Wed, 26 September 2018
For a politician’s biography, the Sam Pollard documentary currently available on Netflix, which recounts the life and career of Maynard Jackson, the first of Atlanta’s six consecutive black mayors, is remarkably free of politics. But when you think about it, this should not be a surprise.
After all, politics in any and every historical era is how we humans address our collective affairs. Politics is how we struggle to determine who produces what for whom, and under which conditions. Politics is how we decide which groups of people get to access the resources and the wealth that the planet provides and which its people produce, and which groups see their needs ignored. It makes perfect sense then, for elites to protect themselves by constructing fake histories which portray their own triumphs as virtuous and inevitable, histories which minimize or deny the very existence of struggles from below conducted by and for the masses of people who actually produce the wealth which elites mostly take for themselves, histories stripped clean of inconvenient politics.
The Pollard film walks us through Jackson’s illustrious family history, the grandson on his mother’s side, of John Wesley Dobbs, an influential college educated postal employee and Prince Hall Grand Master who prescribed “bucks, ballots and books” as the keys to black uplift. Dobbs was a key player in registering tens of thousands of black Atlanta voters in the 1940s, a time when many rural black Georgians were either illiterate or not allowed to vote. His efforts were widely credited with getting the city of Atlanta to finally put street lights on Auburn Avenue, where many black businesses were located, and to hire the first handful of black Atlanta cops, who of course were not permitted to arrest white people. It’s not in the movie, but Billy McKinney, decades later a Georgia state representative, and the father of former Atlanta congressperson Cynthia McKinney was one of those first black Atlanta cops.
Jackson’s dad was a prominent black Atlanta pastor and his mother was one of six Dobbs daughters all of whom graduated from Atlanta’s Spelman College, earning her PhD at the University of Toulouse in France. Upon her return to Atlanta she was the first black person granted a library card by the city’s public library. If there was such a thing as an African American elite, Maynard Jackson was born into it. An exceptionally smart young man, he was admitted to Morehouse at 14, graduated at 18, and bounced around a little before obtaining a law degree in North Carolina. According to the movie, it seems Maynard Jackson never much considered a career doing anything else other than running for and winning elected office.
In 1968 Maynard Jackson ran for US Senate against arch-segregationist senator Herman Talmadge, who’d inherited a political career from his daddy, three term governor Eugene Talmadge. Jackson lost, but thanks to the black vote he did carry the city of Atlanta. The following year he was elected Atlanta’s vice-mayor, and four years later at the age of 35 he became the first black mayor of Atlanta.
The movie dwells nostalgically upon the star studded celebration which attended his ascension to mayoral office, and contemptuously dismisses the aspirations of the black masses who voted for Jackson and his successors, saying they somehow expected the election of black mayors to solve all their problems. Pollard spends the biggest chunk of the movie following the ins and outs of Jackson’s struggles, in his three terms as mayor, with Atlanta’s white elite to put black faces on the boards of banks and planning bodies, and his adamant insistence that black companies be cut a fair share of city contracts and professional services. It’s quite clear that for the film makers, for Jackson’s contemporaries who they interviewed, and for Maynard Jackson himself, that the project of diversifying and opening up the capitalist elite was then and remains today the main objective of black politics, not the struggles of ordinary people for jobs, decent wages, housing, health care, education, justice and peace.
The movie goes so far as to portray the effort of Maynard Jackson and former mayor Andrew Young in which they shamelessly invoked the ghost of Dr. Martin Luther King to bring the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta as some kind of visionary achievement that really put the city on the map, whatever that term means. In real life, as lived by most residents of cities which “win” the right to host the Olympic Games, the prize consists of an orgy of predatory real estate speculation in which entire low to moderate income neighborhoods are demolished to make way for stadiums, luxury hotel and tourist destinations, for upscale shopping and residential development, all of it lavishly subsidized with tax dollars taken from property taxes and wages of the poor, not from the wealth of the rich. Atlanta was no exception to this rule. Neighborhoods surrounding the Olympic sacrifice zone experienced precipitous increases in real estate taxes and rents to levels which Atlanta residents who were there before the Olympics could not sustain. The lion’s share of the displaced Atlanta homeowners and renters were of course black. But their struggles, their politics have no place in the self-serving histories written by the black elite, so the movie just doesn’t see them.
