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Date: Tue, 24 Aug 1999 19:19:17 -0400
Message-Id: <199908242319.TAA30685@lists.tao.ca>
From: Stan Goff <stangoff@all4democracy.org>
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] Privately Financed Elections Perpetuate White Supremacy
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Privately financed elections secure white supremacy

By Stan Goff <stangoff@all4democracy.org>
24 August 1999

Working class and poor Black communities are faced with a dilemma. A wealthy white elite that profits from white supremacy dominates all basic industry and all major financial institutions in the country. That economic power translates directly into control over the political life of the country. Black political power can not become a reality in the current conditions. Black communities feel it is foolhardy now to physically challenge the system, and it is economically impractical now to separate. If the status quo for most African-Americans is intolerable, and this is the central dilemma, then there is a need to think deliberately about political strategies to break out of that dilemma. One of those strategies must be joining the fight to end private financing of political campaigns.

Figures published by the National Urban League in The State of Black America, 1998, showed that race accounted for a 40 percent differential in income between white and Black, but a 12 to one ratio between white and Black net worth. This spotlights the sad reality of the much-touted Black middle class, and the fundamental oversight of what Earl Ofari Hutchinson has called "the myth of Black capitalism." Income alone is a poor index of economic status, for the individual and the community. Net worth shows patterns of accumulation and ownership, and the empirical data reflects the source of economic power, ownership-especially of a nation's productive capacity-is still firmly controlled by a white economic elite. The Black middle class, moreover, is many times more insecure in its status than the white middle class, and Blacks are not even at the table among America's real ruling class.

Black economic life in the United States is inextricable from the white-dominated national economy, and from global capitalism. It is also utterly dependent. This is the most compelling argument against political separatism in the short term, and Black nationalist capitalism as either long-term goal or strategy. The fortunes of a Black entrepreneurial class inside Black communities, largely built on service and usury, reproduce class antagonisms inside the community, while remaining ancillary to the industrialists and financiers of white capitalism.

This is very different from Black nationalism grounded in the vision of a cooperative, community-based economy buttressed against an intractable white supremacy. If we here accept the premise that African-Americans as a group have a national character-common culture, common language, common history-then the current situation is analogous in many respects to colonialism-a nation occupied to control resources, markets, and labor. The political domination of the Black community, then, is accomplished through the supervision of the community by a Black entrepreneurial class functioning as a colonial surrogate, subordinate to the white capitalist class in exchange for the opportunity to share in the exploitation.

Black communities now are caught in the predicament of opting for the lesser of evils; a self-limiting and naïve form of separatist entrepreneurism that at least names white supremacy (like the NOI) as a social phenomenon, or hitching to the fortunes of an opportunistic Black political class that sees no pragmatic alternative to accommodation that often involves cutting deals-deals that sell community interests down the river to uplift the fortunes of a select few Black colonial surrogates. This is the impasse that led to the formation of the Black Radical Congress.

The question of how to create political space for Black people to consolidate political power and interrupt this cycle is a very high strategic priority. Political power in the short term must be developed in alliances with non-African-American allies around key issues. Those alliances must be carefully considered. Unequal alliances are well-known and understood by Black activists. But avoiding the risk altogether is not the solution. The crisis in Black communities is not wine, and it will not improve with age. While Black trade unionists know the absolute necessity of unity with white workers to make demands against bosses, Black workers acknowledge and continue to struggle against the stubborn vestiges of racism inside the unions. The political arena is no different.

Political terrain is complicated. We must carefully scrutinize that terrain and develop strategic priorities for the systematic removal of obstacles in the path. Political districts at every level are gerrymandered to limit Black representation. White voters are still prone to racial block voting in districts with comparatively large Black populations. The right wing is fighting tooth and nail to ensure a census undercount. These are all critical issues. But street heat alone hasn't proven equal to the task of political intervention, and the insider game of lobbying professional politicians has been one frustrating retrenchment after another.

The real breach in the system will occur when we have an active and ongoing collaboration between organized community advocates and elected officials that are recruited directly out of our movements, with the mission of unassailable accountability. The construction of effective state and national majorities presupposes alliances with progressive white allies. The greatest obstacle to this strategy now is that "authentic" Black representatives from poor and working class African-American communities, as well as white progressives, are frozen out of candidacy by what the National Voting Rights Institute has named a "Wealth Primary." The cost of a contested political race has risen so dramatically that candidates can not accumulate a viable campaign treasury without the support of very large donors, who marginalize, ignore, or crush candidates who put people before profits.

Elected officials who depend on the rich to fund political campaigns in today's campaign finance arms race, simply can not be expected to fight for the interests of working and poor communities. The ruling sector that finances the electoral system benefits from informal and formal racism in myriad ways. Poverty holds down labor costs, increasing profits. Black communities are hugely over-represented in poverty figures. Racism has been a powerful weapon in breaking unions in the South, again protecting profit margins. Contributors also benefit from regressive tax structures, government expenditures for infrastructure for development, corporate tax incentives, privatized prisons and schools, weakened worker and environmental protections, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera-all to the detriment of the rest of the population, regardless of race. But when these disparities are combined with the historical oppression of Black communities and the continued prevalence of institutional white supremacy-economically, socially, and politically-the detrimental effects on African-Americans are grossly magnified.

Last year, Public Campaign, a national non-profit working to end the private funding of political campaigns, conducted a detailed study of campaign contributions from every zip code in the United States. They identified the percentage of people-of-color populations inside each zip code. They then compared contribution totals from top contributing zip codes with zip codes for the highest concentrations of people of color. The average ratios were over 200 to one in big cities, states, regions, and nationally. In my home state of North Carolina, during the last state elections, one percent of the populace gave over 90 percent of the campaign contributions. In return, this wealthiest white sector calls the policy tune for the legislative piper.

This "Wealth Primary" is a key strategic target if we are to give insurgent candidates, Black, white, Latino or other, a fighting chance to hold elected office. Public financing of campaigns is a strategic necessity for the eventual exercise of Black political power that will both challenge wealthy white hegemony over political life and de-couple poor and working class Black communities from opportunistic Black politicians.

The fight for public financing of elections is being carried on nationally, but the trenches are in the states. There are coalitions being formed in almost every state to push for what advocates are calling Clean Money reform. Many of these campaigns are diverse, democratic, and willing to form equal partnerships. Some are still struggling with elements of white liberal arrogance, but they can only be held accountable if African-American activists are there to hold them accountable.

African-Americans can not afford to stay out of this fight, any more than Blacks can afford to sidestep the trade union movement-warts and all. Black activists like Reverend Carrie Bolton of North Carolina, Representative Joe Neal of South Carolina, Randall Merritt and Jerome Scott of the Georgia Clean Elections Coalition, Scott Douglas of Greater Birmingham Ministries, Stan Johnson of Alabama Arise, and Stephanie Anthony of the Louisiana Democracy Project, are in the forefront on this issue in several Southern states. These leaders know that the reform is important, but it will only work if we unite now to build a culture of principled and equitable coalitions not just to win the reform, but to take advantage of the reform when it happens.

Stan Goff is the organizing director of Democracy South, a multi-issue, multi-racial, progressive network in 12 Southern states, for which public financing of elections is part of its mission. Democracy South is based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. www.all4democracy.org.

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