"We ask the question, "Who speaks for us?", Bob Johnson answers."
I chopped about half this article in order to make it digestible. My question is, with the "hip-hop convention" behind us, and no widespread knowledge of the outcomes of that (multi-racial) event, the changing make-up of the Black community in North America, and rapidly altering political, economic, and social circumstances, how can we come together to figure out what our next steps as a people are? There ain't been a Pan-African Congress in 60 years, and a Black Political Convention in almost 30. What's up folks?
In a transparent bid to boost Republican fortunes among Blacks, billionaire Bob Johnson attempted earlier this year to convene a secret meeting of prominent African Americans at BET headquarters in Washington, DC. BC obtained a copy of the invitation to the “retreat,” scheduled for January 13 and 14 and ostensibly designed “for the purpose of brainstorming ideas as to how we as African Americans can best confront the political and demographic realities of the 21st century.” None of the invitees were told the identity of the others and the press was scrupulously kept in the dark, but we have learned enough to report that the mix was high-powered and politically diverse. (Click to view the Johnson invitation letter to the retreat. The page may load slowly for dial up users due to the large size of the image.)
The stealth gathering was postponed for lack of a quorum, but Johnson’s intentions were made clear in his eight suggested talking-points, not one of which dealt with issues such as jobs, health care, housing, social security, civil rights or war and peace. Instead, the BET founder, who was an early backer of Social Security privatization and organized fellow wealthy Blacks in support of George Bush’s bid to repeal the Estate Tax, crafted an agenda designed to peel African Americans away from the Democratic Party – his clear assignment in Bush’s second term. “It seems to me he was suggesting more cooperation with Republicans, or at least, less friendship toward Democrats,” said one invitee, who asked for anonymity.
With great cynicism but little guile, Johnson taps into the near-universal desire among Blacks for actions that will lead to greater operational unity and effectiveness – and attempts to channel these aspirations in Republican directions. Of the eight Johnson “questions” listed below, all but three implicitly urge collaboration with the GOP or a boycott of Democrats. The remainder – on forming a Black political party, running “favorite son” candidates, and fundraising over the Internet – are window dressing to create the impression of a broader agenda.
1. Should African Americans continue to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party?
2. Should African Americans, in concert, make overtures to the Republican Party?
3. Should African Americans seek to form an independent party and vote accordingly?
4. Should African American-elected officials be encouraged to run as favorite sons in national elections?
5. Should African Americans holding elected offices be asked to vote according to a multi-party system by using their voting power to leverage the Democrats against the Republicans and the Republicans against the Democrats in the best interest of African Americans?
6. Should African American voters be encouraged to vote for Republican or Democratic officials based upon the negotiated agreement with the respective candidates rather than based on party affiliation?
7. Should African Americans demonstrate our political cohesiveness, and therefore political power, by withholding votes from a particular candidate in a selected election?
8. Should African Americans invest in an Internet-based fundraising effort to form a totally independent source of political financing?
Bob Johnson doubtless kept the invitees in the dark as to each other’s identities, the better to control the direction of the slanted discourse by curtailing opportunities for pre-meeting discussions among invitees, such as, What is this guy up to? and, How was this list put together? or, Why aren’t there any talking points on the issues?
BC obtained, from a third party, a copy of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond’s response to Johnson’s invitation. Bond declined to attend “for scheduling reasons,” congratulated Johnson for his efforts, then offered a valuable, point-by-point critique. On the question of whether Blacks should “continue to vote overwhelmingly for the Democratic Party,” Bond responded:
”This strikes me as the wrong question – the correct one is ‘what party should we vote for, and what standards should we apply to choose the beneficiary of our votes?’ In every election in my lifetime from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush (with one exception in 1956) we’ve chosen the Democratic Party by large majorities. That choice was rationally made between two competing and general political philosophies – one which promised an aggressive defense of civil rights and the prospect of economic growth and security, the other offering the vicissitudes of the marketplace and less vigorous federal protection of – and in many cases a retreat from – civil rights. Using that general standard, we’ve consistently voted for Democrats, and I expect that pattern to be followed for the foreseeable future. In recent elections, our choice has also been a matter of the Republican Party repulsing us rather than the Democratic Party attracting us.”
Bond agreed that Republicans should be rewarded with votes if they “adopt policies deemed favorable” to Black interests. “It would be the height of idiocy, however, to suggest that having given our votes to one party for so long we ought to give them to the other for no reason except that we could,” said Bond. “The old mantra, ‘taken for granted by one party; ignored by the other’ isn’t remedied by giving our votes to a party that doesn’t make any rational appeal for them.”
The former Georgia state lawmaker engaged all of Johnson’s questions, and suggested there should be discussion on subjects such as the lack of urban issues in the recent election campaign, the folly of holding the first primaries in the unrepresentative states of New Hampshire and Iowa, and the unfairness of the Electoral College. But the crucial question, says Bond, is: “Who decides?” Who decides how monies raised for Black political campaigns are disbursed? Who decides who is to “negotiate” agreements between African Americans and the two major parties? Bond has confirmed the letter obtained is his. (Click to view the letter. The page may load slowly for dial up users due to the large size of the image.)
When BC asked Johnson’s executive assistant, Michelle Curtis, about the status of the “retreat” we were met with a harsh, “Were you invited?” Informed that we were not, but that we thought the meeting to be of interest to the Black public, Curtis stated, repeatedly, “You weren't invited, so we have nothing to say.” Bob Johnson has not responded to our inquiries. However, he has done Othello-like service to George Bush’s state, parroting and even shaping the Republican political line at critical junctures since the beginning of Bush’s presidency.
"Alphas are that good high...stick witcha, you can't shake that shit...like heroin. You'll always be addicted." --OKP novembersgift