Clinton Escapes Again
Each Summer the major civil rights organizations hold their annual gatherings. Attended by thousands, these events include workshops, plenaries, and major addresses by civil rights leaders, trade union officials, representatives from women and youth organizations, and high-level government officials up to and including the President and Vice President of the United States.
The NAACP, National Urban League, Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the National Rainbow Coalition/PUSH have all held such meetings in the last two months as they have been doing before and since Clinton came into office in 1992. Despite the annual ritualistic and prolific production of agendas, platforms, covenants, agreements, and resolutions - much of which has been progressive and sometimes even radical - in the end, the Clinton administration escapes fundamental criticism.
Given the political calculations that will dominate in 2000, this year was the last opportunity for the nation's civil rights establishment to present a substantive critique before their membership of what seven years of Clintonism has meant for the civil rights community. Alas, that opportunity went the way of the fiasco-laden Republican impeachment hopes.
At the recent annual conference of the NAACP, titled "90 Years of Making Democracy Work," the most notable, and certainly the most reported, issue to emerge was the concern by the organization's leadership that there will be very few African Americans on network series television this coming Fall. Vexed to no end by this erasure of blackness, NAACP president Kweisi Mfume has demanded meetings with the heads of ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox to discuss the problem. The NAACP, with some legitimately, notes that despite a plethora of new shows, there will be very few faces of color coming into the homes of Americans other than the usual diet of gangster rap videos and daily crime stories.
The convention, of course, also addressed other concerns such as AIDS, aid to Africa, equal education, and racial violence among others. And, a number of Clinton's top ranking officials gave keynote speeches such as Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeline Albright.
Meanwhile, Rev. Jesse Jackson held another of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition gatherings. These increasingly frequent meetings are primarily used to highlight Jackson's insider role in the Clinton administration. In a quid pro quo deal, heavy hitters from the administration appear in workshops and at plenaries where they are handled with kid gloves. Gore, Attorney General Janet Reno, and Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman spoke at this year's event. In the end, everyone agreed to agree. Jackson also hosted and took around the city of Chicago the three hostages he "freed" from Milosovich's clutches during the Spring NATO war in the Balkans.
At the most recent gathering, "Building Bridges, Building Hope," a ten-point agenda was fashioned that was signed on to jointly by the Rainbow, NAACP, and the League of United Latin American Citizens. The agenda called for quality public education, alternatives to jail, guaranteed health care for all, affordable housing, environmental preservation, and other progressive demands. .
The National Urban League also met this Summer. The conference was titled, "Agenda 2000: Equality and Power for the New Millennium." Completing a trifecta, Gore also gave a keynote address there. Workshops addressed a wide range of concerns including community development, affirmative action, home ownership, black women in business, employment, and police-community relations. Similar to the NAACP and Rainbow, the NUL also emerged with a plan to attack these issues and come back next year stronger and more victorious.
Yet, by the time all the leaves have fallen from the trees and all the conventioneers have long gone home, another summer of Clinton conciliation will have passed. Clinton's civil rights legacy will remain shrouded in a cautious celebration undergirded by backroom whispers and hushed embarrassments. And in the wings, there arise invested hopes in "Clinton II - the Sequel" in the form of Gore.
Don't believe the hype. The civil rights leadership continues to fail to construct, articulate, and initiate a strategy for power. Don't get me wrong, accommodation and reform have their political value and their time and place. Certainly the issues being raised by the civil rights leadership are important and should be addressed. And it should be noted that in black politics they are not alone in this strategy deficiency. Neither black nationalists nor black radicals have shown any greater capacity to elaborate and effectuate a strategy for power either.
Issue articulation, however, is not a challenge to power. A chief political obstacle faced by the civil rights community remains its dependence on the dictates and largesse of the Democratic Party - its most centrist elements at that. Minimally, within the realm of electoral politics, a strategy for power would either develop a focused and determined plan for taking command of the party, with like-mined allies, or an abandonment of the party for greener pastures. And, by the way, these are not mutually exclusive strategies. Jackson, the most prominent black leader inside the DP, long ago surrendered the first option and never has seriously considered the second. No other black Democrats or group of black Democrats have stated that their goal is political seiziure of the party, and the only bolts have been to the scurrilous Republicans. In any case, the current paradigm of Summer meetings and Fall capitulations ain't working. The strategy of accommodation is hollow and, like Clintonism, should be left in the 20th century.
