In June of 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Seattle Schools case that race can no longer be considered when school districts attempt to redress entrenched racial inequalities. As veterans of the long struggle that cost many lives to end institutionalized racism, we must denounce both this ruling and the false ideology that underpins it.
With this ruling our government and mass media would have us believe:
That government and business now operate on a "color-blind" basis of equal-opportunity for all regardless of race, gender, or class.
That institutionalized race, gender, and class discrimination no longer exist as significant issues or problems. That racism, sexism, and class prejudice — if they exist at all — are now entirely personal/psychological phenomenon.
That issues related to poverty are race and gender neutral. And that the causes of abject poverty are rooted in the personal and family failures of the affected individuals rather than any acts or failures of government, economic, or social institutions.
That today, the relevant issues of freedom and civil rights are issues of individual rights under attack by oppressive government (and that these oppressed "individuals" include corporations, not just actual human beings). That today the real struggle for justice is the struggle to dismantle "big" government.
And that therefore there is no longer any need or justification for government to address issues of institutionalized discrimination, or to provide for amelioration of past injustices. That such programs are now obsolete, and are examples of government oppressing individual and corporate rights. And they add insult to injury by using the language of civil rights and the Freedom Movement to justify their reversal of the social gains won at such great sacrifice over the past decades.
As veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s, we dispute and challenge these false theses.
We accuse our government of steadily and stealthily rolling back the civil rights gains of the 1960s and the social achievements of both Roosevelt's "New Deal" and Johnson's "War on Poverty" such as Head Start. Through legislation, executive action (and inaction), official appointments, court rulings, and global treaties, our government has more than ever before become a government of the privileged, by the powerful, for the wealthy. A government that serves the interests of the few at the expense of the many.
We accuse our government of using the rhetoric of equality and a few token nonwhites in positions of authority to mask a white-supremacy world view which relegates most people of color to hewers-of-wood and drawers-of-water doomed to declining wages, sharecropper-education, inadequate health care, and perpetual poverty.
We accuse both government and the corporate "mainstream" media of deliberately distorting and disguising the realities of race and class for their partisan political ends and corporate economic advantage.
In support of these accusations, we cite the following examples, just a handful that illustrate the broad pattern:
Ongoing Discrimination in Schools & Education
The recent Supreme Court decision ignores what every parent in the U.S. knows: Access to a quality education is unequal, blatantly unequal. Every parent can point to the "good" schools where children are encouraged to learn, and the schools where they cannot learn because they are confronted daily with the signs of societal callousness and neglect: peeling paint, crumbling ceilings, malfunctioning toilets, scarce computers and outdated textbooks. Furthermore, every parent knows that race and class determine the disparities.
The modern era of the Civil Rights Movement dawned with the thrust for equal and quality public education. Ending school segregation was believed to get us to that goal. Yet decades later poor children and children of color are presented with a sharecropper education that prepares them not for picking cotton these days, but for an extended stint in either the military or the prison system — or both. Those who manage to succeed do so under enormous and unjust burden.
Ironically, the current "no child left behind" rhetoric leaves all children behind. It is an equal opportunity race to the bottom that punishes students and teachers alike. Arts programs, science laboratories, even libraries fall under the hatchet of testing and more testing. Meanwhile critical thinking and intellectual stimulation are viewed as luxuries we cannot afford. Can anybody really believe our children are being well prepared to enter a global society?
As veterans of the movement we accuse all levels of government, media and industry for endangering the future of this nation's children — all our children.
Modern Subversion of Voting Rights
Because Black, Latino, Native American, and low-income white voters generally tend to support Democratic candidates, politicians know that in close-fought campaigns a small reduction in the number of such voters can deliver tight races to Republican candidates. In the stolen election of 2000, it was not hanging chads that gave Bush a victory he did not win, but rather the systematic and illegal disenfranchisement of 50,000 Black voters engineered by his brother Governor Jeb Bush (and then, when that proved insufficient, the five Republican appointees to the Supreme Court annointed their leader to office). Since then, the Bush administration has steadily worked and schemed to reduce the number of nonwhite and low-income voters.
