Civil Rights Needs Economic Rights

Jewish American Historical Society/Flickr

By Jack Rothman

It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and celebrations are under way. Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library, has announced a national Civil Rights Summit “to show the seminal nature of the Civil Rights Act and its transformational nature.” 

But skeptics question what has been achieved. Professor Joseph Schwartz of DSA and Temple University notes that due to the decline of our cities and rising African American unemployment, “economic apartheid” has caused average black families to currently own one-tenth the assets of their white counterparts. Nation columnist Gary Younge says that once core civil rights were won we had a hard time making further progress, because racism is embedded “within the broader context of economic and social inequities.” It is clear that 50 years after this landmark legislation, the march for racial justice is far from over—as shown by the sharp debate on economic inequality and minimum wages.

Let us begin with a hard look at our economic deficiencies.  It stands to reason that any economic system emphasizing maximum profit accumulation—labeled “greed” by that early Wolf of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko—as its fundamental philosophical value will generate wide income disparities that contradict our proclaimed creed of human equality.  For CEOs and business owners, it’s prudent to keep wages low. That practice, they believe, maximizes profits and allows expansion, while at the same time enriching entrepreneurs and glorifying those who succeed at this game.  It also creates a stratum of diminished people at the bottom.

African Americans historically have been channeled into providing cheap labor—during slavery, involuntarily, and in the years closely following, hardly more than that. Freedmen were restricted to sharecropping and tenant farming and given into forced toil in prisons and on chain gangs. In later years, low-wage workers were made available for building our infrastructure as railway tracklayers, ditch diggers, and sandhogs, as well as for keeping the machinery of daily life running as kitchen workers, janitors, and hotel help. This system of economic subjugation and layering is sanitized under the banner of “free enterprise.” Well-meaning homeowners also benefit from this layering arrangement through meager payments to house cleaners, maids, child caretakers, and home health aides.   

Blacks and other people of color disproportionately—even after recent civil rights advances—continue to serve as underpaid workers and are assigned to the ranks of the unemployed: last hired and first fired. Marx posited that capitalism requires a reservoir of unemployed who can be at hand when depression times climb to boom times (and most mainstream economists agree that unemployment is normal and necessary in our system).

Racism is a ready tool in this. Having an “inferior”—read differently pigmented—unemployed and low-wage work force has clear advantages for owners but also produces a ground-level benchmark that, like a sinkhole, draws the wages of all other working people downward. Minimum wage laws try to plug that hole, but many family wage earners who work full-time at minimum wage jobs are still bringing in a poverty level income. This is unjust and unconscionable.  

When Barack Obama was elected the first African American president, liberal pundits pronounced a post-racial America. Six years later, it is clear that some magic wand has not waved these problems away. For too long we have overlooked the fact that Obama is enmeshed in the same machinery that produces these economic travails for African Americans struggling to make ends meet.  President Obama, the Democratic Party, and the entire political class are tied to the banking and industrial elites who manage the economy and mold our national policies through lobbying, campaign funding, and other means. Obama’s top economic appointments have been a Who’s Who of Wall Street—advisors like Larry Summers, Timothy Geithner, Gary Gensler, Jack Lew, Mary Jo White. 

Under Obama, the unemployment rate of blacks and their income levels relative to those of whites have worsened. It should be no surprise that economic conditions for blacks have not forged ahead, given that the heavy hand of the system that Obama upholds is tuned to turn out small groups of overwhelmingly white big-time winners and huge masses of disproportionately black and brown losers. There are exceptions to this rule, with stars and high monetary achievers in the black community—Oprah in entertainment, Robert L. Johnson of BET in business, Tiger Woods in sports, and Congressman John Lewis (as well as President Barak Obama) in politics. Their successes only underscore the gap among African Americans.

In the period leading up to his death, Martin Luther King Jr. confronted economic inequality problems directly, calling for transformation geared to black advancement and taking risky actions himself to help organize sanitation workers in Memphis. Cornel West, possibly our leading contemporary black intellectual, wrote that, “ . . . a democratic socialist society is the best hope for alleviating and minimizing racism.”  A new economics, he believes, while necessary, is insufficient. It has to be augmented by intensifying our actions to counter the embedded cultural and ideological props of white supremacy.  

The clash between American’s declared values of fairness and justice and the functioning of its contentious and uncaring economic system is a potent deterrent to racial progress. We are simply out of alignment as a nation. For the fight for racial equality is hopeless without an all-out fight for economic equality. The country stands in need of a new civil rights transformation—this time taking aim to upend the broader system of unfairness.

Jack Rothman is Professor Emeritus at the UCLA School of Public Affairs and a member of Los Angeles DSA.

This article was originally published in the Huffington Post:

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Grassroots Fundraising: Paying for the Revolution (9pm Eastern)

June 23, 2017
· 46 rsvps

Are you new to socialist organizing? Or after many years do you still struggle, raising money from members when you need it but without a steady flow of income or budget to plan ahead? Are you afraid to tackle fundraising because it seems so daunting or you are uncomfortable asking people for money?

In this webinar, you will learn why fundraising is organizing, and how to do it – face to face, through fundraising events, and other ideas.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

Instructor:

  • Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

Training Details:

  1. Workshops are free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have preferably headphones or else speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt talt@igc.org.
  5. If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt schmittaj@gmail.com 608-355-6568.
  6. Participation requires that you register at least 21 hours in advance -- by midnight Thursday for Friday's webinar.

NOTE: This training is scheduled for 9:00pm Eastern Time (8pm Central, 7pm Mountain, 6pm Pacific, 5 pm Alaska, 3 pm Hawaii).

Data Security for DSA Members

June 27, 2017

Ack! I googled myself and didn't like what I found!

WHAT: A DSA Webinar about "Doxing"
WHEN: 9PM EST, 6PM PST

We're proud of our organizing, and chapter work is transparent for both political and practical reasons. However, there are basic precautions you can take in this time of rapid DSA growth to protect your privacy.

Key Wiki is a website that meticulously documents DSA activity and posts it for the world to see. If you're an active DSA member, likely your name is on their website. This is an example of "doxing".

As DSA becomes larger, more visible, and more powerful, we might expect that more websites like this will pop up, and more of our members' information might be posted publicly on the web.

Join a live webinar on Tuesday, June 27 with data security expert Alison Macrina, to learn:

  1. what is doxing? with examples and ways to prevent it
  2. how to keep your passwords strong and your data secure
  3. where to find your personal info on the internet and how to get it removed
  4. social media best practices for DSA organizers
  5. what to do if you've already been doxed

Zoom Link: https://zoom.us/j/9173276528

Call-in Info: +1 408 638 0968
Meeting ID: 917 327 6528

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 8 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.