“When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”
I subscribed to a podcast a few months ago that is hosted by a black couple, one of whom is my childhood friend Walt, and his wife, Egypt. I don’t agree with everything they talk about, but it is informative and quite interesting. They speak on a range of topics, and it appears nothing is off-limits which is one of the reasons I tune in. It is called “The Black Neighbors” and found on SoundCloud, iTunes, and some other media. https://soundcloud.com/the-black-neighbors
Their latest podcast, entitled “Ep 31: Black Lives Matter Democrats,” left me reeling – enough to want to write about it. Upon listening about half a dozen times, I have a better understanding of the points they make, and my response isn’t a criticism of those points, just an alternate viewpoint. Before I go into an analysis of their discussion, here’s a little background about who I am. I am an advocate and activist for social justice, equality, and real democracy. I am not specifically a Black Lives Matter activist, and by “activist” I mean someone who goes beyond tweeting about the movement and using the hashtag, even though I do support what they are trying to accomplish. I’ve never written at length about the topic either. In fact, I haven’t written about politics in some time. This discussion revolves around the Black Lives Matter Platform recently released.
As a young nation, we must go through several “revolutions” to achieve the freedoms and rights that we hold dear and are written into our Constitution, such as when slavery was abolished, and when women got the right to vote. When parts of that Constitution no longer serve the populace, we, the people, have the right and the responsibility to encourage our legislators to enact laws and provisions that ensure the rights and freedoms of all people within our borders are achieved, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and religion.
The last revolution was during the Civil Rights Era, and now, we have something that started during the 2009 Iranian Green Movement, to the Arab Spring, to the Occupy Movement. As Dr. Cornel West, whom my husband and I recently had the pleasure of meeting, describes it, “The Democratic Awakening.”
In its present form, we have the Black Lives Matter movement, the campaign for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel for its occupation of Palestine and Gaza, and the Bernie Sanders Movement, which launched the Brand New Congress movement and Our Revolution organization, among many other movements and organizations. In other words, there are a lot of things happening because people are fed up with the status quo and are sick and tired of the top 1% hoarding 95% of the wealth, while the bottom 99% share the remaining 5%. Wealth inequality is arguably the major driving factor that affects everything else.
Before I go further, let me say that I am neither Black nor Palestinian, nor Native American, nor rich, nor poor. That doesn’t change the fact that I am human, and what affects my fellow human beings, could potentially affect me. If I don’t stand up for them, who will stand up for me? We are all affected in one way or another so why can’t we stand up and fight for each other to be treated with respect, dignity, and have the right to the same opportunities?
At the beginning of the podcast, Egypt (Charles) comments that what she believed the Black Lives Matter movement is not what the document states it is about and remarks several times throughout the podcast that she thought it was primarily about police brutality on the black community. Can we all agree that police brutality against the black community is just a symptom of a much greater problem stemming from decades, if not centuries, of racial injustice, wealth inequality, marginalization, and oppression?
They next address that there was no marketing or advertising that this platform was going to be launched. In my (limited) experience with movements, I don’t recall any that launched an ad campaign before publishing what they are about or the goals of their movement. Once it launches however, conversations begin about the actionable items. The Occupy Movement was criticized to a great extent for not being organized, for not being cohesive, not having leadership, and for not having a list of demands. The movement fizzled, or so we thought. It gave birth, I believe, to a generation of grassroots activists who now know what not to do. The Black Lives Matter movement may move into the political arena at some point, but I think anyone following Bernie Sanders over the last year would realize this is where we are headed – taking over the oligarchy and special interests that hold our government hostage. My recommendation is to sign up, see where they go, see where the movement is planning to take its active supporters. Donate, march, sign petitions, call on your state and district representatives to act. In other words, do what you can to help the movement achieve as much as it can because only then can we achieve the systemic change necessary to curb the tide of violence and inequality.
We need young people from all demographics in Congress and local government to move this country in a new direction. It’s no longer the “old white dude” club, nor should it be, and to that point I must add that I disagree heartily with Congressional office being a lifelong career. If we succeed in getting money out of politics, as Sanders showed is possible, by overturning Citizens’ United, and work on setting an amendment that enacts term limits on House Representatives and Senators, we can achieve a special-interest free government by and for the people, not corporations. America’s government should look like its citizens, not its corporations or lobbying groups. The revolving door in government has to stop.
The fact that 50 organizations worked together on this document does not make it “a turd thrown on the table,” a rather unpleasant analogy Egypt makes. With the systemic critiques lobbied on Black Lives Matter by the media, by politicians, talking heads, Youtubers, talk show hosts, and pretty much everyone, and by the types of Demands this document has and is sure to stir conversation about, I can understand why there was no “marketing campaign.” (Go to Youtube and type in Black Lives Matter in the Search box, and filter it just for the last month of results. At least the first three to four pages of results are all assaults on BLM).