Conservatives claim widespread voter fraud by non-white and poor-white voters, but they provide no valid evidence that it actually exists. Based on their false allegations, Republican office-holders are passing laws and issuing regulations designed to discourage voting by those at the bottom of the economic ladder. They are enacting "voter identification" laws which make it more difficult for people of color, the poor, and the elderly to register. In Florida, a new law makes it practically impossible for churches, political organizations, and other civic groups to conduct voter registration drives which are the most effective method of registering low-income and less educated citizens. Because of this law, the Florida League of Women Voters — which has registered voters in Florida for more than 60 years — has had to halt its registration activities. At the root of the recent mass firings of U.S. Attorneys was their reluctance to prosecute "voter fraud" cases against Democratic candidates and organizations without solid evidence. The Bush administration judged them insufficiently partisan, and they were replaced.
Under new laws, most voters must now cast ballots using electronic voting machines that provide no reliable record to confirm that each vote is correctly counted or that the final tally is accurate. Many of the companies supplying the machines have close political ties to the Republican party. Diebold, the largest vendor with 130,000 machines in use, is a major Republican donor and just before the 2004 election the Diebold CEO stated on the record that he is "Committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President." And in Ohio, as elsewhere in the country, voting machines in nonwhite precincts consistently "breakdown," "malfunction," and "miscount" far more often than in white precincts.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) that we fought for was designed to ensure that state voting laws and practices do not discriminate on the basis of race. But the Attorneys General under Bush have refused to block discriminatory changes like those mentioned above that would benefit the Republican Party by reducing the number or voting-strength of nonwhites and have-nots. Even in cases where Justice Department lawyers unanimously agreed that new laws, regulations, or procedures clearly violated the VRA, the Bush political appointees over-ruled their own staff and permitted them to be enacted.
Continuing Job Discrimination & Economic Injustice
Too many pundits and politicians tell us that institutional racism is no longer a significant issue in our new "color-blind" society. But despite their claims, unemployment for nonwhites continues to be roughly double that of whites, and people of color still experience "last-hired, first-fired." Even the Bush-appointed head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) acknowledged in 2007 that race and color are still the major employment discrimination issues in both the public and private sectors of the economy. In her words, "Racism is still with us despite enormous progress being made, despite federal agencies working very, very hard to have a model workplace."
Many young people of color still enter the labor force handicapped by inadequate education from inferior schools. For generations, blue-collar and service jobs were the economic mainstay of nonwhite communities. But now those jobs are being "off-shored" to low-wage, anti-union, nations governed by oligarchies and dictators kept in power by U.S. foreign and military aid. And at the same time, other jobs are being "in-shored" by businesses paying undocumented workers starvation wages, secure in the knowledge that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) can be called in against any "illegal" who dares complain or organize for higher pay or safer working conditions. We now have a race-to-the-bottom, as corporations seek greater profits through lower-wages for all workers of all races, "legal" and "illegal" alike.
Today, with lower wages and greater unemployment, increasing numbers of workers at the bottom of the economic ladder have to work 16-hour days at two and three different minimum-wage (or sub-minimum wage) jobs just to provide a bare living for their families. Then the same politicians and pundits who applaud business for cutting wages and off-shoring jobs turn around and blame juvenile delinquency and low test scores on parents who don't spend enough quality time with their kids.
Increasingly Racist "War on Drugs"
When Nixon declared the so-called "War on Drugs" in 1969, availability of hard drugs was largely limited to inner-city ghettos and U.S. military bases. Today, 38 years later, on any high school campus anywhere in America — urban, suburban, rural — there is no shortage of kids who can tell you exactly where to buy hard narcotics at a fraction of the price those drugs cost in 1969. It's time to tell it like it is, the so-called "War on Drugs" is more about re-electing politicians than reducing drug addiction. For 38 years the failing strategies of the "War on Drugs" have focused on punishment and demonization rather than treatment and social amelioration of root causes. And in regards to drugs, election politics are infused with fear, vengeance, and racial myths & stereotypes.
