The future of Black political power?

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“I contend that for democratic progressive movements to thrive in the United States, a healthy black politics is indispensable. Black political movements historically have formed a leading edge, in many eras… the leading edge in American demo

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“I contend that for democratic progressive movements to thrive in the United States, a healthy black politics is indispensable. Black political movements historically have formed a leading edge, in many eras… the leading edge in American democratic and progressive movements.”

- quote from the book, Not In Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics by Michael C. Dawson, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago)

Recently Professor Michael C. Dawson appeared as a guest on my radio program, “Another Perspective,” heard Saturdays from 4 p.m. – 5 p.m on WVON-AM/1690. I sat spell bound as he discussed the historical role Black political power has played in civilizing our country. His research was an intense examination of the effort put forth by Blacks to achieve racial equality from World War I through the 1970’s. Dawson also delivers compelling insights regarding the election of our first Black President and the human suffering of Black victims during Hurricane Katrina.

Having spent four decades of my professional career as a “community organizer” I found Dawson’s critique on Black political power refreshing. I can recall when the Black community of Chicago held great political power. In fact, Dawson’s Grand Uncle – U.S. Cong. William Dawson – served 26 years in U.S. Congress. His political power affected the election of Mayor Richard J. Daley and every election there after including that of former President John Kennedy.

Moreover, I recall the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. An aroused, militant and insurgent Black population used its political power for racial equality and social justice for themselves and all Americans under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King. And we must not forget the uncompromising Minister Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X who agitated for Black self-improvement and self-development. Those of us (Blacks) who lived in Chicago’s “Black Belt” (roughly from 12th Street on the north, to 69th on the South, from State Street on the west and Cottage Grove on the east) formed a major Black political power block and influenced elected officials for the benefit of “our” community. Beginning with the turn of the 20th Century through 1970, Chicago’s Black South Side and West Side communities gave birth to successful Black owned businesses such as Johnson Publishing (Negro Digest, Jet and Ebony magazines), Chicago Defender, Johnson Products, Soft Sheen, Metropolitan Assurance, Supreme Liberty Insurance Company, Parker House Sausage, Gladys, Edna’s, Leon’s Bar BQ and thousands of other retail and service businesses. These businesses not only employed tens of thousands of Black men, women and youth but they invested in Black led institutions that worked towards the advancement of Blacks and the neighborhoods in which they lived.

Powerful churches developed including (but not limited to) First Church of Deliverance, Quinn Chapel, Grant Memorial, Pilgrim Baptist, Tabernacle Baptist, Olivet Baptist, Metropolitan Community Church, Apostolic Church of God and too many others to recount in this brief commentary. Grassroots community organizations emerged with the able assistance of the Chicago Urban League under the leadership of Edwin C “Bill” Berry. By 1963 Triple CCCO was formed with the late Bishop Arthur M. Brazier President of TWO serving as its first Convener. Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Breadbasket later to become Rainbow PUSH helped give definition and expression to Black political and economic empowerment. Black Trade Union’s were organized and Black union leaders (such as the late Charlie Hayes and Jim Wright) used their positions to influence elected officials.

So, while Dawson does not take us down Chicago’s “Black memory lane” nor does he claim that the Civil Rights movement achieved complete success, he does credit it with ending many of the vilest expressions of American racism and with being the driving force for progressive democratic politics for over a half century. He does state flatly that Blacks have gotten off track and that it’s once powerful political “status has been lost.” He notes “we have moved from a period of insurgency (militancy) in this 21st century to what has been aptly characterized by Dr. Cornel West as a period of …misdirected anger and a throttling despair have taken over from a mobilization of forces.” Still yet, Dawson sees little hope for America unless Blacks again become focused and engaged in the political affairs of our nation. He adds that, “Without a mobilized Black politics, American democracy is even more vulnerable to attack from within by those such as the neoconservatives and neoliberals who have been openly suspicious of mass democratic movements for decades.” While Dawson does not directly speak to the efforts of the Tea Party and its fellow right wing conservative base, it is clear that there is a counter insurgent movement in America. It is my view that the Tea Party and the right wing conservative movement are working every day to cripple the efforts of President Barack Obama.

It was quite interesting that when asked what role Blacks played in the election of President Obama, Dawson did not hesitate to argue that his research confirms that Blacks played the major role in the election of President Obama. However, Dawson cautions us not to fall for the illusion that the election of President Obama brought about freedom, justice and an end to racism in America. One need only to look at the pockets of Black poverty and food deserts on the south and west sides of our City and through out urban and inner city America from coast to coast to see the painful truth.

Finally, Dawson challenges, “in order to transform America into a just democracy, it is necessary to rebuild Black politics-including its radical wing.” This in turn means rebuilding Black social, civic, service and political organizations. He challenges Blacks to resist internal class divisions. He urges Blacks to go back and rebuild strong block clubs, civic associations, businesses and associations, local parent school organizations and strong independent churches committed to providing support for Black families without regard of class or social standing. When I began my work as a community organizer I was as clear then as I am now that the only way to create a society based on freedom and justice was to organize average American citizens to both participate in the political processes and to demand Justice. According to my deceased mentor and fellow organizer, Saul Alinsky, the most reliable group to undertake the job was then and is now Black Americans! In my opinion and that of noted scholars The Future of Black Political Power and the future of this great nation of ours depends on an informed, organized and insurgent Black community. Blacks hold the keys to progressive democratic justice and an end to racism, classism, elitism and gender discrimination. Now is the time for Blacks to Re-Occupy American Politics. Now is the time to take our nation back from the super rich of Big Oil and Big Wall Street! Now Run and Tell That!

Rev. Dr. Finney Jr. is the host of “Another Perspective” heard every Saturday from 4pm to 5pm on WVON am 1690 – http://www.wvon.com. He has a Masters Degree in Economics, Masters Degree in Theology, a Doctorate Degree in Theological Studies, and a Doctorate Degree in Public Administration. Rev. Dr. Leon Finney Jr. is the Pastor Metropolitan Community Church, President Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, and the Former Executive Director of The Woodlawn Organization.

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