April 16, 2008

Race Hustlers 2.0 for the Millenial Generation

Fellow bloggers Shecodes and Villager, authors of the blogs Black Women Vote and Electronic Village respectively, were contributors to the Bloggers Roundtable at NPR recently. The topic: Are Civil Rights Groups Obsolete? The discussion was prompted by the fairly sorry performance of the NAACP and Al Sharpton in response to the Dunbar Village gang rape case. The NAACP and Sharpton after months of ignoring the case, decided to engage in some advocacy on behalf of the rape suspects from which they relented only after dedicated activism by a group of women bloggers and their allies.

The discussion concluded that while not quite obsolete, civil rights organizations clearly have not figured out their next evolution. Or have they? Enter Color of Change. A portion of their stated mission:

Using the Internet, we will enable our members to speak in unison, with an amplified political voice. We will keep them informed about the most pressing issues for Black people in America and give them ways to act. We'll bring attention to the needs and concerns of Black folks.

When I turn my attention from their mission statement to the action campaigns they have initiated, the issues they focus on differ very little if at all from those of older civil rights organizations like the NAACP. Voting rights, police brutality, responses to racially insensitive statements, criminal defendant/prisoner rights and Katrina which gave them their start seem to be Color of Change's stock in trade.

Their stated goal is to give black Americans a political voice. What is different is the mechanisms they use to spread their message (the web) and the primary audience they target (the young). But the voice they want to bestow differs not at all from the existing black establishment, in tone or content. The tactics and approach are the same old dance of victim identity. Look at the Jena Six, their most notable accomplishment. What was the most impressive piece? They made a huge march happen, but as I asked some time ago, is the march the only thing in our playbook? To be fair, they raised money for the Jena Six's legal defense. I wonder if COC is picking up the legal defense tab for the civil suit brought by the parents of Justin Barker against the Jena Six parents?

Some of the campaigns are inane exercises in ineffective naivety. Take for example their campaign to stop genocide in Darfur. Their goal: to get at least 100 people from each congressional district to send a letter to President Bush, urging him to push for a UN Security Council resolution which would create a peacekeeping force with the power to stop the violence. Send a letter to BUSH to URGE him to PUSH for a UN resolution? How timid and inconsequential is that? Or the whiny and irrevelant campaign to complain to the RNC about Sen. George Allen and his macaca statements. Without exception, COC's campaigns are exercises in whinyness or entreaties for government action to do something for black people.

In short, they are as myopic in outlook and lacking in proactive, strategic relevance as the NAACP, the Urban League, PUSH, the National Action Network and others. For all the Move On.org money, the nice website and the huge mailing list, at bottom, their just the next generation of race hustlers.