Monday, January 2, 2012

Black Politics, Campaign 2012, and Tomorrow

Black Buzz News Service
Special Report
Pittsburgh, PA
January 2, 2012

By Fred Logan

December 8, 2011

This robust national black debate that we hear day-in-and-day-out about Barack Obama and the black community is one of the very best things to happen in a very long time. It must also be one of the greatest political gifts that a black US president could possibly bestow on the black community. This is particularly so given all of those systemic constraints that a whole bunch of black people vehemently argue are on any such president.
We are indeed indebted to and should send our most heart-felt thanks to President Obama for his invaluable, though unintended, contribution to African American political struggle. Just how warmly he would receive our “Thanks” is another subject for debate.
Some prominent African American personalities including Dr. Cornel West and the Reverend Al Sharpton have jumped in the fray. But far more important still, we find the same political debate raging on black talk-radio and on neighborhood street corners, during church meetings, in Black Studies organizations, newspapers, taverns, beauty salons, and even around the dinner table.  It seems to be everywhere.
We would not be arguing as long and hard as we have been about the president if Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton or any other white president was sitting in the White House. We must be honest and tell the truth about the debate. It’s “a Black Thing,” regardless of who claims the United States has transcended race. We ain’t , yet!
We have been complaining for decades that the black community needs, desperately, a dramatic up surge in mass black politics. Well this is it, not all of it by any means, but certainly an important part of it.
This often heated debate tells us some important things about where the black community is at the moment on a given issue. As black public opinion shifts, we have an indication of what some segments of the community can be organized to do politically. You can bet the sitting president very closely monitors the political moods and swings of his core, most loyal constituency. 
This dispute over Obama and the black community will intensify throughout the 2012 campaign. Some black people have criticized Cornel West for some pointed remarks he made about Obama. But we must remember West’s remarks were no harsher than some of the comments Obama said to several of his liberal critics.  We can not let the heat of the debate deter us. Black people are bound to exchange some very strong words during the campaign.
The black community, particularly black people who see themselves as progressive left-activists, must raise this debate to a higher more critical level. We must continue to critically examine Obama’s relationship to the black community. We must also examine the state of black politics itself, independent of Obama. And we must devise strategies and tactics to build and sustain partisan black political power-bases on the local level where African American people live out their daily lives and wage their day to day struggles.
Here is another way to say the very same thing. Black people must put black politics at the top of their agenda for the 2012 US presidential campaign. Along with all of the other domestic and international priorities on the black agenda, black politics itself must be on that agenda in 2012, and for each and every primary and general election, each and every year. 
The 50- year mark of the 1965 Voting Rights Acts will be upon us in a minute. The black community must mark this with a rigorous, intensive, comprehensive critique of African American electoral politics over the past half-century. Also, it is way past time for a rigorous intensive black audit of the so-called post-black, race-transcending politicians of African American ancestry who have held public office across the county since at least the hey days of former US Senator Ed Brooke.  We must ask and answer how the quality of black life faired during the tenures of these post-black mayors, city council members and other officer holders? We must compare “black politics” to post-black politics
We must also very carefully critique the various goals and objectives of Obama’s black supporters.  Some are motivated solely by racial pride. And  the primary goal for some is to gain something for themselves.  
A lot of Obama’s most diehard black supporters will never admit it. But they are hypocrites. Yes, they certainly do adore Barack Obama as much as they claim. But they are even more infatuated with white power.  So, they worship Obama because he is black and sits on the political throne of white power. These Obamaphiles would also worship most any mainstream black politician female or male—say Colin Powell—who won the White House.
These are some of the very same people who always bad-mouth the call for black power in African American life, but idolize white power. They worship the dollar, the mainstream corporate media, various white ethnic groups, and so on.  Their love of white power transcends their love of Obama. And Obama loves white power, despite his occasional colorblind utterances.  
These are also some of the very same black people who have argued long and loud since Obama took office for the black community to lay low and “give the brother a chance.” Don’t criticize the president, they scold.  Way, way too many black people did lay low and gave Obama a “chance,” while he expanded American military aggression in the Middle East and Africa, while the economy continues to stagnant and devastate low and middle income people, and while a sometimes teary-eyed, pragmatic president appealed to the morality of an immoral GOP for “compromise.”
While the black community was lying low, however, the US right aggressively mobilized and organized its national base and dominated the political vacuum produced by the lull in mass black political mobilization. This grave error has been the major failure of black politics since Obama won office in 2008.  It is also one of the greatest errors in the history of black struggle. It has yet to receive the black critique it demands of us all.
