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Cash And Carry
I n early February, a headline in the Sun Myung Moon-owned Washington Times read “Bush continues outreach to blacks.” Bill Sammon reported that President Bush had met in the White House with hundreds of “black leaders” and told them that his policies “would help black Americans.” According to Sammon, “The president’s 15-minute speech in the East Room was interrupted 17 times by applause from an audience that included black clergy, veterans, business leaders and members of Congress. Among those in attendance were Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Rep. Melvin Watt (D-NC), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.”
This latest meeting with black leaders is part of an aggressive strategy by the Republican Party aimed at African American churches and, through them, black voters, the Democrat’s most loyal constituency.
In the 2004 presidential election, the GOP made a slight gain in the number of blacks voting for Bush—up from 9 percent to 11 percent of black votes, according to exit polls. They did even better in the critical swing states of Florida and Ohio. In Florida, Bush’s support among African Americans in November rose 6 percentage points to 13 percent, and in Ohio, Bush may have won as much as 16 percent of the black vote.
For the past two decades, GOP leadership concentrated on building a solid cadre of black conservative organizations and media personalities that could be counted on to support its agenda. Since the beginning of the Bush presidency, the emphasis has gradually added courting black churches to its arsenal. This is being accomplished in no small part through the handing out of millions of dollars in faith-based grants to African American churches.
On February 1, Los Angeles Times staff writers Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten reported on a meeting of more than 100 African American ministers that were to gather at the Crenshaw Christian Center, one of Los Angeles’ biggest black churches, headed by tel- evangelist Frederick K. C. Price. The goal of the confab was “to build support for banning same- sex marriage—a signature issue that drew socially conservative blacks to the Republican column last year.” Abortion and school vouchers are also of special interest to conservative blacks.
Hamburger and Wallsten’s piece, entitled “GOP Sees a Future in Black Churches: Social issues are binding the party with a group once firmly in the Democratic camp,” reported that Bishop Harry R. Jackson Jr., senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Maryland and a registered Democrat, would unveil a “Black Contract With America on Moral Values...a call for Bible-based action by government and churches to promote conservative priorities.” The Black Contract is “patterned loosely” on then House Speaker Newt Ging- rich’s “Contract With America” that he introduced 10 years ago “to inaugurate an era of GOP dom- inance in Congress.”
According to the Pasadena Star News , Bishop Jackson’s “Contract” includes “protecting traditional marriage, prison reform, creating wealth for minorities, and providing healthcare for the poor.” The High Impact Leadership Coalition, which was introduced at the Los Angeles meeting, has scheduled six more conferences throughout the country this year.
The Los Angeles meeting was co-sponsored by the Rev. Lou Sheldon’s Traditional Values Coalition (www.traditionalvalues.org), a Christian right network of churches with close ties to the White House, RNC chair Ken Mehlman, and other senior Bush administration officials.
In late February, another group with ties to Gingrich will gather in Washington to announce a “Mayflower Compact for Black America.” This group plans to organize in key states ahead of the 2006 and 2008 elections. Vivian Berryhill, a longtime Mississippi Republican and president of the National Coalition of Pastors’ Spouses (www.pastor spouses.com), is one of the leaders of the Mayflower Compact effort.
Hamburger and Wallsten also reported that the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington, DC-based conservative think tank, “will cosponsor a gathering of black conservatives in Washington designed to counter dominance of the ‘America-hating black liberal leadership’ and to focus African American voters on moral issues.”
The meeting at the Heritage Foundation is being organized by Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson of Los Angeles, the founder and president of BOND, the Brotherhood Organization of A New Destiny (www. bondinfo.org), whose purpose, according to its website is “Rebuilding the Family By Rebuilding the Man.” Rev. Peterson is a longtime critic of the civil rights leadership in general, and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in particular. Rev. Peterson, the author of SCAM: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America , has been a regular guest on the Fox News Channel and other cable news networks. BOND’s board of advisors includes the well known conservative economist Walter E. Williams, Dennis Prager, the right-wing radio talk show host, and Sean Hannity, Fox’s television personality.
Rev. Peterson said that the conference would be aimed at disabusing blacks of the notion that racism is the cause of their economic and social problems and that they should begin taking personal responsibility.
“I saw black preachers turning toward the Republicans in greater numbers this election,” Rev. Peterson told the Los Angeles Times . “I don’t know if it’s because they believe in it or they want some of the faith-based money. Whatever the reason, they are turning; and as a result of the preachers leaving, many of the congregations are following.”
