Naming-and-Shaming the Black Caucus
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“The purpose of naming-and-shaming is to indict the wrongdoer, and invite others to join in the excoriation.”
There will be a hitch in this year’s celebration of Black elite self-satisfaction in the nation’s capital. Visitors approaching the Washington Convention Center on Wednesday morning, September 24, the first day of the annual Congressional Black Caucus legislative conference, will be greeted by placards reading: "CBC Supports Racist Israeli Apartheid!"; "Racism in Ferguson, Same As Racism In Gaza!"; "The Internet Belongs to the People, Not the Corporations!"; and, "The CBC Belongs to Corporate America!"
The Black Caucus’s endorsement of Israel’s savage assault on Gaza was the “proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Asantawaa Nkrumuah Ture, one of the organizers of the “Shame on the Congressional Black Caucus” rally. “We saw children, men and women killed, we saw their battered bodies, we even saw how entire families were destroyed in the bombing by Apartheid Israel, so we just said, enough is enough.”
The activists were struck by the speed with which the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed its July 11 resolution, essentially giving Israel a blank check to kill over 2,000 Palestinians over the next several weeks. The Black Caucus followed the rest of the herd, erasing any link between the current national Black elected leadership and the historical African American consensus on peace. Solidarity with other oppressed peoples is passé in the CBC’s political/commerical marketplace. Ture noted that the Black Caucus’s two Muslim members – Keith Ellison, of Minneapolis, and Andre Carson, of Indianapolis – joined in the “cowardly act,” as did liberal stalwarts John Conyers (MI), Maxine Waters (CA) and Barbara Lee (CA). Not a single Black lawmaker dared even to abstain from the vote, lest they anger those who stand guard over Israel’s privilege to kill at will.
“Four-fifths of the Black Caucus are directly complicit in the militarized occupation of Black America.”
The Black Caucus must atone for many sins accumulated over the past decade. While Black median income and household wealth plummet, the Caucus grows fat from corporate patronage of its power-broker enterprise – most conspicuously, its gala celebration each September. Most of the CBC is in thrall of the giant telecoms that conspire, with the help of President Obama and his FCC chairman, to destroy net neutrality – a priority point of resistance for Ture and her comrades.
In the midst of planning for the “Shame!” rally, Ferguson happened. As the world witnessed the militarized suppression of righteous protest in a St. Louis suburb, the Black Caucus’s treacherous vote on the Grayson amendment came back to haunt it. Back in June, fully 80 percent of the CBC’s 40 full-voting members had either opposed (27) or declined to vote (5) on Florida Rep. Alan Grayson’s measure to bar the Pentagon from transferring military arms and equipment to state and local police departments. Only eight Black lawmakers stood with Grayson to halt the flow of weapons that, in his words, “are often used by a majority to terrorize a minority.”
Four-fifths of the Black Caucus are directly complicit in the militarized occupation of Black America; they authorized the automatic weapons, tanks, noxious gasses, rubber bullets, crowd-suppression devices, night-vision goggles, and all the other implements of the racist war that is being waged against their own constituents. “Treason” is the only word that fits.
The Purposes of Shaming
Can shame work a behavior modification on the Congressional Black Caucus? Is public embarrassment an effective tool to make Black lawmakers accountable to their constituents on issues of social justice and peace? For most of the current crowd in the Caucus, probably not. The barrel is rotten to its core, full of cynical hustlers whose most immediate allegiance is to the Democratic Party, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street. However, “shaming” is not primarily intended to rehabilitate the conscious criminal (although that sometimes happens). The purpose of naming-and-shaming is to indict the wrongdoer, and invite others to join in the excoriation. It is the first step in creating a compact with others to correct injustice, especially when the perpetrator hides his crimes behind a cloak of respectability, or when tradition-bound taboos – such as Black American reluctance to “air dirty linen” about The Race in public – inhibit challenges from the rank and file. The Black political class depends on such inhibitions to protect them from scrutiny by their own constituents. The folks who are organizing the “Shame” rally are, through their own example, giving permission to other Black people to break the taboo – to rain on the Black Caucus’s self-serving and duplicitous parade.
The objective is not to get four-fifths of the CBC to repent their past services to the local police occupation armies, for example. They knew what they were doing, and any recantation would be a lie. The aim is to create a political environment that is toxic to such politicians, so that the necessary, noisy, quarrelsome conversation about building a grassroots Black Movement can begin in earnest.
