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COUP WATCH: Blacks & Labor Belatedly Take to the Streets -- From BRC-NEWS

by Frances M. Beal Saturday, Dec. 16, 2000 at 11:16 PM

Labor and Black leaders reluctantly, but obediently followed the Democratic Party's stratagem of relying on the courts and their hordes of lawyers to carry the day. The U.S. Supreme Court's politically motivated 5-4 ruling that stopped the hand count of votes, however, has showed the limits of this "judicious" behavior. Reprinted from BRC-NEWS by permission of the author.

COUP WATCH: Blacks & Labor Belatedly Take to the Streets -- From BRC-NEWS COUP WATCH: Blacks & Labor Belatedly Take to the Streets -- From BRC-NEWS

December 14, 2000

Blacks & Labor Belatedly Take to the Streets

By Frances M. Beal -- fmbeal@igc.org

Taking marching orders from the Gore campaign managers, those most concerned about Florida voting irregularities, outright fraud and racist intimidation had been playing it somewhat cool since the election. Labor and Black leaders had reluctantly, but obediently followed the Democratic Party's stratagem of relying on the courts and their hordes of lawyers to carry the day. The U.S. Supreme Court's politically motivated 5-4 ruling that stopped the hand count of votes, however, has showed the limits of this "judicious" behavior.

Even before this ideologically motivated court decision, it is clear that Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO head John Sweeney were beginning to feel queasy about the strategy of ensuring a democratic victory. They made some moves toward mobilizing people and almost tepidly began to muster their troops with banners that screamed "Count Every Vote." Simultaneously, the Greens and others who have been criticizing the two-party arrangement have begun organizing protests with banners that demand a fundamental overhaul of electoral laws.

The civil rights establishment that has invested so much in a Gore victory had a serious dilemma. On the one hand, their demand for a remedy to address the extensive deprivation of the black vote did not have the capacity to impact the immediate election. They could only ask that the Justice Department launch an investigation of egregious violations of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). Even if Attorney General Janet Reno had been willing to act upon these complaints in a timely way - and she was not - this would have put off the resolution of the accusations for at least months if not years.

On the other hand, the type of mobilization of people that brought us the civil rights statutes of the 1960s and is a historical strength of the progressive constituencies that compose the base of the Democratic Party, were scorned by Gore's campaign advisors. In fact, labor and Black leaders, in particular, were specifically cautioned by Gore's campaign managers not to mobilize their troops into the streets, but to go the judicial route. In the meantime, the GOP fielded demonstrators and gangs of threatening white men at strategic points to consistently disrupt the count or recount of various ballots.

By the time Jesse Jackson began to think for himself and see the ineffective tactics of his Democratic Party buddies, it was too little, too late. The same can be said of the AFL-CIO. Right after Election Day, the labor federation dispatched an army of labor representatives to Florida. But instead of using their historic strength as mobilizers, they bowed to Gore's campaign directives to "be nice and polite." Rather than amassing the people to confront the attempt at an illegitimate election coup, AFL-CIO operatives were fielded to sit and count votes or as bystanders.

A month later, Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO president, John Sweeney, came to their collective senses, particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the vote count the first time. This combined with mumbling in the ranks and calls for action in the streets to confront the right wing's henchmen. Finally, the civil rights and the labor movement came together to belatedly take the fight into streets.

Speaking at a mass rally in Tallahassee on Dec. 6th Sweeney announced a campaign of nationwide protests by labor. "We are taking our case beyond the Florida courts and into the court of public opinion," he proclaimed to a cheering crowd. Following on his heels, Jackson then orated, "Our mission is to honor a standard that everybody matters and every vote counts. We want democracy by inclusion and not exclusion, democracy by the count and not by the clock." And around the country people began to rally at courthouses, at civic centers, at federal buildings, but the gatherings remained small and did not get much mainstream press coverage and before the momentum could be built that would lead to impressive national protest demonstrations, the U.S. Supreme Court appeared to usurp and undermine the battle for democracy.

As tardy as it is, people are beginning to realize that they cannot rely upon the Democratic Party, the courts, the politicians and the political operatives to carry on the dramatic battle for democracy which has been unfolding before our very eyes. As the fighters for racial justice turn their attention to mass mobilization of people, it is hoped that this lesson will not be forgotten again.


Frances M. Beal is a San Francisco Bay View news columnist and the National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress. The views and opinions expressed in this article are her own. Contact: fbeal@aclunc.org or fmbeal@igc.org

Copyright (c) 2000 Frances M. Beal. All Rights Reserved.

[IMPORTANT NOTE: The views and opinions expressed on this list are solely those of the authors and/or publications, and do not necessarily represent or reflect the official political positions of the Black Radical Congress (BRC). Official BRC statements, position papers, press releases, action alerts, and announcements are distributed exclusively via the BRC-PRESS list. As a subscriber to this list, you have been added to the BRC-PRESS list automatically.]

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Unless stated otherwise, do *not* publish or post the entire text of any articles on web sites or in print, without getting *explicit* permission from the article author or copyright holder. Check the fair use provisions of the copyright law in your country for details on what you can and can't do.

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