This political biography ignores the political struggles of ordinary Atlanta residents for decent housing, wages and working conditions, when they could get a job at all. It never mentions the decades long fights for universally accessible health care which resulted for a time, in a well funded health care system in Atlanta’s Fulton and Dekalb counties – the Grady Hospital system, parts of which endure to this day. Tellingly, it omits Maynard Jackson’s decisive and shameful intervention in the 1977 strike of Atlanta’s heinously abused and underpaid black sanitation workers, in which the first black mayor hired scabs and mobilized SCLC, black pastors and civil rights leaders against self-organizing black workers standing up for their human rights.
The only person the film makers interviewed who wasn’t a family member, a successor, aide or associate of the late mayor or reverends named Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson was a relative of one of the victims of Atlanta’s child murders during Jackson’s final term as mayor. To hear them tell it, that and the insurrection following the Rodney King verdict, and Jackson’s failure, typical of every other deeply change the institution of policing beyond hiring and promoting more black officers, were the only real failures of Jackson’s career.
Sam Pollard’s kind of political history with most of the politics removed is the rancid foundational myth for the long running hoax of Atlanta as North America’s Black Mecca. Fact is, Black Mecca was never anything other than the self-promoting, self-serving and self-celebrating PR campaign of black elites. As I wrote back in 2005,
“Today's elite black leadership does not measure cities by their incarceration rates, nor do they measure their own performance by the prevalence or absence of child poverty, affordable health care, equality of access to good education or any of the things that matter to ordinary black families. What matters to these "black leaders" are big-ticket projects, bragging rights, relentless self-promotion, and the accumulation of contacts, contracts and personal wealth. "Black Mecca" was always intended to be where their dreams came true, not ours.”
For a generation now, Atlanta has been among the top four or five US cities for black millionaires. But 2013 census data plainly reveal that among the 71 US cities with populations over a quarter million Atlanta ranked 14th in child poverty with 35%, more than a third of its children – you can bet they’re mostly black children – in households below the poverty line. That yardstick pegs Atlanta's performance as a bit better than Cleveland, Newark, St. Louis or Milwaukee, but worse than Chicago, Los Angeles, Philly or Houston. But child poverty, let alone black child poverty is just NOT the the sort of measure of the learned scholars and practitioners employ to evaluate the efficacy of what passes for black politics.
The accepted wisdom ignores these things, and the Sam Pollard documentary lazily slides right into that established groove. The film does get a couple of important things right. Jackson’s enduring political legacy was the cynical hoax of Atlanta as Black Mecca, and his career, which relied on the votes of black masses whose votes were mobilized behind the first black mayor who they imagined would deliver for their class instead of his own foretold the career arc of the first black president early in the 21st century.
I’d give the thing two and a half stars out of five.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Please note that Google has limited public access to Black Agenda Report, suppressing the appearance of our material in search results for almost 3 years now, after the Washington Post endorsed a specious claim that we were somehow under the influence of the Russians. We are the first and as far as we know the only black owned and operated outfit to enjoy this distinction. Facebook’s recent partnership with the Atlantic Council puts deep state intelligence and propaganda operatives in charge of what you can and cannot see on Facebook as well. So the only way you can be certain you’re getting fresh news, commentary and analysis from the black left is to visit us at www.blackagendareport.com and hit the SUBSCRIBE button, so you’ll receive links to all our newly published print and audio content in your email inbox each and every week, free from the interference of the corporations which otherwise run the internet.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party. He livesw and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Thu, 20 September 2018
Ten years ago it was 2008. With the presidential election less than two months away the single minded focus of political conversation in black America was electing Barack Obama the first African American US president. I want to say it was a peculiar political moment, but it was way longer than a moment, it was a whole peculiar political season which began more than a year before his election and lasted for some during most of Obama’s entire eight years in office.
If you were black, and you had a demand or a criticism of the black presidential candidate it was your obligation, many of us told each other, to sit down and shut up and unite behind the man so he could get elected. As a prominent black Atlanta pastor fresh back from several campaign stops with Obama told me
“We've got to unite and build a wall, a solid black wall around Brother Obama…If we can build that solid black wall, if we can unite black people behind Brother Obama, he will have the power to do anything he wants to do. Can't you see it? If we do that, nothing any of his opponents say or do will be able to touch him.”
The pastor pretty much got his wish, and that wall of black unity erected around President Obama proved among his most valuable assets.