The establishment media and black folks who tail behind the media have heaped praise and encouragement on the national Occupy protests. By now, we must have noticed this is the same media and many of the same black people who have been bad-mouthing black protests during the Obama era!  
 Black politics must not be based on the asinine argument, we hear each day, and not criticize the president. Obamaphiles argue that US reactionaries will overhear this black criticism, and use it against the president. Not only the right, but other special interests groups, will manipulate this nonsense—that’s what it is—to stifle black public criticism of the status quo and to stymie the black strategizing, organizing, and struggle that go along with it.  If black people continue to lay low during the 2012 campaign, that’s a signal for Obama to continue to avoid “black concerns” again should he be reelected.  Contrary to Obama’s uncritical black supporters, his second term might well be more conservative than the first. One thing for sure, a black lame duck president will have even less influence with both parties during his second term.  
Also, the US right argues and fights.  Some Tea Party chapters don’t even speak to each other. And they don’t give a hoot about what black folks might over hear. What makes them look so ominous to some of us is the absence of comparable black mobilization and organization.
We know that hand-in-hand with black criticism must be struggle, not just criticism by itself. That’s just griping. The material and subjective rewards from we gain from waging black struggle nullifies anything US reactionaries and others may over hear us say about Obama.
Another equally asinine argument we constantly hear everyday in the black community contends black people should not ask the federal government for programs that only help black people. In reply, black people should ask, why not? American farmers, for example, request help for farmers. US big banks, another example, are quick to ask the US government to assist big banks. In their respective requests, these farmers and big banks never ask for help for black people or for anyone else.
The Obama administration argues, and his black apologists repeat, farmers, big banks and similar special interest groups will spend their federal aid monies in the US economy and this will stimulate the overall economy, and this will—according to bourgeois economic theory—benefit the country as a whole, not just the immediate recipients.
African Americans also spend their monies in the domestic economy at Verizon, Wal-Mart, you name it. Most everyone should know by now that black folks’ little bit of money is notorious for circulating faster than white folks’ great big money. So, on average, it stimulates the economy faster. Doesn’t Obama know where black people spend their money? Or, does the American president believe that black people here in these United States of America spend their money in the Republic of New Africa?
When black people request federal aid for the black community, they never say just help us, but don’t help anyone else.   Black people, at large, want and support similar aid to Native Americans, Latinos and the society at large.
As the establishment dictates, Obama very often soft shoes race when black people raise issues related to white racism. But the liberal, moderate, and conservative wings of the US establishment—and this includes the Obama administration—gladly point to the president’s “blackness” to fend off any charges from foreign critics of American racism. So, “race,” does indeed still matter to the beneficiaries of the status quo when race supports the interests of the status quo.
Obama’s eagerness to publicly scold the US black community and African heads of state says loud and clear for all who would heard that in a tight 2012 campaign with the GOP, his political survival instincts would direct him to come out and harshly chastise the black community at large—including his black apologists—to court so-called white independent voters, and to take the black vote and black concerns for granted. The black community would be wise to be on watch for this in the 2012 campaign. 
Directly tied to this, Obama’s 2012 victory is so dependent on the b lack vote that just a 10% stay at home by 2008 black voters would be disaster for Obama. It would indicate and an even larger drop off by non-black voters. This underscores Obama’s political dilemma with “race’ in a racist society.   
Taking their cues apparently from Nietzsche, the centurions of the status quo have officially proclaimed, in unison, “Black politics is dead!” You must have heard them say that by now. We hear it every day and everywhere. Case closed! If this proclamation is true, then we are duty bound to ask, “What under the sun is the establishment’s definition of alive?” Is it the Tea Party?  Or, is it the Democrats?  Or is it the Republican Party?
Mainstream US politics from liberal to moderate to conservative and back (not that far) is dumb founded. It can’t truly admit, let alone address, the major global crisis it faces in the present era, the “passing into history of American world predominance.” This “passing” is not something new. The late African American political economist Robert S Browne told the black community about this some four decades ago. Since then, the world has witnessed the collapse of the Soviet Union and countless other unthinkable world-shaking events, including even a black president of the United States. Still the era of American world domination continues to past before our eyes. From this perspective, the dumb founded politics of the establishment looks more “dead” than the black politics it mocks, ridicules and condemns.  [i] 
            Today is December 8, 2012. It has been exactly three years one month and four days since Obama won the White House on November 4, 2008. Black people all across the city of Pittsburgh still adore him, many still wear Obama t-shirts, and a lot of black folks still have his 2008 campaign signs posted in their front windows or front yards for the whole world to see. Everyday, they also argue and debate with each other about the president just as hard as black people do anywhere else in the United States.
