Thursday, July 23, 2015

Black Lives Matter. Some Of Those Lives Are Poor And Middle Class.

In the wake of the violent death of Sandra Bland while jailed in Waller County, Texas and of the appearance of Martin O'Malley (video, here) and Bernie Sanders (video, here) at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Chris Hayes on Tuesday spoke to Ashley Yates, whom he identified as "an organizer with Ferguson Action and Black Lives Matter."  Hayes himself encapsulated what is right and what is wrong with the Black Lives Matter movement when he summarized

I was thinking about some of the stuff that immigration activists have done, DREAMers particularly have used actions like this, disruptions at speeches, extremely effectively. And in those cases, there was a very sort of specific concrete policy ask on the table, right. And in those cases it was, you know, like this, disruptions at speeches, extremely effectively. There was a specific concrete policy ask on the table, right. In those cases it was, you know, signed -- executive action, deferred action or passing comprehensive immigration reform.

"Actions like this, disruptions at speeches" have been used effectively by the DREAMers, who apparently have established the template. If the antics of Black Lives Matter at Netroots Nation are any indication, that movement has well absorbed the lesson: intimidate, intimidate, intimidate.

Nevertheless, in the case of the DREAMers, Hayes pointed out, "there was a specfic concrete policy ask on the table, right."  At least in the case of Yates, that hasn't been worked out yet.

Yates argued "when you ask them" (i.e., "a candidate") "about the crisis at the state of black America, when you ask them about the fact that 4 million people are in mass incarceration right now and also deprived of their access to democracy, they have no response for that. They have no action steps."

Continuing, Yates outlined.... no concrete steps. She did refer to "structural racism, one of the ways it's perpetuated is through our police department" before immediately pivoting to "it's not just about police violence."

Democratic candidates shouldn't have to be bopped on the head with a baseball bat to know what's going on. If they emphasize police violence, they will be tagged with being myopic, not acknowledging the larger issues. If the larger issues are addressed, they will be accused of ignoring police violence. Given it's a fine line few candidates will be able to walk, they are being set up.

The larger issue, of course, is her emphases.  Speaking as a representative of Black Lives Matter, Yates claims

we took the opportunity to show the rest of America what we already know that they are not focused on black life, and that we know that they should be, there can be no platform addressing jobs, addressing housing, addressing land, addressing economic injustice, which are all the things Americans hope to hear from a candidates without addressing the black lives that are at the center of a lot of that oppression.

Most of "being focused on black life" takes place, in this federal system of ours, on the state and local levels of government- and in the myriad workings of the private sector. "We need land," Yates adds, "gentrification is a huge problem in the black community." If she has any concrete suggestion of how to address that, she didn't let on.

Little can be done about "land," jobs, housing, and economic justice, Yates suggests, without direct reference to oppression of blacks.    Her perspective is grievously misguided. Hopefully, she simply  isn't aware

Bernie Sanders rallied fellow members of Congress, supporters, fast-food workers and labor advocates outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday for a bill he introduced that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour.

“The current federal minimum wage is a starvation wage. It’s got to be raised to a living wage,” the independent Vermont senator and Democratic presidential candidate said at the event at the Upper Senate Park, which drew a very loud and boisterous crowd.

When in April, 2004 fast-food workers in Manhattan rallied in favor of increasing the minimum wage in New York City (though it would have to be raised in Albany), the chairperson of the State Assembly's Black and Latino Caucus distributed a statement in which (as MSNBC reported at the time) he

said that he would not “stand by as we resign African American and Latino families to a cycle of poverty.”

Nationally, people of color make up a disproportionate share of minimum wage and low-wage workers. Over half of all tipped workers living below the poverty line are people of color, according to a report from the labor group ROC United, and over 40% of those who would be affected by a proposed increase in the federal minimum wage are black or Latino. In the fast food industry specifically, analysis by the Center on Economic Policy Research has found that black and Latino workers are overrepresented among adult fast food workers.

Members of Congress, however, are not content to improve the lives of minority workers merely by getting the minimum wage increased. In May, 19 Senators (all Democrats) sent to President Obama a letter asking him

to issue a "model employer" executive order, which would give contracting preference to firms that pay a living wage, offer health care and sick leave, and guarantee union rights for workers.

"Mr. President, the stroke of your pen can have transformative impact for millions of workers," the letter states. "As low-wage fast food, retail and federal contract workers continue to strike in growing numbers to 'Fight for $15 and a Union,' we urge you to harness the power of the presidency to help these workers achieve the American Dream."

As they understand, the generic call for "more jobs" has not improved the income of workers, as well as the respect afforded them by society and their own sense of self-worth. Reforms in such economic areas as finance, taxation, student loan debt, corporate accountability, labor rights, trade, and preserving traditional public education are critical to improve the lives of all Americans and in some instances, black Americans especially.

Those nineteen Senators demonstrated they understand black lives matter. So, too, is recognition clear on the part of the Vermont Senator and ex-Maryland governor, especially when emphasizing the income inequality which plagues blacks most of all.  And the lead signatory on the letter to President Obama that strikes at the heart of the exploitation of so many workers in the land? That belonged to Bernard Sanders.

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