Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What Can Work….And What Never Will





Over a century ago, a struggle for the souls of black folk raged between different leaders with different approaches to black liberation. While all shared similar goals (of black freedom and self determination), these leaders embraced different and often deemed opposing ideological bends on how to achieve those goals. Should we work within a social structure and meet people where they are and build from there? Should we demand full human rights for all - always, regardless of the entrenched power interests whose very existence depends on denying us that humanity? Or would our efforts be best spent uniting as a people to build a nation to rival any that might try to oppress us?

With each leadership approach, victories were achieved, and defeats were inevitable. Washington, DuBois, and Garvey may not have had all the answers, and could not have individually achieved black liberation, but unlike many, they dedicated their lives to this necessary cause - our freedom.  No more could have been asked of them. To the all important question, “what did you do to bring about change?” these men had answers. But the question never is: “what is s/he (leader) doing to bring about change?” The only relevant question is: “what is each and every one of us doing to bring about change?”  The reason black liberation eluded them is because so many individuals then could not answer that question. Many still can’t.

This recurring ideological debate regarding the path to liberation has plagued us since day one. It flared up again during the triumphs and tribulations of the Civil Rights Era, and its most recent reincarnation can be seen in the debate between Dr. Cornel West and Reverend Al Sharpton over President Obama and his leadership (or lack thereof).

Dr. West has expressed great disappointment in President Obama, seeing much of Obama’s policies as an embrace of elite moneyed interests and American imperialism over the welfare of the mass majority of Americans, particularly African Americans who suffer disproportionately from all the plagues of poverty. Many progressives and left leaning academics agree with Dr. West’s portrayal of President Obama, voicing their frustrations daily on blogs and via social media sites.

On the other side of the debate, Reverend Sharpton avoids placing blame at Obama’s feet. While he agrees that the interests of the mass majority are not represented in the current power dynamics, unlike West, Sharpton does not see Obama as a “puppet of Wall Street oligarchs”. He believes Obama is working within a hostile political environment but will act on behalf of the majority when the majority actively engages him. Instead of seeing him as “the” problem, Sharpton chooses to work with Obama to try to build solutions.

Neither approach (West’s criticism of Obama or Sharpton’s support of Obama) seems to be getting us closer to the goal of progressive change. Again, nothing about this debate is new. The struggle for the souls of black folk rages on, with divisions forming and positions staked in concrete. While the debate has been respectful, it has monopolized a good amount of time and energy that one can only believe would be better spent in action, instead of debate.

 

What Can Work: Action

In his leadership and his humanity, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. provided a model of what can work.  While the struggle for the souls of black folk raged during his era as well, Dr. King rarely criticized those that opposed him and his approach. For example, Dr. King refused to publicly debate Malcolm X when challenged. King would not debate, his secretary told Malcolm, because "he has always considered his work in a positive action framework rather than engaging in consistent negative debate." (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/malcolmx/peopleevents/e_civilrights.html).

Dr. King was a true visionary because this "consistent negative debate" still takes up critical time today that could be spent
serving and organizing our communities.  While history teaches us what leaders have achieved on their individual paths, we will never know what could have been achieved had “rival” leaders (Washington/DuBois/Garvey; Dr. King/Malcolm X) joined forces with a continuously engaged citizenry to collectively pursue a progressive path to freedom.


Dr. King understood that the biggest threat to the civil rights movement did not come from those burning crosses (adversaries) or those with different approaches to the same goal (ideological rivals). The biggest threat to progress came from the MANY that stayed safely away engulfed in their own lives, complacent, and often distracted (inactive). These are the ones that cry how horrible oppression and inequality are but do nothing to change it. It comes down to choosing to remain comfortable or to sacrifice, and unfortunately many stay comfortable. Progress takes sacrifice...progress takes ACTION.

 

What Never Will Work: Insanity

Some define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. While positive actions can work to achieve progress, some things never will work and it is time we come to that realization.