However the election to the White House of the first African American president has had very little, if any, impact on black electoral politics in Pittsburgh. This seems to also be true in many other parts of the country. In May 2009, city councilwoman Tonya Payne lost in the majority-black 6th district primary race. Perhaps her support for Hillary Clinton in the 2008 presidential primary cost her some votes in the tight 2009 council race. But this is conjecture; she lost by a small margin some 228 votes. [ii]
Obama has paid several visits to Pittsburgh. He also selected Pittsburgh as host city for the Nov. 2009 G-20 Summit. Some very perspective black politicos saw in some of these moves Obama trying to help boost the statewide political profile of then incumbent Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato to help Onorato’s impending 2010 Pennsylvania gubernatorial race. If these politicos were correct, Obama’s behind the scenes support was not enough. Onorato, a traditional white centrist-Democrat lost—even in his home base, Allegheny County—to Tom Corbett, a run-of-the-mill conservative GOP politician.  [iii]
Compare Obama’s victory to Ronald Reagan’s 1980 victory. Obama himself has on occasion praised Reagan. Both came to the White House with a multitude of enthusiastic supporters, who were fired-up and rearing to go. Following Reagan’s triumph, conservatives won office all across the land, north, south, east, and west. This was the immediate direct product of a grassroots conservative movement and Reagan’s coattails. Right wing reactionaries did not tell their supporters to lay low and give Ronnie a chance. They mobilized, organized and won.
Obama has not aggressively encouraged progressive grassroots political mobilization and organization to counter the right. He was not the product of a progressive movement. And Barack Obama has no coattails.
It is a long standing scared tenet of US politics that elected officials first and foremost do their best to mobilize the political clout of their core base, their most loyal supporters. Obama has been a glaring except to this tradition, at least in Pittsburgh.  Here is something important to ponder. During their respect presidential campaigns, Democratic contenders Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson, Al Gore and John Edwards all paid a visit to the Hill District on some other predominately black Pittsburgh neighborhood. Obama did not during his campaign.
George Bush was powerful in Washington because he was powerful back home in Texas. Political influence on the national level begins with political clout at the local level. The immediate local level is where you must build your power base for both local and national political power.
The African American community in Pittsburgh does not have a local political power base. The black debate engulfing the 2012 presidential campaign offers black people in Pittsburgh a truly historic opportunity to help establish a partisan black political power base in this city.
Before we make further reference to Pittsburgh, however, several extremely important points must be clearly stated.   First, the electoral process, which includes “The Black Vote,” can not, in and of itself, liberate African American people from the domination of the American race, class, and gender status quo. Long before US politics reaches a crisis stage where the black vote in coalition with other progressive special interests groups have the potential to overturn the status quo through the ballot box, long before then the American establishment will have stopped abiding by the results of the electoral process.  
Last point before returning to Pittsburgh, African American politics can be, and have been, progressive, mainstream moderate, or reactionary. By far, the vast majority are in the second category, Democratic Party moderates.   This includes most black political organizations and the black community at large. The black community must build progressive political institutions based on the political interests of the community at large to wage the political struggles that promote and defend its interests.
Over sixty years ago, Black people in Pittsburgh read the 1950 US Census report. The city’s 20th century population was at its peak with 671,659 residents. The Pittsburgh region was one of the world’s largest heavy manufacturing centers. It was the nation’s 12th largest city. The census counted 82,453 Negros in Pittsburgh. They were segregated largely in the center city Hill District neighborhood. Sixty year later, the 2010 census found only 305,759 people living in town. Along with countless other rust-belt locales, Pittsburgh lost its heavy manufacturing base and much of its population during the past half-century. It no longer ranks among the nation’s 60 largest cities.   
Today, the private and public education industry and the health care industry are the most prominent sectors of the city’s white collar economy.  A super market chain, Giant Eagles, is the largest private employer. Compared to many other large urban areas, the region’s cost of living is less expensive. This is, however, only because of the weak local job market. Pittsburgh does boast some attributes from its heydays. These include two major US universities. It also includes major league baseball, football, and hockey teams with a well entrenched regional fan base, but also which in today’s major league sport market would never consider locating in a metropolitan area the size of Greater Pittsburgh.  
