of Princeville, North Carolina after a hurricane in the Nineties.

The coalition also held a Town Hall meeting attended by leaders of 15 national organizations, including Dr. Ron Daniel's Institute of the Black World, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, and movers and shakers from the Progressive Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention USA. National co-sponsors included the Hip Hop Caucus, Black Voices for Peace, the Black Family Summit of the Millions More Movement, and the National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN).

Neighborhood groups are mobilizing to confront the racist/corporate onslaught. "Every other day some major event is happening," said Sanyika. Various groups held marches during MLK weekend, carrying signs such as "We're Back," "Stop Displacement," and "Rebuild With People."

On February 7th, a National Mobilization of progressive forces will descend on the U.S. Capitol in Washington to pressure Congress to halt the juggernaut of expulsion and give substance to the people's Right to Return. Although there are literally thousands of large and small Katrina-related projects operating throughout the nation, many of the New Orleans organizers are handicapped by the fact of their own displacement. A great moral and political challenge presents itself to black and progressive America: Will they rise to the occasion in the face of a real, imminent, well-defined crisis - as opposed to the general conditions addressed by the Million Man and Millions More rallies? February 7th will be a test of black political resolve and cohesion. And there will be many more.

Meanwhile, New Orleans in some ways resembles a poignant scene from bygone wars, when lists of the dead were published on public walls. The "Red Danger List" is posted in local papers, designating properties that are "in imminent danger of collapse" and, therefore, subject to demolition without the consent of the owners. To date, over 5,000 buildings have been red tagged.

The "Flood Map" is a kind of municipal schematic of a cemetery, delineating the parts of the city that will be caused to die. Residents on the wrong side of the lines will be unable to get flood insurance, which certainly means no meaningful investment can occur in those areas. The map was last published in 1984, and is now being updated.

You can be sure that Black folks are not in charge of the mapping.

Katrina has shown us many things. One, is the hollowness of the purely electoral black strategy (and its cousin, lobbying) that followed the shutdown of mass movements after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a great irony that, while we rant at FEMA's inability (or unwillingness) to respond to the Katrina crisis, Black America finds itself desperately searching for the "people power" tools to effectively counter the post-Katrina aggression.

The citizens of New Orleans are paying the cost for the mistakes of the late Sixties and early Seventies, when aspiring electoral and corporate officeholders convinced black folks that mass movements were no longer necessary. Progress would trickle down from the newly acquired heights. Popular political capital could be wisely invested in the few, the upwardly mobile.

What we got was chicken-with-his-head-cut-off Ray Nagin and his many counterparts in plush offices across Black America. We must invent Black Power all over again, under changed conditions. New Orleans in its present state is the worst possible place to start - but that's where we're at.

A Hurricane of Differences

Hurricane Katrina may mark a watershed in black perceptions of the African American presence and prospects in the United States. "It could very well shape this generation of young people in the same way that the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King shaped our generation," said Prof. Michael Dawson, of the University of Chicago whose team conducted a survey of black and white reactions to the disaster between October 28 and November 17, 2005. "It suggested to blacks the utter lack of the liberal possibility in the United States," said Dawson, the nation's premier black social demographer.

Huge majorities of blacks agreed that the federal government's response would have been faster if the victims of Katrina in New Orleans had been white (84 percent), and that the Katrina experience shows there is a lesson to be learned about continued racial inequality (90 percent).

But only 20 percent of whites believe that the federal government's failure to respond had anything to do with race, and only 38 percent think there is something to be learned about racial inequality from the Katrina disaster.

Keep reading... Show less

The Meaningless Apology on Lynching

Why are some black folks so happy to hear an apology from people who don't mean it?

There are nearly a million African-Americans in prison - one out of eight inmates on the planet - a gulag of monstrous proportions, clearly designed to perpetuate the social relations that began with slavery. We demand an end to those relations, not an insincere, risk-free "apology" that sets not one prisoner free.

