Friday, October 28, 2011

Bruce Dixon on Atlanta - Template for L.A. Critique?

Editor's Note: Bruce A. Dixon is a distinguished journalist living in Marietta GA, where he is a principal at a strategic telephony and consulting firm, and a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. He wrote this after Atlanta's African-American Mayor Kasim Reed ordered a violent crackdown on Occupy Atlanta. I have cross-posted the entire commentary because, in my opinion, this is a beautiful example of the critique I would like to see published about California's own "Black Misleadership Class." Where I live in Los Angeles, the 3 city council members most hostile to Occupy LA are the 3 African-Americans: Herb Wesson, my Councilman Bernard C. Parks, and mayoral candidate Jan Perry. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of L.A.'s race-obsessed presumed to be "progressive" intelligentsia has either been indifferent, lukewarm, or hostile to Occupy LA. Too many progressives cling to sentimental feelings about Democratic Party Hacks in communities of color -- bamboozled by 40-year-old myths that simply "Being Black" confers a special high-minded moral sensitivity for "the poorest of the poor" and "the most vulnerable" ... blah, blah, blah.

Do you think this is too harsh? Post a comment. I am sorry to report that we have no consensus among L.A. Greens about our relationship with Occupy LA and the "Black Misleadership Class." Nevertheless, I am determined to write a statement on this and I need your input.

Posted on The Black Commentator, October 26, 2011
Occupy Atlanta VS Kasim Reed,
the Black Misleadership Class and the One Percent

By Bruce A. Dixon

Back in January 2010, I wrote that

"...the black political elite no longer believes its mission is to fight for peace and justice. The newer, more cynical black elite are unmoored from their peace-and-justice-loving base. They are focused on their own careers, and the corporate largesse that makes those careers possible... the black politics of a previous generation, in which black candidates and public officials were expected to stand for something beside their own careers, is over..."

I pointed to Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed as poster boy for this new and cynical generation of the black misleadership class.

On Saturday afternoon, Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed screamed, shouted and threatened representatives of Occupy Atlanta, declaring that those who wanted to be arrested "would get their wish." After a mobilization of several hundred additional protesters, some barricades and a threatening display of police numbers, City Hall decided not to clear Woodruff Park that night. The mayor declared he would send a delegation of preachers to talk to occupiers, but that this would be their "last chance."
By Monday, the mayor regained his composure, and called an afternoon press conference in which he declared that Occupy Atlanta was an imminent danger to public health and safety, because of a single gas-fueled electric generator. In the park. Never mind, Occupy Atlanta's Tim Franzen pointed out, that Atlanta tailgaters at college and NFL football games deploy dozens of these in parking lots every weekend.

Atlanta police massed around the occupiers again Sunday and Monday nights, amid renewed mayoral threats, but took no further action. TV viewers were treated to the spectacle of former mayor Andrew Young advising occupiers to settle on one or two good demands and leave the park. When a couple of the mayor's preachers, who claimed they were not acting on behalf of the mayor finally showed up on Tuesday, they demanded an immediate meeting with five to seven leaders of the occupation, and one or two demands they could take back to City Hall. Spokespeople for the occupiers, who included State Senator Vincent Fort, Ron Allen, Tim Franzen, Joe Beasley and a handful of others told them the earliest meeting date that could be arranged would be Thursday, and expressed serious doubt that the mayor was able or willing to address their demands. The Thursday meeting was agreed upon, and the preachers departed.

But late Tuesday night, in a display of contempt for the occupiers and his own preachers, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered Woodruff Park surrounded by hundreds of police, who cleared the park shortly after midnight, arresting more than 50.

Atlanta's Black Mayors, The Black Misleadership Class and the One Percent

Nobody should doubt that Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed is firmly in the pocket of the one percent. It's old news. It's a choice he and leaders of the local black misleadership class made more than a generation ago. The clique of black political leaders who came to power with Atlanta mayor Maynard Jackson in 1973, and who still hold sway today have never been friends or advocates of black or white working people. Though they owed, and still owe their offices, careers and personal fortunes to the political victories won by the Freedom Movement, Atlanta's black misleadership class has rarely if ever lined up with black and working people when it came to economic justice.

