Saturday, June 10, 2006

Election 2006 - It's Time to Smash the Color Line

I really like Roberto Lovato's analysis for the Nation and Alternet. He often exposes the hypocrisy in both dominant political parties in the US and gives voice to disenfranchised communities. See his newest piece in this week's Nation -
Voices of a New Movimiento
- where he looks at some of the emerging leadership in our economic and social justice movements while also challenging the corporate media's narrow framing of the movements.

The mainstream narrative of the movement emphasizes that single-minded immigrants want legalization--and how "angry Hispanics" and their Spanish-language radio DJ leaders mobilized in reaction to HR 4437 (better known as the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which would criminalize the undocumented). But Zavala and other movimiento leaders across the country say that while it's true that the Sensenbrenner bill provided a spark, explaining this powerful movement of national and even global significance as a reaction to DJ-led calls to "marchar!" leaves many things--and people--out of the picture.

This time, there is no Martin Luther King or César Chávez centering and centralizing the movement. Instead, grassroots leaders like Zavala mix, scratch and dub different media (think and text messaging, radio and TV, butcher paper and bullhorns) while navigating the cultural, political and historical currents that yoke and inspire the diverse elements making up this young, decentralized, digital-age movimiento.

I also like how Lovato stresses that our social movements often are inspired by or directly a result of grassroots or netroots work of previous generations.
"To see those thousands of people marching against Prop 187 was an inspiration," says Ortiz, who heads Voces de la Frontera, an immigrant worker center in the belly of the anti-immigrant beast, James Sensenbrenner's Milwaukee. "I was very impressed that there was that kind of response [to Prop 187]. We used that as a lesson," says Ortiz, who was one of the main organizers of marches of 30,000 and 70,000 people, some of the largest marches ever in a state with a storied progressive past. Ortiz was not caught off guard by the movimiento. "I'm happy to be alive to see this shift," she states from one of Voces's three offices in Wisconsin, "but I'm not at all surprised. We've been building up networks of people over many years."
Keeping the Color Line
In an earlier piece for Alternet Lovato focussed on the lack of representation of people of color within the dominant political parties in the US and most progressive organizations as well. "Why are many progressive organizations, as well as the Republican and Democratic parties, still so blindingly white? "
This lack of concrete non-white power in Republican, Democratic, conservative and progressive ranks bodes ill for social change in the United States. In effect, the central debates of the 21st Century have a "color line" running through them. The "color line" may be less black and white than the one described by W.E.B. Dubois, but it is still with us, and with a vengeance.
The problem in today's struggle is that minorities - white minorities - are running both sides of a fight that will define who succeeds and who suffers, who lives and who dies. ...
With the exception of some labor unions and a few other, mostly local organizations, the internal debates and daily work within 527 organizations like Move-On, within anarchist groups, alternative media and others doing truly important work in left-of-center America also suffer from the lack of voices echoing the new urban majority surrounding their hip workplaces and their ungated but gentrified neighborhoods. The struggle against gated global empire is itself gated off from the majority.
I also like how Lovato points out how a simplistic and single-minded focus on elections can lead to a dead-end when other primary tasks for progressives should be to build stronger multiracial organizations at the grassroots level and strengthen alliances and social movements for longer-term changes in our country.

Viewed from inside, it's clear that too many non-white leaders are placing too much emphasis on mobilizing Latinos and other non-whites to vote, their vision has a horizon that doesn't extend beyond November 2nd. These leaders make too little effort to build leadership in their communities at a time when oppositional movements will need even mightier momentum after November.
...Deep change in this country won't take place until large numbers of non-whites, and whites, are marching, protesting and acting to change priorities. While it may take another Bush victory for most to realize this, some, especially those of us in the non-white community, are increasingly cognizant of our own role in the solution to a problem we must all own up to.
"We need to organize ourselves and then step up to the table to negotiate with Caucasians," says Mallika Dutt, executive director of Breakthrough, a New York-based human rights and social justice organization. She adds, "Only then can long-term change take place." For South Asians and other non-whites like Dutt, race cannot be relegated to the back of the progressive bus because we may, in fact, have to take the bus apart and rebuild it after the elections.

"Even within the so-called progressive movement if you're not actively confronting racism and white supremacy you're building a house of cards," says Michael Novick, a veteran education organizer and author of a book on whites and racism. Novick, a white man whose lessons in activism grew out of helping to organize Vietnam War protests at Brooklyn College, says, "It's not just a matter of pointing your finger at the powerful and saying, 'He's the problem.'"
All of us, white and non-white, must fix a broader problem that will vex us as much as national security long after November's elections. Regardless of who wins, we all lose if we forget the color line.

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