Jan 27, 2010
Brothers, sisters and all of those in transition,
come to you today not as your elected leader, but simply as a Black
woman striving for justice, a single voice delivering a few words of
caution and hope about the state of our union.
of you may think that we should reserve this moment for our duly
elected President. The Constitution does suggest that from time to time
the President should "recommend measures as he shall judge necessary
and expedient." And there should be an acute sense of urgency when it
comes to our situation. With poverty and unemployment rising as quickly
as wealth is falling in communities of color, it is critical that we
hear President Obama's plan and vision for our future.
I say that the weight of this moment is too substantial to leave to one
man, or to the gum-flapping of partisan spin doctors and Madison Avenue
desk jockeys. The state of our union deserves a broader, more grounded
assessment that includes the role we have played in nation building.
be honest. As a movement, we have engaged in a great deal of
in-fighting between those propelled by the hope of the 2008 election
and those deflated by the realities of the 2009 administration. Some
trumpeted the signing of SCHIP while others raged at the lack of care
for immigrants and women in the health insurance bill. The push and
pull among us has gone far beyond a healthy dialectic that nurtures our
Many seem to have forgotten that what is most important is not the man, but the mission.
The Applied Research Center's Compact for Racial Justice reminds us of what we want and how only we can get from here to there.
seismic shift from institutionalized racial inequity to
institutionalized racial equity requires a radical reorientation in
policies and practices, a fundamental reordering of economic
priorities, and, underlying these two things, a shift in culture and
values. A movement of that magnitude comes about only when millions of
people have begun to believe that change is possible and have been set
in motion to bring it about. It has long been a political truism that
the power of wealth can only be overcome by the power of the people.
the past year, some of us lost hope and began seeing ourselves more as
victims than visionaries. Some of us gave up and gave in to inertia.
And some of us forgot from where our real power comes. But some did
said, "I'm not going to let you take my job!" The Chicago Republic
Windows and Doors workers took over their factory, confronting bosses
and banks to win back their jobs.
said, "You are not going to take this house!" Thousands of community
members from groups like Take Back the Land, ACORN and others went
toe-to-toe with the sub-prime swindlers in order to save the family
some said, "You are not going to mistreat us anymore!" Targeting police
misconduct through text-message, email and video the NAACP's Rapid
Report System makes the cell phone a weapon for justice against racial
there were countless others whose sense of agency was not stifled by a
strategy debate dogged by the limitations of elections, provincial
racial philosophies and fear. They took action.
are lessons we must learn and relearn until we get it right. When those
communities said "no" to losing their jobs, homes and wellbeing, they
were not just protecting themselves. They were forging change in the
structures that expected them to lie down and take it. They did not
allow the naysayers to dictate to them what was and was not politically
viable. They did not, as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote from his jail
cell, accept someone else "paternalistically setting the timetable for
[their] freedom." At every point of resistance, they were expressing a
belief that change is possible, by upping the ante on their demands,
not compromising them. They led with their values, supplanting racism,
dishonesty and greed with fairness and racial justice. They were change
agents, a source of power to contend with.
And what about our President?
Obama is neither a savior nor a failure. He is the President of the United States, and in all
respects the movement should treat him as one. As our nation's leader,
President Obama no doubt anticipates our petition. We should not fail
to put forth demands worthy of our communities; the stakes are much too
high and the need too great to do less.
the movement and the President, have inherited racist, antiquated
systems that will be our undoing if not addressed very soon. If
President Obama has neither the power nor the will to smash them, it
does us little good to debate the intention. Our communities are
counting on us to lead, so we must.
"no" when the rules are wrong, we must be an unstoppable force that
breaks down walls and lays new foundations. We are the ultimate
game-changers, leveling systems that don't serve us and building a new
nation for peace and justice for all.
© 2023 ColorLines
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