Saturday, September 25, 2004
( 6:37 AM )
Liberty & Justice for All?
Yes, I'm sticking with a theme here. The 40th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act is something we should all be considering and pondering - yet I doubt that many will even know this anniversary is here. In this horserace of an election where all that matters is whether Bush can scare people enough or Kerry can reassure people enough, there will likely be no debate on the conditions of civil rights or poverty or the conditions people of color in this country still face. Why? Because despite the passing of 40 years, it's still too easy to pretend that everything is just fine.
The evacuation of New Orleans in the face of Hurricane Ivan looked sinisterly like Strom Thurmond's version of the Rapture. Affluent white people fled the Big Easy in their SUVs, while the old and car-less -- mainly Black -- were left behind in their below-sea-level shotgun shacks and aging tenements to face the watery wrath.
New Orleans had spent decades preparing for inevitable submersion by the storm surge of a class-five hurricane. Civil defense officials conceded they had ten thousand body bags on hand to deal with the worst-case scenario. But no one seemed to have bothered to devise a plan to evacuate the city's poorest or most infirm residents. The day before the hurricane hit the Gulf Coast, New Orlean's daily, the Times-Picayune, ran an alarming story about the "large group…mostly concentrated in poorer neighborhoods" who wanted to evacuate but couldn't.
Only at the last moment, with winds churning Lake Pontchartrain, did Mayor Ray Nagin reluctantly open the Louisiana Superdome and a few schools to desperate residents. He was reportedly worried that lower-class refugees might damage or graffiti the Superdome.
The big business of our nation since 1964 has become big business. The war on poverty was never a serious effort (like the war on drugs or the war on terrorism) - and the overt neglect and discrimination of people of color in this country was not stamped out. The generations that witnessed the Civil Rights Movement made no concerted effort that such a movement would ever be needed again - in fact there has been explicit resistance from day one to equity in schools, equal opportunity in the job market and housing, and a change in our moral language. The generations following, then, have grown up in the same conditions and been fed on the same attitudes and neglect.
On the fortieth anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the United States seems to have returned to degree zero of moral concern for the majority of descendants of slavery and segregation. Whether the Black poor live or die seems to merit only haughty disinterest and indifference. Indeed, in terms of the life-and-death issues that matter most to African-Americans -- structural unemployment, race-based super-incarceration, police brutality, disappearing affirmative action programs, and failing schools -- the present presidential election might as well be taking place in the 1920s.
But not all the blame can be assigned to the current occupant of the former slave-owners' mansion at the end of Pennsylvania Avenue. The mayor of New Orleans, for example, is a Black Democrat, and Los Angeles County is a famously Democratic bastion. No, the political invisibility of people of color is a strictly bipartisan endeavor. On the Democratic side, it is the culmination of the long crusade waged by the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) to exorcise the specter of the 1980s Rainbow Coalition.
The criticism of the Democratic party and the Kerry campaign in this article is well founded. And despite my solid support for the Democrats in this election, I will not shirk my duty to hold accountable those who would seek to represent me. In this case, I stand up and ask why has the Kerry campaign and the DNC allowed itself to be coopted by the DLC when Howard Dean proved that the Democratic candidate didn't need that group of big business, money grubbing corporate whores? Why must we constantly compete with the neoRepublicans on their corrupt turf - we have the higher ground if we return to the roots of what we stood for. The progressive wing of the Democratic party must never turn its back on what is important in this country: and end to the corporate welfare, consumerism and racism that blind us all and keep this country on a path to destruction, not prosperity. We cannot build a nation on inhumanity, discrimination and neglect - we have come so far and grown so little.
The largely African American community in New Orleans was struck by another blow after Ivan swept by - they were completely denied a vote in their primary last week. Their voting machines happened to not turn up in time! It's only a preview of worse to come in November, and when we realize that once again it was was the people of color, the poor and the marginalized who were disenfranchised and denied their votes, will we scream for a real change, or will we once again just sigh and pretend that it didn't happen?