I believe the last thing the organizers of the movement wanted was to be assaulted by criticism and media coverage on the day of its release, instead of letting people have a gradual introduction and have discussions and conversations initiated.
The Charles’ would have preferred that someone take leadership and make an announcement that this movement was being re-launched in this specific way. There is nothing wrong with that and I can see its value. What is lost on them, maybe because they didn’t pay attention to the grassroots efforts springing up across the country, is that this is no longer the status quo. In fact, a top-down hierarchy is the antithesis of the direction this country is headed. Instead, it’s a bottom-up, grassroots phenomena unlike what we’ve seen since the 1960’s. Since the Black Lives Matter platform is designed to include all marginalized members of society, how can there be just one leader? We’ve seen when that one leader, again Bernie Sanders for point of reference, moves back into establishment politics, his followers are left in limbo, and need to figure out for themselves in which direction to move. There can’t be one leader. Not in a time like this, and not when we have a comprehensive agenda to make demands on behalf of marginalized America and as part of the broader spectrum, the global community upon whom American politics and capitalism has a direct impact.
Another point of contention for me is their disagreement with sitting in at Bernie Sanders’ events or Pride events – my question is why wouldn’t they? When you’re that marginalized a sector of society, you should. I encourage sitting in at every opportunity where you have a chance to make an impression. It’s a way to garner attention for your cause. There’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?
There’s an evolutionary process to every grassroots movement – to every movement, organization, what have you. Egypt states that while they started as one thing, they are now representing themselves as something else. Well, that’s part of the evolutionary process, and quite possibly happened as a result of those sit-ins with which you disagreed. If not for those sit-ins, and participants from other marginalized groups, how would they have known that they aren’t the only disenfranchised members of society? How else would they have realized the 99% also includes them, that we all have the same agenda, the same desires, the same needs that are not being met by those we elect to govern? There is more power in numbers. Why should each group act individually, when we could all join for the common good?
Again, the Charles’ wishes to pigeon-hole the movement into defining itself – either a political party or lobbying group. These aren’t the only options available and not the way of the future. It’s something bigger here. Something the likes of which hasn’t been done before. Let’s give it some breathing room.
Now we get into a conversation about the demands of the document and then Egypt utters a statement that allows her whole discussion to make sense to me – “I don’t know too many upper-middle-class blacks who support reparations.” I think being upper-middle-class has allowed you to have a much different experience from the majority of society who feel marginalized. That’s not a criticism. It’s what we would all like, right? The fact is that most people’s lives aren’t that comfortable. That’s why this all started. Wealth inequality. Maybe the Charles’ family has never had to think about not making next month’s rent or mortgage payment, or worry about not having enough. Of anything. Hard work pays off, but many times there’s a certain amount of luck that comes with that. Some folks just aren’t that lucky. Maybe they grew up in privileged homes, or maybe they just got lucky. The fact is that they can consider themselves upper-middle-class and are blessed with opportunities that quite a majority do not have access to.
Let’s begin by talking about a STUDY that a Democratic representative keeps reintroducing every year in Congress that never gets to a floor vote.
“Every year since 1989, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) has introduced the Commission to Study Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. As the name indicates, H.R. 40 does not require reparations. It simply calls for comprehensive research into the nature and financial impact of African enslavement as well as the ills inflicted on black people during the Jim Crow era. Then, remedies can be suggested.
Every year, the bill stalls.”
This is a bill that only calls for the STUDY on the impact of reparations on the black community. How can we say yay or nay if we don’t even know where to start, which this study might just accomplish?
In this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations, he outlines in historical context with modern day application why there is in fact, a case for reparations – whether or not you like the word, but why that word is necessary. Sure it has a negative connotation because the history it represents is bad. Really bad. He shows how Germany paid reparations to the Jews and how much of a significant financial impact that has had on the state of Israel, “Israel’s GNP tripled during the 12 years of the agreement. The Bank of Israel attributed 15 percent of this growth, along with 45,000 jobs, to investments made with reparations money. But Segev argues that the impact went far beyond that. Reparations “had indisputable psychological and political importance,” he writes. Reparations could not make up for the murder perpetrated by the Nazis. But they did launch Germany’s reckoning with itself, and perhaps provided a road map for how a great civilization might make itself worthy of the name.”