But it didn’t protect him against the charter school sugar daddies intent upon privatizing public schools and throwing a hundred thousand qualified black teachers in the street. It didn’t protect President Obama from letting go the too-big-to-fail or jail banksters at a cost of trillions, while allowing 3 million families, an outsize chunk of them black families, to lose their homes. The black wall around President Obama didn’t protect him from bombing seven or eight countries, keeping troops in Iraq, escalating the war in Afghanistan, bombing Somalia, Yemen and letting torturers go without prosecution.
In the end, the wall of black unity around Barack Obama freed his hand to ignore black demands upon him, if we’d possessed coherent political sense to make any in the first place.
Ten years later, we’re doing the same thing with black candidates for governor in Florida and Georgia. If you’ve got any demands to make upon, any critical evaluations to make of Florida’s Andrew Gillum or Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, we’re told, it’s your duty to sit down and shuddup for the sake of Black Girl Magic or Black Unity or just beating the rabid racist pro-Trump Republicans they’re running against.
You’d think there would be a lesson we could draw from the Obama experience, or for that matter from the election of black mayors in scores of big and medium sized cities throughout the country in the last generation. The politics of black representation – that is, putting black faces in high places only benefits a narrow section, a small class of black people – elements of the professional and business classes and aspirants. Unity behind black mayors don’t prevent black neighborhoods from being gentrified out of existence, electing black prosecutors and police chiefs don’t prevent racist cops from gunning down black citizens with impunity. The black president didn’t prevent hundreds of thousands of black families from losing their homes. Choosing black sheriffs and prison officials doesn’t stop them from locking up black juveniles with adults, and it doesn’t bring educational programs or medical or mental health care into the prisons, which are disproportionately black and brown.
It’s pretty obvious that the politics of black representation are fraudulent. It’s a fraudulent politics because real life experiences within and without what we’re accustomed to calling the black community are determined by class, and the income and wealth differentials among black Americans are wider than those among whites.
In the next few weeks Black Agenda Report will take some closer looks at Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams, both of whom, if the polls are to be believed, are within striking distance of becoming governors of their respective states.
The wall of black unity that was built around Barack Obama protected him from accountability to the precarious working class to which most of the black population actually belongs. It enabled Barack Obama to make promises – like raising the minimum wage, and making it possible for people to join unions – promises he immediately forgot once assuming office. Gillum and Abrams have made promises too, on raising the minimum wage to a living wage, on Medicare expansion and more. Abrams is even on record as using the words “housing” and “human right” in the same paragraph. That’s impressive.
But there are no organized forces in our community which really represent the class of black people whose job and housing situations are balanced on the knife edge of precarity, who are being bled white by payday lenders, who cannot afford medical care even if they have what passes for insurance under Obamacare, who need child care and would join or form a union if federal and state laws didn’t favor the bosses at every turn. There are simply no institutions in the black community which can hold a Stacey Abrams or an Andrew Gillum or any supposedly progressive politician’s feet to the fire.
We have the power to elect them, after wealthy donors have conducted what Paul Street calls “the money primary.” But we don’t have the power to make them DO anything, especially if we build that wall of black unity around them. A class-blind black politics, as elder Adolph Reed reminds us, is also the politics of a particular class. That’s what’s real.
For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Bruce Dixon. Please remember that Black Agenda Report is being suppressed by Google, whose search algorithms deliberately suppress the appearance of our content in search results on the grounds that we may be under the influence of foreign powers. So the only way you can guarantee that you’re receiving fresh news, commentary and analysis from the black left each week is to go to www.blackagendareport.com and hit that subscribe button to have our free weekly email newsletter with links to all our newly published content in your email inbox each and every week.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the GA Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be contacted via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
Thu, 13 September 2018
Two Thirds of "Progressive" Democratic Congressional Candidates Are Silent on Foreign Policy. Why? Don't They Trust Democratic Voters?
There are serious obstacles to a Democratic sweep of the House in November. But what will we get in the event it does happen? Most of the progressives are entirely silent on foreign policy. What does that mean?
We’re told there’s a blue wave coming in November that may sweep a Democratic majority into the House of Representatives. How likely is that, and if it happens what will we be getting?
To achieve a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives Democrats must overcome the result of two decades of relentless Republican gerrymandering in state legislatures. Traditionally the maps from which congressional representatives were elected were only drawn once a decade based on census results, but beginning in the 1990s Republicans asserted and won the right to re-draw legislative maps pretty much whenever they feel the need. Their technique is to concentrate Democratic voters into a relatively small number of districts where Democrats reliably win by enormous margins, while spreading out the Republican vote to a greater number of districts in which Republicans reliably win with much smaller margins. This is how Republicans are able to elect dozens more congressional representatives with a million or two fewer votes than Democrats.
