by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
I just read a very repulsive post by some conservative writer.
His basic premise was that Barack Obama was a failed president because of all the racial strife that we now have. The writer went over a litany of complaints—a number of individual, high-profile cases—and claimed that if Barack Obama “had only shown leadership,” that all this would not have happened.
Horse hockey! Trayvon Martin died because a vigilante, wanna-be cop took the law into his own hands. Eric Garner died because police officers wanted immediate compliance and no discussion. Dylann Roof walked into a South Carolina prayer service and massacred nine Black Americans because, in his own words, he wanted “to start a race war.”
Omar Mateen opened fire in a crowded gay nightclub: 50 Americans died, another 53 were injured. Michael Brown got into a testosterone-filled struggle for life and death with Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson; Michael Brown’s death ended the conflict.
There are literally dozens and dozens of these types of racially charged, hate-filled incidents throughout the last eight years. Who’s to blame?
Somebody has fueled the racial divide. It seems to me that the first place that we should look might be among those people who shout, “We need to take back our country!” After the market crash of 2007-08, we had to blame somebody. Trillions of dollars in wealth were flushed down the toilet. Why?
Well, the explanations were complex. Nobody had time to understand derivatives, credit default swaps, and a tragedy with no face. There was no one person that we could blame. But we sure needed a scapegoat.
Barack Obama and the rest of the politicians in the Senate and the House protected Wall Street from too much flak. The Occupy movement tried to tell the full story, but that movement came and went in the blink of an eye. So what the average American heard was that the problem was “too much government spending” and “national debt is too high.”
The conservative mantra was “Blame the Democrats.” And the chief Democrat, the focus of the blame, was Barack Obama—the same man who had pulled the country out of the crisis the Republicans had created.
We also needed to blame immigrants because they were taking American jobs. Again, we have simplistic answers (wrong answers) to complex problems.
As a nation, this year we embraced the king of simplistic answers, Donald Trump. “Build a wall.” “Our economic problems will be over as soon as China quits cheating.” “There should be no minimum wage.” The list of his simplistic answers to complex national problems is sad and long.
I do not blame Donald Trump for our racial problems. Instead, we need to step back and look at all the progress that we made in the 1950s, ‘60s and early ‘70s.
Starting around 1980, there was a large speed bump in the road of progress. (We can argue on who put that speedbump there but I am not sure that’s productive.) Since the mid-1980s there has been little or no progress on the racial front. As a matter of fact, I would say that we have taken two or three steps backward since those day in the mid-’70s.
How can we reverse that and once again put ourselves on the road to progress? I believe that in order to heal the racial wounds and bring the country together, we need a radical progressive agenda and a great economy producing good jobs that are available to qualified blacks, whites, Latinos, Asians—all Americans.
Sometimes I think that we forget what was going on in 1968 when Martin Luther King was killed. For some Americans, the knowledge of the civil rights movement begins with Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat to a white man and ends with Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.
The movement was more than that. By 1968, King had pivoted from civil rights to focus on poverty. He met in May1967 with several key civil rights leaders and the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Out of this summit came a concrete plan to combat poverty. See if this sounds familiar—well-paying jobs, guaranteed income for the poorest of Americans, and affordable housing. The plan was to March on Washington in the Summer of ‘68. The sanitation workers of Memphis, where Dr. King was shot, were striking for better working conditions and better pay. This was the kickoff of the Poor People’s campaign. Martin Luther King was shot and killed while fighting for a better standard of living for sanitation workers.
The average American worker (black, white, Hispanic, whatever) does not need to work harder. The average American worker works his or her tail off, and still needs help to live decently. We need good neighborhood schools. We need affordable college tuition (not more college loans, which only put the average American in a deep, dark financial hole).
We need housing—affordable, safe, decent housing in safe communities. We need to make products here in the good old USA. We need well-paying jobs at all levels: not all of us can work for Google or Tesla.
These are the reforms that will calm racial tensions. The great president, man, and leader Barack Obama has spent eight years laying the groundwork to point America in the right direction. A petty, short-sighted, obstructionist Congress has made progress difficult or next to impossible. But Mr. Obama put us on the correct path, the progressive path.
What next? We need to organize and push for policies that help the American worker. Policies that increase the economic strength of the middle class will push us forward. We need to turn off those who say it can’t be done.
This is a democracy. If we can put together a strong majority, we will rule and we will triumph. Let’s all Occupy America. I think that Martin would like that.