Thursday, December 1, 2016

Rosa Parks, 61 Years Later: Trump Voters and Other Lessons

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a segregated bus.  Today, 61 years later, there are several relevant lessons we can pull from that event and the movement that followed.  The following is not an exhaustive list, but includes five lessons that are currently on my mind.

1.   Rosa Parks wasn’t just a random person who was tired on the bus.  She was an officer in the local NAACP.

Today’s Relevance: Organizations matter.  If you’re not in one, join one.  And if social media is the limit of your organizing, that’s not enough—helpful, but not enough.  Kwame Toure (formerly Stokely Carmichael) spent his entire life speaking about the need to “organize, organize, organize,” and he emphasized the difference between mobilizing for short-term action and, organizing for sustained change.  We need to strengthen our organizations.

2.   It does us no good to try to Whitesplain away the bus driver who called the police by exploring his economic anxiety over possibly losing his job.  He was racist and his actions were in support of a racist policy and belief system.  Period. 

Today’s Relevance: figure it out on your own.  I’m tired of even talking about it.

Actually, I think I will elaborate a little.  There are no words for how tired I am of the media, Democratic politicians, or so called allies talking about how the White working class has been ignored and how they just want to be heard.  First, such an apologist approach fails to deal with the fact that college educated, upper income White voters also supported Trump, but let’s just ignore that inconvenient truth for a minute and address the “White working class wants to be heard” narrative.

Hell, the Black working class wants to be heard, and the Brown working class wants to be heard, and the rest of the working class wants to be heard.  But it was pretty much this one, specific, White portion of the working class that decided “being heard” meant voting for the racist, sexist, religiously intolerant, gay conversion supporting pathological liar who is now filling the swamp with the richest, most blatantly anti-working class cabinet ever.

It makes little difference to me whether they voted for Trump because they agree with his racism, or whether they disagree but didn’t find it important enough to vote against him.  Either way, you are not my ally.  To me, you are the same as the bus driver who tried to kick Rosa Parks out of her seat.

3.       The male leadership in Montgomery rejected the boycott idea, but Jo Ann Robinson refused to let that stand in her way.  She and three supporters (including two students) distributed more than 50,000 copies of the boycott flyer… overnight… with no high-powered copy machines. 

Today’s Relevance: A couple of points here—one dealing with sexism within our movements, which we must continue to be conscious and intentional about addressing today.  Secondly… Brothers, we've got to step the ____ up!  Although Black voters were pretty unified in our voting preference, there was a gap between Black women and Black men (no, NOT the deciding factor in results).  But it’s not just voting, it’s community meetings, school meetings, etc.  Please don’t get me wrong—I’m not riding the “all Black men are trifling” train, and I fully understand our unique challenges.  But it’s 2016, and sisters are still making 50,000 copies with not quite enough help.

4.       Contrary to popular belief, the original boycott was not meant to last indefinitely.  It was not meant to last for a year, or 6 months or even one week.  The goal for the original boycott was for it to last one day.  Just one day!  After the success of the first day, the community decided to keep it going, and the rest is history.
Today’s Relevance: Too often, we fail to start action—or we criticize the actions that others have started—because we’re not absolutely certain of where it will end or what impact it will have.  Sometimes we just need to move.  That’s not to say that we need to just be reckless, and the people of Montgomery certainly weren’t reckless in launching a one day boycott.  But it is to say that we need to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good, and more importantly, stop letting fear rationalize our inaction.

Newton’s laws of motion (probably stolen from a Black grandma) state that a body at rest stays at rest until acted on by an outside force.  So, if the recent election has left you uncertain, afraid, paralyzed, etc. and you’re not yet moving, let this serve as your outside force.  MOVE!

5.       Technically speaking, bus segregation did not end because of the boycott.  The segregation actually ended because of a concurrent legal case, Browder vs. Gayle, which eventually made its way to the Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court declared the segregation laws unconstitutional, and only then did the community end the boycott. Today’s Relevance: We must remember that we have always used civil disobedience and legal strategies (as well as self-reliance strategies that try to bypass legal barriers).  These tactics and strategies are not polar opposites, and when effectively used to complement one another, we can and will make change.