After months of investigation, the Los Angeles Times reported in January that out of the more than $1.5 billion in federal funds handed out to faith-based organizations in 2003 African American churches had received many millions of dollars. Many African American church leaders had subsequently switched party affiliation in time for the 2004 presidential election.
In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for example, Bishop Sedgwick Daniels, one of the “city’s most prominent black pastors,” who supported both Bill Clinton and Al Gore in past presidential elections, switched to Bush. His “face appeared on Republican Party fliers in the battleground state of Wisconsin,” and he endorsed President Bush “as the candidate who ‘shares our views.’” Two weeks before the election Bishop Daniels “turned over the pulpit to Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, one of Bush’s most prominent African American advocates.”
“We know what faith-based can do every single day,” Steele told the congregation, drawing head nodding and remarks of “yes” and “Amen” from more than 1,000 in the vast sanctuary.
The Times also reported that Bishop Daniels met “with top administration officials” and also met with “the president himself.” Later, his church received $1.5 million in federal funds through Bush’s faith-based initiative.
“A Philadelphia church led by Rev. Herb Lusk II received $1 million in federal funds for a program to help low-income Philadelphians,” The Los Angeles Time s reported. “Lusk gave the invocation at the 2000 Republican convention and has been an outspoken Bush supporter.”
In South Florida, there is an organization headed by Bishop Harold Ray, “a longtime Bush acquaintance who gave an invocation for Vice President Dick Cheney at a West Palm Beach, Florida rally. Ray’s group received $1.7 million in taxpayer funds.”
Los Angeles Times reporters Wallsten, Hamburger, and Nicholas Riccardi pointed out, “The money that flowed to Daniels’s church was part of a broader effort inspired by Bush’s contention that religious groups can do a better job than government in providing such services as counseling, education and drug treatment….
“The White House adamantly denies that the faith initiative is a political tool. But the program has provoked criticism that the GOP is seeking to influence new supporters, especially African Americans, with taxpayer funds. Rev. Timothy McDonald of Atlanta, a prominent black minister with Democratic ties, dubbed the program an ‘attempt to identify new leadership in the black community and use the money to prop these people up.’
“There’s no question that the faith initiative—combined with the Administration’s support for banning gay marriage and promoting school vouchers—has already helped reshape Bush’s image among some traditionally Democratic African Americans. And the change in black support on Nov. 2, though only a two percentage point increase nationwide, helped secure Bush’s reelection victory. The gains were greater in battleground states.”
“We’re committed to continuing to grow that percentage [of the black vote], and we recognize that it’s going to require a long investment,” said Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman, who the previous evening kicked off his own outreach meetings with black leaders. “I strongly believe that if we lay out our policies and lay out our vision, that we have a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
Despite the vast amounts of money involved, it won’t be smooth sailing for Team Bush. The Black Commentator recently reported on the meeting of 10,000 delegates from four Black Baptist denominations that was held in Nashville, Tennessee in January: “Representing 15 million members, the four denominations’ presidents agreed to move towards a common agenda dramatically opposed to the Republican administration—and fully in line with the Black Consensus.” According to the Chicago Tribune , the Black Baptists “…declared their opposition to the war in Iraq and to the nomination and expected confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as attorney general.”
The Baptists “also called for a higher minimum wage, discontinuation of recent tax cuts, investment in public education and reauthori- zation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, some provisions of which are up for review in 2007…[and they] demanded that Bush stop privatization of prison construction, reinvest in children’s health insurance and increase global relief for black nations such as Sudan and Haiti.”
Lionel Leach, the Director of the NAACP National Voter Fund- NJ, and a member of Help America Vote, told the Black Commentator , “New Jersey has the most voter suppression in the country,” and the GOP has “done everything possible to suppress the Black and Latino vote.”
The GOP strategy is “not to convert legions of Blacks to the GOP, which would seriously dilute the party’s white appeal and is, at any rate, an impossibility. The Right’s real goal is to create the impression of fundamental splits in Black ranks and thus subvert the credibility of mainstream leaders who hold to the historical Black Political Consensus. Everywhere, there exist Black preachers and hustlers who are willing to advance the GOP project. Money does the trick. Marginal increases in Black votes for Republicans are welcome, especially in close races, but this is not a battle for the hearts and minds of Black America. Rather, it is an assault on the historical unity of African Americans.”
Bill Berkowitz is a freelance writer covering conservative movements.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
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LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
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IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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