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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Flint Water Charges Address the Symptom, But the Disease Grows

Earlier this week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced criminal charges related to the Flint water crisis.  Among those facing charges are two individuals who served as Emergency Manager over the city, Darnell Earley and Gerald Ambrose.  These individuals participated in decisions that created the crisis to begin with (by switching the source of Flint’s water supply), and then deepened the crisis by ignoring all sorts of warning signs, including the outcry from the city’s residents.

While bringing charges against those who consciously prioritized finances over the health of Flint’s residents is a decent start, we should all be clear: the battle is not over.  The people of Flint are still fighting for clean water, battling for government funding necessary to solve long-term infrastructure need, and protesting ridiculously high water bills and threats that water services will be cut off if bills are not paid.

But as grossly unjust the specific situation in Flint is, there is a larger issue which must be addressed in order to prevent catastrophes like what we’ve seen in Flint from becoming the new normal.  There is an existing disease which, with the impending presidency of He Who Shall Not Be Named, threatens to metastasize into something far more dangerous and, quite literally, deadly.  It is a disease which attacks democratic institutions in much the same way that a biological disease might attack a human organ.  This disease is the trend of state takeovers of local control, and in the case of Flint and other Michigan cities, it shows itself in the form of “emergency management”.

The State of Michigan’s ability to take control of the city’s water supply stemmed from a law which allows the state to takeover cities and school districts that are facing financial trouble.  Michigan had allowed for such takeovers for years, but when Republican Governor Snyder and the state legislature expanded the takeover powers in a 2011 version of the law, voters in the state repealed the policy via referendum.  The governor and the legislature responded with a 2013 version of the law, which basically allowed for the same things but with different wording.

Currently, 19 states and the District of Columbia have emergency manager laws.  The map above can be found in a larger infographic provided by the Council of State Governments.  Many of these states have large cities with heavy populations of Blacks and/or Latinos.  The matter of removing local power and control from local residents is troubling enough at the theoretical level.  However, when the implementation of such policies generally involves taking power from Black and Brown communities and placing it in the hands of White lawmakers who are often Republicans, many view the policy as old school racial disenfranchisement.

Such takeovers have not been limited to financial crisis.  Several states without “fiscal emergency” laws have processes by which the state can take over a failing school district.  Georgia’s governor and legislature just attempted to pass such a law, but it was defeated in a statewide referendum. 

In addition to the potential spread of emergency management or state takeover policies, the country is now facing another potential form of coup—one spearheaded by the great state of North Carolina.  December 16, 2016 is likely to become a date that will live in infamy.  Some may remember this as the day of President Obama’s final press conference of the year, or the day that news chatter dominated by the FBI joining the rest of the intelligence community in concluding that not only did Russia interfere with the U.S. presidential election, but that it did so in an attempt to support He Who Shall Not Be Named.  Others will remember that date because of the extraordinary measures the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature used to weaken the powers of the incoming Democratic governor.

In an “emergency session” which was supposed to address disaster relief, the Republican legislature passed two bills (SB4 and HB17) which among other things:

  • Reduce the number of political appointments controlled by the governor from 1,500 to 425, and requires that the governor’s Cabinet appointments face approval by the state Senate
  • Modify the makeup of local and state boards of elections so that Republicans will control the boards in even years (i.e. years with presidential elections and/or other major offices up for election)
  • Limit access to the NC Supreme Court, which, in the recent election, became majority progressive.  So what better way to minimize the third branch of government than to limit the number and types of cases that can make it there?

These actions were taken by a legislature which is arguably illegitimate due to a court ruling which found that the legislative district lines resulting in the current legislature are illegal and which ordered new elections to take place in 2017.  Add on top of that the fact that the legislation was signed by a lame-duck governor who had just lost his re-election bid, and you essentially have what many have called a coup—not a military coup, and not a bloody coup, but a coup nonetheless.  More than 50 protesters were arrested at the North Carolina legislative building during the two days of debate and voting on the bills. 

