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Towards a New Civil Rights Movement


St. Louis American, August 22, 2013


When I talk to young people, they sometimes raise the failure of my generation and beyond in making this a better country – one that protects the rights of all regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion and age.

Our circular progress (or rollback of progress) can land on a generation where it’s really a struggle to survive, let alone aspire and achieve. There are lessons that not just young people must consider, but our society as a whole if we are to utilize the anniversary of the March on Washington as a benchmark in human development.

As the nation revs up for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (yes, that’s the full name) and St. Louis is poised to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Jefferson Bank protests, we should not get stuck in nostalgia. We need to celebrate the tremendous achievements of the Civil Rights Movements, but also intentionally chart the future.

The backdrop for the 1963 March was the demand for jobs, quality of education, affordable housing, and accessible health care as well as to end of all forms of discrimination. In 2013, those demands are still real and still valid.

A 2009 study by the University of California – Berkeley noted that on the eve of the Great Depression, the top 1 percent of Americans took in 23.9 percent of the nation’s income. In 2007, on the eve of the Great Recession, the 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of the nation’s income. If one is short-sighted, it looks like nothing has changed.

There were many positives changes in attitudes, practices, policies and laws as a result of the convergence of the the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Peace Movement and the Women’s Movements. All targeted the white male power structure (government, corporations, and individuals). They gave direction to the environment and anti-global movements that came later.

However, too many felt that these movements’ hard-fought reforms would be in place forever.  They failed to understand that the fight is two-fold – winning and defending. You must stay organized to maintain and defend whatever material gains you win.

As usual, whatever suffering America is experiencing, black folks are still disproportionately affected. African Americans have the highest unemployment rates, the highest disparity rates in education and health and so on.

Given the right wing’s attacks on our gains, some are calling for a New Civil Rights Movement. I think that’s absolutely appropriate because what’s missing now, in addition to a more focused strategy, is the sheer numbers of people needed for the adversary to take us seriously. This also means those who were the beneficiaries of those struggles must come out of their comfort zones and join the ranks of the disenfranchised and oppressed.

I’ll add one more dimension to the call for a New Civil Rights Movement: the bold call for a new U.S. Constitution.

Let’s be real about it, the original one was mainly written for a very narrow group of wealthy, white males. That’s why excluded groups have to wage an endless battle to be included. We’ve cobbled together some amendments here and there to patch up the holes, but that has proven to be insufficient.

I think it would be empowering to engage citizens in a process of deciding what kind of country they want – especially at this juncture of our history where, once again, wealthy, white (mainly) males are dictating to the 99 percent.

Negative history only repeats itself when we The People allow it.



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