A final note: Some feel that there’s little to be learned from previous movements—that tactics from 60, 30 or even 10 years ago are outdated.  But I argue that many of the keys to our future success are rooted in our previous victories (and defeats).

Thursday, November 24, 2016

On This Thanksgiving, There Comes a Time When Silence Is Betrayal

These are difficult times.  If not for the ironic racial overtones, I might even say these are dark times.  I know that many of my friends, like me, are almost burnt out from reading the multiple news and social media stories about the growing number of hate crimes and Trump's latest appointments to his cabinet of deplorables.  For many of us, this Thanksgiving is an opportunity for us to gather amongst those we love, and either escape from the difficulties we're facing or vent or frustrations or both.

For most of my adult life, I have found it difficult to gather with family and not raise the historical contradictions associated with Thanksgiving.  Coincidentally, I'm also the one who's been known to interrupt 4th of July gatherings with copies of Frederick Douglass' "What to the Slave is the 4th of July?"  So it seems like a strange paradox that this year--a year in which more than usual we need to just come together and let each other know that we truly love one another--this year it's more important than ever that we NOT ignore the roots of this holiday and the plight of this land's first peoples.

This year, more than ever, we cannot just sit and enjoy our Thanksgiving meals and football games, and ignore the fact the right now--RIGHT NOW--at Standing Rock, North Dakota, our indigenous brothers and sisters, and many supporters, are having their human rights violated as they fight to protect their land and their water.

There is a lot I could say about the long history of African/African-American and Native American solidarity.  There's a lot I could say about the Seminole Nation, and other indigenous nations that actively resisted US slavery and welcomed runaway slaves.  But for those who don't want that much history, I think the video above speaks for itself.  If that video doesn't move you, then perhaps this one will.

There's a lot we need to fight against, and even more that we need to fight for.  But it is absolutely unacceptable that we continue to sit quietly as another marginalized group suffers.  We can't all travel to Standing Rock, but here are a few things we can do.

1. Contact President Obama: you can use the information at  You'll have options to call and/or submit comments online.  Do both!  It will take less than five minutes.  Ask him to stop construction, or at the very least, to send federal observers to protect the protestors.

2. As promted by Shaun King on Twitter, buy "Wish List" Items at Amazon: The DAPL Water Protectors have created a wish list of items that will help support the movement.  There are items at a variety of price ranges.  See

3. Donate to the Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Health Clinic is a free health clinic partnership between Standing Rock Sioux Tribe traditional healers, university doctors, nurses and other organizations (also via Shaun King):

4. Help spread the word.  Forward/share this post, or follow #NoDAPL on social media and share.

If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.  And just like Whites who are silent about structural racism and white supremacy, our silence amounts to betrayal.  We are better than that.

Monday, November 21, 2016

How Republicans are Modernizing Slavery Era Tactics

Throughout the 2015-2016 election campaign, there has been discussion of Republican efforts to “turn back the clock”—to dilute, and indeed reverse, a broad range of civil rights related to race, gender, sexual identification, etc.  However, as the Trump era begins to take shape, we are starting to see that conservatives are not only turning the clock back in terms of general philosophy, but in regards to specific tactics as well.  And they’re not just looking backwards by a few decades; they’re taking it all the way back to slavery.

Show Me Your Papers
Among the more troubling members of Trump’s deplorable transition team is Kris Kobach, currently Kansas’ secretary of state.  Kobach’s anti-civil rights pedigree isextensive, and includes the controversial 2010 Arizona law which made it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to be in Arizona without carrying their legal paperwork. It also allowed members of law enforcement to stop anyone and ask for their papers if they suspected the person might be undocumented. 

The Arizona law is reminiscent of slavery era “Black Codes”, sets of laws which were designed to limit the rights of free Blacks (in contrast to “Slave Codes” discussed below, which dealt specifically with those still enslaved).  Free Blacks faced the threat of being captured and re-enslaved at any time, and one tactic which facilitated such re-enslavement was the requirement that free Blacks have their “freedom papers” with them at all times—documents that could verify that they were indeed “free”.  The Arizona law is also similar to apartheid era laws in South Africa, requiring Blacks to “show their papers” on demand.