Democrats could have fought this on the federal and the state level, in the courts, in the legislatures and the streets beginning when they still had the upper hand in the 1990s. But they did not. And so they, and we are where we are.
Unlike the right to possess a gun, the right to vote is not guaranteed in the US Constitution. So any state or county city official can block or obstruct or take away your right to vote, with a new law or with an administrative decision. The omission of this right from the Constitution, the absence of any mass movement demanding voting rights, and the laziness of Democratic party honchos has allowed a veritable briar patch of laws and regulations calculated to disenfranchise Democrat leaning voters, making it harder to register, more difficult to vote, and allowing their votes under some circumstances not to be counted.
Throughout the 70s, 80s and into the 90s, Democrats had many, many chances to introduce laws, to campaign, to generate street heat in support of voting rights, even to campaign to amend the Constitution and make local interference with voting rights impossible. They didn’t, and so again they, and we are where we are.
When Republican officials threw out tens of thousands of Detroit votes, more than the margin by which Trump won Michigan, Hillary Clinton refused to fight for her own vote, refused to raise a public objection. A similar thing happened in Wisconsin. It fell to Jill Stein, the Green Party’s presidential candidate to file lawsuits demanding recounts in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania to expose the fundamental level on which US elections are rigged and gamed. A Michigan judge eventually ruled that the public had no right to an audit of the vote.
Late in the Obama era and continuing into the reign of Trump, there were selective and malicious criminal prosecution of organizations and their members conducting voter registration, early voting, and absentee ballot drives. From Mississippi to Michigan activists have been victimized by police raids and had spurious criminal cases manufactured against them for voter registration and GOTV activities which were never criminal matters before. There have also been also deliberate purges in multiple states of voter rolls designed to throw hundreds of thousands of likely Democratic voters off the rolls. In Georgia where I live, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, is a right wing extremist named Brian Kemp who’s also Georgia’s Secretary of State has been in court this year defending an attempt to purge some 50,000 voters from the state’s rolls.
So once again we are where we are, and Democrats have a far steeper uphill climb than they ought to thanks to two generations of their own laziness and misleadership.
So what will we get when and if a 2018 blue wave sweeps a Democratic majority into Congress?
Let’s take a look at some of the organized forces fielding and assisting Democratic candidates this year.
There are the CIA Democrats backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee...
The World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org, one of the web outlets which along with Black Agenda Report was deemed a tool of the Russians, and which like Black Agenda Report has been suppressed by Google ever since, published a 3 part article on March 8, 9 and 10 called The CIA Democrats. In it, Patrick Martin named more than 30 former CIA and State Department officials, military death squad and kidnapping – uhh maybe I mean “extraordinary rendition” operatives and their civilian bosses who were running in Democratic congressional primaries. The only good news in that article is that some of the spooks, military types and bloody handed civilian and military officials were running against each other. A little more than half of them lost. But 19 of those CIA Democrats named by Martin survived Democratic congressional primaries in their respective states to face Republicans in November, many of them in vulnerable districts.
They have the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official deep pocket of the party through which bribes – I mean campaign contributions are funneled from corporations, wealthy individuals and anonymous sources to deserving congressional candidates.
For the record, their names and districts are in the print version of this article. Some of them will certainly win, and every one that does will make the world, our world, a little worse.
And there are the allegedly progressive Democrats
There are 3 national outfits providing techincal and fundraising assistance, expert personnel and endorsements to supposedly progressive Democrats. They are Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and Our Revolution. They had a big hand in the victory of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in New York, and dozens of congressional, state level and local Democratic primary campaigns.
31 congressional candidates endorsed by one or more of these progressive outfits survived the Democratic primary to face Republicans in November. Black Agenda Report took a quick look at the web sites of those 31 progressive candidates for congress. You can find the list with links to their web sites and issue positions at the end of the print version of this Black Agenda Radio commentary.
All but one or two say they support Medicare For All, though it’s not clear whether they mean the straight no chaser version or the watered down one full of exceptions now pushed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Just about all say they’re refusing corporate bribes – damn I mean contributions. More than half say reforming the criminal justice to provide education and job training for inmates system is among their top priorities, and have something to say about net neutrality. Nearly all embrace more pro-active and sensible measures to address climate change, to uphold the rights of women and LBGTQ people, and immigrants, and more. Most have something to say about gun violence, but it’s a safe bet that none of them are educating anybody about the fact that the 2nd amendment of the US was enacted to facilitate slave patrolling, land stealing and the genocide of indigenous people.