And yet, while this was taking place—while a very much “not normal” usurpation of political power was taking place—the major news networks went about their business as if it were just another day.  As Media Matters reports:
None of these details, however, have been reported on any national broadcast news programs since Wednesday. A review of the December 14 and 15 editions of ABC’s World News Tonight, CBS’ Evening News, NBC’s Nightly News, and of the December 15 and 16 editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’ CBS This Morning, and NBC’s Today found no mentions of the attempted power grab. Local affiliates of all three networks did cover the story.

In short, the very nature of democracy is being transformed right in front of our eyes.  Acknowledging this is not to say that American democracy has ever been perfect, or even close to it.  But what we are seeing now, as changing demographics are challenging the White majority’s ability to dominate an honest majority rule system, is an attempt to change the very nature of democratic institutions in ways that go beyond voter suppression of demographic groups (which is also on the rise with the gutting of the Voting Rights Act).  Much the way the Electoral College is a structural feature built to offset the unpredictability of the popular vote, conservatives are testing the waters with other structural mechanisms to offset gains by people of color and progressives, particularly at the local level.

And if we are not vigilant and proactive in regards to these efforts, our communities throughout this country can end up just like Flint’s water—poisoned and out of our control.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Radio Interview: Sameera Khan Reporting from Standing Rock

This week I had the pleasure of speaking with Sameera Khan, Miss New Jersey 2015 and political activist, who was in Standing Rock supporting Water Protector efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Our interview took place just one day after the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it would NOT be granting an easement necessary for construction on the pipeline to continue, a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux and for all who believe in justice.

In addition to the potential disasterous effects the pipeline could have on the water supply, the Standing Rock Sioux also argued that the pipeline would pass through and likely destroy Native burial sites and sacred places. It's worth noting that an original proposal for the pipeline would have taken it north of Bismark, the capital of North Dakota and a city that is 90% White.

As I mention at the start of the interview, and as I have often said in the past, we cannot fully understand race and politics in America without understanding this country's TWO original sins:

  • the "peculiar institution" of slavery, which shaped America's constitutional principles--including the Electoral College which many people are currently seeking to change--and which has influenced American politics, either explicitly or implicitly, since that time; and
  • the theft of Native American lands, genocide (both in terms of lives lost and cultural attacks) against Native American nations, and violations of Native American sovereignty via treaty violations that continue to this very day.

The battle at Standing Rock is the most recent in a string of examples of disrespect toward Native American lives, land and culture.  However, in the context of the recent presidential election and attempts to understand "Trump voters", it is also a reminder that White "economic anxiety" has always taken precedence over the rights of "others".  This country was founded on White economic anxiety.

Although the recent decision by the Army Corps of Engineers is a victory for the movement, we should be clear that the battle is not over. Sameera addressed this issue during our interview.  First, Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the pipeline, issued a statement clarifying their intentions to move forward with the project. Second, it's very clear that Trump fully supports the project and could pave the way for the project once he assumes office in January--that is, after he gets done with the other 50 things he said he would do on "day one" of his administration. So just as the Water Protectors are bracing for a protracted struggle, we who can't actually make it to Standing Rock should remain vigilant and continue to send whatever support we can (see my previous blog for some ideas).

Enjoy the interview, and please be sure to 1) share it with friends/colleagues and 2) click the follow button so you can receive updates of other upcoming shows. I'm lining up some GREAT interviews with community activists, elected officials and scholars, all of whom will share useful insights as we explore the intersection of race and politics and discuss concrete strategies for building power in communinities of color. Try to catch us live and JOIN THE CONVERSATION!

I'm Cliff, and on that note... I'm out!

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.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Support Needed for Election Day GOTV in Georgia!

Georgia is in position to play a critical role in Hillary’s path to 270. In polls taken as late as this weekend, data suggests that the presidential race in Georgia is a statistical dead heat, with Hillary trailing by just 1%. In a race that will generate roughly 3.8 million votes, a 1% margin means that our state could be decided by less than 38,000. Just 500 votes in every Democrat leaning district could be the difference. Now, more than ever, EVERY VOTE MATTERS! With the closing of the early voting period this past Friday, the focus is now on our election day Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts, and we need your help.

