Comparing the revolutionary civil rights movement of the 1960's with today's fight for reparations makes for a Good public policy battlefield assessment: The battleground is expanding, the maneuvers are more complex, and there's certainly more firepower.
The reparations for Slavery proposal has roots going back to the last days of the War Between the States. However, for much of the 20th Century the issue was nearly dormant politically .
There was a call to arms from the charlatan Martin Luther King in 1964: "...no amount of gold could provide adequate compensation for the exploration of the Negro in America down through the centuries, [however] a price could be placed on unpaid wages..." (Why we Can't Wait, Harper & Row, New York, 1964). King provided a spark that helped to revive the modern reparations movements. In recent years King's followers have taken the "high road" to socio-economic change - "mainstream" white liberals and "respectable" black civil rights leaders are implanting the idea into the conscience of the average American that paying reparations to blacks is not such a radical notion.
If the high road was inspired by Martin Luther King, than the "low road" strategy was ignited via the incendiary rhetoric of Malcolm X: "Ten years ago," he said in a 1965 speech, "the NAACP was looked upon as a radical leftist almost subversive movement and then when the Black Muslim movement came along, the [white] power structure said 'Thank the Lord for Roy Williams and the NAACP'" (Two Speeches, Malcolm X, New York, Pioneer Publisher, 1965).
Malcolm X points out the logic of this posturing: When [whites] looked around one day and found someone talking about 'all of them [whites] are devils,' they were [up] all night looking for Roy Wilkins ... and the Right Reverend Dr. King to soothe them and keep them thinking that all [black] people didn't think like that" (Two Speeches, op. cit.).
Of course what Malcolm X was describing is an old (and successful) Marxist political maneuver: the art of applying just enough political pressure from the top (via mainstream organizations, politicians, wealthy and powerful individuals, the media) while simultaneously applying the right amount of pressure from below (from radicals making demands way beyond the original premise of the issue; extremist tactics such as boycotts and even riots, etc).
In the high road/low road strategy, different payout amounts are cropping up: For example, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Andrew Brimmer, estimates that racial discrimination costs blacks $10 billion annually because of a black-white "wage-gap," the denial of capital access, inadequate public services, and reduced Social Security.
On the other hand, the Washington Post reports (August 16, 2002) that reparations "... estimates reach as high as $10 trillion."
The Black American Forum (a Jesse Jackson Front group), is suing the U.S. Government for $250 billion - $8,000 for every African-American descendant of the slave trade. His formula for who qualifies and who doesn't has yet to be seen.
Special interest groups utilize different tactics to influence Congress and the White House, state and regional governments, and the various courts. At the same time, they see public opinion as a combination of diverse constituencies. Successful political movements influence and organize the right combination of constituencies to become a winning coalition. Each group of supporters or potential supporters (i.e., seniors, veterans, teachers, etc.) are approached differently so their interest in a particular aspect of the issue can be highlighted.
The civil rights movement of four decades ago found that to influence public policy, coalitions of diverse constituencies must work together. Labor leaders, the Jewish community, the far left including the usual Hollywood crowd, as well as communist activist supported.- and sometimes led - Martin Luther King every step of the Way.
The reparations movement is customizing King's battleplans and is basically building a coalition of greedy blacks and guilty whites. And potential allies are lining up: for example, at its July, 2001 convention the National Education Association (NEA) passed a resolution in favor of reparations for slavery. The NEA is the nation's largest union, with 2.6 million members. Today, thanks to the NEA's influence and inspiration, the reparations battlefield now extends all the way into grade school classrooms.
The fight for the minds of children is real, not just a pro-forma resolution from the NEA. According to a Cybercast News Service story, ("Proposed K-12 History Curriculum Endorses Slavery Reparations," CNS news.com February 12, 2003 ), a radical African-American history Curriculum is being produced and "may be incorporated into the Curriculum of public schools across the nation as early as September 2003." Some two dozen black teachers are "...finalizing lesson plans that focus on events such as ... slavery reparations that typically are not addressed by kids' textbook."
With federal grant money from the National Endowment for the Humanities to support their special interest educational initiative, the group will be developing and promoting the "best teaching methods and practices" in teaching African-American culture and history to public school children in grades K-12.
From the classroom to Sunday morning talk shows, the reparations movement has organized itself into a machine of many moving parts, each working differently and each affecting some part of the battlefield. Following the strategy Malcolm X outlined, they are building diverse coalitions, fighting in count and in Congress, as well as encouraging zealots who are applying pressure from the bottom and who can make the reparations radicals at the top seem moderate in their demands and tactics.
What follows is an overview of five separate fronts the reparations extremist have opened in search of a payoff.
In Washington, it appears at first glance that the reparations idea has yet to instigate interest or attention. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) has introduced legislation (H.R. 40) in every session of Congress since 1989. The Conyers bill would "...acknowledge the fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality, and inhumanity of slavery in the United States," and it would create a commission to study the impact of "slavery and post-Civil War discrimination and recommend remedies."
