This past weekend thousands of African-Americans made their way to Washington D.C. for the Millions More Movement (MMM) march. The event billed as a “movement not a march” against racism and the prison industrial complex, to only name a few of its demands, was primarily organized by Minister Louis Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam (NOI).
The MMM was supposed to be the anti-Million Man March of 1995. The Million Man March was largely condemned for its sexist, exclusionary and generally backward politics. Millions More was supposed to be just that, millions more including women, gays, Latinos, whites, socialists, and anyone else with a bone to pick about the destructive direction of this country.
Millions did not show up, but thousands did in search of a political alternative to the politics of racism, scapegoating, war and recession that are on offer from the two dominant political parties in this country. There were handmade signs decrying the injustice of our criminal “justice” system. There were photos of loved ones killed by police or wrongfully convicted. There were signs denouncing Bush. People showed up in search of a new movement, and instead were treated to a who’s who of the Black political and academic elite bent on congragulating themselves for their unprecidented “unity”.
It is not as if what anyone said was wrong. We heard the requisite speeches denoucing the government’s ill prepared rescue and relief effort in the Gulf. We heard the speeches denouncing police brutality. We heard the litany of statistics outlining the ongoing and deepening crisis in Black America. We heard the denunciations of Bush. But it all sadly sounded like we’d heard it all before. To be sure, there were some moments that stood out sharply. Elaine Johnson, mother of a son killed in Iraq, eloquently and impassionately implored Black family members to get involved in the fight against the war.
However, in many ways the twelve hour MMM program underscored the paralysis in Black politics and revealed some of the underlying reasons a new movement has such difficulty being organized. Most of the speakers in the program were middle aged or older. Most of the speakers were men. Most of the speakers were middle class if not flat out rich. Outrageously, march organizers canceled gay speaker Keith Boykin without explanation, giving into the homophobic delusions of the Rev. Willie Wilson. In other words, the program for MMM was old, sociallly and economically out of touch with most African Americans, an unable to articulate the basis upon which a new movement for civil rights and social justice can be organized.
Any new movement to be organized must take up the dysfunctional way in which the Democratic Party is able to openly and forth rightly take Black votes while at the same time referring to Black issues as “special interests”. Black Democrats are allowed to come to events like this and give cover to the rest of the Party. There was not a single white Democrat at this fairly tame protest against racism-even though Bill Clinton said he supported it.
At some point the Black Dems must be held accountable for the role that they too have played in the fraying of the social saftey net that has come home to roost in the aftermath of Katrina. In the 1990s when Bill Clinton was destroying “welfare as we knew it”, Black Democrats and the Black academic elite were cooing about Clinton as our first Black president. While Clinton was putting more Black men into prison than at any other time in our nation’s history, Maxine Waters was comparing the Lewinsky hearings to slavery. While Clinton was pushing to spend hundreds of million on “crime prevention”, former Black Panther and Chicago Congressman Bobby Rush, went to bat for Clinton on his crime bill and then Rush voted for it to boot.
The inability for the Black Left to organize independently from the Democratic Party means that when the Democrats move to the right-as they have on every social question from welfare to affirmative action to abortion rights-the Left, Black or otherwise, move on to the right with them. Every election cycle we are told is more important than the last as they fill our heads with apocalyptic visions of GOP controlled congresses and White Houses. Meanwhile, the Democratic Party that is more than willing to take 90 percent of Black votes while eschewing issues that are important to Black people. The focus on getting Democrats elected has moved the focus away from building a movement that can fight for the things both Democrats and Republicans oppose-an immediate end to the end of the war in Iraq, universal healthcare, an end to the racist death penalty, and a blank check for Katrina survivors. This should be our short list. Instead, last Saturday Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson once again vowed revenge against Bush in the 2006 mid term elections and the 2008 presidential election.
Meanwhile, several hundred miles away from the nation’s capitol on the same day this past weekend, the Black residents of Toledo, Ohio, had their own protest against racism. There were no preachy covenants, no Princeton scholars, and no minister spoke for 75 minutes. Instead, when the Black mayor of Toledo decided to let neo-Nazis come to town and march through a Black neighborhood, people in the neighborhood-along with other activists in the city-decided to take matters into their own hands. As an anti-Nazis march went through the neighborhood ordinary Blacks who lived there joined their neighbors on the streets, routed the Nazis and drove them out of Toledo. In a mixture of jubilation and rage the crowd vented their disgust at the police and the city administrators who had the audacity to allow the Nazis to march in their neighborhood in the first place. Rocks were hurled at the police, a patrol cruiser was flipped over and a few buildings were burned. Predictably the mayor blamed young Black “gang members” for violence and looting conviently ignoring the fact he allowed Nazis to march through a Black neighborhood!
Toledo is like many American cities. In 2003 it was ranked as the 20th poorest city in the country. 33 percent of African Americans in the city live below the official poverty line. In the last few years, Toledo has lost 13 percent of its manufacturing jobs, which has disproportionately impacted Blacks that live in the area. Police violence and corruption has compunded the resentment that local Blacks already feel. In February of this year 41 year old Jeffrey Turner was arrested for loitering. During the arrest he was hog tied with handcuffs and shocked with a taser gun five times until he died of cardiac arrest. The local chapter of the NAACP found that the cops were 68 times more likely to use tasers on Black suspects than anyone else. This is the backdrop to the rage that flashed in Toledo this past weekend. It is the tinderbox that exists in every city in the U.S.
The Black poor and working class are mad as hell at America. We are hungry, homeless, imprisoned, preyed upon by police, left to the ravages of AIDS, humiliated, despised, presumed to be unworthy of education-so much so that we are called refugees in our country. You can not do this for and to a generation and expect no reprisals. The well heeled politicians and elite who spoke at us for twelve hours on Saturday in Washington D.C., would do well to heed the anger, resentment, and rage that boiled over in Toledo-or they quickly run the risk of irrelevance to those whose lives are being destroyed by the forces the Million More Movement was said to have been organized against.
KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR lives in Chicago. She is author of Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs: Racism in America Today and Racism and the Criminal In-Justice System, for the International Socialist Review. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org