Last week we all had the opportunity to watch Barack Obama’s healthcare speech.
A couple of weeks ago I asked, where is Obama’s Political Saavy? And in the above speech I believe not only did he find it, but he remembered what the people who voted him into office [overwhelmingly] mandated. So needless to say I was happy…
I couldn’t help but be impressed with the way in which liberals/progressives managed to lobby Obama to get the kind of healthcare plan they wanted from him. Not even a couple of weeks ago, Obama was seriously wavering on the public option, but in the above speech, he was clear about his belief that it should be included in whatever health care bill was passed.
But I couldn’t help but wonder… why don’t we see this kind of political pressure from black activists and lobbyists? Everyday I get another email from a liberal/progressive group asking me to email/fax/call my representative/president, asking me to change my facebook status or asking me to attend (fill in the blank) rally.
Progressive/liberal activists seem to understand the necessity of a couple of key components (1). educating the public about what the issue is (2) mobilizing the public around said issue and (3) giving the public relatively easy, yet effective ways of affecting change around that issue. We saw how effective these strategies were for the Obama campaign, and now with healthcare, we are once again witnessing just how effective these “grassroots” strategies can be.
So why does it seem like black activists don’t get the message? Today, black liberal lobbying is reduced to whatever Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson happen to be doing on any given day. Black political activism seems to be paralyzed by a messiah complex, constantly radio pundits complain that there is “no black leadership” anymore. They ask questions like, “where are our Martin’s and Malcolm’s?” The problem with this kind of nostalgia is that it is a rooted in a false conceptualization of how the civil rights and black power movement’s came into being.
Although a key figure, Martin Luther King jr. did not “start” the civil rights movement, organizations like the NAACP had been working for DECADES prior to his emergence on the national stage, setting the legal and political groundwork for moments like the March on Washington.
Today, the Sharpton’s, Smiley’s and Jackson’s of the world are so busy trying to paint themselves as the lone voices of black politics, that they have forgotten the lessons they were taught by the movements they were trained in. And they are blatantly ignoring the new lessons that liberal and conservative activists groups, alike, both understand and are taking advantage of. Movements are not created and sustained by charismatic personalities. While those individuals can and often do, bring much needed media attention to any given movement. Without a critical mass of activists doing the research, the organizing and the mobilizing… there is no movement… just a couple of really loud guys screaming for attention.
In my mind, there are two key things that black activists are failing to do. One, educate the wide spectrum of the black electorate about the issues that affect them and what politicians could do to address those issues. Two, give the black electorate effective and low cost strategies to make some noise around those issues. There needs to be a tangible black liberal political agenda that talks about something more than the “black male crisis” and college graduation rates.
Why aren’t more black activists writing editorials for the New York Time’s like the one I read yesterday about the Recession’s Racial Divide? Why don’t I receive messages asking me to update my status message for a day about the immense poverty that black people have been living in for decades? Better yet, why don’t I see a cogent and sustained response to racists accusations by the GOP that health care is just a form of reparations?
The massive increase of black intellectual voices on news outlets and the web is not going to matter if it is not followed up with decisive action. The difference between the progressive/liberal activists and those engaged around black politics is that progressive activists understand that speaking on npr is not sufficient political action. Its not that I’m knocking the importance of black voices becoming a part of the broader political discussion (afterall, I do have a blog)… what I am critiquing is this toxic belief that intellectual conversation, without community mobilization can actually function as political action.
At the end of the day the question has to be asked. How can we legitimately critique Obama for not considering the black liberal agenda if we are not even willing to do the work of organizing around it?
What do the Urban League and NAACP do besides hold conferences these days?
Originally posted on South Side Scholar