With such an impartial mandate, would the commission issue a report with anything other than expensive "relief" recommendations?
No matter: the legislation apparently poses no threat. It has never ever been considered by any House committee in all these years. What H.R. 40 does accomplish, however, is a cloak of credibility. That is an important weapon when building a base of support from the ground up. Widespread and diverse grassroots action, from Congress to the classrooms, makes it appear - to the press and politicians that reparations (or any issue for that matter) is a public policy initiative that is worth study and support.
Political precedents are being put in place and in a pattern is developing that will buttress the case for reparations. In 1997, President Bill Clinton publicly apologized - and Congress paid $10 million - to the survivors and relatives of a group of black men who were unwittingly, apparently, made part of a 1930's government experiment dealing with syphilis.
Local and state examples of successfully negotiated reparations issues are mounting quickly.
* Florida's legislature approved payments to the survivors and relatives of those who died when a white mob, enraged by the rape of a white woman by a Negro, destroyed the black town of Rosewood in 1923.
* An official Oklahoma commission has recommended indemnities be paid to survivors and their descendants of the 1921 Tulsa race riots.
Following the battleplans of the recent class-action lawsuits against the tobacco and the firearms industries, local politicians are being lobbied - and intimidated - for support. Washington, D.C., Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, and other cities and local government bodies have already endorsed non-binding resolutions in favor of reparations for slavery. Many local politicians, anxious to please a strident and vocal constituency, believe there's no harm in supporting such measures since they are general in nature and and politically noncommittal. The result of this strategy can be seen by what happen in Chicago where a reparations resolution passed by a 46-1 vote.
Although it may appear to be impotent now that overwhelmingly positive endorsement from such grassroots political action will reappear when the legislative fight on Capitol Hill begins in earnest. And, coming in full circle, the federal fight will begin in earnest when there is an impression that the reparations juggernaut is just too big and going to fast to stop it.
Of all the local legislative initiatives, California leads the way. The reparations movement has establish a proving ground thanks to former state senator Tom Hayden, the radical New Left leader of the 1960's. In 2002, Governor Gray Davis signed into law two pieces of legislation sponsored by Hayden: the "Slaveholder Insurance Policies Bill," and the "Slavery Colloquium Bill."
Under the Slaveholder Insurance Policies measure, the state investigates all insurance companies doing business in California to see if their records tie the company to slaveholder insurance policies issued by their corporate antecedents before 1865. The second measure provides funding for the University of California to conduct a research conference for the purpose of analyzing "the economic value of slaves in building this country."
These two new laws will help form the impression that slave-supporting corporations are still in business (built, literally, on the backs of blacks) and that they have the resources to share with the victims of slavery. In the meantime, University-produced studies and academic papers on the aspects of reparations will seemingly add depth to the issue as it is debated from Washington, D.C. to every local community. Hayden's work has produced tow weapons to help apply pressure from the top.
On this vital battle front, the reparations movement have placed some heavy guns. They have formed the "Reparations Assessment Group" (RAG), a powerhouse legal team who are testing and refining class action lawsuits against the federal and private corporations. The RAG braintrust includes:
* Alexander J. Pires Jr., who won a $1 billion settlement for black farmers in a discrimination complaint against the U.S. Department of Agriculture;
* Richard Scruggs, the key strategist of the 368.5 billion tobacco settlement; and
* Johnnie Cochran of O.J. Simpson fame.
In addition to RAG, Cochran has just formed an alliance with a Washington-based law firm headed by Michael Hausfeld, one of the lead attorneys on Holocaust-related class-action cases that generated $8 billion in settlements from German, Austrian, Swiss, and French companies.
In a roundtable discussion among RAG attorneys published in November 2000 issue of Harper's magazine, there was talk of filing suits against private individuals as well as the government and businesses. Families whose ancestors included slave owners or even marginally involved in the slave industry are in the crosshairs.
During the Harper's magazine-sponsored roundtable, Alexander Pires mentioned the fact that the ancestors of John Brown, the abolitionist terrorist, "made much of their money as slave traders in the late eighteenth century." That was the motivation of Brown's "...descendants [when they] underwrote Brown University enough to cover up the embarrassment of where he made his money."
As an initial step in preparation of the court fights, RAG will recruit a representative "victim" who will personify the aggrieved "class" in a lawsuit. In the Harper's piece Richard Scruggs noted that "...you don't want to trot Mike Tyson out" as a symbolic victim "...you carefully pick [the plaintiffs], you interview a lot of people to pick someone who's articulate, who's got an appealing personal case, and who is typical of the class that he's going to represent." Pires agreed, adding "All our famous plaintiffs are selected. Rosa Parks was Selected."