It is appropriate that the great anti-lynching leader, Ida B. Wells (1862-1931), who documented the murder of nearly 5,000 blacks at the hands of white mobs in the terror-filled years that followed the death of Reconstruction, be verbally honored by Louisiana Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu and Virginia Republican Senator George Allen. Yet both senators supported laws that will impose draconian equivalents of post-Civil War "black codes" on inner city youth, who will now be designated as criminal conspirators if they congregate in groups of three or more.

No thank you, Senators Landrieu and Allen - the crime you committed against us in May vastly outweighs your weak apology in June. You have guaranteed that hundreds of thousands more young black people will be interned in your gulag - a crime against humanity. And both of you are determined to commit more crimes. Should we ask for an apology in advance?

There can be no absolution for those who continue to profit from past crimes, and plot new ones. Lynch law was the effective law of the South - and, truth be told, the rest of the United States - and the "lawful" authorities sanctioned it by refusing to pass 200 anti-lynching bills. The terror of lynching created the social relationships that resulted in white households accumulating ten to twenty times as much wealth as black households - our collective national inheritance. An apology will not do.

Is that what our movement has been about all of these generations - to get an apology from people who became rich on our backs? There is a method to this racist madness, an assumption that African-Americans can be bought by a simple nod from a few white people. Some of these racists will not even give us a nod - the twelve or sixteen senators who did not join in the anti-lynching vote, all but one of them Republicans. The Republican Senate Leader made sure that no member would have to go on record against lynching. However, are we supposed to be grateful for a non-binding resolution that admits thousands of murders were committed with the complicity of the United States government, but that does not redress the wrongs in any way.

Where is the sense of justice in this apology? What do the descendants of the terrorized class expect? That wrongs be righted, or that those who have profited gain absolution?

Lynching was genocide

The United States Senate did not ratify the Convention on Genocide until 1988, 40 years after African-Americans circulated the petition, "We Charge Genocide," in an effort to make international law applicable to the U.S. By this time, most of the former Dixiecrats had become Republicans, and felt safe in blaming their former party for their own crimes.

The United States, controlled by a Republican majority and feckless minority of white Democrats whose greatest fear is their black constituents, is now engaged in a grand venture to export the ideology of white terror, planet-wide. They have not learned a thing. Having never practiced democracy on their own shores, they claim a copyright to the concept. The fact that nobody believes their claims does not phase them, because they are marching to the tune of Manifest Destiny - the white man's right to rule. It is that belief that drew tens of thousands of whites to the lynching fields of Georgia and Indiana, for the sport of Negro-killing. Now they are in Iraq and Afghanistan, claiming moral authority.

The march of civilization goes on, leaving the United States behind. The bubble of news communication fools only those inside. The rest of the globe sees its own interests, and recognizes white arrogance, intuitively.

This intuitive knowledge, born of gruesome experience, also informs black Americans. Although surrounded by the same bubble of misinformation as the rest of Americans, blacks smell the lie. The vast bulk of us see the "apology" for what it is - a scam, with no substantial benefits, and less good faith. But there is a class that is paid to say "Yes sir," on command. Most of us pay them no attention.

Lynch law was no law at all. It was pure white power - the right to declare oneself a higher form of being, and reduce the "other" to charcoal. The current rulers of the United States are spreading lynch law to the far reaches of the planet. They claim the right to "pre-emptive" warfare, and reject all other people's rights to live under collectively accepted rules. They wage war against the concept of international law, just as they violated every law that did not enshrine white privilege.

Nothing has changed, except the world. We will not tolerate such criminality, anymore. In fact, we have collectively called the behavior that white folks in the United States routinely engaged in, criminal. It's far too late for the U.S. Senate to pass a non-binding resolution announcing some vague objection to lynching, when they pass legislation that makes it a crime to be black and a youth, vote billions to fund a military machine that seeks to enslave the planet, and rejects the authority of the World Criminal Court. In doing so, they have made themselves outlaws.

We will not forgive, or accept an apology that does not come with a change in power relationships. And we will reject any so-called black leadership that makes its own deal.

The Problem with Al Sharpton

Rev. Al Sharpton's race for the Democratic presidential nomination should be considered a resounding success -- for just about everyone except the candidate himself.