“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it,”
Every German student is taught at the elementary stage and throughout their education the atrocities committed by their nation. No stone left unturned, with the intent that such barbarism should never be repeated. In the U.S. we like to pretend slavery never existed. In fact, many school textbooks in the South are white-washed. The reparations the BLM movement requests pertain to educational pursuits. From free college education, (recently adopted from the Bernie Sander’s platform into the Democratic National Party official platform), to eliminating student debt (on the Green Party’s platform), to more access to education, and a comprehensive syllabus that includes the truth about black history.
I don’t see this as asking for a handout, and this not only helps black Americans. It helps everyone.
“Know from whence you came.
If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.”
The other provision in the demand for reparations is for a Guaranteed Minimum Livable Income. If other countries, such as Switzerland and Finland, which are predominantly white and are considering those measures because they acknowledge wealth inequality exists, why can’t the US at least consider reparation for the communities that were held back for so long by our legislative system? (Coates makes the arguments far better than I could).
I think Egypt made a great point about using Truth and Reconciliation, but you use the language that you know makes everyone sit up and pay attention. For the most part, Truth and Reconciliation is a term used outside the United States that is still unfamiliar to many. In and interview recently, Jill Stein of the Green Party made it a point to demonstrate that a truth and reconciliation commission, along with reparations has to be addressed when you start talking about racial injustice and inequality.
Reparations resonate with a lot more people as something they are familiar with – whether negative or positive (I agree, mostly negative). Whether or not you agree with reparations and what it means, at the very least, it should be open for conversation and evaluation. So let’s help BLM get H.R. 40 up for a vote. We commission so many useless studies, why not one that will have a great impact on society? Even if it amounts to nothing of a financial gain, there’s a psychological component that could potentially be very gratifying. It says to Black America, “You matter.” I take issue with using a specific word as a cop-out not to support the measures being asked. You agree that it is something that is owed, you agree that it is something that should have been done a long time ago, and by extension, you must admit that if not for the historical inequality that persists in less obvious ways today, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
Walt interjected here but never finished his thought or where he was going with this, but I thought I would address it. $400 million to Iran.
“In November 1979, a group loyal to the revolutionary regime took 52 Americans hostage at the US Embassy in Tehran. In response, the United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran and froze Iranian assets in America.
Crucially, the United States halted a delivery of fighter jets that Iran’s pre-revolution government had already paid $400 million for. Normally the US would have returned the money if it wasn’t going to deliver the planes, since countries don’t just break formal agreements like that. But the US government had already frozen Iranian assets in the United States as punishment for the hostage-taking — and that included the $400 million.
The hostage crisis was eventually resolved in 1981, at a conference in Algiers. But the Algiers Accords didn’t resolve every outstanding issue — including the legal status of the $400 million. Instead, the accord set up an international court, based in the Hague, to deal with any legal claims that the governments of Iran and the United States had against each other, or that individual citizens of the two countries had against the other country.”
We owed them this money, and since the Iranians were demanding $10 billion in today’s dollars, Obama decided to settle for $1.7 billion (with interest and adjusted for inflation). The $400 million was the first installment. I just had to point that out – we owed them repayment of their own money that we’ve kept for the better part of 40 years.
Last Thoughts on the Reparations Discussion
Egypt asserts that when she thinks of reparations, she thinks of Al Sharpton. Why that would be a negative thing is beyond my understanding. The man has fought his entire life for social justice and helping people. If you needed help and went to him, rest assured he’d do everything within his power to help you. Back when I was temping in the mid-90’s, I had the opportunity to work for a few days with Michael Hardy, Al Sharpton’s attorney at the time. The phone never stopped ringing, and Mr. Hardy’s office was closet sized and stacked to the gills with files and folders of cases of injustices faced by black New Yorkers. He worked solely on cases referred by Mr. Sharpton. My respect for Mr. Sharpton rose a thousand percent during that short experience and has only increased ever since. Did this experience plant that seed in me that would grow into my activism for social justice? Maybe.
The topic of Palestine is close to my heart. I’m saying that right at the top. I got involved with pro-Palestinian activism in 2009, going to Egypt (the country) in December of that year for the Gaza Freedom March. Along with 1400 individuals from all around the world, 43 countries represented, to go to Gaza to march against Israel’s illegal occupation and siege of Gaza. The Egyptian government did not permit us to cross the border, so we spent a week demonstrating in the heart of Cairo. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/gaza-freedom-march/
Here’s how the Palestinian movement joined up with BLM – “During the summer of 2014, state-sanctioned racialized violence was on full display by the United States and Israel. For 51 days, Israel used sophisticated weapons technology with precision-targeting capability to kill 2,200 Palestinians, including 535 children, to demolish or damage 140,000 homes, to destroy 319 businesses, 36 fishing boats, and 42,000 acres of agricultural land, and to target critical civilian infrastructure, including Gaza’s sole power plant. In many instances, Israel targeted unarmed civilians: it shot fleeing civilians in Khoza’a, killed 66 Palestinians in Shujai’yeh in 60 minutes, shot at UNRWA schools sheltering civilians on seven different occasions. In perhaps the most chilling attack, Israeli missiles targeted four young boys aged 11 to 13 playing soccer on Gaza’s shore.
