From our friend Chauncey DeVega, I see that Brothers West and Smiley are at it again. I know there are those among us who think we should simply ignore them. Perhaps they're right. But my problem is that I find common cause with their focus on poverty but get royally pissed off at their methods.
So I'm going to take a moment once again to point out how their methods are not only wrong - they're destructive to the cause. But beyond that - what SHOULD we be doing?
First of all, in the video DeVega posts, Cornell West calls the first Black President "a blackface Republican." We all know that West is very well aware of the history of blackface in these United States. For him to use that term anywhere near President Obama is enough to get me enraged - to the point that I almost don't want to listen to another gawd-damned thing he has to say. For no other reason than it being a movement-killer among the great swaths of black, brown and poor people who support this President, its a sublimely ridiculous thing to say right now.
But he goes on from there to throw people like Michael Eric Dyson, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Melissa Harris Perry under the bus by saying they "sold their souls for a mess of Obama pottage." This is a critique the purists on the left throw out to avoid having to deal with what people like Dyson, Sharpton and Harris-Perry actually have to say. I'd suggest that if Mr. West has an argument - he should make it. Simply calling someone a "sell-out" is a cheap shot of the lowest kind. Once again...a movement-killer.
And what do Mr. West and Mr. Smiley have to suggest as the way to end poverty? Their big answer is a conference where the goal is to push President Obama to have a White House conference on poverty. I have to laugh when these two talk incessantly about the "prophetic tradition" in the black community that they want to advance. Can you imagine what would have happened if Dr. Martin Luther King or Malcolm X had called for a White House conference on Jim Crow as their big movement builder? The truth is that those two men rarely addressed the President of the United States at the time. And when/if they did, it was related to a specific action they wanted from the President and Congress.
The prophetic tradition they talk about is probably best represented today by the thousands of DREAM activists who are finding a way to actually make progress on an agenda. Initially I was a bit put off by their focus on the DREAM Act. That's because I wanted to see comprehensive immigration reform and thought the DREAM Act was a half measure that might delay it. If I had been more in tune with the prophetic tradition, I would have seen immediately that this is how movements are started...with a clear focus on something that is achievable. Its all very reminiscent of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that ignited the Civil Rights Movement.
So if we want to see an anti-poverty movement, what would that small achievable next step look like? I'd suggest that perhaps the first step would be to form a rainbow coalition to support these DREAMers and their Latino allies in passing comprehensive immigration reform that makes EVERYONE a first-class citizen...no one left behind. Once that is accomplished, that same rainbow coalition could get to work on raising the minimum wage.
None of those things alone is going to end poverty in America. But then neither was the bus boycott going to end Jim Crow. And the DREAM Act wasn't comprehensive immigration reform. But they got the ball rolling forward with something specific that could actually get done. That's what we can learn from our prophetic tradition. White House conferences on poverty...pfffttttt.