What won’t work?
·         Scapegoating – Whether it be Muslims, “illegal immigrants” (read Mexicans), gays, “big government”, or Obama (from the right of the political spectrum), or Republicans, Wall Street, American imperialism, racists, or Obama again (from the left of the political spectrum), blaming others for our woes is standard practice.  Instead of working actively towards progress, scapegoating allows us a convenient fall guy to point to when no real progress is achieved. The problem with scapegoating is that it provides excuses, but no solutions. So while Dr. West may be correct in his analysis of President Obama’s policies, once Obama is no longer president, his critique will just shift to the next “leader” who maintains the same policies and status quo power structure. An understanding of the problem may be achieved, but a solution to it never will.


What won’t work?
·         Idealism - Depending on people's "better nature" gets you "status quo". There is no doubt that corporate fascists and their paid cronies in government will do what they must do to maintain power... that is a known entity that is solved and needs not revisiting.  Being surprised at corporatists and politicians for being corporatists and politicians is as effective as being mad at a dog for being a dog and barking.  The time we spend criticizing, disillusioned and disgusted from unrealistic expectations is baffling and can only be understood as gripping on to idealistic tendencies that counter progress. While it reveals our basic humanity to want to believe in our fellow mankind, that humanity could be better revealed through service and action. Instead of wishing for better from others (Obama, elected politicians, corporations etc.), we must demand better from ourselves! We must use our energy to seize our power and ACT! It's one or the other - they either control us, or we control them, and while critiques will not change power dynamics, actions will.


What won’t work?
·         Negative Framing – In framing progress, we should be against nothing...just be clear what we are for (Iyanla Vanzant). When we concentrate on what we are against (racism, sexism, white supremacy, capitalism, fascism, homophobia, etc.), we frame the struggle in terms of negatives and sooner or later can lose the true purpose of the struggle...LIFE.  If we frame the struggle in terms of life affirming principles - peace, justice, love, and sustenance, our eyes remain on the prize. 

What won’t work?
·         Ceding our power to “saviors”.  Whether we are taught powerlessness (see Carter G. Woodson’s Miseducation) or whether it is an inherent quality of human nature, most choose not to become personally invested (engage in action) until they feel in some way personally affected (self interest). Many might see the five alarm fire next door but few act unless they are immediately in danger from the fire – but by then, it is possibly too late. If not immediately in danger, we tend to cede our power to so-called “authorities”…leaders, experts, and other “saviors”, instead of acting on our own behalf.  We need to realize that functioning out of self interest just gets us status quo (survival)....functioning from self determination (seizing our power) can lead to progressive change.

It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. While the hell of slavery has ended for our people, the heaven of freedom still eludes us today.  If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, the road to heaven (the “promise land”) should be paved with POSITIVE ACTION (good deeds, acts, and service). Those that believe they can get to the “promise land" through the actions of others, be it a leader (Obama) or a Savior will find that promise land forever elusive. If we truly want to realize black liberation and end the struggle for the souls of black folk, the only relevant question we must ALL ask and answer = “What are YOU doing to effect change?” When we ALL have an answer to this question, progress will be realized. Yes WE can…but the struggle continues….continuously.


 “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” - Frederick Douglass


"The time has come. This is it. People are always saying.. 'Oh they, they'll take care of it.' 'The government will do it. They'll' ...They who? It starts with us. ..it's US. Or else it'll never be done." – Michael Jackson 

4 comments:

J. Bowman said...

Thank you for your thoughtful post. What will work is building coalitions and alliances. Collaborating for educational and economic power. Weekly, monthly, bi monthly, and consistent planning meetings. Nationally and internationally. Let's do it. But the focus has to specifically be on educational an economic power!

Tina said...

Thank you @J.Bowman for taking the time to post a comment and for sharing your very concrete positive action plan...yes, I agree that building coalitions and concentrating on educational and economic power will keep us on the path to progressive change!

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lM3CiH1FE9E

Tina said...

@Anonymous - thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to share this youtube clip.