Mayor Maynard Jackson in 1977 defined the relationship between the class of newly privileged black politicians and the rest of black Atlanta by deliberately provoking and then savagely breaking a strike by Atlanta sanitation workers seeking decent pay and medical benefits. Georgia's white business leaders began to understand that though the color of the city's politicians had changed, little else would. And it hasn't. By the end of the 70s, the Maynard Jackson administration boasted of leaveraging city contracts and the construction of the nation's largest airport to create two or three dozen new black millionaires, from whom wealth was to trickle down to the entire African American community. The only thing that really trickled down to black Atlanta and black communities nationwide was the self-celebrating myth of Black Mecca, where the climate was benign, the housing affordable, the jobs plentiful and the politicians enlightened. It was a myth, but a potent one.

Maynard Jackson was succeeded by Andy Young, a former confidante of Martin Luther King. Young's signature project was bringing the 1996 Olympics to Atlanta, providing the excuse to clear vast tracts in the city of poor people and abandoned industries, and replace them with richer people and more shopping. Jackson returned for a last term after Young, and was followed by Bill Campbell, who sold the city's water network to a private firm. Young cashed in his chips as a civil rights icon to found GoodWorks International, a PR and consulting firm for multinational corporations like Wal-Mart and Nike, and serve on the boards of corporations like Barrick Gold, which is heavily implicated in plunder and genocide in the Congo.

Shirley Franklin came in after Campbell with a campaign of sweeping privatizations of parks, city services, parking and more. But with Atlanta's newly privatized water works pumping rust colored mud through the taps of tens of thousands of Atlanta residents (including wealthy white ones) the drive to privatize everything in sight had to be slowed, though Franklin was able to complete demolition of nearly all Atlanta's public housing, driving tens of thousands of poor black Atlantans from the city. Like Andy Young, Franklin also cashed in after leaving Atlanta's City Hall, as a consultant for the telecom industry, and championing the privatization of schools and services of all kinds.

By 2002, after a generation of “Black Mecca” and black political leadership, the city's poverty rate was in the top five of metro areas nationwide. One in three black Atlanta children is in poverty, even with the expulsion of tens of thousands of poor Atlantans as their neighborhoods have been demolished.

The current mayor is firmly within the tradition of his predecessors. Kasim Reed is a corporate lawyer for the rich and racist, a man who has never fought for or believed in justice for ordinary people. As a state senator in 2006 he introduced vicious anti-immigrant legislation that paralleled similar racist bills passed this year in Georgia and Alabama. As a mayoral candidate, Reed called himself “a civil rights lawyer,” leaving out the key detail that his practice represented the corporations that violated civil rights, not the black, brown, elderly or disabled plaintiffs whose rights had been violated. The day before being sworn in as mayor Reed promised local business leaders to deal with downtown “panhandlers” in what he called a “very muscular” fashion. The term “panhandlers” is shorthand for homeless black males, even though any sociologist or person who works with the homeless will tell you that only white homeless men can beg on the street. Unless they are very elderly or handicapped, black men are considered inherently too inherently “threatening” to be successful street beggars. The convention and tourist industry seems to want black men, especially homeless black men out of downtown Atlanta. Hence an obsession for Kasim Reed, and if his wealthy real estate backers is closing down the large homeless shelter at Peachtree & Pine, at the edge of downtown Atlanta only a mile from the site of Occupy Atlanta where hundreds of men, many of them gainfully employed, sleep every night.

Where the Occupy Movement in Atlanta May Be Going

About half the Atlanta occupation in Woodruff Park was composed of homeless mostly black men who had been in the park on a daily basis before the occupation. When the mostly white occupiers brought tents and food in, some the homeless got tents too, and were able to use the portable toilets. The homeless men were fed along with the occupiers, and took part in daily marches to banks, the scenes of police shootings and other activities. Though significant tensions existed within and among the occupiers, homeless and not, the two were beginning to learn how to work together.

