by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
Will established civil rights groups physically confront Glenn Beck’s Tea Party crowd for control of the Washington Mall on August 28? Can the NAACP and labor unions figure out how to hold a March for Jobs in October while pretending that President Obama bears no responsibility for economic woes? No, and Yes. Although there will be no physical fight, jousting with cardboard “cracker” villains like Beck and Rush Limbaugh allows civil rights leaders to appear valiant while avoiding confrontation with real Power in the White House.
A Blacks vs. Tea Party Free-for-All on the Mall?
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Sharpton called for ‘every Black person in the country’ to come to Washington to prevent Beck from hijacking ‘Dr. King’s dream.’”
We are glad, in principle, to learn that the NAACP and the National Urban League are fighting mad about anything. The object of the organizations’ wrath is media racist Glenn Beck, the FOXtrooper, as evil a mouthpiece for reaction as ever sucked air. National Urban League President Marc Morial announced to a gathering of the National Newspaper Publishers Association that he and other civil rights leaders had every intention of booking the Washington Mall to commemorate the 47th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, only to discover that Herr Beck had already reserved the space. Outraged at such sacrilege, Morial vowed to “bring together all people of good will, not just Black people, on August 28 to send a message that Glenn Beck's vision of America is not our vision of America.”
Rev. Al Sharpton said “there is no way in the world that I am going to allow him to have more people there than us“ and called for “every Black person in the country” to come to Washington to prevent Beck from hijacking “Dr. King’s dream.”
Morial’s counterpart at the NAACP, Ben Jealous, declared that the August 28 face-off with Beck’s Tea Partyers, if that is indeed what is planned, would serve as a “leverage” for an October 2nd March for Jobs originally proposed by the NAACP and the 300,000-strong SEIU Local 1199 United Healthcare Workers East. The October demonstration has since been endorsed by the AFL-CIO and a host of other organizations.
“Will NAACPers, Urban Leaguers and labor organizers all show up on August 28 to physically contend with Beck’s Tea Partyers for possession of the hollowed ground on the Mall?”
1199 spokesman George Gresham put a telling spin on organized labor’s involvement in the proposed March for Jobs. "I always thought we just can't put President Obama into office, but we have to be constantly out there to support the change we believe in," he said. "I remember what Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the labor movement about reforms: 'Go out and make me do it.'" Gresham, who says he first suggested the march, considers it a counterweight to pressures on Obama from the Right.
Does this mean that NAACPers, Urban Leaguers and labor organizers are all going to show up on August 28 to physically contend with Beck’s Tea Partyers for possession of the hollowed ground on the Mall? Not a chance, if for no other reason than President Obama would not approve, and you can be certain that labor and established Black organizations will do or say nothing to discommode Mr. Obama, no matter how much he disrespects their constituencies.
Plus, let’s be real: Marc Morial and Ben Jealous are not really fighting mad at the Tea Party’s white nationalists, anyway. These are men from the “moral uplift” school of Black politics, which for more than 150 years has held that Black progress comes when whites are convinced that African Americans are as “civilized” as whites imagine themselves to be. The strategy has never worked except on the token level, but – Keep hope alive!
Let us also not dwell on the question: Why, since August 28 is so important an anniversary, did the NAACP, the National Urban League and Sharpton’s National Action Movement collectively fail to book the date in a timely fashion? Frankly, it’s embarrassing – or ought to be – as tardiness and triflingness reflect badly on a group’s state of “moral uplift.”
“The leadership of the NAACP, the Urban League and most of organized labor are incapable of making demands of this president.”
The real questions surrounding August 28 and October 2 go to the intentions of the Black and labor organizers. The leadership of the NAACP, the Urban League and most of organized labor are incapable of making demands of this president. The most they are willing to muster is a noisy bunch of Obama well-wishers – which, by encouraging the president to believe there is no threat from the Left, inflicts additional harm to the cause of Blacks and labor. The presence of Al Sharpton in a Washington demonstration signifies that the organizers are in Obama’s pocket, like the Reverend, who is a virtual extension of the White House political team and gets paid to hawk Obama’s education policies.
Unwilling to confront the power of the Obama White House with actual demands, or to mobilize their constituents in opposition to his pro-corporate policies, the “civil rights” groups instead seek to rally around the president against Tea Party attacks. This allows them to appear to be engaged in grand battles on behalf of The Race, jousting with cardboard “cracker” villains like Beck and Rush Limbaugh, while avoiding confrontation with real authority in Democratic Party form.
Meanwhile, Marc Morial laments: ''One of the things that is so curious to me is the way that groups on the right have been very, very observant and have begun to utilize the tactics of the civil rights movement – marching, organizing in churches, things that were the backbone of civil rights advocacy in the 1950s and 1960s.”
What’s much more “curious” – although no mystery – is that groups that claim to bear the legacy of a previous age’s “civil rights advocacy” no longer have any demands to make of Power – especially Power in a Black face – and, therefore, find no reason to organize masses of people in churches or anyplace else.
“The ‘civil rights’ groups seek to rally around the president against Tea Party attacks.”
As long as there are Glenn Becks, the Morials and Jealouses can claim that defense of the Black president is a defense of Black people as a whole, and thus the top priority. There will, of course, always be Becks – therefore, the established Black organizations will never confront Obama.
So, the Big Three “civil rights” groups – the NAACP, NUL and NAM – talk a big fight with Glenn Beck for August 28 (from which they will surely retreat, for their own and Obama’s reasons) and plan a march with labor on October 2, where they will be careful not to offend the president who has treated them with such disdain.
But again, Keep hope alive! – hope for the presence of rogue elements in the line of march, hardcore unionists who know lies when they hear them, impolite activists eager to shout out substantive demands, “uncivilized” Black folks with minds stuck on freedom, and standup organizers willing to Speak Truth to Power, no matter how the Mis-leadership Class tries to weasel out of its responsibilities.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].