In the process of mobilizing the votes necessary to “turn Georgia blue” in the presidential race, we will simultaneously be mobilizing votes to impact key races for the Georgia State House. During this election cycle, the Georgia Democratic Party, House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, the Georgia donor table and others have felt that flipping 2-3 state house districts would be an important step in weakening the Republican majority and making sure that Republicans do not capture a “supermajority” – 66% of seats which impacts veto overrides, constitutional amendments, census redistricting, etc. Regardless of what happens with the presidential election, Georgia will not be able to move forward with progressive and equitable policies until we change the makeup of the state legislature!

One important district where there is a tight race and a great opportunity for Democrats to flip a seat is House District 138, covering the counties of Sumter (Americus), Chattahoochee, Marion and Schley. Currently, District 138 is represented by Republican Mike Cheokas, a local liquor store owner who has supported dangerous and discriminatory legislation, voting for campus carry and the so-called ‘religious freedom’ bills. According to Better Georgia (, Cheokas faced controversy earlier this year over his support of several pro-confederate bills. He continued to support the bills, even after the lead sponsor, Rep. Tommy Benton defended the KKK, saying, they were “not so much a racist thing but a vigilante thing to keep law and order.” Cheokas has also repeatedly supported policies which hurt a majority of the district’s residents. Cheokas recently sponsored legislation that changed the structure of the Sumter County School Board in order to dilute Black representation.

With your help, we can implement our election day GOTV strategies which can help win House District 138 while increasing voter turnout that can help “dump Trump” and turn Georgia blue! Financial support will help provide extra workers for canvassing teams, rides to the polls, snacks and water (for canvassers and voters on long lines) and other logistical needs. Donations can be made online at Donations by checks can be made payable to “Black Voters Matter Fund” and sent to:

Black Voters Matter Fund
c/o Cliff Albright
6486 Stonelake Place
Atlanta, GA 30331

BVMF is a 501c4 organization and donations/gifts are NOT tax deductible as charitable contributions.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Where Simone Manuel and Langston Hughes Meet Donald Trump

When I was young, I used to love watching the Olympics. I remember watching, at the age of 10, the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and following every game of the U.S. hockey team’s journey to gold, and I can still hear Al Michaels’ “do you believe in miracles” as if it were yesterday. I remember watching the 1984 Summer Olympics, cheering for Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton as if they were personal friends of mine.

I can even remember how excited I was when I found out that handball was an Olympic sport, only to find out that the Olympic version was far different than the handball I was exceptionally good at playing on handball courts in the Bronx. So I wasn’t likely to have my own moment on the podium, but I could still feel a sense of pride and joy watching U.S. athletes receive gold as the flag was raised and The Star Spangled Banner was played.

As I became older and more politically conscious (now known as “woke”), the Olympics became more problematic. To be sure, I still loved the athleticism and the incredibly human stories behind every athlete in every event. But the questions of who I was cheering for, and why, were far less clear than in my youth. And the U.S.-centric television coverage, only occasionally muted by a fascination with European athletes, became outright irritating.

Watching the Olympics became another manifestation of W.E.B. DuBois' “double consciousness”. If you’re not familiar with the concept, this quote from his classic The Souls of Black Folks should make it plain: “One ever feels his two-ness— an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.”

Nevertheless, like most Black folks, I have always reserved special hopes and prayers for athletes of color in events where we don’t usually participate. Whether Debi Thomas in 1988, Dominique Dawes in 1996, or the Jamaican bobsled team for that matter, I feel a personal connection to every Black athlete trying to become “the first”. When Debi fell in ’88, my heart sunk, and when Gabby nailed her landings in 2012, my heart raced!