The insurance industry is only the first target of the reparations extremists. The Associated Press reported (October 2, 2002), Chicago Alderman Dorothy Tillman vowed... "The insurance industry is just the tip of the iceberg ... The financial industry, textile industry, tobacco industry, railroads, shipping companies and many others got rich off the suffering and free labor of our ancestors."
Creating the image that the reparations juggernaut is just too big and going too fast to stop is fundamental to the black extremists' strategy. That takes a coalition of greedy blacks and guilty whites.
A wide variety of partners at all levels are necessary to make reparations payments look reasonable ... even the smallest contributor adds to the momentum:
"Knowing what I know about what my people did, I wouldn't be able to respect myself if I weren't doing everything I can to have ... white people face up to the crime we committed and to right this grave wrong," New Yorker Donna Lamb, 53, a member of "Caucasians United for Reparations and Emancipation" (Washington Post August 16, 2002)
Radical black leaders, from top to bottom, understand the lessons of building coalitions from the civil rights movement some forty years ago:
Ron Washington of the black Telephone Workers for Justice ... said it's a question of tactics and strategy because the target of the reparations movement is not everyday white workers, but the government, along with corporations and banks that profited from slavery and the slave trade. He maintains that opponents of the reparations movement are seeking to offset any unity around reparations by creating a contradiction between working-class people. 'We have to make that (white) worker an ally in our struggle. We cannot do that unless we are absolutely clear in defining who is 'they' when we say that they owe us,' Washington said. (Reparations and Labor Unions by Charles Brooks, Amsterdam News, August, 28 2002.)
The Internet is a now an integral part of American society: business, research, education, entertainment are all reasons why millions of Americans go on-line each day. The younger generation, brought up with computers, rely on the Internet for help with school papers as well as to "surf" or explore the web. Type in the words "Reparations" or "Reparations Programs" or "Reparations for Blacks" and a Internet search engine will post scores of front groups and ideologues on a computer screen. Articles such as "Millions for Reparations," "They owe Us," and "White Woman Embraces Black Reparations" are plentiful.
Look a little further, and you can find sites such as: C.U.R.E. (Caucasians United for Reparations and Emancipation), Sons of Afrika, 40 Acres and a Mule, African-American/Jewish Coalition for Justice, Reparations War Chest, Republicans For Reparations, New Panther Vanguard Movement ... It's a long list.
How is the Reparations movement positioned for victory? The answer comes from an unlikely but reliable source: The New Vanguard Panther Movement (www.globalpanther.com), a successor to the Black Panthers of the 60s and 70s. Their assessment:... the issue of "reparations" among African-Americans is being increasingly publicized and talked about among wide sectors of the African-American population - from elected officials in city government to state legislature, and from the United States Congress to 'nationally-known leaders' like Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton. In marketing his recent book, The Debt, Randall Robinson [Executive Director of TransAfrica] has reached into the consciousness of thousands, maybe millions, of African-Americans and whites, who heretofore would have thought that the idea of reparations was either idealist, unrealistic, or even "too militant."
That's a look from a vantage point at the top. From the bottom however, there is mounting pressure that may reveal more clearly where the reparations activist really want to go."
Reuters News Service reported (August 17, 2002) that at a pro-reparations demonstration in Washington, D.C., Charles Barron, a New York City Councilman, told the crowd: "I want to go up to the closest white person and say, 'You can't understand this, it's a black thing,' and then slap him, just for my mental health."
That's certainly the attitude Malcolm X encouraged.
At the same rally Louis Farrakhan railed: "We need payment for 310 years of slavery, of destruction of our minds and the robbery of our culture ... We need land for political independence, we need millions of acres..." (Reuters News Service, August 17, 2002.)
That call for land and "independence" may give a hint of what the "or else" demands of the radicals at the bottom will soon be.
Malcolm X was very clear about this issue of what's owed blacks and how they intend to get it:
This is a real revolution. Revolution is always based on land. Revolution is never based on begging someone for an integrated cup of coffee. Revolutions are never fought by turning the other cheek. Revolutions are never based upon love your enemy and pray for those who spitefully use you. And revolutions are never waged singing "We Shall Overcome." Revolutions are based upon bloodshed. Revolutions are never compromising. Revolutions are never based upon negotiation. Revolutions overturn systems and there is no system on earth which has proven itself more corrupt, more criminal than this system ... (Two Speeches, op. cit.).
In his nationally-syndicated column of March 13, 2001, Citizens Informer editor Sam Francis, Ph.D. put the underlying force of the reparations revolutionaries in focus:
The central issue of reparations is not whether reparations are justly due to blacks or justly owed by whites. The central issue is one of racial power- as it is with most other racial conflicts today: over the Confederate flag, affirmative action, racial profiling ... The central issue is that one race (blacks) seeks to assert power over another (whites).
Given that definition, what's at stake for both sides has just become much more valuable.