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COMMENTARY: Embracing the Courageous Four; Radically Reconceiving and Reconstructing America

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — In spite of the forked-tongue talk, doublespeak and patently racist ranting of the pretending President Trump and the White supremacist mob-like cheerleaders chanting hatred at his rallies, we must not miss the fresh, air-clearing and uplifting wind that is steadily rising and blowing our way. It is the transforming force of the voice, views and defiant struggles of the courageous four “freshmen” congresswomen: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA); Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY); and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). They come to their position anxious and impressively able to serve the people, their constituency, the vulnerable, and the larger interests of the country with rightful concern for the well-being of the world. And they will not be bullied or silenced by Trump and company, nor accept a party discipline that calls for a compromise of their principles or taking a position that diminishes and undermines their capacity to serve the people as best they can and see it.

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By Dr. Maulana Karenga

In spite of the forked-tongue talk, doublespeak and patently racist ranting of the pretending President Trump and the White supremacist mob-like cheerleaders chanting hatred at his rallies, we must not miss the fresh, air-clearing and uplifting wind that is steadily rising and blowing our way. It is the transforming force of the voice, views and defiant struggles of the courageous four “freshmen” congresswomen: Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA); Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY); and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). They come to their position anxious and impressively able to serve the people, their constituency, the vulnerable, and the larger interests of the country with rightful concern for the well-being of the world. And they will not be bullied or silenced by Trump and company, nor accept a party discipline that calls for a compromise of their principles or taking a position that diminishes and undermines their capacity to serve the people as best they can and see it.

Trump’s attacks on these four courageous, committed, knowledgeable and defiant congresswomen of color, not only reflect his commitment to views, policies and practices that are racist, anti-people of color; xenophobic, anti-immigrant and those different; sexist, anti-women; and opportunistic, ever self-promoting and peacocking. These attacks also reflect his reactionary politics and conception of America. It is a politics of White supremacy; predatory capitalism at home and abroad; warmongering; privatization of public wealth and space; and peddling a personalized patriotism based on his astonishing ignorance, multiple insecurities and vulgar interests.

We must constantly expose, criticize and condemn the monster side of America we call Trump and his supporters and enablers, but we must not over focus on him and under focus on the rising movement to actively resist him in Congress, as represented by the initiatives of the courageous four and also in our various communities across the country. To make this mistake would be like over focusing on a devasting fire and the havoc it is wreaking and under focusing on the response and responders needed to control and extinguish it.

Audacious and defiant, these four progressive congresswomen resist and reject Trump’s attempt to impose his deformed and dishonest reactionary conception of patriotism and politics. Indeed, they cannot morally and will not politically accept Trump’s packaged and constantly peddled racist patriotic politics of vicious and varied forms of oppression: apartheid walls here and abroad; corruption and coercion; the savaging of immigrants and the abuse and separation of children from their families; anti-labor and anti-union policies; preference for the rich at the expense and injury of the poor; racial and religious restrictions and preferences; denial of climate change; and his obsessive and infantile attempt to rival and erase everything considered an Obama achievement.

Trump and his allied haters, enviers and detractors can call them names and attribute to them all kinds of social sins, but these courageous, competent and committed women of color congresswomen stand on solid moral and political ground. They are right to criticize and condemn the inhumane detention, conditions and treatment of the refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants at the border as a concentration camp, a site of mass detention, oppression, labor and sexual abuse and exploitation, degradation and death. And such camps were put in place first, not by the Nazis, but by Euro-Americans against Native Americans, whether in missions or so-called “reservations.”

