In the midst of a deepening inflation and a worsening recession, the anguish of millions of blacks and Hispanics continues unabated. It is not just that the macro-economic problems of the country are commanding most of the government’s unimaginative attention. Worse, these problems are being dealt with at the expense of these impoverished minorities.
Instead of a nationwide program to retrofit buildings for energy efficiency–a program that would produce many work opportunities for small business and skilled and unskilled labor–the Carter administration and Congress are pushing a major synthetic fuels program that will produce few jobs and only a little amount of environmentally destructive and high-priced energy by the 1990s.
As a tactical move to appease some senators into supporting the SALT treaty, the administration is agreeing to put to useful work more than 500,000 minority youths who presently are experiencing a 40 percent unemployment rate.
Local communities are giving tax exemptions and abatements to rich corporations to attract plants to their cities or keep them there. As a result, homeowners and small businesses bear a larger share of the property tax burden. This in turn leads to tax revolts which do not produce more efficient government but do reduce services and opportunities for the poor.
The poor always have paid more, but they pay even more in times of inflation and relentless corporate ascendancy over government. Recent hospital closings or relocations are predominantly affecting black and Hispanic neighborhoods in cities. After much earlier publicity, new disclosures of lead-based paint poisoning of ghetto children receive yawns, not remedies.
Decrepit housing conditions are viewed as interludes for the massive displacement of blacks by middle-class whites rushing into the central city to buy and renovate dilapidated housing as defenses to inflation.
In Washington, D.C., such revelations–of lead poisoning, of black families huddling in cramped quarters, of endemic corruption against the poor–no longer shock. Newly elected black politicians in cities are pressured to reassure the white power structure instead of empowering minorities to achieve political and economic change.
All this is not to imply that black leaders no longer are crying out for justice. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is promoting an important movement for self-improvement and self-reliance for black youngsters. Representatives Parren Mitchell, D-Md., John Conyers, D-Mich., and Ron Dellums, D-Calif., keep the plight of blacks from being entirely forgotten on Capitol Hill. The new editor of the Oakland Tribune, Robert Maynard, stresses the need for effective literacy programs as a precondition to grappling with other injustices.
The black and Hispanic leaders and their organizations themselves are grappling with the frustration. The old strategies don’t seem to work anymore. Besides, the approaches of the ’60s no longer are useful in a society which seems to insist that injustice not be banal if some treatment is to be considered. Most telling is the absence of mass movements for economic democracy in most black and Hispanic urban areas and the forced reliance of black civil rights groups on corporate contributions because their citizen financial support is declining.
What should be some new strategies? First should be spreading awareness of the need for a community-based political economy which can provide work, leadership training and political power that is neither token, elitist nor cooptable.
Within a few weeks, the National Consumer Cooperative Bank will open to provide credit and technical assistance for housing, health, food repair and other consumer cooperatives. The law requires a significant portion of the bank’s loans and efforts to be directed toward low-income co-ops.
The difference between this assistance program and dozens of other government assistance programs which have failed is that before the Co-op Bank can loan, the community has to form a co-op.
The organization of victims into economic groups with political power has marked American history from the mines to the farms. But these groups had to retain some separate identity to achieve their political power. The corporate government should not be able to siphon off the early efforts of minority groups in a kind of brain and energy drain that serves to further strengthen corporate hegemony.
Structural co-optation of early successes will assure continued failure in the drive for a self-generating minority empowerment that is necessary to resist the inevitable backlashes.