Today we have a higher percentage of our population in prison than the Soviet Union under Stalin, or South Africa under apartheid. The majority of drug users are white, but the overwhelming majority of those serving sentences for drug offenses are Black, Latino, or Native American. In many of the inner-city ghettos populated by nonwhites, the levels of drug-related violence — murders, robberies, assaults — are the equivalent of a perpetual terrorism so dangerous that parents fear to let their children out to play or run errends to the store. Until Bush invaded Iraq, far more people were killed each year in drug-related homicides in U.S cities than were killed in Middle East political terrorism by all sides combined. Not even the most rabid "talk radio" shock-jock would claim that similar levels of violence in white suburbs would be allowed to continue year after year after year.
It is self-evident that issues of race and class are intertwined and interrelated. But some politicians and mass-media pundits try to put those issues into conflict, using one to weaken the other, rather than recognizing that race-discrimination and class-inequality reinforce each other. They tell us that the decades of neglect and resource-diversion leading up to the Katrina disaster were not racist because poor whites suffered too. They claim that the slow, incompetent, and financially corrupt response was not racially motivated because whites were also victims. But the suffering of poor whites in New Orleans does not prove the disaster was color-blind because the root causes of the abuse were both race and class.
And anyone with the sense that God gave a goat knows that had Katrina hit a white suburb of Houston the result and response would have been totally different. The poor are disproportionately people of color, and the overt hostility towards the underclass expressed by many of the powerful and the affluent has an undeniable racial component, a component that influences decisions that affect demographic groups as groups, not just as individuals.
We who served in the Southern Freedom Movement of the 1960s struggled and endured in our day to overcome racism, poverty, exploitation, and oppression. We who were field workers and activists of SNCC, SCLC, CORE, the NAACP, and similar national and local organizations sign this statement as witness that those injustices still remain painfully evident today, festering in our society like some malignant form of social cancer. And that rather than address these problems, government, business, and the dominant social institutions are trying to conceal them beneath a self-serving camouflage of false equality.
And to those who come after us, to those who carry forward the struggle for freedom, justice, and equality into the future, we who stood on the shoulders of those who went before us, pass on the wisdom of hard lessons: That it is ordinary people united in struggle — not politicians, pundits, or philanthropists — who push forward the fight for social justice and who expand human freedom. We used to say "Where the broom don't sweep, the dirt don't move," meaning that until you organize and take action, nothing happens, nothing changes. To be effective, resistance to oppression and campaigns for positive change must be collective and inclusive rather than individual or narrowly-based. And that while there is never any guarantee of victory, silence and passivity do guarantee defeat.
Sandra Adickes (SNCC)
Chude Allen (Mississippi)
Hunter Bear (NAACP, SCEF)
Nina Boal (CORE, MFDP)
Terry Cannon (SNCC)
Connie Curry (SNCC)
Gloria Richardson Dandridge (CNAC, SNCC)
Sam Friedman (CORE)
Hardy Frye (SNCC)
Aviva Futorian (SNCC)
Maria Gitin (SCLC, SCOPE, SNCC)
Lawrence Guyot (SNCC, VMCRM)
Bruce Hartford (CORE, SCLC)
Carol Hinds Horwitz (SCEF, MFDP)
Phil Hutchings (SNCC)
David James (NAACP Youth Council)
Don Jelinek (SNCC)
Margaret Kibbee (MFDP)
Betita Martinez (SNCC)
Steven McNichols (CORE)
Sheila Michaels (SNCC, CORE)
Claire O'Connor (SNCC)
Bruce Palmer (SNCC)
Dr. Gwen Patton (TIAL, SNCC)
Wazir (Willie B.) Peacock (SNCC)
Wally Roberts (SNCC)
Jimmy Rogers (SNCC)
Honorable Mario Marcel Salas (SNCC)
Harriet Tanzman (SNCC, CORE, SCLC)
Jean Wiley (SNCC)
Mark Davis (Hennepin County Human Services)
Kathy Emery (SFFS)
Ronda C. Porter
Steven "Soogie" Santos (CVAVA)
Ana Lourdes Alvarenga Silva
We veterans of the Southern Freedom Movement hope that our experiences and reflections can be of use in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality. We invite people to read the stories, discussions, and interviews on this website, and we encourage other Movement veterans to add their stories, if they have not done so already.