Let's Invite Clinton and Obama to Harlem and
See if the White Press Covers It
By Lenora Fulani
August 9 - August 15, 2007
I have to object to Kirsten John Foy's use of the term "schizophrenic" to describe my political positions on the 2008 presidential process. As a developmental psychologist, I have dealt extensively with mental health issues in the black community and elsewhere. Schizophrenia is a serious disease which causes great hardship to those afflicted and to their families and friends. I would never transpose that very painful experience onto the political scene. I think it does a disservice to those who suffer from it.
That said, le's get down to the details of Brother Foy's defense of Reverend Al Sharpton in last week's piece "The Schizophrenic Political Paradigm" in which I was accused of being schizophrenic, ungrateful and an apologist for Barack Obama.
Reverend Sharpton did host a show on KISS featuring myself and State Senator Bill Perkins, which I noted in my article a week earlier ("Clinton, Sharpton Cut Off Debate; Obama, Black Community Must Be Heard"). Sharpton's instructions to us before going on the air were that he did not want any candidates named or discussed. He preferred a general dialogue about directions for black empowerment.
It was only after Senator Perkins specifically brought up Barack Obama's campaign that the dialogue began to focus on the choice between Obama and Hillary Clinton. I brought up the need for Obama to directly engage Hillary about the record of Clintonism, its strategic compliance with supercorporate interests in the 1990s, and how those policies led to wage stagnation and a growing inequity between rich and poor. On the show, Reverend Sharpton concurred that Obama needed to speak more forcefully, but he offered no critique of Clintonism and its Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) philosophy.
I find this notable since Sharpton is supposedly a sworn enemy of DLC centrism. What's more, Foy touts the historic significance of Reverend Jesse Jackson's runs for the presidency as compared with Obama's. Jackson's campaigns were historic. And let's not forget that Jackson's candidacy, and the entire Rainbow movement, were efforts to create a counterweight to the DLC, whose center/right political strategy was designed to "triangulate" the Democratic Party away from its black base. The Clintons were originators and sponsors of the DLC approach. I'm sure that's no small part of why Rev. Jackson has endorsed Obama.
Foy criticizes Obama for speaking to the National Action Network at the New York Sheraton, rather than in Harlem at the NAN's rally. I'm not sure what the problem is. Barack Obama did what Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson and other Democratic hopefuls did -- they addressed the NAN convention at the site of its proceedings, namely the Sheraton. The conference wasn't held in Harlem. It was held in midtown, no doubt for the convenience of the television cameras.
Similarly Foy's article criticizes Obama's fundraising for having come from "other segments of our society including corporations that have never had the interest of working class peoples at heart." Why is this charge presented against Obama but not against Clinton? Indeed the more one looks at Reverend Sharpton's reported "neutrality" on the presidential primary, the more one sees a constant barrage against Barack and a free pass for Hillary. Rev. Sharpton has every right to favor Hillary over Obama, if he so chooses. But he shouldn't do it in a way that obscures or represses the debate in the black community.
Obama has said that America needs to "turn the page," that we need a new way. He hasn't spelled out what that new way is and he needs to. But Clinton's way is the old way and it assumes, among other things, that black people frame our issues in the same old way. Police brutality. Reparations. Culturally relevant curriculum. But times are changing. We cannot build our power location simply as victims of law enforcement abuse any more than we should be willing to accept the idea that reparations are an adequate remedy for the problem of poverty. These traditional "black agendas" are conservative to the core. They keep us on the sidelines shouting for seemingly militant causes that do not improve our lives. We need radical changes in the political and policymaking process to reorganize these inequities. We do need a new way.
