'Covenant' cannot overcome crises
by John Alan
Over 2,000 people in Oakland and another 1,000 in San Francisco came out on March 4 to meetings promoting a new book edited by Tavis Smiley, COVENANT WITH BLACK AMERICA, now a bestseller. A leading Black intellectual, Cornel West, heralded these meetings as a possible starting point for a new mass movement. COVENANT grew out of a panel discussion of 23 prominent Black politicians, academics, community activists and religious leaders that took place in February of 2005 in Atlanta. It was called State of the Black Union.
The panel sent out an appeal asking what people thought were the most crucial problems facing Black America. The response was deep and wide. This input was then compiled into ten chapters of COVENANT, each of which focuses on one issue. The tremendous response to this appeal, reflected in the initial input and in sales of the resulting book as well as mass outpourings for this tour, shows the depth of the crisis in Black America. Some of the pressing problems COVENANT covers are the right to health care and well being, the right to educational opportunities where everyone can achieve their full potential, the system of unequal justice and environmental justice.
This effort comes from a range of Black politicians and academics who rose to prominence after the Civil Rights Movement. Ron Dellums, who addressed the crowd in Oakland, was a very successful Black politician, heading for years the committee that oversees the military when the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives. His election to Congress in 1970 was an expression of the hope many in the Civil Rights Movement held that elected progressive Blacks could make a change. Dellums retired after the Democrats lost control of the House and just before the election of George W. Bush when there was little hope of resolving the intractable social problems that impact the lives of the majority of African Americans.
RON DELLUMS BACK IN POLITICS
Those problems have become exacerbated under Bush. Dellums, now 70 years old, has come out of retirement to run for mayor of Oakland and got a standing ovation when he said, "The winds of Katrina blew into everyone's living room. It was a metaphor for everything that is wrong with urban America...I'll tell you why I came back. I'm too damn old to be afraid. The COVENANT is going to be the Bible of the new administration." Upon hearing this Cornel West embraced Dellums exclaiming, "Thank God for this brother here, who steps forward to take the risk."
Why should we believe that a second try at politics for Dellums can effect a solution to this country's problems of race and poverty? According to their website, what motivated the COVENANT was the appearance of the present crisis as the extreme political divide in the country in wake of the 2004 election. The weakness of the COVENANT is that it was conceived within this political context without addressing a way to transcend it. Politics is already an alienating step removed from concrete human relations.
NO SOLUTION WITHIN CAPITALISM
Haven't we learned that if one is looking for solutions within politics one is necessarily going to work within the capitalist framework? It is capitalism itself which creates poverty and these divisions within society, and they cannot be resolved without confronting it. That is why Karl Marx pointed to the difference between political and human emancipation.
Recognizing that difference affects not only one's desire for a new mass movement, but also one's relationship to that movement. Inherent in the civil rights struggle itself was a concept of a new society that was never realized. That concept was one where masses of people take control of their lives through their collective action and deliberations. This was the kind of mass self-organization that occurred in the great 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott initiated by Rosa Parks. The Civil Rights Movement also inspired those who narrowed the movement into the political arena. Capitalism's persistent problems, its racism, poverty and unending war-making, mean we have to finish the job of fully articulating a concept of the new society and not look again for a solution only in politics.
Published by News and Letters Committees