Of course, the impact of the Arizona law extends beyond immigrants—documented or undocumented—and will impact U.S. born citizens as well.  All a law enforcement officer needs is a belief that a person is undocumented, which can essentially amount to “you look Mexican”.  With Donald Trump setting the standard with his attack on U.S. born Judge Curiel, whom he repeatedly referred to as Mexican, it’s clear that law enforcement will feel able to racially profile and use the law as pretext to harass and potentially arrest Latinos for a variety of offenses, many of which will have nothing to do with immigration status.

Criminalizing Support for Freedom
Similarly, in the state of Washington, a Republican state senator who supported Donald Trump is seeking to intensify the criminalization of protests by declaring certain forms of protest as “economic terrorism”.  While many of the activities included in the proposed bill are already punishable as misdemeanors, the bill would classify these activities as felonies, significantly increasing the possible fines as well as jail time involved. 

While the attack on protestors is insane in and of itself, another feature of the bill is equally draconian, if not more so.  The bill seeks to punish those who fund, organize, and/or sponsor such protests, a provision which could have a chilling effect on those individuals who for whatever reasons cannot directly participate in such activities but who would support in other ways.  While the bill’s supporters claim that such limits are aimed at billionaires who are allegedly sponsoring the protests (a complete lie), such a law could be used against a random supporter who donated materials for signs or who contributed $10 in support of the cause.

Such a policy, which seeks to criminalize not only participants but supporters, has its roots in slavery era “slave codes”.  Some are aware of how slave codes denied rights to enslaved Africans, but many of us are not as familiar with the restrictions placed on Whites.  For example, laws which forbade enslaved Africans from reading were often accompanied by language stating that it illegal for a White person to *teach* a slave to read.  More importantly, fugitive slave laws not only made it illegal to support those who had escaped, but went as far as to require on demand that any individual actively assist in capturing a fugitive.

Imagine the modern-day implications of such a policy, perhaps as applied to requiring assistance with mass deportations.  Or try extending Donald Trump’s comments during debate #2 regarding Muslims watching their neighbors and reporting (which launched a comical #muslimsreportstuff), and imagine that as a legal requirement.

Local Control
Several months ago, all eyes were on North Carolina as the state legislature and Governor McCrory passed HB2, “the bathroom bill”, which allowed for discrimination against LGBT individuals.  Although the civil rights issue involved with the bill rightfully received a lot of attention, an underlying issue was only discussed on the margins, and that was the fact that the state bill was actually nullifying a municipal law passed by the city of Charlotte.  While the issue itself is obviously truly important, the tactic used may turn out to be the bigger story over the next few years.

A similar example can be found in Birmingham, Alabama, which in 2015, passed a city ordinance to increase the minimum wage.  However; in February 2016, the state government passed a law which prohibits all local governments, including Birmingham, from enacting higher local minimum wage ordinances.  Again, a state government nullified a city’s attempt to support its residents.  In this case, the racist aspects of the state action are painfully clear; Black residents would have accounted for an estimated 70% of the beneficiaries of the increased minimum wage.  In essence, a predominantly White state government was telling a predominantly Black city to “stay in its place.”

Such action is not new in Alabama, which is governed by a constitution that severely restricts the ability of city and county governments to pass legislation covering their own jurisdictions.  It’s no coincidence that the Alabama constitution has been in effect since 1901, and that many of its provisions were specifically created to roll back Black progress made during Reconstruction and to control any future attempts at the local level.  Thus, the state nullification of local law tactic that we are seeing has its roots in the slavery era—or at least the post-Reconstruction era.  This tactic is guaranteed to become more prevalent as cities continue to try to pass progressive policies. 

The point here is not that we must run and hide.  Quite the contrary, the point is that we must be aware of these tactics and use *our* knowledge of history, combined with our modern strengths and resources, to implement counter-strategies.  We can and will defeat these efforts to turn back the clock, but only if we are clear about the nature of our opponents.  As David Walker said in 1830, “do not trifle, for they will not trifle with you.”

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election 2016: How and What Now? (Part 1)

A lot has been said and written about the election since last Tuesday, and certainly, there’s lots more to come.  For my part, I can honestly say that I saw this coming.  I had been telling people for months that any polling data that showed Clinton with less than a 5 or 6 point lead meant she was actually behind.  That’s because I knew that, although some ridiculed the notion, there was a certain percentage of voters, mainly White, who simply would not reveal that they planned to vote for Trump.  As Dave Chappelle said the other night on SNL, “I know the Whites… You guys aren’t as full of surprises as you used to be.”  I figured no matter what the polls said, Trump had at least 3 or 4 more points than everyone believed.

