Keeping Our Eyes on the Prize

Andrew Young
Civil rights icon Andrew Young appearing on Meet the Press

Andrew Young was interviewed on Meet the Press on Sunday (Aug. 20) in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, Va.  Young, a veteran of the Civil Rights movement and protege of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., agreed with the essence of TDV’s point of view that we need to be careful not to let our outrage and condemnation drown out larger issues that may be in play including extreme poverty and lack of opportunity for too many Americans of all races.

Here are excerpts from the interview with Young:

The reason I feel uncomfortable condemning the Klan types is they are almost the poorest of the poor. They are the forgotten Americans. They have been used and abused and neglected …

We need to keep our eyes on the prize, and the prize is not everyone getting even. The prize is redemption …

Our job is not to put down white people. Our job is to lift everyone up together, to learn to live together as brothers and sisters, rather than perish together as fools.”

In addition to advising and marching with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights movement, Young formerly served as Chairman of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was also a congressman from Georgia; UN ambassador during the Carter Administration, and the Mayor of Atlanta.

Here’s a video of the full interview at nbcnews.com

Beyond Charlottesville: Addressing Underlying Causes of Racism and Violence

PovertyMap

Racism and violence, of the kind we saw in Charlottesville, Va, this past week always merit our outage and condemnation.  But we have to be careful. Such attitudes pose a subtle danger: they can be overly simplistic and serve to obscure underlying issues that contribute to the unrest.

History has taught us that racism and violence are often symptoms of a deeper malaise rooted in economic hardship.  That was one of the lessons learned from the Nazis in W.W.II. They were able to exploit people’s economic anxiety and fear to create a police state that persecuted and killed Jews and other minorities.

America today is not Nazi Germany.  But there are parallels, not the least of which is an elected leader wiling to stoke fear and division for political gain rather than encouraging people to come together to pursue a greater, public good.

Meanwhile, economic opportunity and upward mobility have all but vanished for many Americans, rural and urban, white and black.  People feel trapped; there’s no place to go; the future looks bleak, and they lash out at everyone and everything that is different from them.

In a democratic society, we have a responsibility not only to condemn the racism and violence, but also to try to understand and address underlying issues – including pervasive poverty and a broken economy that leaves people feeling frustrated and trapped with few options for improving their lives.

Of course Trump has said many times that fixing the economy so it works for everyone is a central goal of his administration.  But his is purposefully misleading rhetoric designed to inflame passions rather than heal wounds.  The problem is all those immigrants and foreigners taking our jobs!  Trump and others like him are the problem, not the solution.  Scratch the surface of his policy proposals and its tax cuts for the rich that is at the core of Trump’s agenda (and that of his Republican allies in Congress).

The reality is that fixing the economy requires just the opposite: raising taxes on the wealthy, whose incomes have skyrocketed in recent decades while wages for working Americans have stagnated.   Taxes on high earners are at the lowest point in modern history.  The proceeds of the higher taxes should be invested in basic infrastructure, roads, bridges and transit systems – and in people, in health care, education and job training.  That would stimulate job creation and economic growth for all Americans.

Particular emphasis should be placed on investing in inner cities and rural areas where poverty and lack of opportunity are most pervasive.

Sounds like a heavy lift, and it is.  Politicians who propose higher taxes of any kind quickly become fodder for a flurry of attack ads.

Fortunately, there are some politicians willing to step-up:  Senator Bernie Sanders, the former Democratic presidential nominee, for one; more recently, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York  proposed a tax on those earning over $500,000 to pay for long overdue subway repairs that primarily benefit working class New Yorkers.

We should always condemn racism and violence in all its forms, but we should never stop searching for the underlying causes and work to address those issues.  A rigged economy, that favors the wealthy while leaving working and poor people behind, is a contributing factor to the kind racism and violence we’re seeing in Charlottesville (and around the word).

The very fabric of American democracy is fraying.  It is time to fix it, with real, concrete economic reforms that improve the lives of all Americans, black, brown and white.

Some of Worst Poverty in America a Subway Ride Away from DNC

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More than a half century after President Lyndon Johnson announced the War on Poverty, poverty rates in the U.S. average 15% of the population, or 47 million people, among the highest in the industrialized world. It’s a living tragedy and a national disgrace, and TDV has called for a “New War on Poverty.”

Sadly, tackling poverty in the U.S. does not seem to be high on the agenda of either major political party. The Republicans are busy whipping the country into a frenzy of fear and paranoia which helps divert attention from their real priority – more tax breaks for the wealthy.

Meanwhile, many of those attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia this week seem strangely out of touch with what is going on in the real world, more adept at “sloganeering” than  tackling the major issues of concern to ordinary Americans – a lack of opportunity and decent paying jobs.

Perhaps delegates to the Democratic National Convention should spend less time attending fancy receptions and cocktail parties and more time out in the neighborhoods, getting to know the people who actually live in the City of Brotherly Love.

Like many urban areas, Philadelphia has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years.  Young millennials have flocked downtown and surrounding areas where they can easily walk to work, get around on public transportation and enjoy a vibrant nightlife of hip bars and eateries.

That’s the Philadelphia that many conventioneers are likely to see, with most events scheduled to take place in South Philadelphia or Center City where much of the “millennial renaissance” has occurred.

But just north of Center City, still in the shadow of the iconic statue of William Penn atop City Hall, are some of the most blighted neighborhoods in America. Philadelphia is the poorest of America’s large cities, with more than 25% of its residents living below the poverty line. In many areas of North and West Philadelphia, the rate is 50% of more – twice the city average (see above chart of poverty rates by zip code).

Here’s a suggestion for those attending the Democratic National Convention – as you leave the Wells Fargo Center where the convention is being held, walk about a block north on Broad Street to AT&T station. Take the subway – the fare is $2.25 – through Center City, past Temple University to Broad & Erie, about a 25 minute ride.

BueryBuildingThere you will find a vibrant – if dilapidated – commercial district. Look up and you will see the long vacant Beury Building, a graffiti covered Art Deco classic that has been sitting vacant for years. Walk a few blocks in any direction, and you’ll see trash strewn vacant lots and crumbling buildings everywhere. Visit any of the neighborhood schools and you’ll find children who haven’t had a decent meal all day and teachers paying for food and supplies out of their own pockets because the state has cut funding and diverted resources to privately run “charter” schools.

We must eliminate poverty in the US by attacking it where it lives, in the neighborhoods of Philadelphia and other cities and rural areas across the US. We must fix the crumbling infrastructure, provide a safe environment and quality education for all children, and decent jobs and job training for adults struggling to find work in a faltering economy.

When we do that America really will be “the Greatest Nation on Earth,” as Michelle Obama said in her speech Tuesday night. But with all due respect to the First Lady, who gave an otherwise great speech, as long as there are 47 million people living in poverty in the US, we have a long, long way to go to claim that mantle.

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