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Synthesis/Regeneration 31   (Spring 2003)

Are Black People Pulling Their Weight
in Opposing Bush’s War on Iraq?

by Donna J. Warren, Green Party of California

There’s been a lot of talk in the progressive community, aka, the mostly white progressive community, that Black people are not pulling their weight in opposing Bush’s war on Iraq. I hear these thoughts on KPFK radio in Los Angeles. I heard them at the Socialist Scholar’s Conference in New York in March 2003 where I appeared to be the only African-American panelist. I hear it from my fellow Greens. Why aren’t Black people marching against war?

Let’s look at these allegations and try to determine if Black politicians, Black people, and the Black media are avoiding the issue of war on Iraq, or worse, are for the war on Iraq.

The only House member to vote against a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against anyone associated with the September 11 terrorist attacks was Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) a Black woman. The Congressional Black Caucus addressed the conflict with Iraq on the House floor. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) Chairman of the Black Caucus, tried unsuccessfully to meet with President Bush to address the war. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) questioning the United States on her pre-emptive strike on Saddam Hussein said “…we’re in no danger from Iraq. Striking Saddam is not fighting terrorism.”

Black politicians unlike White politicians (except for the recent voice of Presidential Hopeful Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) who attempted to rescind the authorized use of force given to President Bush last October by 81 Democrats and 215 Republicans) are speaking out against the war.

What about the Black person on the street. Where are they on the war issue?

According to Los Angeles’ Southwest Wave, every Black person asked “Do you favor this war,” answered “No.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken in March showed that African-Americans are far more likely to oppose the war than white Americans 61% to 20%.

…every Black person asked “Do you favor this war,” answered “No.”

A multitude of Black Member organizations are joining Congresswoman Maxine Waters and other elected officials, community leaders, and celebrities from the African American community to protest the war on Saturday, March 29 in Los Angeles.

Black people are against the war.

What about Black newspapers? Where are they on the war issue?

“It is now time for us as citizens to get involved to express our views on this expensive war issue. If you believe we are going to take care of soldiers after the war, ask any veteran standing on freeways asking for money for food and standing on street corners waving you down to get your car washed.” Hardy Brown, Editor, Black Voices.

“Some of the most important anti-war efforts—the city council resolutions opposing war—have taken place in cities where whites are a minority. Polling evidence is conclusive over two generations: Anti-war politics is mainstream Black politics,” The Black Commentator.

“Congress should repeal [the] Iraq Resolution, Bush should come before Congress if he seeks to go to war,” Exodus Newsmagazine.

“At the National Student Strike and Peace March in Oakland, California on March 5, aggressive police attacked the peaceful, singing crowd of young and elderly people of color with their motorcycles and weapons. Two reporters from the SF Bay View newspaper were injured and then also arrested,” San Francisco Bay View.

Black politicians, unlike most White politicians, Black people unlike most White people, and Black newspapers unlike almost every mainstream white newspaper, are firmly against the war on Iraq. Why then is the white anti-war movement accusing Black people of not pulling our weight against the war?

White people do not respond to Black-led movements seeking broad social change in anything approaching whites’ proportion of the population.

The answer to this question lies in the specter of racism firmly entrenched in America.

For good reason, Blacks are not represented in demonstrations in numbers approaching our proportion of the population. Blacks remain under the prison industrial complex in proportions far greater than our proportion of the population. White activists do not share leadership with, and are not willing to follow the lead of people and organizations of color.

The movement against the war on Iraq fails to recognize the continuing war on communities of color. White activists continue to ignore issues which speak to the experiences and struggles of people of color. Current demonstrations, disproportionately white and middle class, are done by those who can most easily take the time and expense to travel to major anti-war events.

Given that the above is true, why do white people assume that African Americans will come when white people call, for any cause? White people do not respond to Black-led movements seeking broad social change in anything approaching whites’ proportion of the population. Older whites participated in the 1963 March on Washington and in the civil rights movement yet whites were only a fraction of the quarter-million strong crowd, and the civil rights movement while outnumbering African Americans in the general population eight to one.

We should ask a more intelligent question, “Why don’t African Americans rally to Black-led causes more often and in greater numbers? And where are the whites in these movements?”

Whites could have prevented the social harms in this country to people of color—the prison industrial complex, the death penalty, the lack of education, housing, and medical care. Yet, these movements are not led by the millions of anti-war protesters who march for another “community of color” thousands of miles away. Don’t misunderstand me. The war on Iraq is important, very important but it is not more important than the war on communities of color that whites have condoned and promoted for the last 30 years.

The war on Iraq is important, very important but it is not more important than the war on communities of color…

Even if Black men wanted to march against the war, one out of three cannot because the yoke of the prison industrial complex ensures Blacks are kept out of the Democratic process. One out of every three Black men is in prison, on parole, or under some form of prison supervision.

The prison industrial complex in California boomed under Governor Jerry Brown, was expanded by President Bill Clinton, and is maintained and continues to grow under Governor Gray Davis. Do I need to point out the obvious? The massa’ is white.

The US Senate had an opportunity last year to restore voting rights for ex-felons. Yet 24 Senate Democrats including Dianne Feinstein from California, voted to deny ex-felons the right to vote. In California, ex-felons already have the right to vote but Feinstein still voted “no.” Most felons in California’s prisons are there for non-violent felonies, most drug-related. The drugs were allowed into the inner cities by the CIA and the Department of Justice in the 1980s.

Where is the white progressive community in this fight?

Black people who would be marching against the war live in fear of becoming too visible to authorities that treat every young Black as a probationer.

Americans live in very different worlds. In much of Black America, police state conditions have existed for some time and people of color are disproportionately subjected to poor schools, inadequate jobs, poor health care, and poor housing. The white anti-war movement needs to recognize these facts, and work with Black activists to bring an end to America’s war on our communities.

Donna Jo Warren is a native of South Central Los Angeles and a former Green Party candidate for Lt. Governor of California (http://www.donnawarren.com). She may be reached at cottry@worldnet.att.net.

[18 apr 03]

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