Civil Rights

Already, a Change to Celebrate

In grocery stores, schools, offices, churches, on front steps everywhere, there is a collective breath being held that — depending on the outcome — awaits a giant exhalation tomorrow night. For many African-Americans who never thought they would see one of their own as president in their lifetime, exhaling will most likely be accompanied by more than a few tears.

With Barack Obama ahead of John McCain by a comfortable margin, any McCain upset would undoubtedly by perceived by a goodly number of passionate Obama partisans who watched Al Gore lose the White House in 2000 as a stolen election. But for anxious, hopeful African-Americans — particularly those over the age of 45 — that feeling would likely run deeper.

RFK, the Prophet

Want to read something stunning? A friend sent me a dated news clip from 1968. It reported a talk my former boss, Robert F. Kennedy, gave then on Voice of America. I worked for RFK in the Department of Justice, and was a speechwriter when he ran for the Senate in 1964. But this uncanny prediction from the past is one I missed, and it is remarkable. I quote it; the words are so eerily prophetic.

Things are moving so fast in race relations a Negro could be president in 40 years. There’s no question about it, in the next 40 years a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has. Prejudice exists and probably will continue to, but we have tried to make progress and we are making progress. We are not going to accept the status quo.

That was 1968; 40 years ago! How intriguing.

Attacking Grassroots Democracy by Attacking ACORN

ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, does great work to bring voting rights to all Americans. It is a model of grassroots democracy and of the values we share.

However, there are some people who would prefer that ordinary Americans don't get to the voting booth. The opponents of the grassroots movement share some dangerous motivations and use dramatic language to ensure that some Americans matter more than their neighbors.

It’s Time for a Merger: NAACP and Mainstream America Protecting the Civil Rights of All Americans

When Berwyn Heights, Md. Mayor Cheye Calvo found himself sitting on the floor of his home, handcuffed to his distraught mother-in-law during a brazen no-knock raid by Prince George’s County sheriff's deputies last week, he must have thought he was channeling the ghost of a runaway slave.

And he must have experienced a state beyond shock as the police proceeded to shoot his beloved Labrador retrievers to death, when, according to him, they never posed a threat to anyone. The dogs were shot, in his words, merely “for sport.” After all, the young, married mayor had no idea what the police were looking for, and why their business in his home required such a hasty, overbearing and potentially fatal confrontation.

Jesse Jackson's 'Post-Racial' Legacy for the Democratic Party

I first heard the Rev. Jesse Jackson speak in a Chicago hotel ballroom in July 1968, shortly after Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's assassination and just three months after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

We were an audience of largely white college students fresh from the anti-Vietnam War presidential campaigns of Sen. Eugene McCarthy and Mr. Kennedy. By then we all knew that Mr. Jackson had been in the parking lot talking to Mr. King when the horrible shots rang out and Mr. King fell, mortally wounded.

The New Racists?

Theorists who conjecture about racial relations in America posit that racism, an institutional practice, differs from prejudice, a personal flaw, in that racism requires power. It has therefore been argued that while both whites and blacks exhibit prejudice, only white people can be racists.

This conclusion is predicated upon the assumption that an elite class of white people have always possessed more institutional power than has any black person. In the past, this has been largely true — privileged whites controlled the electoral system before the Voting Rights Act was passed; they controlled hiring and promotions in the workplace before anti-discrimination laws were passed; and they controlled law enforcement in many places, using their authority to unfairly target and punish blacks.

But one wonders whether blacks, as they have gained more access to institutional power in recent times (they can now be found in greater ranks in government, business and the media), can also be practitioners of racism.

Relevance of the NAACP

Armstrong Williams says the NAACP is loosing its relevance in today's society, and he wonders why presidential candidates are compelled to speak at their annual convention.


The Hard Work of Peace

As I sat watching the kids from the Catholic school and the kids from the mostly Protestant public school sing together today in East Belfast, Northern Ireland, I was struck by how they pretty much all looked to be brothers and sisters. They all had the same freckle-faced fair complexion. “I bet their parents and grandparents pretty much looked the same as well when they were that age,” I thought to myself as the Protestant kids beat on some drums at the end of the recital.

I am in Belfast today as a member of the Board of Cooperation Ireland (CI for short). CI funds projects dedicated to building a sustainable peace between the nationalist and loyalist communities in the north of Ireland. Belfast is a far different community than it was in 1985, when I first visited the city torn asunder by religious hatred.

The scars seem, from the outside, to be mostly healed. The politicians have declared that peace has arrived. For the sake of the fine people of this lovely province, I certainly hope they are right.

Behold: The Big Picture

Blogs are usually not the place for it, but for today, let us behold the bigger picture.

In the middle of the drama surrounding the Clinton concession-vigil, a profound, historic event has occurred this week, unnoticed and uncelebrated. This was the week it became clear: A political party in our country is poised to nominate an African-American candidate who has an excellent shot at becoming president of the United States.

Through the drama of the horserace, which isn't officially over, no one mentions this fact. Anything can happen; many disruptions could occur before Obama secures his party's nomination. But as long as he holds his delegate lead, it won't be handed to Clinton by the superdelegates. Barring something tragic or earth-shattering, Obama will be nominated on Aug. 28, on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech.

The Voter ID Issue

What you find depends on where you look, Yogi Berra might have said if he read the United States Supreme Court’s recent opinion (4/28/08) in the Indiana voter ID case, Crawford v. Marion County Election Board. The 6-3 majority decided that the challengers of the law did not come forward with people who were, in fact, prejudiced against by the operation of the voter photo ID requirement — which is not an easy task, somewhat akin to proving a negative. The dissenters argued that the State of Indiana did not prove there were frauds that warranted the passage of this law, aimed, supposedly, at preventing said alleged frauds. One does not see what one does not find.