By sheer dint of will and force of personality, Sharpton imposed a vibrant black presence on the party's primary process. (Had Sharpton not run, Carol Moseley-Braun would not have been drawn into the race -- ironically, as a counterweight to Sharpton.) "Big Al" was truly large on the stage, a daunting deterrent to the intrusion of the usual coded racial rhetoric into the Democratic debates or on the stump: Don't even think about it, said Al, without having to move his lips. Sharpton gave voice -- at times, brilliantly -- to the core progressive principles of the black political consensus, causing big-footed white men to step lightly and in the right general direction.

Sharpton's candidacy has had a magical effect on the racial chemistry of the Democratic dialogue, in starkest contrast to the White Citizens Council-type language of the GOP. He caused the white candidates to repeatedly demonstrate, through their words and campaign schedules, that they valued black voters.

In that sense, Sharpton's very success detracted from his appeal. It was not fear of George Bush that caused four of five black voters in South Carolina to opt for a white candidate. There was never any possibility of Sharpton being the nominee, so "electability" was not a consideration. From the beginning, his candidacy promised African Americans the opportunity to send a message to the Democratic Party: you'd better pay attention to us. The frontrunners -- and it seems that every white candidate but Dennis Kucinich has been a frontrunner at some point -- had already gotten the message long before last Tuesday. They embraced black South Carolina.

Unlike whites, who are the ultimate bloc voters, African Americans have always responded across racial lines to direct, respectful appeals for their votes. Sharpton worked a civilizing mojo on the white contenders this season. (Even Democratic Leadership Council favorite Sen. Joseph Lieberman -- now, thankfully, gone from the race -- dropped his references to the red herring, "quotas.") Call it nine months of behavior modification therapy, courtesy of Rev. Al. Thanks to Sharpton, others in the Democratic field struggled to make themselves worthy of black votes. They were rewarded and are, presumably, grateful.

The Debacle

Sharpton may or may not appreciate the effect he has had on the behavior and marketability of his white opponents. However, he has much more to worry about than whether he gets to speak at the Democratic convention in Boston. The growing storm over his covert alliance with rightwing Republicans probably came too late to have any measurable impact on Tuesday's elections, but the revelations are a deathblow to his actual goal: to become the recognized leader of African Americans. Although the story has been framed in terms of treachery to the Democratic Party, or as evidence of Sharpton's visceral disdain for white "liberals," the tale will resonate somewhat differently among African Americans. Sharpton comes across as a hapless stooge of the worst elements of the GOP.

Roger Stone, a millionaire political consultant who began his career as a 19-year-old Watergate dirty trickster, virtually took over the Sharpton campaign in the last quarter of 2003, according to reports in the New York Times (January 25), Salon.com ("A GOP Trickster Rents Sharpton," February 3) and New York's Village Voice ("Sleeping with the GOP," February 3). Stone and Sharpton were introduced two years ago by Donald Trump, the celebrity millionaire, said the Times. Stone brought in Charles Halloran to replace Sharpton campaign manager Frank Watkins, a longtime advisor to the Jesse Jacksons, Junior and Senior, who resigned in late September. (In the Village Voice article, Sharpton says Watkins was fired.) Halloran previously managed the New York gubernatorial campaign of far-right billionaire Tom Golisano, on the Independence Party line. He also managed a mostly white, conservative party's attempt to unseat the first black-led government of Bermuda.

Stone provides "ideas and direction, while Mr. Halloran...does the front-line work," said the Times. "In the attacks on Dr. Dean, Mr. Stone helped set the tone and direction while Mr. Halloran did the research. Mr. Halloran came up with Dr. Dean's hiring record as governor, for example, aides to Mr. Sharpton said."

Another rightwing purported Sharpton crony, Tucker Carlson of CNN's "Crossfire," said Stone and Sharpton are both motivated by a "disdain for white liberals."

Joe Conason, of Salon.com, contends that Sharpton is a menace to the Democratic Party. "Stone certainly serves the Republican party by sustaining and promoting Sharpton," wrote Conason. "The Democratic Party, whose institutions and candidates [Sharpton] has consistently undermined for many years, is merely a convenient vehicle for his advancement."

Blinded by the Right

As the primary votes were being counted on Tuesday night, crack investigative reporter Wayne Barrett's bomb exploded in the Village Voice, a devastating document-of-no-return for Al Sharpton. Barrett and his team describe what amounts to a lock, stock and barrel takeover of the Sharpton apparatus by Stone and the "half-dozen incongruous top aides who've worked for him in prior campaigns."

The Republican consultant also appears to have absorbed Sharpton's Harlem-based National Action Network (NAN). "The combination of the unpaid or underpaid services of Stone, Halloran [and Stone operatives], Baynard, Archer, et al., together with the NAN subsidies, paint a picture of a Sharpton operation that is utterly dependent on his new ally Stone, whose own sponsors are as unclear as ever," wrote Barrett.

Possibly most disturbing of all is Stone's role in securing federal matching funds for the campaign. To qualify for matching dollars, candidates must first raise $100,000: $5,000 from each of 20 states. Each individual contribution must be of no more than $250. The combined resources of the Sharpton campaign and NAN ("A shell," according to an aide imported by Stone) either could not or would not assemble the necessary 400-plus contributors grouped by state, to meet the federal threshold. Stone stepped in, filling the gaps with small checks from relatives, lobbyist friends and assorted denizens of the Right.

Did Sharpton really need a Republican organization to do that? Was a household name incapable of finding 20 people in 20 states with $250? Or does he instinctively opt for the quick fix or favor?

Stone has "loaned" Sharpton at least $270,000, and the candidate has made frequent use of Stone's credit card, according to the Voice story. NAN funds have been hopelessly commingled with campaign monies -- a potential legal disaster.

The relationship boggles the mind. Roger Stone is the Hard Right storm trooper whose goons bum-rushed the Miami-Dade elections offices in 2000, shutting down the recount and setting the stage for George Bush's "selection." Sharpton claims he and Stone are just friends. But reporter Wayne Barrett is a veteran dirt-digger who has taken down a number of New York's Sleaziest. Sharpton and Stone seem to have made Barrett's job easy -- indeed, Stone doesn't appear anxious to hide the fact that he has captured a Negro.

Sorely Tested, He Failed

Barrett's article sketches Rev. Al's wheeling and dealing in the Byzantine world of New York politics, arrangements in which, as often as not, he has actively or tacitly backed Republicans. So have lots of New York Democrats; the city is a shadowy, immensely corrupt environment -- a gray political landscape. Sharpton has long been known as an influence trader. This time, he got eaten -- whole.

We have been holding our breath ever since the Reverend announced that he was serious about running for president. Somebody black had to do it. The Democratic Leadership Council had just engineered a sweeping Republican victory in the off-year, congressional elections, and corporate media favored DLC champion Joe Lieberman as frontrunner for the nomination, followed by a mealy-mouthed Sen. John Kerry. It was imperative, we believed, that black voters show their strength within the Democratic Party in an unmistakable way, by coalescing in large numbers around a black candidate in the primaries. Al Sharpton stepped forward.

In our April 24 issue, "What the Black Presidential Candidate Must Do," we declared, wishfully: "We believe that Al Sharpton is up to the task, if he maintains a clear vision and personal discipline." Believing in the possibilities of human growth, if not redemption, and in the transformative powers of righteous political movements, we wrote: "Sharpton will show who he is in the course of the race. Even those of us who think we know him cannot predict what the National Action Network leader will become as he is tested by the experience."

Now we know.

The Sharpton campaign's descent into what looked like madness became apparent shortly after the resignations of Jesse Jackson family confidant Frank Watkins and South Carolina coordinator Kevin Gray, September 30. We don't know what precipitated their exits, but Roger Stone and his Republicans moved right in. In late October, when it became clear that Chicago Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. would endorse Howard Dean, Sharpton went on the attack, shedding the steady, even statesmanlike persona he had cultivated in the previous months of campaigning. We described the spectacle in the November 13 story, "Al Sharpton's Political-Emotional Breakdown":

Keep reading... Show less
BRAND NEW STORIES

Happy Holidays!