Politics: Goals and Strategies


The Imperative for Change

All the scintillating ideas, the innovative strategies, become meaningless unless we translate them into political action. You noted that I said, "we." My friends want to know what I—a former special assistant to the irrepressible Adam Clayton Powell and former activist with the Black Power movement—am doing here among the pharisees.

The answer is that I see a great harmony between what I have long advocated and some of what I have heard in these sessions. And so would most blacks, if only the message could get across past the obstacle of current black "leadership." We do not need more black leadership. We need more economic leadership.

This past July, when I interviewed Mr. Reagan at his home just before the Republican convention, one of the things he said to me was that if you live in the ghetto and you need to buy a toothbrush, there's no reason why you shouldn't buy it from a black-owned drugstore. I said, "Governor, you sound like a black nationalist." He smiled and he blushed.

Nonetheless, those are the ideas we are hearing today. Those are the same ideas I heard at three national Black Power Conferences in 1966, 1967, 1968—self-reliance, self-determination.

At present, blacks are locked into what I call the "single-political-party syndrome." British Prime Minister William Gladstone's statement, "We have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, but only permanent interests," applies perfectly to our real situation. But blacks have long had permanent friends, and the permanent friends have been in the Democratic party. They have not been able to oscillate their political loyalties as have other groups. The result has been disastrous voting patterns. Only two segments of the electorate voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976—liberal Democrats, 70 percent, and blacks, 82 percent. When the country voted for a Republican back in 1952, 1956, 1968 and 1972, blacks were headed in the wrong direction. Blacks headed in the wrong direction in 1980, and our task now is to head in the right direction. How do we do that? We initiate the fivefold agenda:

One—to make black Americans more economically independent in the 1980s. Who can disagree with that? Nobody.

Two—to formulate a coherent black strategy to deal with black pathologies: the crime, the poor health, the unemployment, miseducation.

Three—to combat the obvious misconception about who black Americans really are. There is a great diversity within the black community. We are not all poor, not all on welfare.

Four—and this is most important and one of my obsessions—to create new leaders and new alliances. We have to develop a new breed of independent black leadership. Adam Clayton Powell was an exquisite prototype. For example, when he opposed the common situs picketing bill he did so because he thought it was bad for black people. When Adam frequently took positions that were not the orthodox Democratic positions, he acted independently. In fact, he supported Eisenhower in 1956. Sociologist Charles Sumner once said, "If you live in a country that is run by a committee, make sure you are on that committee." In 1981 we have got to get blacks on the committee.

And finally, number five—to foster black experts not associated only with black concerns.

We need a new consensus and a new educational effort to convince the people, especially blacks, that these five concepts serve their best interests. These are the politics of change. These are the economics of the new humanism.

Black Lawyers: Struggling to Survive Table of Contents Joining the Political Process