After spending several days outside of the Triangle and talking to people who asked what the arrests in Raleigh were all about, I was going to write a blog, once again, urging the Moral Monday leaders to focus their message. I was also going to encourage them to lay down the rhetoric about discrimination and racism. True or not, such language can alienate and turn off the mostly white swing voters who decide elections.
I still think that’s a legitimate point and I’m sure I will make it again in the future. However, while intellectually and strategically I’m sure it’s the right course, emotionally it’s hard to get there from the perspective of the African-American leaders who led the way.
How do you tell a people who had to wage a bloody and deadly battle less than fifty years ago just to gain access to the ballot box not to cry racism when the government tries to restrict their right to vote? How do you tell a people who were systematically denied access to the American Dream not to feel targeted when the powers that be are stripping them of the tools they have used to climb out of poverty and into the middle class? And how do you convince a people who have historically been denied justice that repealing a law designed to remove race from sentencing was not based in prejudice, especially considering the repealers’ zeal and enthusiasm?
And when African-Americans look across the lines of this ideological battlefield, they see the same forces that have tried to oppress and deny them for hundreds of years. They see a party that is 94.7% white whose leaders are the free marketeers, the ideological descendants of the antebellum aristocracy and the children and grandchildren of the John Birch Society, the extremist organization co-founded by Fred Koch, father of the infamous Koch Brothers. Throughout our history, these oligarchs have fought hard to protect their concentration of wealth and to impede the social mobility that has provided an economic ladder for African-Americans.
And across that battlefield, the leaders of the protest movement see opposing ground troops driven by fear and ignorance to fight against their own self-interests. They’re the Tea Party, an intellectually bankrupt movement motivated primarily by a fear of immigrants, devotion to the second amendment and an irrational opposition to a progressive tax structure that lifted many of their parents into the middle class during the post-war years. These misguided foot soldiers are the reactionary descendants of poor tenant famers who, a hundred and fifty years ago, sent their sons to serve as cannon fodder to protect a feudal system in which they had no vested interest but which enslaved Black Americans. And a hundred years later, their descendants donned white hoods and used violence and intimidation against African-Americans to protect their own tenuous place in the Jim Crow economy.
For progressive white activists, we’re fighting a new battle against conservative forces that want to take our state backwards by harming our schools, health care and environment. For African-American leaders, this episode is just another skirmish in their centuries-old struggle to attain justice and equality and protect the gains they’ve made.
So another day, closer to the election, I’ll call for message discipline. Today, tell the truth, rally the troops and force the free marketeers and Tea Partiers to confront their past. They are on the wrong side of history. They always have been.