The 2010 census counted 79,710 black people in Pittsburgh. This is down from the 90,750 black people in the 2000 report. Based on income, the black population is now more dispersed throughout the city.  Pennsylvania’s largest enclave of black people outside of the Philadelphia area is in the far eastern end of Pittsburgh and the adjacent borough of Wilkinsburg and parts on Penn Hills.
The widely reported University of Pittsburgh 2004 Benchmarks Reports found, “Comparisons of African American conditions in the 70 largest cities, 50 largest counties, and 50 largest metropolitan areas show that African Americans children, working-age adults, and elderly in the Pittsburgh area are among the most disadvantaged in America.”  The recent census reports ranks the black community in Pittsburgh with the highest poverty rates in the 40 largest US metropolitan areas.  The social and economic woes of the region are intensified and magnified in the black community by the interlocking combine of race, gender, and class inequities. In this respect and others, Pittsburgh is consistently an American city. [iv]
A recent study, Race and RenaissanceAfrican Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II cites some of the countless civil rights, education, and other social struggles that the Pittsburgh black community has waged over the past 60 years. These struggles increased the social space—jobs, housing, education, etc.—black people occupied in Pittsburgh.    
For the past 77 years, Pittsburgh politics have been Democratic Party politics. This is to be expected in an historic blue collar town. The city’s last Republican mayor, John S. Herron, left office in 1934.  The primary goal of black city-politics has been the acquisition of patronage and other goods and services for the black community. Traditionally, city and country government were the major sources that delivered goods and services through the vehicle of the local Democratic Party committees to Irish, Italians and other European ethnic groups.  The black community has long sought its equitable share of the Pittsburgh patronage pie. However, when district elections reforms in recent decades increased the number of African American city council members, school board directors, and county council representatives, the size of city and county governments declined.
The city and county both lost a great deal of commercial properties. ALCO, Gulf Oil, and Rockwell are some of the international corporations who moved from the city over the past 40 some years.  Many former appointed government jobs, Pittsburgh police for example, have become civil services, and others have been eliminated. The Pittsburgh patronage pie is not nearly as large as it used to be.
Pittsburgh black elected officials and Democratic committee representatives have been able to obtain some goods and services for the black community. But they have lacked the institutional base to adequately fight for their constituents in a local, long stagnant regional economy dominated by race, class, and gender bias.
As yet, not one of the African American politicians who has been elected from a majority-black city, county, or state district in Pittsburgh has established a strong district advisory committee, political action committee war chest, or any other type of power base.  PAC’s and advisory committees are two of many forms political organizations can assume.
The Black Women’s Political Crusade and the Allegheny County Black Political Assembly are two of the numerous efforts that rose and fell in the on-going struggle to build a local black political organization.  Black organizations have lacked the reward and punish patronage-mechanism that has been the foundation of the local GOP and Democratic Party machines.  For the same reason, local white political organizations outside of the two major parties have failed to build a strong political base.
 A very interesting, important and ambitious current project is the New York State Freedom Now Party that is being spearheaded by Brooklyn city council representative Charles Barron and a multicultural coalition of progressive activists during the reign of a black Democratic US president.      
Black Pittsburgh may not be ready—yet—f or an independent political party. But this does not excuse its failure to establish less ambiguous but important institutions to serve its interests. Black politicians often make the lame argument that they represent not just black people but also Asians Americans, Latinos and other non-African Americans, and they can not discriminate against them. They do represent more than just their black constituents. And these black politicians must do all they can to help all of them. This does not conflict. Obviously, a politically strong black community can do infinitely more to lend material and moral support to its allies than a disorganized politically weak black community. 
It must be made clear. None of these organizations or institutions we cited can, either individually or together, guarantee that the black community will win each and every political battle it encounters with the establishment.  What they can do is help maximize the community’s political power to wage these inevitable struggles.
Notwithstanding a black president in office, we still find African Americans everywhere who remain cynical and distrust the American political system.  They share a vexing question common to many oppressed people. Can they employ the same political system, which down through history has exploited and oppressed them, as a weapon in their struggle for liberation?
Conscious of this or not, all black people engage this question in all political encounters and the answer we receive always reflect the moment and is never permanent. Yes, a black president sits in the White House, but the jury is still out on this question.  
