When I think of the behavior of today’s civil rights organizations, I often think of the March of Dimes. In 1938, President Roosevelt helped found the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to fight polio, an epidemic that crippled thousands of Americans. The name March of Dimes was coined by Eddie Cantor in his fundraising effort asking every American to contribute a dime.
Since 1970, polio has been eradicated in the U.S., but the March of Dimes lives on, and they’re asking for more than dimes. When they accomplish their mission, most organizations don’t fold the tent; they simply change their agenda. The March of Dimes now raises money to fight against birth defects, premature birth and other infant health problems. We’d probably deem them stupid if they continued their battle against polio in America. Why? Because polio has been eradicated.
What about civil rights organizations? Last week, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, the National Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a march in Atlanta to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The Bush administration and House Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner have already said they intend to support full reauthorization of its provisions set to expire in 2007.
Speakers at the march used some of the most vile rhetoric in their criticism of black conservatives and the Bush administration. Harry Belafonte explained to reporter Marc Morano, of Cybercast News Service, in obvious reference to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, "[If] a black is a tyrant, he is first and foremost a tyrant, then he incidentally is black. Bush is a tyrant and if he gathers around him black tyrants, they all have to be treated as they are being treated," adding, "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich. Color does not necessarily denote quality, content or value."
Comedian Dick Gregory opined, "They [black conservatives] have a right to exist, but why would I want to walk around with a swastika on my shirt after the way Hitler done messed it [the swastika symbol] up?" Moreover, Gregory explained, "So why would I want to call myself a conservative after the way them white racists thugs have used that word to hide behind? They call themselves new Republicans." Complementing Gregory’s remarks, Jesse Jackson rhymed, "Race baiters and discriminators may go underground, but they never move out of town."
There were less intemperate speakers at the march, such as House of Representatives members Nancy Pelosi, Charles Rangel, John Conyers, Barbara Lee and Maxine Waters. Their remarks consisted of attacks on the president and vice president, accusing them of stealing the 2000 and 2004 elections, wrongly invading Iraq and a poor civil rights record.
Like the March of Dimes’ victory against polio in the U.S., civil rights organizations can claim victory as well. At one time, black Americans did not enjoy the same constitutional guarantees as other Americans. Now we do. Because the civil rights struggle is over and won doesn’t mean that all problems have vanished within the black community. A 70 percent illegitimacy rate, 65 percent of black children raised in female-headed households, high crime rates and fraudulent education are devastating problems, but they’re not civil rights problems. Furthermore, their solutions do not lie in civil rights strategies.
Civil rights organizations’ expenditure of resources and continued focus on racial discrimination is just as intelligent as it would be for the March of Dimes to continue to expend resources fighting polio in the U.S. Like the March of Dimes, civil rights organizations should revise their agenda and take on the big, non-civil rights problems that make socioeconomic progress impossible for a large segment of the black community.