Which brings us to yesterday—a day on which we saw the expected coronation of Simone Biles in the gymnastics all-around competition. However, what was far less expected was the performance of “the other Simone”, swimmer Simone Manuel. I say, “far less expected”, but perhaps it should have been expected, considering she had the second fastest time in the semi-finals. has written about how her performance in the semis received almost no attention from the NBC commentators. And as points out, NBC’s pattern of ignoring Simone continued in the finals.
Before the race began, NBC focused its narrative on Australian sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, whose father was in the stands... If Simone Manuel’s family members were cheering her on, NBC didn’t show them. “And then there is Simone Manuel, the other American in the final,” Dan Hicks said as the camera showed Manuel adjusting her goggles. "The other American in the final"—that was how Simone Manuel was introduced to NBC's star-spangled audience.

The commentators then spent 80% of the race obsessed with the two Australian sisters in the race—neither of whom ended up with a medal. In fairness, NBC did a decent job of capturing the aftermath of the race, capturing Simone’s classic reaction upon seeing her winning time on the board, and an emotional moment with her coach and teammates after leaving the water. But the network then embarrassed itself and infuriated viewers by NOT showing Simone’s medal ceremony live, and instead broadcasting videotaped footage of Russian gymnasts.

So by the time I finally got to watch her ceremony at around midnight, I was already feeling some type of way. And as I watched a tearful Simone during the playing of the national anthem, I couldn’t help to think about (and not for the first time during these Olympics), Langston’s Hughes’ poem, “Let America Be America Again”. I hesitate to excerpt a few verses here, because the entire poem is a must-read, but nevertheless, here are the first few verses:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
As powerful as the opening verses are, it was only after re-reading the entire poem, that I realized why this poem has been on my mind. In truth, it’s been on my mind not only since the Olympics started, but ever since the Democratic convention. After four days of praise for American Exceptionalism, the final verses from Langston’s poem have been somewhere in my subconscious. They read:
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
As so, I’ve come to this conclusion: Donald Trump is right.

We must make America great again.

Not by returning America to some mythical time period, but by demanding that it actually be what it has always claimed to be.

At times, I’m not sure that’s ever going to be possible.

But then I experience some #BlackGirlMagic… and I believe.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and a Brief History of Black Gun Rights

As events continue to unfold in relation to the shootings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, the Dallas shooting, and consecutive nights of protests in more than a dozen cities, there's no shortage of stories and trends that need deeper discussion. Among these are the important connection between police force and municipal revenue stemming from traffic violations, as well as the troubling, but necessary question of whether media outlets would have given the policy/excessive force issue this much attention if the Dallas shooting had not taken place.

However, one issue that is worth discussing, if for no other reason than it's apparent permanence is U.S. history and social reality, is the issue of gun rights, or the lack thereof, for Black folks in America. An aspect in both the Castile and the Sterling shootings is that both were in possession of a gun (not sure if this has actually been confirmed in the the Sterling case, but it seems generally accepted at this point). In the case of Philando Castile, the role that the gun may have played in his shooting is particularly troubling since Castile, according to his girlfriend, did exactly what he should have done--he notified the officer that there was a gun in the vehicle and that he had a permit. In essence he was killed because he dared to exercise his second amendment right to own a gun--that and the fact that the officer felt his "wide nose" fit the description of another suspect, but that's a topic for a-whole-nother article.

While some may choose to look at these tragic shootings and the possession of guns as isolated incidents, it's impossible to understand these events without looking at the history of Blacks and "gun rights" in America. This history dates back to before the United States was actually the United States--back to before the American Revolution, while colonies both with and without slavery had combinations of "Slave Codes" and "Black Codes" which not only made it illegal for enslaved Africans to own/posses guns, but placed limits on FREE Blacks as well. Obviously, this was before there was such a thing as the U.S. Constitution, so there was no second amendment. Nevertheless, these codes and practices established what would be a reality, either de jure or de facto, for more than 400 years: Blacks with guns was simply unacceptable to White America.