Here we should keep in mind that positive things often come from negative things. We can grow the most beautiful flowers and most nutritional vegetables with decadent bovine manure. Likewise, we can, at times, exploit the inherent contradictions in the decadent American political system, which historically ordained and codified the ground rules for slavery, sharecropper-feudalism, and present-day post de-jure, but still de facto white racism to advance the struggle for African American Liberation.  And just as in fertilizing flowers bovine manure is what it is, the very same holds true of the US political system, when we exploit its contradictions in the struggle for black liberation.  The struggle for equitable goods and services cited earlier is vital for the survival and development of the black community. It is, in fact, the only goal of many black elected officials and also many of their African American constituents. The totality of black politics, however, demands other equally important components.
Among other things, progressive black electoral politics and black elected officials must always  pursue the highest ethical practice; constantly for the equitable distribution of goods and services; be rooted in African American culture; persistently organize, mobilize, and educate the masses;  be accountable  and in deference to the masses; integrate electoral politics with direct action and other modes of social struggle; and relentlessly struggle for immediate and long range democratic social change.  Perhaps the major failure of black electoral politics has been the failure to systemize and pursue these components in its practice.
Black people will vote for Obama in 2012. That’s not at issue here, even though Barack Obama is not, and no evidence says otherwise, the MLK-progressive many black people force themselves to believe and vehemently argue he is. Some of Pittsburgh most passionate black Obamaphiles were very angry with the Obama Justice Department for not filing federal civil rights charges against three white city police officers who savagely beat an unarmed black high school honor roll student, Jordan Miles, in January 2010 near his home. Despite this and other grievances they have with Obama’s policies, he will get their vote. [v]
Self-respecting black people cannot vote for Obama’s Republican opponent, who will and must run the standard GOP “Southern Strategy” campaign based on open opposition to African American people.   In US presidential elections, the black community is always faced with the choice between a Democrat or a Republican.  This is often called a choice between “the lesser-of-two-evils.” But a vote for Obama does not by any means exhaust the black political potential for campaign 2012.
Step back to 2011. Three African American candidates, the incumbent Ricky Burgess and his opponents Lucille Prater, and Charlene Mitchell, ran in the 2011 Ninth district Pittsburgh city council race.  The campaign followed a long established pattern.  The candidates repeatedly raised the issues of community development, access to city services and other vital concerns in the majority-black ninth district.   But the candidates never addressed how the black community could be more effectively organized to fight for these concerns. They did not address the state of black politics in the Ninth district.
In 2012, concurrent with the presidential race, Pittsburgh based state legislators Joe Preston and Jake Wheatley, will be running for their seats in predominately African American districts. The state is faced with a major crisis in public education funding. State government cut $930,000,000 from the 2011-2012 public school budgets. Some 10,000 public schools employees have been furloughed.  Essential public school programs have been eliminated all across the state.  This has unleashed a groundswell of grassroots support that crosses race, income, and political party lines.   How will the black community in these two state legislative districts be organized to join in the state-wide struggle for more public education funding from the state government? The status of black politics must be made an issue in 2012.
In 2013, the issue of black politics must be addressed front and center for the black community to tackle the important issues in the Pittsburgh school board and Allegheny County council races. In each and every election, the black community must monitor and critique the on-going development of its political organization, resources, and strategies.  Pittsburgh here is used as a local example of the national black community.
The importance of the 2012 campaign in all of this can hardly be overstated. Unprecedented black attention and concern will be focused on the campaign. A heated black debate rages over the first African American president who is running for reelection. This offers black people an historic opportunity to elevate the level of their on-going debate, struggle hard, and raise the content and character of African American politics from the bottom up. It may never come again in the history of history.
Probably, no one states this critical point better than the veteran African American scholar and activist David Covin.  “Finally,” Covin tells us, “we must use the opportunity President Obama … (has given) us…   Not every historical period is propitious for organization and mobilizing effective political action. When such times arise, we must grab hold of them and wear them out.”   [vi]


End Notes

[i]               Robert S. Browne, “The Black  Community and Contemporary Economic Dynamics,”  The Review  of Black Political Economy,  Vol. 6, No. 2, Winter 1976, p. 147.  This 1975 essay is still an extremely important analysis of key national, international issues and the black community.
[ii]               Pennsylvania Governor election results – Politics – Decision 2010
[iii]              Ralph Bangs. “ Highlights of the Black-White Benchmark Reports”,
[iv]               Joe W. Trotter and Jared N. Day. Race and renaissance: African Americans in Pittsburgh since World War II. (Pittsburgh : University of Pittsburgh Press,) 2010
[v]              Tony Norman. “Justice Department came up short in Jordan Miles case.”
[vi]              David Covin, “Is Obama’s House our House?”  The Black Scholar, Vol. 38, No 4., Winter 2008, p.49.

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