I also knew that regardless of what the polls said, that Clinton would not get as many votes as people believed.  That’s because this was, in fact, the first presidential election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.  Some folks may have missed this critical point, because as the Nation recently pointed out,it was the most undercovered story of 2016.  People showing up as Clinton supporters in the poll would never make it to the voting booth, either because they didn’t have ID, or their name had been removed, or their polling location had been closed, or Sheriffs had been sent to their house to intimidate them (yes, that happened) or some other tactic that Republicans (and some Democrats in red states) used to minimize the voting by people of color.  They even bragged about this being their purpose in TV interviews and in official party memos.  Well, in case we didn’t already know it, guess what… voter suppression works, especially when those who have the ability to protect those rights are unwilling or unable to do so, and when those who have the responsibility to report on those rights are preoccupied with email servers.

So yes, I saw this coming.  But that doesn’t change the fact that, after spending all of election day coordinating and canvassing with workers in one Georgia legislative district that we actually successfully flipped, I returned home and watched in disbelief as state after state went for Donald Trump.  A friend of mine posted that it’s amazing how many radicals actually believe in the system and are shocked by these results.  I’m not sure if the shock and pain is so much a reflection of a belief in the system, as much as a painful, stinging reminder of our status in this country.  No matter how often we are reminded, there is still the sting of being reminded of how much hate there is in this country.  It’s the kind of momentary sting we feel with every policy shooting—not disbelief that such a thing could happen but disbelief that it has happened again, and again… and then again.  It’s the kind of sting that makes you wonder, not whether we’ll eventually win (we will!), but why the fight is even necessary to begin with.  It’s the kind of shock and pain that I don’t ever won’t to NOT feel when such events occur, because that would mean that my *own* humanity has been changed.

Nevertheless, I’m not writing to say “I told you so” or to explain my own reaction.  I’m writing so we can better understand why this happened and where we go from here.

A Lot of Blame to Go Around
A lot of folks played a role in the election results, starting with the candidate herself and her campaign team.  Yes, the email story received far more attention than it ever should have, but at the end of the day, 1) it was stupid, and 2) I still don’t understand how, after two years, she and her team NEVER found a good response to the question.  More importantly, her team made several strategic mistakes, including chasing fool’s gold in places like Arizona and Utah without consolidating her base in states where they HAD to know she was vulnerable (e.g. Michigan, Wisconsin and others). 

And speaking of her base, I’m not particularly interested in giving advice to the Democratic Party, but if they expect to make gains either in Congress or in the next presidential election, someone better pick up Brown is the New White or listen to any of the Black and Brown commentators who have been trying to make it clear that the Democrats have all of the votes they need if they would simply pay serious attention to addressing the needs of Black and Brown communities and then truly investing in mobilizing voters of color. 

In terms of the voting population, as The Root explains, “Black women were the only ones who tried tosave the world.”  Black men gave only 80% of support to Clinton, compared to 93% of Black women, so a significant group of us are apparently unwilling to vote for a female president.  It’s also possible that Trump’s anti-immigration message resonated more with Black men than women, but I’m thinking it had more to do with sexism.  We’ll see if someone studies that further.

As for the Latino vote, I’m confused by the 30% of Latinos who saw fit to vote for the man who called many of them murderers and rapists.  I’m guessing a significant segment of the Cuban-American community in Florida probably felt that Trump was just talking about Mexicans and that they’re exempt from his racism.  I haven’t seen the Florida voter breakdown, but we’ll see. 

White Folks
With all that said, I in no way intend to ignore the elephant in the room.  White people elected Trump.  It’s that simple.  Trump and his team waged a campaign based on the belief that if he could galvanize enough White people, he could offset the minimal support he expected from people of color.  Trump basically nationalized the Southern Strategy of the 60s and 70s.  And it worked.  Every demographic of the white vote—men, women, college educated, non-college educated—each segment gave Trump a majority of their support.  A vast majority of White America voted for Trump either because they agree with his racism or because they simply aren’t that concerned with his racism. 