Four weeks into Israel’s onslaught against the besieged Palestinian population of the Gaza Strip, an officer shot to death Mike Brown an unarmed Black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri. Darren Wilson shot Brown six times, twice above the chest at close range. Brown died from gunshot wounds to his head and chest and was left in the middle of the street for the next four hours before his body was removed. This scenario of unchecked racialized state-violence continues centuries of anti-black violence in the United States.
Together with the still-fresh exoneration of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin, another unarmed Black teenager, it functioned as a climax and precipitated a national mass movement and convergence upon Ferguson. Ferguson police initiated a military response replete with Kevlar vests, helmets, assault rifles, armored tanks, curfews, and tear gas. Throughout these violent attacks, US mainstream media disproportionately focused on the destruction of property and dealt with the killing of Mike Brown as a singular incident thus obfuscating the material and structural violence endured by Black communities.
In the course of resilience against the merciless edge of state-violence, protesters in Ferguson held up signs declaring solidarity with the people of Palestine. In turn, Palestinians posted pictures on social media with instructions of how to treat the inhalation of tear gas. Organically, an analysis emerged highlighting similarities, but not sameness, of Black and Palestinian life, and more aptly, of their survival. This critical moment was built on a rich historical legacy of intellectual production on, as well as movement building between, Black and Palestinian communities.
During the Baltimore protests against systemic deprivation and sparked by the murder of Freddie Gray, Palestinians recognized the protests as an uprising and a number of Black protesters renamed their convergence an intifada, bridging the struggles against state-sanctioned violence from the bottom up. Since the devastating attacks on Gaza and in Ferguson, the assault on Black and Palestinian bodies has continued unabated. As we mourn the lives of Tanisha Andersen and Mohammed Abu Khdeir, Ali Dawabshe and Eric Garner, Sandra Bland and Nadeem Nowarah, we are making connections between the systems of violence and criminalization that makes Black and Palestinian bodies so easily expendable.”
Those links contain the why. Does BDS work? Heck yes. Many countries, universities, and corporations have acknowledged the movement and divested from Israel for its crimes against and occupation of Palestinians and Palestine. Many artists have boycotted performing in Israel. Try learning more about why this movement is working before you say you can’t support BLM because of it. Please.
Shouldn’t we invest in education, employment, and restorative services in black communities that are underserved? Instead of building more prisons or paying corporations to house prisoners, where in the US the black incarceration rate far exceeds white, shouldn’t we and wouldn’t our communities be better served to build educational and rehabilitation programs, and mental health treatment programs?
We give Israel $8 million a day for weapons so they can launch attacks on Gaza. Not only do we give Israel $3.15 billion annually, but we also give Egypt $1.5 billion annually “to ensure the security of Israel.” Israel also has nuclear weapons but nobody seems to care about that, and they are not being encouraged to join the NPT. I wonder why. Meanwhile, Israel provides free healthcare, education, housing, and land to settlers. In fact, Israel even pays for Jews to move there. It seems to me as if we pay our taxes so Israel can have life better than most Americans.
Can’t we invest those funds in our black communities for better schools and pay teachers well in inner cities? How about investing in Universal Health Care, Medicare for All, or Single Payer Healthcare? Wouldn’t that be a worthy investment? If countries in Europe can achieve healthcare for all and free or low-cost tuition at public universities, why can’t we?
If doing the right thing is wrong, I’ll take being wrong every day of the week. If standing against injustice is wrong, I have no problem being wrong. If it turns people away from me, then so be it. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve lost as a result of my advocacy.
Life is hard enough without a history of social, economic, and legislative injustice riding on your back. So BLM put out a platform that encompasses a lot more than they can achieve, but if you’re going to put it out there, why not shoot for the stars? Only a fraction of what they hope to achieve will happen within our lifetime. To pull yourself out and say well because you want reparations and stand with BDS or Palestine I can’t support you, come on. The systemic racism in this country is not going to change overnight, and it requires a change in many areas to have a real significant impact on society. It’s not just Black Lives Matter when police are killing and beating the shit out of you. Black Lives Matter across the board, from access to healthcare and family planning to education, to equal opportunity, to affordable housing, to getting out of poverty when the deck is stacked against you and corporations prey on your vulnerabilities. You can’t lose sight that we are all in this together. All for one, and one for all.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke.