Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Which Way to March? Navigating the Road to Being Part of the Solutions

I pledged after the Supreme Court launched Jim Crow 2.0 as far as Voter Rights go that I would be more politically active.  Clearly, being a husband, father, and educator wasn't enough.  When the George Zimmerman verdict came down as I thought it would, an aquittal, it only made the call more clear.  What has been frustrating is that in the wake of these massively symbolic events that make me recall when I learned about Emmet Till and having to present freedom papers to vote, the mobilization process and course of action has been difficult to decipher.  It has also been disappointing to see many "prominent voices" in the Black community taking this time of anger and emotion to do more analyzing from the cushy pundits chair than strategizing.  I find myself no less resolute to be involved in striking down institutions that have targeted youth that look like my two sons, but I am now more conscious of just how difficult this road will be to travel.

I went to the Trayvon Martin 100 cities vigil at the LA Federal courthouse organized by the National Action Network (NAN).  I wore a shirt and tie, slacks, and a hoodie.  Perfect combo of how Trayvon will be immortalized (hoodie), and what he might have been (shirt and tie wearing professional).  When I arrived, all the media outlets were setting up and there were not more than twenty people milling around.  As the nine o'clock start time arrived and NAN LA President, Rev. K.W. Tulloss began to speak, the crowd continued to swell to hundreds.  What was encouraging was the organization of the rally, the number of organizations that were represented, and the general respect of TIME.  There quickly comes a saturation point when the same talking points are being hammered home by each speaker:

"George Zimmerman may have been acquitted, but he is not guilty"

"Trayvon Marin did not die in vain"

"We must force the Dept of Justice to file civil charges against George Zimmerman"

I left the rally looking forward to seeing the coverage of the rallies in other major cities and was happy to find that they had gone off without incident.  I felt like momenutm was building towards the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington event taking place on August 24th.  I believed that until the President spoke out on the case, and everyone had a comment.  I'm nowaleft with more questions than answers a month out from what I hope will be a unifying event in Washington, DC at the Lincoln Memorial.

1.  What is the agenda?
There are a lot of things on the table that adversely impact the Black community in particular, and communities of color in general.  The NAN flier for the March on Washington is set to address Stand Your Ground Laws, Racial Profiling, Poverty, Voter Registration, etc.  The question is, which gets top billing at this moment?

2.  What is the best way to attack?
Once you figure out the areas of "deployment", what is the plan of action?  I think it is admirable that artists like Stevie Wonder have decided to boycott Florida until the Stand Your Ground law is amended or repealed altogether.  It is reminiscent of artists who boycotted the Jim Crow South.  But Stand Your Ground is hardly the most damaging issue threatening the Black community.  How do we begin to stem the growing percentage of people who are out of work, beiung stopped and frisked, undereducated, and being sent to private-owned prisons as "new slaves"?

3.  Who wants to build?
The current percentage of the US population that is Black stands at 13%, hardly enough to topple institutions designed to maintain the privileges of those who created them.  History tells us that the greatest advancements for minority communities have come at key moments of interest convergence with those in power.  So the question becomes, what groups have a vested interest in eradicating gun violence in urban centers like Chicago like we do?  What groups will also benefit from making sure that the federal preclearance clause is reformed and restored to the Voter Rights Act?  With allies, the ability to lobby effectively increases.

4.  Can there be unity?
Any successful group or team, must be able to get on the same page in order to accomplish its goals.  When I see Dr. Cornel West calling out other Black leaders as members of President Obama's plantation, I worry that we will not find that rallying point.  SNCC, CORE, SCLC, NAACP, etc found a way to do it in the 1960s, it needs to happen again.

5.  What is the President's role?
Speaking of President Obama, what issue will compel him to put aside his pragmatic identity in order to take up a more revolutionary one?  Yes he plays the political game well, and he's been rewarded with a second term.  With three years remaining in office, what is the issue that will move him to forget strategy and start ramming executive orders through Congress?  I certainly don't want to look back on these eight years and remember historic speeches, Obamacare, and how he got handcuffed by Congress at every turn.

Monday, July 8, 2013

How Do You Respond to a Supreme Court Gut Punch?

I had to take some time between posts to really digest all the things that have registered on my radar in the last couple of weeks. More importantly than what I wanted to say, I thought about how I wanted to act because after the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) surgically removed major portions of the Voter Rights Act, I watched legendary Congressman John Lewis respond on TV, and I felt disappointed in myself.  I had learned growing up about how Lewis, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Marian Barry, and Diane Nash organized students throughout the South in the 1960s to execute the lunch table sit-ins that characterized much of the Civil Rights Movement.  I read The Children by David Halberstam, and came to respect them and all of those who put their lives on the line for human rights.  What was missing, however was the type of motivation to keep marching and protesting as opposed to striving for the highest degrees I could obtain while building a family and living in a house with a picket fence.  I think this has been the case for a whole generation of people my age who after watching the SCOTUS decision come down, heard the cry of Laurence Fishburne as Dap in School Daze yelling WAKE UP!!!! 

If you're a thirty-something like me, there has been little of the social adversity our parents faced that would force us to continue fighting for human rights.  Many of us have been taught that the more important road is the road that leads to a solid job that will enable retirement one day. While it is difficult to mount any type of social resistance these days without social and financial capital, being separated from a the plight of others and aloof to politics is unacceptable.  John Lewis was 24yrs old when the Voter Rights Act was put on the books in 1964, and at 73, I can only imagine the mix of anger, frustration and disappointment he must feel to see that monument to his efforts as a civil rights worker wiped away.  It's time I got my arse off the bench and be more than an occasional critic on what I see.  If the SCOTUS decision wasn't motivation enough to lace up my marching Timbs, an incident that happened to friends of mine recently added another ember to the fire.

Full disclosure:  I did not vote in the 2013 LA Mayoral election.  I wasn't impressed by either of the candidates despite their list of celebrity endorsements.  It became pretty clear to me early on that Eric Garcetti was going to win and there was little that Wendy Greuel could do about it.  So I didn't participate.  My friend Amber, however, did partcipate.  She voted for Garcetti and ran into him at a fundraiser where she hoped to congratulate him as a long-time resident of his home district.  As she waited for him to finish talking with some peers she was witness to this statement from the Mayor:

 "My base of supporters are Latinos, Asians, gays, hipsters, Republicans and whites. But I don't exclude the others".
As a professional Black woman, she was understandably surprised and offended that African-Americans would be considered "others" by a man tasked with galvanizing one of the largest cities in the country.  After composing herself, Amber did take the opportunity to greet the Mayor and express her disappointment in his statement and ask him directly what his plans were for addressing the issues of the "others", many of whom voted for him.  His answer was disappointing and shows that if we do not hold our political representatives accountable at all levels of government, then we should hardly be surprised when they do not push legislation that runs counter to our interests.  It is clear that we are in a time where if you cannot mount effective lobbying efforts for issues that matter, then your rights as citizens will continue to be eroded.  I've heard the wake up call.  See you at the next march.