Regardless of the Barnum and Bailey big top circus of smoke and mirrors, dog whistles, and lying as public policy and a way of life from the Trump camp of circled covered wagons, the real issue is what kind of America we want and are willing to struggle, strive and sacrifice for to bring into being at this critical juncture in the history of our people and this country. The struggle is over two concepts of America: whether it is a finished White product or an ongoing multicultural project. In the first version, we are to accept White dominance, defer to policies and practices negative to human life, dignity and development and be grateful to live in the house Jack, the enslaver, segregationist, capitalist and colonizer claims he built, but without rightful acknowledgement that it was built with the enslaved and exploited labor and social and political exclusion of oppressed people. The second concept of America sees it as an unfinished ongoing multicultural project in which each people and person has both the right and responsibility to speak their own special cultural truth and make their own unique contribution to how this society is radically reconceived and reconstructed in the most just and human way.

This conversation that these courageous four are compelling the country to have is a necessary one, and one that builds on and moves forward a tradition of struggle defined by our foremother, Fannie Lou Hamer, as rooted in the a moral imperative to righteously and continuously question America in thought and practice. It is a moral imperative deeply embedded in the Black Liberation tradition and other radical and progressive traditions of this country. It calls for us to question the quality, content and course of American thought and practice, and to measure it by its highest ideals and engage in corrective action where America finds itself in contradiction to these ideals. And it calls on us to even go beyond its best ideals when they are found to be in contradiction with the best of our moral sensitivities, moral reasoning, lived experience, and knowledge-producing practice.

It is right, good and necessary to raise questions about and reject a racial, religious or political protocol that demands agreement with immoral, irrational and unjust policies and practices. We are right to question corporate and big money negative influence on domestic and foreign policy and on democratic governance. It is not our obligation to demonstrate allegiance to or support of a foreign state as part of participating in American government. Nor is it wrong to question and reject any pressure to do so.

It is right to reject the claim of any country, people or person of a right to immunity from criticism and it is right to raise questions concerning the violation of human rights and international law by any country, people or person. And that includes, not only Israeli occupation of Palestine and the oppression of Palestinians; but also American, Canadian and French occupation of Haiti and oppression of the Haitian people; the Chinese oppression of the Uighurs; the Burmese oppression of the Rohingya; and the Saudi and Emirates’ criminal and indiscriminate bombing of the Yemeni people.

Other questions heretofore pushed to the side, buried in conservative, reactionary and even liberal graves of indifference, dismissal and amnesia, must be resurrected, revived and put at the center of national discourse policy and action. And we are not to be grateful or express gratitude for being conceded human rights we had at birth and just by being human. Nor are we to be grateful to self-seeking others for civil rights, freedom and justice which we won in the fire and furnace of righteous and relentless struggle.

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

Activism

OPINION: Are We About to See the Permanent Exclusion of Most Black People from Construction Jobs in Oakland?

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

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The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.
The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

By Kitty Epstein

For decades Black people in Oakland have obtained 9% or less of the work hours on publicly funded construction projects. So…for jobs that are paid for by all of our tax dollars, Black residents, who make up 23% of Oakland’s population, get only 9% of the relatively well-paid work doing construction.

How is that possible in this city that is believed by the world to be very progressive? Most of the work goes to members of the construction unions that have historically and currently excluded Black people through a complex set of membership requirements.

Nationally, only 7.2% of the carpenters’ union members are Black; 8.3% of the electricians’ union members and so on. The City of Oakland has done two very thorough reports of these racial equity issues. You can find this important information at the end of this story.

But the leadership of the construction trades now insist that that they should obtain an even larger portion of the construction hours and that this practice should be set in stone by something called a Project Labor Agreement. It is now being inaccurately called a “Community Workforce Agreement,” which is nonsense because it doesn’t help the community.

Why would progressive Oakland consider giving exclusive benefits to organizations that practice well-documented racial discrimination? At least one part of the reason is that the construction unions spend enormous amounts of money on Oakland elections. They were instrumental in former City Councilmember Desley Brooks’ defeat in District 6, for example, because they did not consider her sufficiently compliant with their demands.

The City Council established a task force to discuss the racial issues involved in construction and the possibility of a Project Labor Agreement. The task force included some community members, including the publisher of the Oakland Post, and was mandated to address racial discrimination first.