This pattern continued even as the American patriots declared that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. Most of us know that those rights did not extend to Blacks in America, whether enslaved or free. What most of us don't know if how calculated and thoughtful the effort was to keep Blacks from fighting in the Revolutionary War, out of fear that Blacks should not be allowed to carry guns. General Washington, himself a slave owner, did not want Black soldiers, clearly agreeing with the premise stated above--Blacks with guns was simply unacceptable to White America. It was not until the British began recruiting and arming Blacks, through Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, that the revolutionaries changed their minds. Coincidentally, up until this point, the revolutionaries were not fairing particularly well against the British army. This would not be the last time in U.S. history that a change regarding Black rights was tied solely--SOLELY--to broader strategic needs.

This pattern would later be repeated during the Civil War, with similar results. Once again, the decision to recruit and begrudgingly arm Black soldiers coincided with the tide turning from Confederate victories to Union success.

Fast forward to the late 1960s, and the early Black Panthers' practice policing the police in their California communities by carrying guns openly in compliance with California law. In response, the state of Californina, led by a Republican state assemblyman and Governor Ronald Reagan, attempted to pass the Mulford Act, also known as the "Panthers Bill", which was specifically designed to prevent the Panthers from benefiting from 2nd Amendment rights. This Huffington Post article provides more information, including the interesting note that the gun control bill was passed with support from the NRA. So we should not be surprised that fifty years later, the NRA has been remarkably silent, or at least restrained, regarding such blatant violations of gun rights as we've seen in the Castile and Sterling shootings.

Again, fast forward another fifty years, and the basic premise has been modified slightly. Blacks with guns is no longer completely unacceptable; if it were, you would see some level of gun control. However, the notion and image of Blacks with guns is only acceptable as long as those guns are being pointed at other Blacks. But when the gun is associated with gun rights in general, not to mention any level of political activity, then the premise remains as true as the days of slave codes and Black codes. If you doubt that, just take a look at the video below.

That video was originally distributed in 2015. Perhaps if more of us, including those in law enforcement, truly considered the frightening implications of the clear double standard, shootings such as those we've seen in the past week could have been avoided. Perhaps if congresspeople were as concerned with Blacks lives, as they are with Hillary's emails, just maybe some of these shootings could be avoided. But for any of the pain of the past week to result in anything positive and progressive, we must first understand the systemic nature and historic roots of what we are up against. If we have the courage to start from that space of truth, anything is possible.

If not...

I'm Cliff, and these are my notes.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Injustice Anywhere...

The other day, I was listening to a local radio station, and heard the tail end of some comments related to the transgender bathroom issue and the recent guidelines from the Obama administration. The conversation made reference to a post at the station's Facebook page, and after taking a look it became clear that the radio personality had expressed her opposition to President Obama's support for the transgendered population. I generally ignore Facebook posts that I disagree with, mainly because I've never known much good to come out of battling comments, but I decided to respond and posted the following:
Disappointing when we as Black folks are unable to translate the discrimination we've faced in a way that lets us better understand other marginalized groups, whether that be women, immigrants, LGBT or others. Much of the language that conservatives are using against this is the same language that was used to oppose integration, and the same states hollering about states rights on this issue are the same states that wish WE were never allowed in the bathrooms. Yes, all students need to be protected, but the "threat" that conservatives are raising about bathroom predators are about as legitimate as the voting fraud that they said was driving the need for voter ID. This is what they do...they create propaganda that speaks to people's darkest fears in order to justify discrimination. If a pedophile wants to dress like the opposite sex to sneak into the opposite bathroom guess what--they could do that TODAY regardless of policy changes. Nothing the Obama administration is suggesting makes that any more likely, but the people who think he never should have been president want us to believe otherwise. Please don't fall for it.
To view the original post, and some of the other comments, go here. Warning, although there are several supportive and encouraging comments, please don't visit if you have a low tolerance for ignorance.

I have a serious concern that this issue could be used to tap into religiously conservative people of color, the same way that gay marriage was used as a wedge issue by the Bush campaign to increase his share of Black voters to 10% (and even higher for Latino voters). A similar increase this year would be disastrous. It's up to us who know better to nip this propaganda in the bud before it reaches a dangerous level.

I'm Cliff, and on that "note"...