“By 2005, the CBC had a significant rightwing faction.”
The devolution of the CBC can be directly traced to the flow of white corporate money to Black Democrats since roughly the turn of the 21st century. The corporate Right was very late in breaking free of their own racial inhibitions against interacting with masses of Black people where they politically live: in the Democratic Party organizations of the cities. But, by the late Nineties, corporate strategists were finally prepared to invest significant moneys in compatible Black Democratic politicians like Newark’s Cory Booker. In 2002, the corporate Right (and the Israel lobby) funneled millions to Booker’s first mayoral campaign, and financed rightwing Black Democratic challengers to progressive Reps. Cynthia McKinney (GA) and Earl Hilliard (AL). Both congresspersons were defeated. Booker, an advocate of school privatization, lost the mayor’s race by a thin margin, but his strong showing against an entrenched incumbent encouraged the corporate fat cats to double down on their investment in Democratic Black politics.
By 2005, the CBC had a significant rightwing faction, consisting of Harold Ford Jr. (TN), Artur Davis (AL), David Scott (GA), Albert Wynn (MD), Gregory Meeks (NY), Sanford Bishop (GA), and William Jefferson (LA). The decisive shift of the Caucus’s center of gravity to the right gave cover to other opportunistic members anxious to cash in on the new flow of corporate campaign contributions, or to avoid facing a corporate-funded challenger in the next election. (In addition, Barack Obama, the new Black senator and a nominal member of the CBC, was voting the corporate line on key issues, further tilting the bar on Black Democratic political behavior.)
2005 was the year the CBC definitely collapsed as a dependably “progressive” body. Fifteen of the Black Caucus’s 38 full-voting members (delegates from DC and the U.S. Virgin Islands cannot vote on the House floor) voted with Republicans on at least one of three key bankruptcy, estate tax or energy bills – an outcome that would have been unimaginable just a few years earlier.
“Eight years ago, the CBC climbed into the pockets of the telecoms.”
Nevertheless, the CBC Report Card for September 2005, produced by the team that now edits BAR, gave 21 members an “A” grade (90-100%) and 7 more a “B” (85%), based on key “bright line” votes. The other ten lawmakers scored between 75% (“C”) and 5% (“F” – Harold Ford Jr.).
Nine members rated a perfect 100%, while 14 others scored 90%, meaning they had voted “wrong” only one time during the reporting period.
In 2006, the CBC cemented its uniquely servile alliance with the giant telecommunications corporations. In the industry’s first serious legislative attempt to turn the Internet into a toll road, the COPE Act garnered just 46 percent support among Democrats in the House, but won two-thirds of Black Caucus votes. Eight years ago, the CBC climbed into the pockets of the telecoms, where it still remains.
In the intervening years, the CBC has been utterly corrupted by corporate money and the accelerating rightward lunge of the Democratic Party. If there were still a CBC Monitor, not a single member would rate a perfect score, given the unanimous vote on Gaza. (Indeed, that vote, alone, condemns the current CBC to everlasting disgrace.) The eight Black congresspersons that voted for the Grayson amendment to halt police militarization comprise only 20% of the Caucus (more than twice as many Republicans voted for Grayson!) a pitiful fraction of an institution that now works against Black people’s fundamental interests in peace, social justice and self-determination.
What would Malcolm Do?
Malcolm X knew well the uses of shaming. He badmouthed the “Big Six” civil rights organizations (NAACP, SCLC, SNCC, Urban League, CORE and A. Philip Randolph) at every opportunity for allowing whites in power to put “cream in the coffee” in the 1963 March on Washington. Malcolm questioned these “leaders” legitimacy and called them “puppets.” We cannot know whether Malcolm’s calculated assaults changed the worldview of even one of the Big Six, but they were all put on notice that a fearless Black man with a loud voice and a deep love for his people was watching their every move, and ready to instantly name-and-shame.
Malcolm’s aggressive critique gave millions of Black people “permission” to challenge the established “civil rights” order in the early and mid-Sixties, creating the political space for an explosion of Black political theory and practice that astounded the world – and ourselves.
The Black Caucus ain’t the Big Six. A solid majority of them are certifiable enemies of humanity, from Ferguson to Gaza and beyond. The times demand that we say so.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected]
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