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The Reverend and The Movement

Big Daddy and the Plantation

by Kevin Alexander Gray

I grew up in a National Enquirer house. My mother reads it weekly and my brother works in the plant that prints them. There is something cosmic about Reverend Jesse Jackson, for whom I used to work, being in the same rag that regularly reports on space aliens. Now, every time I think of Reverend, Diana Ross’s Love Child plays in my head. And I have gotten enough email cartoons. The one with Reverend’s head (with a ponytail) on a little girl’s body was low down– as low down as the state of black and progressive politics. And that should be our real concern.

Some defend Reverend as a prophet while others condemn him as a profiteer. As far as Reverend being a prophet I can only suggest counseling for the believers. In this case, the difference between prophet and profit resembles the difference between praying and preying.

Recently, Reverend was cheered when he attended a Chicago area basketball tourney. Every church he has attended since the baby story broke has forgiven him. Often when a black leader faces attack or criticism by the powers that be, many blacks take the position that if white folk are giving a “brother” hell then he must be doing something right even when the person benefiting from support is screwing them royally. This is the present day’s version of racial solidarity. Ironically, Bill Clinton benefits from this rule. Lani Guinier and Jocelyn Elders did not. And for all the love that folk like Toni ‘the closest we will ever come to a black president’ Morrison shower on Clinton, more black men went to jail under NAACP Image Award winner Clinton than under Ronald Reagan. I guess it hate the game don’t hate the “playa.” In ghetto slang Reverend and Clinton are “playa playas.” [Translation -- They are so good they can play the playas themselves; so good they can con the cons.]

The age-old stereotype is that blacks care little about Reverend’s sexual behavior due to their “inherent immorality.” We hear the same thing whenever Bill “Cotton comes to Harlem” Clinton and black people are mentioned in the same sentence. A more useful idea-that black people practice that rarest of all Christian maneuvers, hating the sin not the sinner, understanding that Saturday night is followed by Sunday morning, not the other way around. But this is never suggested, possibly because in the “true” white American Christianity, such tolerance and forgiveness do not exist. (Ask Ashcroft.)

For most of those doing the evaluating, the logic is far simpler: Clinton apparently likes to fuck so he’s black. Jackson is unquestionably black, so we ought to expect him to fuck.

But the problem with Reverend Jesse Jackson isn’t that he fathered a child with a woman he didn’t marry. The problem is that Reverend has used a movement predicated on protecting rights of the many with gaining privilege for a few. Our movement is anti-privilege. Now, Reverend’s privilege and privileges are being challenged. Who’s to say that’s a bad thing?

I once believed that Clinton and Reverend really didn’t like each other. For instance, I was with Jackson and Tom Harkin in South Carolina when Clinton called Reverend a backstabber. Reverend certainly didn’t respond to the remark by joking “Hey, it’s just my homey Bill jonesing a little on a brother.” I was at the Rainbow meeting in Washington when Clinton trashed Sistah Souljah. It took Reverend a little bit to realize that Clinton had once again kicked him in the ass but when he figured it out he was pissed. (For some reason the expression “Arkansas cracker” comes to mind.) Truth be told, how could Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton not like each other? They are like peas in a pod or, anyway, at least a boss and a straw boss. When Reverend was counseling Clinton I had two thoughts: It’s going to blow up in his face and they’re comparing notes. So maybe it was inevitable that Clinton and Reverend would become cut buddies, each vying to be the cash and carry Negro leader.

The new “morality” questions as well as past financial problems at Operation Breadbasket that led to his split with Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference are now regular fodder for the Sunday morning talk shows. The pundits’ assessment — Reverend is not now and has never been accountable to anybody. Washington Post columnist David Broder gave Reverend’s refusal to run for mayor of DC as evidence of his fear of accountability. Columnist Clarence Page, the only black guy on a news show on a regular basis, said the stories and financial questions were old news. Both fretted over Reverend troubles but neither counted him completely out. Still, maybe his days as a national leader were numbered. (Maybe?)

But the problem isn’t that Reverend is a has-been. It’s worse: he’s become an insider. That’s what makes my desire to see Reverend either change or be gone from the scene different from Broder’s and Page’s. To them, Reverend is becoming ineffective as the “designated Negro.”