That's one reason that so many African Americans are becoming independents rather than Democrats and voting independently rather than for the Democratic Party's prescribed choices. Young African Americans now identify as independents at a rate of 35%. Just two years ago half the black community in New York City rejected the Democratic mayoral candidate and joined me in supporting Mike Bloomberg, who Reverend Sharpton has taken to saying will "give black voters an option" in 2008, part of his effort to avoid saying anything about the Democratic presidential primary. This is especially ironic because while Sharpton is now promoting the possibility of a Bloomberg run in a positive way, Foy's article also accuses me of trying to "destroy the Democratic Party in the city of New York by working with the billionaire Republican mayor to bring about nonpartisan elections." Nonpartisan elections was a simple reform designed to create a level playing field for New York City's one million independent voters, many of whom are black and Latino. Reverend Sharpton needs to make up his mind. Is Bloomberg "an option" or a billionaire out to destroy the Democrats?
For Reverend Sharpton, as well as for the majority of black elected Democrats, black independents do not exist. We are a troublesome reminder of the Democratic Party's failure to deliver a progressive agenda. And here I would fault both Clinton and Obama. Neither has reached out to black independents, to the black community of the future.
Foy tosses around numerous political platitudes including the idea that when a black candidate is in the race, the black community is bound to support him or her. Foy criticizes Obama for backing Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for re-election over a black challenger, supposedly evidence that Obama has an agenda that is counter to that of African Americans. But if one holds to this perspective, wouldn't that make it obligatory to support Obama in the Democratic primaries? He is, after all, not only black, but the first viable black contender for the presidency with sufficient resources to mount a genuine national campaign. For those who've held to that "Vote Black" principle, it seems an odd moment to abandon it.
Through Foy, Reverend Sharpton insists he is simply interested in a genuine dialogue on these issues. I hope he is. And if he is, I call on him to join with me and a growing list of black insurgent and independent activists who want an Apollo forum where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton converse on their views on new ways and old ways, and on how the black community can best empower itself through its political activism.
Lenora Fulani is a developmental psychologist and a member of the Independence Party's State Committee. She holds a monthly meeting in Harlem and can be reached at 212-609-2800.
The Schizophrenic Political Paradigm
By Kirsten John Foy
July 26 - August 1 , 2007
Are we a multidimensional community or do we have a single leader? Are we to support traditional Democratic candidates or consider a third party or independent option? Are we to critically assess public policy or blindly be herded into a racial trough? Do we give Black candidates greater scrutiny or do we give them a pass? Are the rules fair and equally applied or are there special passes for personal preferences?
These are among the many questions that first came to mind when I read both Richard Carter's column and Dr. Lenora Fulani's opinion piece last week. Both were well written and thought out, however Mr. Carter's column seemed to present a more coherent political logic. Dr. Fulani's piece represented a face of the "Schizophrenic Political Paradigm."
Dr. Fulani's premise is that Rev. Sharpton and "the Clintons are sucking up all the oxygen" but she concedes that not two weeks prior to this publication she was a guest on Rev. Sharpton's KISS show "Hour of Power." She concedes that the discussion, which included Senator Bill Perkins, an Obama supporter, was centered around the need to confront Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on the true "Clintonian Record." How is that the "sucking up of all the oxygen?" In fact it represents the exact opposite. Rev. Sharpton shared his platform with those who have chosen to support Senator Barak Hussein Obama.
Dr. Fulani claims that Senator Obama is not getting an opportunity to reach the Black community in order to articulate his message. Being one of the most well funded Democratic candidates in this cycle and certainly the best funded African-American candidate of all time, he has ample opportunity to bring his message directly to the Black community. He has chosen not to do it. Senator Obama has chosen not to visit Black urban and cultural "Meccas" like Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant. He has chosen not to go on Black radio and other media, as a practice and political calculus. When Senator Obama had an opportunity to engage the community in the Black Capital of America, Harlem USA, at the National Action Network's weekly rally, during NAN's national convention, he demanded that he be allowed to speak at New York Sheraton in midtown Manhattan. Then, Senator Obama bused in loads of young white political operatives and activists. While there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying support from a broad spectrum of our society, we can't be schizophrenic in our views about what his political base of support is. In fact without veering off onto the tangent of campaign finance do we really believe that his fundraising juggernaut is fueled by the small dollar donations that typically come from the Black community? In fact, the majority of his tens of millions has come from other segments of our society including corporations that have never had the interest of working class peoples at heart.