The community members proposed that the entire task force work collectively throughout the process of making proposals and negotiating solutions. The City rejected this proposal and began meeting with the building trades alone, saying that they would return with a proposed Project Labor Agreement, although there has been no demonstrated change in the racial exclusivity practiced by the construction trades.

This is outrageous on three levels:

  1. These are the tax dollars of Black residents, as well as others.
  2. The community’s interests in racial justice have not been resolved in any policy venue.
  3. The community belongs at the table throughout whatever process takes place.

The usual arguments for labor/employer negotiations do not apply. The construction unions are NOT city workers. If they were city employees, they would have both the rights (negotiations) and the responsibilities (non-discriminatory hiring) of the city. Since they are not held responsible to Include Black people in their organizations, they should not have the right to exclusive negotiations about anything

I am hopeful, of course, that the City will reject the continuation and expansion of racial discrimination policies practiced by the leadership of the trades unions and will insist on the drastic changes necessary for Black people to obtain 23% of the work hours they are due by virtue of their proportion of the population and tax dollars contributed.

These two documents below provide information that is both illuminating and horrifying.

Oakland Equity Indicators: https://www.oaklandca.gov/projects/oakland-equity-indicators

Disparity Study – https://www.postnewsgroup.com/disparity-study-examines-patterns-of-discrimination-seeks-remedies-for-city-practices-of-selecting-contractors-in-construction-goods-and-services/

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Activism

The California Department of Aging: There Is Help for Elder Californians

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process. DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

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Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.
Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, Cheryl Brown and CDA Director Susan DeMarois talk to a group of community members. CBM staff photo.

By Aldon Thomas Stiles California Black Media

The St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s Commission on Social Action held a community meeting on aging last Thursday in San Bernardino with representatives from the California Department of Aging (CDA) and the Bernardino County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services.

Held in the sanctuary, the discussion featured state representatives and Social Action Commission members led by former Assemblymember and Commission Chair Cheryl Brown, who represented the 47th Assembly District in San Bernardino County from 2012 to 2016.

Brown spoke with community members and leaders from San Bernardino and Riverside counties about programs and resources available for elderly Californians and the caregivers who look after them.

“The state has set aside millions of dollars to help older Californians have a better quality of life through the Master Plan for Aging. And caregiving is fourth of the five goals established in the state’s Master Plan for Aging,” Brown told California Black Media.

CDA Director Susan DeMarois also attended the meeting.

CDA administers programs that serve older adults, adults with disabilities, family caregivers, and residents in long-term care facilities throughout the state. It has a $450 million budget and according to its Strategic Plan, CDA’s first objective is to advance Gov. Gavin Newsom’s California Master Plan for Aging.

Newsom’s master plan was introduced as an executive order in the summer of 2019. Conceptualized as a five-point plan, its framework encompasses housing, health, equity, caregiving “that works” and affording aging.

According to DeMarois each point of the governor’s master plan has its own budget and will be implemented over the next eight years.

During the meeting — titled “Lunch, Listen and Learn” — community members expressed their concerns and suggestions specifically regarding how to take care of elderly Black people in the Inland Empire. A major theme of the discussion was ensuring familiar (traditional) modes and channels of communications that were being employed to reach Black elders.

Sharon Nevins, director of San Bernardino County Department of Aging and Adult Services, spoke about ways in which the county has been involved in addressing those concerns.

“We have staff out there in the community, putting information in hands,” said Nevins.

Nevins emphasized the significance of Black churches and their unique influence on Black elders in California.

“We definitely reach out to the churches. We’ve always done that,” Nevins said.

DeMarois hailed San Bernardino as a model for the rest of the state because the city has been “meeting the needs of the whole person.”

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), California was tied with Hawaii in 2019 for the states with the nation’s highest life expectancy at an average of about 81 years.

Riverside County has a life expectancy of 80.3 years and San Bernardino County has a lower expectancy at 78.8 years.

Part of the statewide plan for addressing the Black elder community is to partner with ethnic media organizations to spread the word about the resources that are available to Californians in the advanced phase of their aging process.