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The "Secret" of Trump's Success (aka Don't Ask Questions You Don't Really Want to Know the Answer to)

So, I was watching Morning Joe earlier today, and enjoying Rob Reiner's take on how crazy the Trump phenomenon is. Then Willie asked the question of the hour--essentially, if Trump is so ridiculous, why are millions of people voting for him. To which, Reiner began his answer with, "There are a lot of people who are racist..." (see below or click here skip to the 8 minute mark).

To my shock and dismay, the response from the entire Morning Joe panel was... well, shock and dismay! In fact, Joe goes as far as to exclaim, "Oh my God, did you just say that!" As if Reiner had just uttered the most ridiculous words ever spoken. I was glad to see Reiner stand his ground and continue his explanation regarding racism and Trump's support. Unfortunately, the brief exchange highlighted two unavoidable facts: 1) the topic requires, and deserves, more time than what it was given, and 2) the topic will never be given that time because no one in traditional news media, nor traditional politics, is willing to have the discussion.

News anchors and political "experts" have fumbled around for months trying to understand the source of Trump's appeal. Most have ended up concluding that he has addressed economic and security fears of typical voters in ways that the Republican establishment simply hasn't, and that's certainly true. But let's dig a little deeper--exactly how has he addressed those fears? Certainly not with concrete policy solutions. In fact, his supporters have often explained that they don't care about those types of details. All they need to know is that he's for them and he's going to make America great again (because the Negro in the White House somehow messed it up)!

I won't go into all of the examples of Trump's racism and xenophobia; there are a lot of other articles that can do that. Many people recognize that the main issues that put him on top of the polls almost a year ago dealt with Latinos, Muslims and the Chinese, with a little anti-Obama and anti-Black Lives Matter sprinkled in. This much the media seems comfortable talking about, even recognizing that he's got an uphill battle to increase support among these demographics.

But to me, the bigger point isn't about Trump's rhetoric and the demographic hole in which he now finds himself. The point isn't about him, it's about his supporters. The point is most of the media seems absolutely unwilling to admit that the VERY thing which has him at such a demographic disadvantage, is the EXACT same thing that has millions of people voting for him. Whether this country wants to admit it or not, millions of predominantly white voters are supporting Trump not in spite of his racist rhetoric, but because of it.

Whether this country wants to admit it or not, the reason "White evangelicals" can give so many votes to someone whose relationship with the bible seems limited to holding it up as a prop during a stump speech, someone who is at best (at worst ?) ambiguous on reproductive rights and LGBT issues--issues which for decades have defined the religious right, is because such evangelicals have always been a, flexible, on religious beliefs as long as it helped to maintain the racial status quo. Thou shalt not kill, unless it's an uppity Negro who was trying to vote. Thou shalt not commit adultery, unless you promise to build a wall to keep the Mexicans out.

Whether this country wants to admit it or not, the reason low-income and/or working class White voters throughout the South and Midwest can find a kindred spirit in a billionaire from New York who has somehow become the voice of economic populism, is because poor Whites have ALWAYS been told that the reason they're poor isn't the slave-owner or the wealthy industrialist, it's these other people (read Black, Latino, Chinese, etc.) who are taking their jobs and destroying their country.

The experts can continue to act confused about Trump's electoral success, but his messaging is clear, just as clear as Bush's Willie Horton, Reagan's Philadelphia, Mississippi speech, Nixon's law and order, and Goldwater's... well, all of it. If you don't really want to know the source of Trump's appeal, just stop asking the question.

Is this an indictment of all of White America? Of course not. Even within the Republican party, there are millions who have refused to vote for Trump. And on the Democratic side, there are millions of low-income Whites who have the same fears as the Trump supporters, but instead of giving in to race-baiting, they have responded to Bernie's call for political revolution and Hillary's appeal to "make America whole". One might say they are listening to the better angels of their nature.

At the end of the day, the November election may in fact result in a repudiation of the Trump tactics, but that will not be the end of the story. This country will still be in need of a major conversation about race, and more importantly, there will still be serious questions regarding structural racism. Once again, questions that some may not want to know the answers to.

I'm Cliff, and on that "note"...