Under The Overpass: The Politics of Social Justice

Under the Overpass focuses on politics, current events, and social commentary from a black, crunchy, granola perspective. Myshell chooses the topics. Michael writes the commentary. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and not endorsed by myshelltabu.com or its owners.

You have just walked under the overpass and, down here, we’ve been talking badly about Black politicians. Our No Hateration Rule is strictly enforced, so our bad talk is not mean-spirited. We’re naming the bad, not luxuriating in the critique.

We’re disappointed.

We expect more from our paid political leaders, especially when many of our youth are paying big for a world dealing them bad hands and hot bullets. We expect more when Black unemployment is twice the rate of whites (aprox.11.5% to 5.4%). We expect more when, according to the Sentencing Project (http://www.sentencingproject.org ) one in three black men can expect to be incarcerated in their life time. We expect more when prison guards are raising hundreds of thousands of our young black men—a tragic twist to It Takes A Village.

We expect more when shit is this bad.

Bad community conditions mean politicians can’t be bad too.

Thankfully, we have a great number of community activists who are being good, and doing good. The Dream Defenders, Color of Change, Dignity and Power Now, AGENDA, and Community Coalition are doing vital work. These organizations have a grass roots focus that believes that change happens from the bottom up. It’s an approach that involves ascertaining the needs and desires of the community, and working collectively to manifest those needs and desires. This is a social justice approach. It’s an approach that our political leaders should embrace.

Too often the approach of our political leaders is rooted in getting elected and reelected. If the needs of the community happen to align with getting elected and reelected, it’s all good. This alignment seems to be occurring with less frequency, which may explain why our politicians seem all bad.

In fairness, there are two elements of the political game that can adversely affect a Black politician’s ability to serve the community. Politics is a dirty game and the dirt is green. It takes money to run campaigns, pay for commercials, and pay staff. The money usually comes from people who are outside of our community. Lobbyists paying for access (and hopefully votes) that can lead to increased profit, and individual business owners with the same agenda. When the campaign is over these donors expect some love — and they get it — and it’s not a quickie. Even when the love means an outcome that isn’t necessarily in the best interest of the community.

The other major element that adversely affects Black politicians ability to serve their Black constituents is the “current political protocol.” The protocol is enforced by lobbyists, special interests and “the mood of the country.” This element is best understood via example.

The current political protocol around the apartheid regime in Israel is that politicians don’t call it apartheid, although there is a two-tiered system in place for Jewish people living in Israel and occupied Palestine and non-Jewish people living in Israel and the occupied Palestine.

Despite the Israeli government’s collective punishment of Palestinians by bull dozing homes, destroying farmland, government takeover of Palestinian land, imposing checkpoints on main roads, and building an outdoor prison featuring an electric fence, the current political protocol requires American politicians to “support our special friend Israel” and blame the Palestinians for their oppression at the hands of the state of Israel. This is all bad, but what makes it more awful, is that over 4 billion dollars in US taxpayer money goes to Israel every year to support this badass state of affairs. Black people pay taxes too (except for Wesley Snipes and Xzibit), so our money is also supporting an apartheid regime.

As a people who have suffered an extraordinary amount of state-sponsored oppression (slavery, COINTELPRO, Ronald Reagan, ect,) our interests more naturally align with those of the Palestinian people. Our political leaders, then, should be working to support our interests by calling for the liberation of Palestine and an immediate moratorium on the annual 4 billion dollar Oppression Gift that goes from our pockets to the oppressor. This summer, when the latest incursion into Gaza was killing almost 1000 Palestinians, including scores of civilians, and a shocking number of children, the entire Congressional Black Caucus voted “yea” on a resolution that called the attacks legitimate “self-defense.” To demonstrate the power of the current political protocol surrounding Israel, the infamously divided congress passed the resolution unanimously.

The Congressional Black Caucus used to be called the “Conscience of the Congress,” in part, for their principled resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa. It’s tragic that the CBC is now supporting apartheid in Israel. Oh, and brother president Barack Hussein Obama, is down with Israeli apartheid too. It’s chilling.

Controlled by money and the current political protocol, our political leaders are making choices that go directly against the interests of large swaths of our community member’s interest. Now what? How do we get our politicians to take positions that support social justice? Let’s talk solutions.

African Americans have to keep up with the issues of the day—and vote. It’s on us to be aware of the types of votes that Black politicians are making as our representatives. This type of information-based civic duty is mandatory, not only for us, but for those who we could inspire to be more up on political game. We have to make sure our barbershop/beauty salon/park rec league hoop sideline/Scandal party conversations also include what’s happening politically. Those in the know, have to be unafraid to steer the conversation towards the real, even when there’s resistance in the room. It’s our Black civic duty.

Secondly, we have to try to find ways to influence the decisions of our politicians. Campaign contributions are the best way, but if your money is short, you’d be amazed at the power of a letter. Organizing letter writing campaigns to the folk who represent you works. They know you’re paying attention—which means that you care enough to be a “likely voter.” Groups of likely voters get call-backs, email-backs and holler-backs from politicians.

Lastly, we have to support the politicians, at any level, who are acting, at least sometimes, like that got some damn sense. Holly Mitchell, Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee and Mark Ridley-Thomas fit this bill. Write them letters when they’re making tough votes. Send them a dub for their campaign. Volunteer at a phone bank. Tell them, “Thank you,” for supporting social justice if you see them at an event. These are small things, but they have a way of reminding our leaders why they got involved in politics in the first place: to make things better for people, here, under the overpass.

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