What stands out in the web sites of these progressive Democrats is that 21 out of 31 have absolutely NOTHING to say to voters about war or peace, about the military budget which consumes roughly a trillion dollars a year. And that’s not counting the two candidates whose sole mention of the world outside the United States was opining that we should fully fund the State Department in one case, or put more emphasis on diplomacy in another.
9 or 10 out of 31want to help the vets, respect the vets, listen to the vets and the active duty military, improve medical care and job opportunities and such, though one outlier, ER physician Matt Morgan in Michigan wants to privatize the VA into some kind of nonprofit. Only a couple of those candidates who list veterans affairs among their priorities have anything to say about the use to which veterans are put. Only one or two of the “respect the veterans” progressives come anywhere near mentioning what you can hear at the beginning of most NFL games, that there are hundreds of thousands of US troops in more than a hundred foreign countries, with aircraft, satellites, and warships over, on and beneath all the seven seas, and more than 800 military bases outside the US on every continent except Antarctica.
Sometimes what you leave unsaid is more eloquent and damning than what you say. For 21 out of 31 so-called progressive Democratic candidates, the world outside the US, the American global empire, and the globally integrated capitalist economy either do not exist at all, or just don’t make their top ten or top twelve list of priority issues. How do we explain that?
These are not young people trying to find their feet. They’re not running for library board or water commissioner, they’re running for Congress, the ONLY federal elected offices that exist apart from the president and vice president. Most have been in public life a good while, about a third have served as state legislators or other local elected officials. These are boys and girls who know how to ride, and this ain’t their first rodeo. They are relatively smart and savvy people with other smart and savvy people working with and for them, folks who carefully weigh and calculate and consider every word that appears on their web sites as well as everything they leave out.
There are only two possibilities. Either two thirds of our progressive Democrats running for Congress this year really are true believers in the US right to make up its own facts, to declare offshore law free zones like Guantanamo, to invade other countries at will, killing millions and wreaking incalculable havoc upon their infrastructure, societies and ecologies like in Southeast Asia, Iraq and Afghanistan, and just don’t want to say it out loud, or our progressive Democrats don’t believe it but imagine they need to remain silent and pretend to be true believers in the US empire to get elected. Either way, two thirds of the new blue wave of progressive Dem congressional candidates believe they can get away with silence on foreign affairs.
This would make the supposed progressive new wave of Democrats about as effective at opposing the empire as the old Democrats already in office. As we pointed out a month or two ago, a solid majority of House Democrats didn’t just vote for Trump’s record military budget. They raised it tens of billions above Trump’s initial proposal to show military contractors, who gave more to Hillary than they did to Trump that they, not Republicans were better friends than Trump’s party. Even a majority of the House Progressive Caucus voted for it. Ultimately the increase alone in the 2019 military budget is more the entire military budget of the Russian federation.
This is also why Democrats, not the other US government party revived the century old tradition of American hostility toward Russia, adopting the evidence-free fabrication of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, and deploying the same intelligence agencies which assured us that Iraq had poison gas and nukes to tell us the Russians gamed the election. Not one of the progressive Democrat candidate supported by Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats or Our Revolution has the principles or the courage to question the cynical RussiaGate hoax.
For what it’s worth, if you check out the foreign policy positions of Justice Democrats and Our Revolution they are pretty sketchy. Brand New Congress goes a bit further, actually mentioning the current intervention in Syria and the ridiculous military budget. When it comes to empire, all of three are on board or largely silent. So it’s no surprise that the candidates they bring us will have the same views. That’s what it is to be a progressive Democrat these days.
Like the CIA Democrats, some of them will certainly win. But whether they will make the Congress any more productive for raising wages, protecting peoples rights to education, health care, housing and the like, to ending wars and making the world better is an open question. And most are unwilling to talk to us about war and peace.
For Black Agenda Radio I’m Bruce Dixon. Find us on the web at www.blackagendareport.com where you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter delivering to your inbox all the content we publish each week. Since the Washington Post has accused us of carrying the Russian line Google has suppressed the appearance of our content in search results, and some other corporate social media have done similar things. So the only way you can guarantee you’re getting fresh news, commentary and analysis from the black left every week is via dark social media – which is what the marketing consultants call dark social media because they cannot trace it.
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Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report, and serves on the state committee of the GA Green Party, which is legislated off the ballot in that state by the two government parties. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.