Reverend Sharpton has gone out of the way to resist tremendous pressure from both the Obama campaign as well as from supporters of Senator Clinton to remain above the fray and to provide an intellectually honest platform by which both candidates have an opportunity to address the needs and agendas born out of Black communities across this nation. It also seems a bit schizophrenic that one would try to broaden a political discussion by eliminating 70% of those seeking to participate in the discussion. Senator John Edwards is talking about two Americas, poverty, and the rebuilding of New Orleans. Representative Dennis Kucinich and Senator Mike Gravel are talking about ending the drug war which is mostly responsible for the disproportionate incarceration rates of Black males. Governor Bill Richardson, who is talking about strengthening the Black and Latino political coalition nationwide, is the first credible Latino candidate for President. And, of course, Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are talking about expanding economic and educational opportunities for Urban America. How is limiting the discussion of the needs of Black America to Senator Clinton and Barak Obama expanding the dialogue? All candidates seeking the Presidency of the United States need to be brought before the Black community and made to address our needs.
As long as Rev. Sharpton remains a neutral political force he can take all to task on their platforms and ensure that we are represented. The schizophrenia is so pervasive that it would pardon Barak Obama from his forsaking of credible Black candidates for Mayor of Chicago for the sake of supporting Richard Daley, one of the most regressive municipal executives in contemporary America. But, Rev. Sharpton is to be held to account for his neutrality. Senator Obama supported Senator Joe Liebeman in Connecticut's Democratic primary over Ned Lamont, the staunch anti-war candidate. By the way, Rev. Sharpton endorsed and worked very hard for Ned Lamont and helped to deliver a primary win to Mr. Lamont and the anti-war movement. But what does the war have to do with the Black political agenda? Case in point: Both Reverend Al Sharpton and Barak Obama spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. Reverend Sharpton spoke passionately and vehemently about the need to end the war as well as our having to confront the varied racial disparities that are exacerbated by public policy and discrimination. Barak Obama never mentioned either. That convention represented the largest political audience in our society and an opportunity for Mr. Obama to introduce and define himself. He chose to define himself as a right of center Democrat with no connection to the historical plight of African-Americans in this country.
Perhaps it's also a function of schizophrenia when leaders like Rev. Sharpton stand in defense of leaders like Dr. Fulani when they are attacked and called anti-Semitic. Or when the party that Dr. Fulani founded decides that she must go and Rev. Sharpton comes to her aid; perhaps that's also a function of schizophrenia. Maybe, even when a declared independent who once tried to destroy the Democratic Party in the city of New York by working with the billionaire Republican Mayor to bring about non-partisan elections now wants to define for Democrats and our leader s who we should be listening to and why, that's a function of the Schizophrenic Political Paradigm. Reverend Jesse Jackson ran for President in 1984 and in 1988 and Reverend Al Sharpton ran in 2004. Both men represented our community and our agenda excellently, but both were critiqued and scrutinized extensively by Dr. Fulani, who mind you, was infinitely more familiar with them than Mr. Obama. Why does he get a pass from her? Why does she expect him to get a pass from us? In fact when Reverend Sharpton ran for President in 2004 neither Senator Obama nor Senator Clinton supported him. Was Dr. Fulani up in arms about their lack of vocal support for the only candidate representing our interests? Is that a function of our political schizophrenia? The article seems, to me, to have been written by "Apologists for Obama" as opposed to the brilliant political leader and thinker that Dr. Fulani unquestionably is. Maybe Rev. Sharpton will allow Dr. Fulani an opportunity to define the Democratic agenda on one of his shows, in the future, as he has been so gracious to do in the past.
Kirsten John Foy is National Director of the Criminal Justice Initiative, National Action Network.