DeMarois, much like Nevins, acknowledged that a large portion of the state’s plan to reach Black elders is through local churches.

“It’s multi-pronged,” said DeMarois. “We know in the Black community faith is a proven path.”

One of the organizations mentioned during the community meeting – an organization that DeMarois claims she took note of – is the Inland Empire Pastor’s Association.

DeMarois expressed the need for the state and local agencies to implement “coordinated strategies” to approach challenges facing the state’s aging population.

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Activism

Black Mental Health Part 9 – The Anti Police-Terror Project

APTP saw their desire for change come to fruition when Oakland adopted the MACRO program. The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program handles non-emergency and non-violent 911 calls. APTP trains MACRO participants and pushed to establish a community advisory board. They work with Elliott Jones, director of MACRO, to replace services the police once provided. The MACRO model is grounded in empathetic service to the community while reducing responses by police.

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Cat Brooks seen at a recent rally.
Cat Brooks seen at a recent rally.

By Tanya Dennis

The Anti Police-Terror Project was formed by a hodge-podge of organizations led by community activist Tur-Ha Ak; nurse, Asantewaa Boykin; poet, Michael Walker, Tha Ghetto Prophet; and performer, organizer and activist Cat Brooks.

They were in the streets between Los Angeles and Oakland in 2010 training organizers on how to respond to police-resident encounters to ensure that the killing people of color ceased. Instead, they witnessed an increase.

According to Brooks, “We questioned what communities would look like if we did not call the police, and what we learned in the data was the only way to decrease the number of killings was to decrease police presence in our communities.”

Brooks said that the community’s demand for change stemmed from numerous atrocities perpetrated by the Oakland Police Department (OPD) where 11 Black men were killed in one year, and Celeste Guap reported in 2016 that she had been raped and trafficked by 14 law enforcement officers including OPD.

Brooks added, “. . .and there was a definite shift against the police after they gunned down Yuvette Henderson in 2015 for shoplifting. I believe that was part of what gave birth to the ‘Say Her Name’ movement.”

APTP, recognizing the need to create alternative responses, birthed their “Defund the Police” movement. “Even though our Defund the Police campaign drew a lot of negative responses, it was important for people to get together and say their names, to express their rage and talk about, not just the physical impact these killings were having on our emotional health, but the impact of them killing us one after another, and our lack of power to do anything about it.”

Redefining what public safety looked like, APTP engaged Oakland and Sacramento communities with de-escalation training, developing a mental health model that did not involve the police.

“We developed Mental Health First, a First Responders Program, Rapid Response Program, and a Jail Support Program. Our Mental Health First program is an assembly of doctors, nurses and people affected. As people learned about our services our phone began ringing off the hook, from people grateful to have a number to call other than 911.

“The problem is that there’s no place a Black person can go to get long-term care for mental issues. We’re building a clinic where we can hold people for longer than 24 hours. Sometimes a person just needs a warm blanket, some food and to be heard.”

About 40% of the City of Oakland’s general funds go to the police. APTP proposes that the police budget be cut in half and funds instead go to the community and provide 24/7 mental health services in Oakland.

APTP saw their desire for change come to fruition when Oakland adopted the MACRO program. The Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO) program handles non-emergency and non-violent 911 calls.

APTP trains MACRO participants and pushed to establish a community advisory board. They work with Elliott Jones, director of MACRO, to replace services the police once provided. The MACRO model is grounded in empathetic service to the community while reducing responses by police.

APTP is continuing to build infrastructure and is looking to hire a statewide advocate to create policy to decriminalize people with mental health disabilities. APTP accepts no government money and is supported by the Akonodi and Rosenberg Foundations, California Endowment, and Lateefah Simon, a BART Board Director, among others.

The MH First hotline number in Oakland, 510-999-9MH1, is operational between 8:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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Photos courtesy of Ella Baker Center, photography by Brooke Anderson
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