Our Leaders Fail To Lead, Chasing Money Instead

by A. Robert Kaufman

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT of the late 1950s through the '70s, like the anti-Vietnam war movement that followed it, never (as a movement) directly challenged the oligarchy that rules America, and in whose interest racism, poverty and war are inevitable results.

So when certain very important (albeit peripheral) victories were achieved through mass struggle, a lot of activists believed that since at least we had broken the ugly back of Jim Crow laws-designed to keep the races separate in housing, education, recreation and employment-that a qualitative victory had occurred. The injustice of racial discrimination (we believed) had suffered an irreversible defeat. What now could prevent all blacks from achieving the American dream?

Well-although many of America's apartheid laws are history, and a significant number of cities now have black mayors and councils, increasing numbers of blacks sit in state legislatures and one has become a governor, a few dozen serve in congress, and General Colin Powell could become President practically for the asking, the quality of life for most blacks and whites has been steadily falling for the past quarter century or more.

And, although the end of educational and employment discrimination, along with certain affirmative efforts to make up for over three centuries of super-exploitation of unpaid and underpaid blacks-both in and out of slavery-have permitted a minority of blacks to achieve a still very precarious middle class lifestyle-life for the majority of blacks as deteriorated in ways unimaginable to us anti-Jim Crow activists.

The hopefulness of that victory has been replaced with the hopelessness of homelessness, hunger, unemployment, poverty wages, drugs, alcoholism, petty crime, and violence.

All this exists while the rich become obscenely richer and one-half of one percent of American families own more wealth an 90% of all the rest of us combined.

As more and more wealth passed from the pockets of poor and middle-income Americans into the coffers of that one-half of one percent, and to the roughly 20% more Americans whose income has steadily risen for a couple of decades or more, what is left for the rest of us isn't enough to live a decent life, and-for some-any life at all.

Life for all the rest of us will continue to deteriorate until there is a responsible political movement to unite us.

So where are our political leaders now that we need real "leadership"?

With infintesimally few exceptions, elected officials do whatever their financial supporters tell them to do. Not a single Baltimore city councilperson-black or white, ally or enemy of the Mayor-will support the City Wide Coalition's (CWC) effort to spend $9.2 million to create a non-profit auto and home insurance cooperative which could save every city motor vehicle owner hundreds of dollars a year. Nor will a single city councilperson support CWC's resolution to take the profits out of drugs treating drugs as a public health issue. They won't even discuss our efforts!

In other words, most elected officials have sold out to the insurance interests, contractors, developers, the military-industrial complex, the liquor, gambling, and tobacco interests, etc.

But almost by definition, they have to sell out if they want to be elected. Because, although the 90% are not politically organized as a class, the one-half of one percent sure as hell is!

In the last presidential election, 80% of all campaign contributions came from that one-half of one percent!

And what role is race playing in this? Race plays an absolutely vital role in this country to divide that 90% and turn it against itself. And an awful lot of folks of both races cooperate in this mutually self-destructive effort. Just as poor southern whites used to traditionally elect racist politicians, financed by moneyed interests which kept them in poverty, a lot of blacks keep electing politicians who differ from their white counterparts only by race and the specifics of their demagogy.

In 1995 the CWC sponsored my candidacy for city council in the 4th district. Despite my 50-year-long civil rights record, and very active campaign, complete with an eight-page tabloid newspaper-sized brochure, hand-delivered to every home in the district, and my personal appearance at every ma and pa store, barber shop, hairdresser, and bar, I lost in every single majority black precinct-and won in every single majority white one!

Recently, when addressing a black community organization, I attacked the entire city council for refusing to move on CWC's car insurance or drug resolutions. Councilwoman Agnes Welch (4th district) then got up and pulled the race card on me. She told the audience that they shouldn't let "outsiders" (meaning "whites") come into our community and cause discord.

Of an audience of some 50 persons, most of whom had nodded in agreement during my presentation, not one person had the integrity to stand up and refute such naked, self-serving racism on the part of Ms. Welch.

We had better re-evaluate our priorities and demand that our leaders do what is necessary to unite the 90%. We're all now in the same working class boat, and we can no longer afford to have to row it in opposite directions.

There simply is no one to save us if we don't wise up, unite and organize to save ourselves-black, brown, yellow, red and white. We are the majority, and together nothing is impossible. If we're at each other's throats, nothing is possible.

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This story was published on February 4, 1998.