Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Black America in Free Fall

Reading things like this, this or this are, to say the least, jaw-dropping and enraging. It's no accident that Obama's approval ratings are the lowest of any first-term president at this point since Eisenhower.

As the percentage of Black children living in poverty soars in the direction of the heart-stopping figure of 50%, one wonders what to make of Jesse Jackson's recent decision to give a major speech at the Left Forum in March in New York City. While it has always been the case that Jackson has been, in some broad sense, a man of the Left, a venue like the Left Forum is a touch more radical than is usual for him.

My general experience with Jackson, things like this notwithstanding, is that on the one hand he often makes critiques of the status quo that are powerful and insightful. Unfortunately, these critiques often end with a coda like "but, nonetheless, we have to support the Democratic Party and help persons X, Y and Z get elected". His decision to oppose the Democrats in the 80s was, on my view, politically important and courageous. But since then he hasn't really been a figure with the independence from the Democrats to have any hope of challenging their conservatism.

Thus I'm interested in why he's speaking at the Left Forum, and particularly why he's speaking there now. I don't think he would've done this sort of thing in 2008, nor do I think that the figures discussed in the news articles above about Black suffering are irrelevant here.

The sticking point, for me, is whether (1) Jackson will push for independence from the Democrats, or (2) if he will try to quell dissatisfaction on the Left (particularly the Black Left) with the Democrats and try to bring them back aboard. My hope is that it is the former. Whatever else is true, there's no sense in supporting the Democrats if you believe in healthcare, racial justice, full employment, stopping unjustified wars, workplace democracy, or women's rights. You might add public transportation and public universities to the list of things the Democrats don't care about. If these important initiatives wither on the vine when we have a Democratic President, Democrat super-majority in the Senate, Heavily Democratic House and so on... what's the use of electing Democrats? It shouldn't even be a dilemma for those on the Left anymore: the Democratic Party is not worth one ounce of support from progressive and left-minded people. In order to get the things we care about (e.g. healthcare, jobs, education, and so on), we're going to have to organize independently of the Democratic Party and demand them. This isn't a utopian idea: the Wagner Act and the Civil Rights Act both have extra-electoral struggle to thank for their passage.

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