There are also those awaiting the day when Vice-president Dick Cheney has the big one (or a big enough one) so that Colin Powell becomes vice president. Understanding racial solidarity, they believe that African Americans will predictably rally around the first black vice president. This group doesn’t want Reverend to affect that dynamic. So, they beat up on him now in hopes of getting him out of the way. Things they ignored in the past make the Enquirer’s cover. They have no desire to see Al Sharpton elevated to “national Negro leader” but they know that Powell trumps Sharpton or anyone else for that matter. Powell as vice president would be the death of black politics, and you could be sure that his personal Operation Breadbasket, his participation in the attempted cover-up of the My Lai massacre, would never come back to haunt him.

This is the new dilemma for Reverend and others who make their money by manipulating the masses. How could they overcome what could be the ultimate manipulation?

The baby’s mama drama is a symptom of something else. Reverend isn’t the first, only or last man to have his brain in the wrong head. That’s how he got here. Give him credit for claiming his child? It was from Reverend that I first heard that you don’t get points for doing the right thing. But the woman is no “that man used me” victim. She’s a thirty-something Ph.D. breast cancer survivor. She wanted his seed. Initially, she said it wasn’t Reverend’s baby. She lied to her mama to protect him, and in the part of the nation that reads the Enquirer that’s a lot more extreme than lying to the FBI.

Workplace sex will always be around. No doubt, on the job there is sexual harassment and conniving plotters of both sexes. The problem with Reverend isn’t workplace sex (except maybe to his wife Jackie and those who believe a minister and married man should act a certain way). Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition’s problems are patronage and bossism.

The Rainbow “organization” is not committed to any movement – past or future (unless we are foolish enough to believe in a “Wall Street movement”). Jessephiles have no particular political goals, agenda or ideology beyond cutting the deal and protecting their privileges as part of the black bourgeoisie. It’s always been about big daddyism, a concept from back in the day that covers it all: sexual harassment, nepotism, exploitation, plotting, foolishness, favoritism and all kinds of other isms, schisms and confusion. A “big daddy” is a straw boss thinking he is the boss, or putting up the front that he believes it, as part of doing the boss’s business. Tupac called it thug life.

Most–not all, but most-Jessephiles want to be close, accepted, recognized or loved by big daddy. They want big poppa’s favor. Big daddy’s on the inside, with the status quo, the in-crowd.

To the Jessephiles, the Rainbow Coalition’s biggest accomplishment was to become Rainbow/PUSH, but that’s nonsense. The Rainbow Coalition was supposed to be about politics and organizing. PUSH is about “getting the gold.” The “gold” comes with being silent about the exploitation and unfair practices of the corporate givers. To know whose doing the buying one needs only to read the magazines or newsletters of any black organization. In return for silence some “big daddy” gets some stock, a seat on a board, a job or a check. Reverend isn’t even the master of this game; that would be Vernon Jordan.

Much of Reverend and his crew’s present good fortune comes from the lawsuits or threats of lawsuits by grassroots groups whose primary concern is that their constituents receive fair treatment. Grassroots groups sued merging banks (such as Bank of America for gobbling NationsBank, which used to be Citizens and Southern/Sovran) over adherence to the community reinvestment act. The outcome was that Reverend and the Jessephiles who got the gold. The price was the abandonment of attempting to enforce the community reinvestment act. “Big daddys” often stifle grassroots protest, threats of economic actions or boycotts because there is an existing deal with the company or a deal waiting to be made. Reverend often says, “The only bad deals are the ones you are not in the room for.” A watered down CRA was passed last year with little public comment. Why? Because the banks and the feds now sidestep grassroots groups and cut the deal with the big daddys, who have become their straw bosses in the matter.

The powerful have learned that it is easier and cheaper to buy black leaders than to bust them. The real money is in busting street niggers in bulk. That’s what racial profiling is all about. And Reverend isn’t the only one bought and paid for. Past NAACP director Ben Chavis and ex-chair Doc Bill Gibson were part of the demise of grassroots’ effectiveness in maintaining a remote semblance of accountability by predatory banks. The only thing that the late Khalid Muhammed ever got right was what he said about Ben Chavis. Condemning Chavis for stealing from the people, he called him counterrevolutionary. But, that’s what all the big daddies do. It’s what Ben Chavis was taught, and taught by experts. Look at the King family’s exploitation of all things Martin, right down to pimping footage of his speech from the March on Washington as a product advertisement.