Mozambique and the Other Side of Globalization I recently returned from an eye-opening, soul-wrenching, yet profoundly-inspiring visit to northern rural Mozambique. The other side of the globalization's integration is its brutal and deadly marginalization of many parts of the developing world. Isolation and barbaric poverty, in Mozambique and elsewhere, are the facts of life for tens of millions.
I was part of a delegation sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee to visit 10 of our women-run rural development coop projects. The areas that we visited are in Manica province and can only be reached by the most serious 4-wheel vehicles and a lot of courage. People in these villages, especially women, walk an average 10-12 hours a day, through bush and forest, generally barefoot (it was notable if you saw shoes), and carrying items on their head and babies on their back. Generally, walking is the only means of transportation to the market or, more critically, to get water.
At most of the sites we visited, people in the coops asked us to help them get an ox. An ox would provide a means of transporting products to market as well as can be used in digging up the fields. In one village, the entire population had a goal of saving for the next two years to buy a single ox. The cost of an ox is 2.4 million Meticais (the Mozambican currency). This translates into US$200 because the currency exchange is US$1 to 12,000 Meticais. To get a sense of the rate of inflation, ten years ago, the rate was US$1 to 800 Meticais. This is in a country where the annual average per capita income is less than US$150 a year and in many of the villages less than $50 (for the whole village). The country has not printed money in years and it is against the law to destroy any bills because the paper that the money is printed on is worth more than any of the denominations. Let me also note that in most places people did not ask for an ox cart since it would be virtually useless at this point given the "road" conditions.
Many of these villages did not have wells, which is why people walked miles to get the smallest amount of water to drink or for other purposes. A well and pump can cost as much as US $1,000.
There are also other dangers faced on a daily basis. There are still an estimated 50,000 live landmines in the area. Although a massive demining effort by the United Nations, non-governmental organizations, and private firms is underway, at the rate of finding and disarming a mine about once every two days or so, the curse of landmines is going to be there for a long, long time. At two of the sites, we only stood at the edges of their vegetable gardens because they warned us that mines had been discovered there, but they had started a garden anyway because of the need.
One arena where the need is great is that of health care services. According to Dr. Julie Cliff, head of the medical school in Maputo, there are only 450 doctors in the whole country. This is to serve a population of nearly 20 million. In the areas that we visited, of about 2-3 million people, there is reportedly one doctor. There is a determined effort to train tens of thousands of nurses and to build mobile health clinics, but the resources are limited. Diseases that have been conquered in other parts of the developing world, such as Malaria, yellow fever, and cholera, unfortunately, are pretty common.
Ironically, the devastation of HIV/AIDS has been limited for two reasons. First, following independence from Portuguese colonialism in 1975, the country was engulfed in a horrific 16-year war driven by the Mozambique Resistance (RENAMO) group that was financially and materially-sponsored by right-wing extremists from Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the United States. The massive dislocations caused by the war scattered hundreds of thousands and prevented the settlement and containment of the disease in the country's highly-populated northern and southern parts. The war has been over since the mid-1990s and, as people return, the cases of HIV/AIDS are starting to rise to numbers similar to other countries in the region. Sadly, the second reason people are not dying of AIDS in big numbers (yet) is because there are so many other diseases that are quicker killers.
For many of us on the delegation, the starkness of it all was often overwhelming. The gap between their lives and the existence we take for granted comprises two almost incompatible realities EXCEPT that, to a great degree, it is our reality that is causing theirs.
Despite these deprivations, there is a reason for some optimism. First, the people of Mozambique are conscious, hard-working, and resilient. They have not only weathered storms that most of us never even contemplate, but, in many ways, have a prevailing spirit that simple will not be defeated. Second, the land is rich in resources, and if they can be mastered and managed, can provide for needed development. Third, the country's presnt leadership appears to have soberly recognized errors made in the past regarding economic and political decisions and is committed to rebuilding a democratic society in the interests of all. Fourth, women are playing a central role in the reconstruction of Mozambique, and are determined they their families and children will prosper in spite of the challenges.