The Death of Black Politics
New York Rep. Charles Rangel is among the many Black elected officials that make periodic figurative and actual pilgrimages to Israel, swearing undying loyalty. In a shamelessly groveling performance last week, Rangel took part in a Times Square press conference where he “claimed a bizarre connection between the freedom flotilla and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.”
There is no longer any semblance of black politics left in cities and states across the country. That is to say, there is no longer a structure or movement serving the needs of millions of black people. The city, state and federal officials charged with representing black constituencies in fact do nothing of the kind. The people and institutions that pose the biggest threats to the quality of life of black voters are the very same people and institutions whom politicians depend upon to stay in office.
That deadly dichotomy was on full display last week in New York’s Times Square, the scene of a political crime. Congressman Charles Rangel joined with his colleagues Anthony Weiner, Carolyn Maloney and Elliott Engel in denouncing those who participated in the Gaza freedom flotilla. Those peace-makers were met with violent force when they were attacked by Israeli Defense Force commandos. Nine of them were killed.
The assembled congressional representatives all called for the thwarted humanitarians to be investigated before being allowed entry into the United States. No matter that some of the passengers on the Mavi Marmara and other vessels were American citizens and that one of them, Furkan Dogan, was killed as a result of receiving four IDF gun shot wounds to the head.
“There is no longer a structure or movement serving the needs of millions of black people.”
Rangel put the crassness of American political life on full display when he claimed a bizarre connection between the freedom flotilla and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. He is facing a primary challenge in his race for re-election in November and he has to raise as much campaign money as possible. Yet even that doesn’t fully explain the spectacle Rangel made of himself.
It doesn’t matter that Rangel’s constituents do not support Israel’s human rights violations. As pointed out in Black Agenda Report, Rangel and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus are terrified of facing an onslaught of Zionist fundraising, and with good reason. In the past their colleagues who dared to step out of line and defy the pro-Israel lobby were defeated by suddenly well-funded opponents. Rangel can easily put two and two together and chose to speak words that will gain him additional campaign dollars. That degree of support is yet unknown, but shame would be added on top of shame if Rangel sold himself too cheaply.
The Rangel humiliation in Times Square is but a symptom of a larger problem. There was no outcry when Rangel trampled upon his constituents’ own political and moral convictions. But then again, there is no outcry when the New York City police department stops and frisks hundreds of thousands of black New Yorkers without probable cause either. Politicians are silent, and few citizens are willing to take part in the direct political action that might put a stop to these violations.
Politicians have a safer, surer path to re-election when they act in defiance of the people they represent. New York state legislators recently voted to raise the cap on the number of charter schools from 200 to 460 over the next four years. Now that the state has approved the slow strangulation of public education, it stands to receive $700 million in the absurdly named Race to the Top pool of funds. Once again big money wins the day, politicians see the hand writing on the wall, and the people lose out.
Rangel is one of the longest serving members of the House of Representatives but his constituents don’t profit from his seniority. He finally began serving as chairman of the Ways and Means committee in 2006, only to be dethroned due to an ethics investigation. Whether he is chairman or not, Harlem gentrification continues unabated, and black unemployment remains at high levels without being addressed by Rangel or the rest of black political leadership.
The absence of citizen action and the ever increasing pressures of big money in politics have made for a horrific combination. The lack of an organized citizenry encourages political expediency at the very least, and corruption in the worst case scenario. The success of the mediocre and crooked only exacerbates the situation.
If Rangel and his colleagues thought that they would be turned out of office for defying the public will, they would behave very differently. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. The more responsive they are to their constituents’ enemies, the more likely they are to keep and hold their positions.
It is time for the people to reawaken and force elected officials to meet their needs. Political movements must not be seen as ancient relics of the past, but as the only means of guaranteeing that our representatives are just that. They should fear destroying public education, they should be in the forefront of demanding an end to police brutality and they should not utter words of support to nations whose actions we denounce. That will only be the case if the people take the lead and tell the politicians how to follow.
MARGARET KIMBERLEY’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in Black Agenda Report. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.Com.