Politics Mondays: Raising A Black Anti-War Movement

In this month's BlackElectorate Insider Newsletter I am writing about some of what I have learned about the behind-the-scenes-drama surrounding Rep. Charles Rangel's proposal to bring back the draft. A few weeks ago I received information from a political insider that the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) was contemplating bringing back the draft in order to slow the roll toward conflict in Iraq and demonstrate and dramatize the racial disparity in the American armed forces. My initial suspicion was that it was not a CBC effort as much as it may have been that of an individual member or two. I immediately checked with contacts within the CBC, upon hearing what I did, none of whom were aware of any forthcoming "bring back the draft" stand to be made by the group.

Last week through the opinion editorial appearing in the New York Times authored by a Black member of Congress, the public has been presented with a possible legal option by which America's young can be faced with compulsory military service. Rep. Rangel lays out his very articulate and dramatic reasons. But will his efforts eventually be used to serve a purpose that he does not intend, today? Already, many Whites are "misunderstanding" his idea. It will be interesting to see if Rep. Rangel will take his arguments to Black churches in Harlem, Black radio stations and Black and African-centered websites and newspapers.

In last Monday's BlackElectorate.com chat with Reverend Al Sharpton, in addition to learning that he would be filing his papers with the FEC, officially advancing his presidential candidacy, the chat participants saw Rev. Sharpton lay out a powerful argument about how it was Blacks who stood to lose the most from a war in Iraq. While it was an anti-war presentation, Rev. Sharpton's remarks could not be classified as being representative of what we commonly hear from those individuals in this country who frequently are labeled, "the anti-war movement." Why?

Since Senator Trent Lott made the remarks that he did at Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, there has been an increase in commentary that the controversy surrounding his comments, which were interpreted as having a racial core, has emboldened the civil rights movement or reinvigorated its agenda. In several articles and reports that we read and heard last week in and from the most respected political publications and news sources; a correlation was made between the controversy and increased energy in a modern civil rights agenda. Such issues like same-sex marriages, gays in the military, affirmative action, hate crimes and more were listed as being the possible beneficiaries of the race-oriented Senator Lott controversy. Immediately I mentioned to a few of my closest friends and political observers that once again the Black vote and the emotions of Black people were being used to further the agenda and issues of groups that do not tend to support issues that uniquely affect Blacks. I gave an example of how affirmative action, in a great many cases benefits White women more than Blacks. I wondered how many of us in the Black community think of that, when the discussion turns toward saving affirmative action programs? In addition, I remarked, it was Dr. Martin Luther King - the high priest of the civil rights movement - who said that affirmative action was only the lowest form of reparations. Why, I wondered do same-sex marriages and hate crimes legislation pushed for by the Homosexual and Jewish interest groups stand to benefit in the aftermath of the controversy over Senator Lott's comments, more than the issue of reparations, for example? Are Black leaders "complicit" in watering down a real Black agenda in order to maintain an unbalanced relationship with its "coalition" partners in the civil rights movement?

Although it may not seem that way on first appearance, all of this is related to the anti-war movement and its relationship to the Black electorate.

A recent BET.com article pointed out that as many as 20% of the members of the U.S. armed forces are Black. Why isn't this statistic on the lips of every Black leader - political, economic and cultural? What of the fact that many Blacks only join the armed forces because of the poverty and lack of opportunity that exists in the inner-city and broader American economy? Black teenage unemployment approached 40% several times last year. Is this unrelated to the composition of U.S. armed forces?

Why aren't Black preachers, every weekend preaching to their congregations that the war on Iraq could lead to the war on Armageddon pictured in the scriptures and that the Black members of their congregations who are members of the military and their families stand to suffer the most from a war on Iraq? And why aren't members of the Hip-Hop community - artists and political organizers - making the argument at the top of their agenda that it is Black and Latino men and women who disproportionately will die in a war in Iraq? Many seem more concerned with political fundraisers and freedom of speech issues. Why not use the freedom of speech to stop war, rather than to protect one's right to call a woman a "bitch" or "whore" as Minister Farrakhan and Rev. Sharpton have stated and implied?

Part of the answer to these questions is that on the issues of U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. military industrial complex, even though these affect non-White people (domestically and abroad) more for evil, Blacks are intellectually and actively deferential to White Americans when it comes to enlightened thinking in these areas. Several Black members of Congress literally depend upon virtually all-White staffs and all-White think tanks and interest groups to make arguments that supposedly represent the best interests of Black Americans.

Many in the White-led progressive movement and the Black members of the civil rights movement don't like to hear this. That is part of the problem. Because of the manner in which Blacks have not arrived at their self-enlightened interests and consistently bow to their White counterparts in every field imaginable, the world has not had to deal with the most stark of racial realities of domestic and global issues. It is Blacks who quite often provide the broom for race issues to be swept under the rug.

If you are an organization and are concerned about Jews in America or U.S. foreign policy toward the state of Israel, for the most part you are considered to be a legitimate participant in the American political discourse and dialogue. Although you may not receive support for your cause, you are not made by the majority of political participants to wear a label that has a double-meaning and contributes to ostracizing. But if you are Black and are concerned primarily with the issues of freedom, justice and equality that face Black Americans or you are concerned with U.S. foreign policy toward Africa or even the United States Of Africa, you are frequently and derisively called a "Black nationalist" or "Pan-Africanist," or "Black radical" and somehow placed counter to the fabric of legitimate political participation. Many Blacks are foremost in such labeling. They often label out of fear of what their White coalition partners will do if they believe their "Black partners" are becoming too concerned with race issues. Only class arguments are permitted (Some of this race-averse attitude among leading progressives grows out of varying degrees of White supremacy and some of it stems from the attachment and understandings that some, including many prominent Black intellectuals, have for the teachings of Karl Marx). Even in the face of obviously race-centered factors. This was very visible in the campaign of Ralph Nader who figuratively-speaking had to have his arm-twisted into supporting reparations. Ralph Nader benefited in this regard with his relationship with Randall Robinson. I wonder if the leaders of the anti-war movement would consider amplifying Minister Farrakhan's arguments relative to the war on Iraq. He has certainly amplified many of theirs. Are they ignoring him? If so, why? Perhaps at the upcoming International A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now To Stop War And End Racism) march, "No War On Iraq," on January 18th, in Washington D.C., Minister Farrakhan's first and second letters to President Bush will be distributed with the aid of event organizers. And of course, maybe they will not.

Why aren't the anti-war leaders publicizing what the Bush administration has planned for Africa as it prepares to attack Iraq and broadens its war on terrorism? Why haven't they publicized the public Bush administration request for funding of certain activities in the horn of Africa, supposedly as part of the war on terrorism? Why haven't they openly asked Black and Latino men and women to leave the armed forces?

Since it can be argued that it is Blacks who stand to lose the most from a war in Iraq, it is time that at least Blacks make race-oriented arguments regarding this war in addition to all of the other arguments relative to religion, geopolitics and class that Blacks amplify, both legitimately and out of an inferiority complex, relative to their participation in coalitions with other groups. No apologies needed.

I wonder if the other groups would rather leave the anti-war coalition rather than have to make or endure the obvious race-oriented arguments that are involved.

Let's hope that a discussion of Reverend Sharpton and Rep. Rangel's arguments, whatever their political motivation may be, can result in an unwinding of the self-negation that Blacks practice on a daily basis in order to "get along" with their political friends.

It is now a matter of life and death.

Everybody does not stand to lose equally from this continued and upcoming war.

Hopefully the establishment anti-war movement and Black civil rights leaders have room for that truth.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, January 6, 2003