I don’t want to minimize the role of Trump’s sexism and misogyny, nor do I want to assume that just because a majority of White women voted for Trump that sexism was not at play.  Certainly, we should all know that women can internalize sexist oppression just as people of color often internalize racist oppression.  Every oppressed group has a tendency to participate in their own oppression to one degree or another.  But what we saw at play here was not only that White women chose to vote in support of sexism; what we saw was that White women chose race over gender.  Again, to those of us who study history, this should come as no surprise, and yet it has been astonishing to watch it play out.

The Media
A couple of weeks ago, on the radio show that I co-host with Heather Gray on WRFG, I pointed out that Trump’s campaign was highlighting several contradictions in the electoral process, and that in a strange way, he was correct in some of his critiques.  He was absolutely right that the media rigs campaigns, but he was absolutely wrong in pretending he was the victim of this rigging.  For more than a year, Trump benefited from free advertising as the networks sought big ratings by covering everything he did or said.  Even CNN’s presidentrecently admitted it was a mistake giving Trump so much coverage.  Perhaps he should also admit that it was a mistake giving nightly access to not one, not two, but often three of his surrogates.

The media strengthened Trump in other ways as well.  But what’s more important now is that they are continuing to do what they did throughout the election campaign—they are normalizing Trump.  With the exception of a few journalists, mainly Black and Brown, the media is moving on from Trump’s racism, misogyny, religious intolerance, etc. to discuss standard transition plans.  And in doing so, they are spreading the mantras of “give Trump a chance”, “let’s wait and see”, and “maybe he’ll be different”.

Most of the those who are spreading this narrative have something in common—they are not the ones whose lives are in grave danger right now. They are not the ones facing increased stop and frisk. They're not the Muslims being attacked and in at least one case killed, like the Muslim brother in Wisconsin. They're not the Latino children being taunted at school, not only by students but by TEACHERS as well! They're not the girls being sexually assaulted and told that it's okay because the president can do it.

For everyone who is tempted to go with the "let's wait and see", I encourage you to read Dr. King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail". I suggest reading the entire letter, but especially the section on why we can't wait:
For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never."
The paragraph that follows that quote contains a beautiful defense of extremism, which is exactly what is called for at this time.  Not less, but more protest.  In fact, when confronted with forces that have such little respect for your lives, or the lives of those you call allies, friends, and loved ones, extremism isn’t even the correct word.  Some, like Thomas Paine, might call it “Common Sense”.

Speaking of common sense, part 2 of this Cliff Note will explore Malcolm’s “The Ballot of the Bullet” and discuss potential electoral and non-electoral responses to our current situation.  Stay tuned!

My Cliff Notes to Ernie Johnson Regarding the Election

In the video below, Ernie Johnson, an NBA on TNT sports commentator, offered his thoughts about the election and its aftermath.  I saw the video in a friend's Facebook post, and I then posted the comments shown below the video link.  I've not edited them since the Facebook post, but I will be expanding on some of the points in a separate article.  

No sir, Ernie Johnson. Completely disagree on all three counts, starting with the false equivalency of a man who is by his own words a sexual predator, bigot and hatemonger compared with a woman who set up an email server.

Second, no sir, we do not have to give him a chance. That is NOT the definition of democracy. If he seeks to do all that he SAID he would do, then our obligation is to NOT give him a chance. And it starts today, as the stories of stone cold racists and misogynist across the country who now feel emboldened to intimidate, assault and chant at people of color and grab women (and little girls!) spread, we cannot allow him to just wink at them and act like he hasn't unleashed this.

And third, I'm not trying to hear about how important your Christianity is as you sit by and watch a man who violates at least 4 of the 10 commandments on a daily basis. I'm not trying to hear about you speak about Jesus (whom I love, in all his Blackness) as you ignore that this man violates what Jesus said was the heart of the word: by his own words he has never asked God for forgiveness which makes it hard to believe he loves God with all his heart, and it's certainly clear that he does NOT love his neighbor as himself. I'm not trying to impose a Christian analysis on ANYBODY, but if that's how you chose to use the national airwaves to rationalize your position then perhaps you need to rethink yourself.