Headquarters of the occupation, according to some of its leaders, may be moving to the Peachtree-Pine shelter complex at the edge of downtown. In contrast to cities where the mostly white occupations have utterly failed to connect with the ongoing struggles of local residents, Atlanta's occupiers are being driven into the arms of the homeless community. The next version of Occupy Atlanta will be even less to the liking of city officials and business leaders.

Why are police arresting thousands and dispersing “Occupy” gatherings in dozens of cities across the nation? Because they know that the occupy movement is a clear, present and persistent danger to established authority. People are emerging from their homes --- if they still have homes --- freeing themselves from TV and shopping, if they still have anything to shop with. They are coming out on corners in hundreds of cities and towns, most of them, for their first political activity beyond the narrow vote-and-go-home model sold to them by the two corporate parties.

Neither occupations nor occupiers are perfect. People are coming as they are, bringing the baggage of racism and classism and sexism, of divergent political views, of poverty, homelessness and despair. But they are coming. They are eager to connect with each other, to connect with whatever movement exists, or to help bring one into being that can challenge and change the world they live in. They are ready to learn and do real politics. What could possibly be more subversive, and more hopeful?

Read the Original Commentary at:


Martin Zehr said...

I really, really wish I could agree with Bruce on this. Accuse me if you want of being a "Republican" but the situation in San Francisco is that OccupySF is anarchist driven and self-absorbed. They have occupied a space on the Embarcadero for visibility. They are self-absorbed in their functioning, making every task and decision have everyone's fingerprints on it. To address significant issues they could have chosen a location in Bayview/Hunters Point if they had worked with African-American community there. It is a much more critical focal point in regards to the displacement of African-Americans throughout San Francisco. Lest we forget it was Philadelphia Mayor Wilson Goode who dropped the bomb on MOVE in 1985. So Bruce's main point should by no means be news to anyone.

OccupySF attracted politicians running for Mayor when it appeared as if they were going to be moved by the police. But again, this is San Francisco. It amounts to just so much posturing more than real action.

It has become a Rainbow Gathering. No outreach to community groups that I can see. The world revolves around Justin Herman Plaza. The tactic has become a strategy in itself. They are honest people and feel as if they have stepped onto the stage but here in San Francisco they are remarkably small and attract from 50-75 people to the General Assembly they had today. The San Francisco Labor Council and ILWU come out when there is a threat of assault by the police, but this is not particularly unusual in this city. They are always engaged in the larger May Day rallies. The campsite has become THE issue in itself.

The enthusiasm of Greens in regards to these actions is not generalized in regards to engagement either by Greens or progs. Anarcho-Greens have promoted resolutions supported by active Greens. But they promote the position of keeping hands-off in regards to being visible or even engaged as Greens.

Mike X said...

Back in the 1960s, they used to call these kind of African-American 'leaders', 'Uncle Toms'. They've sold out to the System, plain and simple. And, because they have done so, they DO NOT occupy the 'moral high ground'. They are contemptible cretins who remind me of the 'King Fish' on Amos and Andy...

Sure, the Marxists and Anarchists are out in force... What a golden opportunity... even mainstream politicians have come on board the bandwagon... Greens should be on board too. But it is not the time to do so. Right now the Greens are a 'phase three' organization, and it is only 'phase one'.

Guess what? Political parties can't lead from the rear!

Best bet is a statement against police brutality. The people have the right to demonstrate.

That action up in Oakland was horrible... using tear gas and concussion grenades on the demonstrators - what are they thinking?

You can be 'Republicans' if you want, but that won't stop the 'Man' from arresting you in the middle of the night and carrying you off to a 'detention center'....

Martin Zehr said...

I keep wondering why Greens continue to "lead from the rear", instead of formulating a real response to the recession. Of course, we should respond to the Oakland attacks. But, we still fail to present a legislative agenda or have our candidates formulate viable political proposals that unite people. This is a distinct task in itself and when a political party fails to do it, all it is left with are other peoples' ideas. This is not bad in itself but it does indicate a real lack of strategy for electoral campaigns and ends up becoming a reflex response that deflects our real role in elections.

Wes said...

Martin, I agree with your last statement. One part of the problem is the fact that the Green Party has no central economic theory around which to build a set of proposals. The Democrats are obviously Keynesian Greens are all over the place.