Today many civil rights organizations work counter to black empowerment. Promotion of individuals, symbols and organizations, all living on someone else’s past glories, replace movements of the poor and disenfranchised. The NAACP and the Urban League have their fair share or economic development programs. The black churches and preachers take the money with no demand on the system except maybe a bank loan to build a bigger church. Every big daddy gets as much money as they can from wherever or whomever they can get it. COINTELPRO was never so effective at turning politics in the black community to shit.

The movement business is good to Reverend and his kids. One son is an alcohol distributor in Chicago, a second is an investment banker and Jesse Junior is a Congressman. But in spite of the fact that one son is a “legal” dealer, Reverend is hypocritical on the issue of drug legalization and on the wrong side in the war on drugs. What he should do is demand that the POWs be set free. Start protesting at the prisons. Call for active resistance against the drug war. Those are things that need saying and doing. The drug war is now spawning the next wave of black voter disenfranchisement. The background checks by the Florida Republicans were possible because of that state’s disenfranchisement of ex-felons for 15 years after their term of imprisonment. That’s why the Republicans were able to run criminal background checks, falsely report the results, and prevent balloting by thousands of black voters. The same tactics are going on in South Carolina and across the South. The only way to stop this is to oppose drug criminalization.

Cash checking services, cash advance lending, predatory mortgage practices, property rights, land loss and decreasing home ownership are just some of the pressing the economic issues affecting blacks. In cities such as Washington, DC, Charlotte, Atlanta and many others, inner city blacks are dealing with redevelopment, gentrification and eroding voting districts. So why aren’t the Rainbow, Urban League, NAACP or the SCLC dealing with these problems?

A recession in the country as a whole and it’s a depression in the black community. The latest unemployment statistics, officially edging towards 10 percent, bear out worsening conditions in black households. How does Reverend’s Wall Street Project help black Americans forced into the secondary lending markets during hard times or at any time? The high ass interest charges blacks pay is what makes the investment bankers on Wall Street billionaires; it’s where the funding for the Wall Street Project comes from, too, and Reverend and the other big daddies know it, which is why they don’t challenge it.

Ask the average person what the Rainbow stands for and if they say anything it will be “it’s Jesse Jackson’s organization.” But what has Reverend and his organization produced? What can that person on the street see, feel and touch? No one can call the organization on the phone for help. They can’t get a question answered or a problem solved. They see no action. They feel nothing. They see nothing. That’s because there is nothing-for them.

Reverend’s legacy is that he ran for president, twice. He’s been out the movement for a long, long time. He’s been in the movement prevention business just as long. Any chance of movement building died when he dismantled the Rainbow to suit Clinton and Ron Brown in 1988. After that Reverend truly became “Jesse Jackson Inc.” The tradeoff for scattering the troublemakers the 1984 and 88 campaigns brought into the political tent was job as head overseer on the Democratic Party plantation. Now Reverend holds the franchise on black votes. If he has a fear, it’s losing the franchise.

Many of those at the center of the Jackson campaigns, like Jack O’Dell who worked with Martin Luther King, Frank Watkins who worked with Reverend for more than 20 years, Ron Daniels, Nancy Ware, Steve Cobble and a host of others including me–wanted to connect to the people, build an organization and create a movement. They were not chumps. They put the larger than life photos of Reverend at the headquarters in Chicago in historical prospective. But big daddyism got the best of them. They moved on and the Rainbow’s potential to really change and challenge America went with them.

As an institution, the Rainbow will fade away completely. Then maybe we will build organizations capable of responding to the people’s needs. Maybe if we stop depending on the straw boss we can take protest back to the to the streets and begin tearing down those institutions and ideas that need to crumble. Since the glory days of 1988, we have been poor stewards of the goals of a progressive/black movement. The success of that movement is the salvation of this country; its failure is its damnation.

The goals were set at the founding of this country. Black politics is the counter to anti-black politics. It’s the demand for equal opportunity, equal treatment and protection, due process and economic justice for the descendants of enslaved Africans, which is the only way those things can be ensured for everyone else. CP

Kevin Alexander Gray is a longtime civil rights organizer who lives in South Carolina.

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