Growing a Backbone in 2012

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Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the greatest orators that the world has ever been blessed to hear. But the enduring characteristic of Dr. King was his audacious tenacity to literally put his life on the line for the freedom, justice and equality for Black Americans and for all people in America and throughout the world. He was more than an orator.

Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), together with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Urban League (NUL) made a solemn pact in the 196Os courageously to look racial injustice and economic inequality straight into the face of history and resolutely said, “No. We will not tolerate any more of these injustices.” Leadership put oratory into action and transformation. Real change happened, yet not by osmosis, but by hard work, struggle, sacrifice and mass consciousness-raising and mobilization. We threw down. We stood up. We broke the shackles and the chains of fear. We took the point position to advance the cause of freedom, justice and equality. The masses responded with sustained social action and the Civil Rights Movement therefore helped to transform America forward to a better society. Of course that struggle needs to continue today and into the future.

In the wake of the recent Republican and Democratic conventions in Tampa, Fla/ and Charlotte, N.C., many pundits and political analysts are attempting to grade or evaluate the effectiveness of the speeches made by Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama. Of course oratory is an important tool in communicating campaign messages and political platforms. It would be a little unfair to Romney if the decision on whom to vote for would be based exclusively on an oratorical contest, given President Obama’s superior skills in that area. Yet, the truth is even President Obama realized that he needed to do more than make another great speech. Thus his speech to the 2012 Democratic Convention was more “presidential” in delivery, character and tone. It is amazing to witness some critics attempt to base their analysis of President Obama’s speech as if he was in an oratorical contest with other speakers at the convention in Charlotte.

On of the most poignant moments at the Democratic convention was when Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick resolutely emphasized, “We believe that in times like these we should turn to each other, not on each other. And we believe that government has a role to play not in solving everybody’s problem in everybody’s life, but in helping people help themselves to the American dream…. It’s time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe.”

Gov. Patrick was correct and on time. The Democrats need to stand up to the Tea Party and to all of those who want to take America backward.

The 2012 elections are the most important elections in the 21st century. I admire what the NAACP North Carolina Conference of Branches is now doing to rekindle and reignite the Civil Rights Movement across the state with a massive nonpartisan voter registration and Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) campaign under the tremendous leadership of the Rev. William Barber II. We should be mobilizing the vote in every state across the nation. Now that all the convention speeches have concluded, it is time to work, to organize and to mobilize. In particular the youth vote is also very important. I am calling on all my associates and youth leaders in hip-hop culture to once again rise to the occasion of voter mobilization and activism.

I am optimistic. No time to be pessimistic or cynical. We all have work to do. A backbone cannot grow properly if you stay bent over to oppression, voter suppression or engage in self-destructive things that dull your consciousness. This is beyond a wakeup call. This is a call to duty, to struggle, and to fight for the empowerment of our families and communities. Today, we should be stronger as a “movement for change” than we were 50 years ago. Each generation has to rise to the challenges at hand. Let’s move forward with audacity, backbone and courage.

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