April 4, 2008

NAACP Answers on Dunbar: What We Learned

Well, I've been traveling out of town for the past few days getting some much needed RR with the family but of course keeping an eye peeled on the blogosphere and the Dunbar Village accountability campaign being waged on the NAACP. Since I was on the road, I missed the blogtalk radio show on Dunbar Village on Thursday night. Representatives from the NAACP, Adora Obi Nweze, President, Fl State Conference NAACP and Richard McIntire, the NAACP national spokesperson joined the Black Women's Roundtable hosted by WAOD to respond to the stinging and scathing criticism the NAACP has been receiving.

I listened to the archive of the show including the NAACP portion and the discussion afterwards. The NAACP responses and performance were pathetically inadequate and demonstrated an organization manifestly out of touch. They apologized for the press conference, saying that it was not their intent to suggest that they cared more about the suspects than the victims. They were not well versed in the facts of the Boca Raton cases and ill informed about how their national policy directives informed the actions of the WPB branch. They were unwilling and unable to explain their internal protocol for how local branches intervene in cases (though the local branch in my area seems very clear that permission from their state body is required when I asked about it.)

So what have we learned from this little episode? Surprisingly, not much that was new. All it really did for me was to confirm the fact, which I've blogged on before, that black organizations are nearly incapable of engaging in principled, strategic leadership. The responses of the NAACP betray an organization that is poorly organized, with poor unit discipline and extremely inconsistent quality of leadership at the local level. It seems fairly clear that the WPB branch did not obtain any authorization to intervene in this case before undertaking this ill advised press conference. Furthermore, they got involved in this press conference apparently without having done any significant amount of research into the Boca Raton case, which has a very different fact pattern, as evidenced by their inability to talk about it when questioned by reporters from the Palm Beach Post at the scene.

The quality of local leadership for the NAACP is clearly in question. Maude Ford Lee, the local president, pursued this course of action apparently without authorization, without a clear understanding of the facts of the Boca case and apparently without having given any real thought to the nature of the Dunbar Village rape itself, something I find even more appalling because she is a woman herself.

The poor legal, moral and political judgment demonstrated by the local chapter is simply compounded by the equally inept response of the national organization, which does nothing to rein in the action of the local branch, nor does anything substantive in regards to support for the victim. Clearly unwilling to rebuke the local chapter leadership, the Florida state president apologizes for the press conference, but is unwilling to go any further, and the NAACP's national spokesperson offers up a mish mash of contradictory statements. Its clear that they are only concerned with the agenda of pursuing actual and perceived cases of racial injustice and are willing to ride any set facts to do so. If that were not the case, then the national and state bodies would have indeed rebuked the local chapter for their involvement in this case.

It highlights the sad fact of bad leadership in black organizations both nationally and locally. Because there is little in the way of accountability, these organizations continue to waste humanpower and financial resources on ill advised strategies to obtain dubious gains in racial equality. The NAACP has demonstrated itself to be just such an organization, as has the National Action Network of Al Sharpton.

There was a lot of discussion afterwards about what is the response of people like ourselves, bloggers, activists, a new generation who are embracing the new tools and technologies of the information age to connect with each other and the world on the issues we care about. Some suggested a new organization, some said reform these groups from within, some said run for office. None of these options seems either a great solution or particularly satisfying or complete as answers by themselves. There was talk of coalition building and I think that comment points in the right direction, of a third way. We've seen this accountability campaign force a response from these civil rights establishment dinosaurs. We did it by harnessing the power of communication and the web to connect the concerns of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people who are not otherwise connected. I myself collaborated with people I've never met or seen in places I have never been. Thats very powerful .

We need to continue to harness that power. To build the ability of people who share similar concerns to be able to join with one another on issues we care about and to be involved in action that impacts those concerns. Its not an organization per se, but a coalition of the willing built around shared values and principles, that works to mobilize people power and raise money in specific targeted ways to effect change where its needed. WAOD's prior campaigns and this one demonstrate a power that in my view we have only barely begun to tap. We should be thinking about the next level.