" Our true greatness lies in a determination to move forward together, not one step back."- Rev. William Barber
New York, NY (PRWEB) September 08, 2016
*Statement by Rev. Dr. William J Barber, II*
"African-Americans, Poor Whites, and Latinos Know What America Has To Lose
When political strategists told candidate Trump he couldn’t win the Presidency while alienating every minority voter, he scoffed and said, “You’re fired.” But if he wouldn’t listen to experience, Trump will listen to data. Hillary Clinton’s double-digit lead in national polls has prompted the pivot Trump promised he’d never make.
So if you’re African-American, Donald Trump wants your vote. Democrats have taken us for granted, he says, speaking to crowds in battle ground states that are overwhelmingly white. According to him we have been gullible and unsophisticated in the way we have cast our votes. He doesn’t see us among his audiences, but he hopes we’re listening. He promises that he—and he alone—can fix our problems. After all, he reasons, “What the hell do you have to lose?”
Black lives have always mattered in American political discourse, though not always for the right reason. But they have mattered, which is why we have had to fight for every civil liberty and legal protection we’ve gained since arriving on these shores as chattel slaves. We have had to be among the most sophisticated voters, knowing that no party or candidate is perfect and that race as well as class will always impact the policy decisions of whoever is in office. African-Americans have always had a lot to lose. The franchise of voting itself has been a constant struggle, then and now. Our history is too heavy a burden, but it has given us insight that cannot be taken away. This is why we know perhaps better than any group of Americans how much we all have to lose if we buy the lie of Trump and other extremists who’ve hijacked the Republican Party.
After a year of verbal brutality, racially charged speech, and regressive policy proposals that have masterfully tapped white fear, Trump wants to convince us he is not racist. George Wallace did the same thing in his 1968 Dixiecrat presidential campaign, which followed the race baiting campaign of Republican Nominee Barry Goldwater. Wallace, who had declared just five years earlier, “segregation yesterday, now and forever” tried to pivot away from the stigma of Old South bigotry by using the language of anti-elitism, anti-communism, and “law and order” to win white voters reeling with fear and hatred of the black freedom movement, the antiwar movement, the counter-culture and the women’s liberation movement.
In a speech at Madison Square Garden, Wallace said, “I am very grateful for the fact that in 1966 my wife received more black votes in Alabama than did either one of her opponents. We are proud to say that they support us now in this race for the presidency, and we would like to have the support of people of all races, colors, creeds, religions, and national origins in the state of New York."
To win the White House in ’68, Richard Nixon learned to out-Wallace Wallace by speaking in a new racially-coded language that capitalized on racial fears and prejudices without using blatant slurs and open appeals to white supremacy. Lee Atwater, one of the architects of Nixon’s campaign, called this Southern Strategy “a brilliant campaign… a blueprint for everything I have done in the South since then.”
Nixon used his “Southern Strategy” to establish a new Sunbelt power base for the Republican Party in the South and West. Many Southern white conservatives—Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond, and most of what would become the New Right in the South—left the Democratic Party. Strom Thurmond organized conservative Democrats across the South to abandon their party and become Republicans in 1968, telling them that Nixon could actually win and that the white South would never go back to the party of civil rights. Nixon took the entire South (except for the handful of states that Wallace took), and his narrow victory in 1968 would have been a landslide except that Wallace siphoned off 13.5 per cent of the vote.
According to historian William Chafe, by 1969 most middle class whites believed blacks had a better chance at good education, jobs, and housing than they did. Almost 80 per cent said that most people on welfare could earn their own way if they wanted. Kevin Phillips, another of Nixon’s chief strategists, explained that "all you've got to do with American politics is work out who hates whom and you've got it." Phillips advised Nixon that the Republican Party could win without Negro votes by painting the Democrats as a "black party." Predicting "a new American revolution coming out of the South and West,” Phillips noted that "white ethnics" in the North were also ripe for the picking, correctly predicting, for example, that the Irish Democrats in New York would turn Republican "because they don't like the Jews and Negroes who run the New York Democratic Party." The South, Phillips said, would become the base for a new Republican Party.
This hijacking of the Republican Party depended on revisionist history. In an effort to gain African-American votes, Trump wants to claim the “party of Lincoln.” But Lincoln's Republican party—and its opposition Democratic party—were the polar opposites of today's parties that carry those same names. If Trump really wanted to embrace the "Party of Lincoln,” he would have to support the Reconstruction policies that won freed blacks’ support in the 19th century. He would have to be for federal intervention to ensure equal protection, for expanding voting rights, and for public education. African-Americans are not naïve. We know Trump and other so-called conservative extremists doesn’t represent the party of Lincoln because they oppose the policies that have increased our freedom and well-being in this nation.
Trump’s pivot is a political ploy taken out of the Southern Strategy playbook, which was developed in the late 1960s and used by candidates from Nixon to Reagan to George Bush to exploit white Southern fear while avoiding the stigma of overt racism. This strategy taught state-level and national politicians, especially in the South, to reference race in the coded language of “tax cuts,” “entitlement programs,” “states rights,” “right to work,” and “voter fraud.” By associating black political power with “big government,” the Southern Strategy created a disdain for the very social uplift programs that had benefited many whites in the 1940s and 50s. If black people were stealing from their neighbors by taking "free stuff' from the government, then they were to blame for poor white people’s suffering. This convinced many whites to vote against their own self-interest, thereby undermining the coalitions of poor and working people who had challenged systemic injustice during the labor and civil rights movements.
When I hear Trump ask, “What do you have to lose?”, I immediately think of all that African-Americans have fought for and won, together with our allies from other communities: our freedom, our citizenship; our right to vote, to sit on juries, to serve in the military; our right to education, to integrated public facilities, to fair housing and just wages. The question itself is an insult to black people in America.
But it is an insult to poor white people, too. Because despite the injustices we have faced, there are still more of them than there are of us. According to the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center, 26% of African-Americans are poor—an extreme disparity compared to the 10% poverty among whites. But in real numbers, millions more poor white people who are being conned by the Southern Strategy and the extremists who use it to build their own power and wealth.
The worst lie of our time is that extreme policies only hurt black people. In state houses across America, we have seen this kind of political extremism attack voting rights protections, public education, health care for all, living wages, labor rights, and immigrant rights. It has led the way in refusing to address racial disparities in our criminal justice system, and its trickle-down economics led to the worst recession since the Great Depression. The so-called “big government” that extremists railed against for decades bailed out the banks that were “too big to fail,” and poor and working people of every race bore the brunt of creditors’ over-speculation.
Take it from a people who learned long ago that, “just trust me,” from a rich white man is a polite way of saying, “You better know your place, boy.” This nation is far from perfect, but we’ve come a long way from where we started. We all have a great deal to lose if we buy the lie that our best hope is in returning to some imagined greatness of our past. If history shows us anything, it’s that we become a more perfect union when people who’ve been pitted against one another see our common cause, join hands, and listen to the better angels of our nature. Our true greatness lies in a determination to move forward together, not one step back."
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