A Domestic Marshall Plan to Transform America’s ‘Dark Ghettos’
by Ron Daniels
Black America must revive the concept of a Domestic Marshall Plan to reverse the deterioration of the nation’s ‘dark ghettos’ – most immediately, to restore New Orleans’ exiled population. Dr. Daniel’s suggests the campaign be called the Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative, a mobilization to begin on April 4. The guiding principle behind the campaign must be the idea that oppressed people should exercise the power to control their communities and the conviction that every person in this country is entitled to enjoy certain basic human rights, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“We will call this proposal the Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative.”
This article is based on a presentation made by Dr. Daniels at the Black Family Summit Policy Institute convened February 1, 2007, by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century at Howard University. It is a discussion piece which is intended to assess interest in and commitment to launching a bold initiative to compel the American public and the government to confront issues of racism, poverty and inequality in this country as dramatically exposed by Katrina.
In January at the Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) “State of the Black World Forum” in Washington D.C., during discussion on creating a “New Force in Black America” to revitalize the Black Freedom Struggle, New York City Councilman Charles Barron remarked that neither the Democratic Party nor the Congressional Black Caucus has clearly signaled what explicitly “Black issues” they are prepared to advance since Democrats took control of Congress. In this regard it is important to remember that the Six Point Democratic Program for recapturing control of Congress did not include Katrina/New Orleans. Moreover, Katrina/New Orleans was completely absent from President Bush’s State of the Union Address.
While there was no noticeable outcry from Black leaders protesting this disgraceful omission, Capital Hill insiders indicate that the Congressional Black Caucus is focusing on aid/assistance for New Orleans and the Gulf as a major priority. With Blacks once again demonstrating unflinching loyalty to the Democratic Party in the critical mid-term elections, however, there is still the overarching and compelling question as to what “race specific” initiatives will be advanced by the Democratic leadership in Congress to address crucial Black issues and concerns. Black America needs an answer to that question, and I believe that one of the responses ought to be to revive the concept of a Domestic Marshall Plan targeted at rebuilding New Orleans and America’s “dark ghettos.”
“The Six Point Democratic Program for recapturing control of Congress did not include Katrina/New Orleans.”
I presented this idea at a recent Policy Institute convened by the Black Family Summit of IBW at Howard University. In so doing, I reminded the assembled organization heads, scholars and activists that it is important to realize that Katrina is a metaphor for the disaster wrought on Black America’s urban and rural communities by years of benign and blatant neglect. This was/is manifested by the almost total abandonment of pro-active and corrective policies for problems of inner-city and rural communities by Democratic and Republic administrations. The toll on Black America, especially on Black working class and poor people, has been devastating. Many urban inner-city areas are like zones of desolation and despair, racked by chronic unemployment, underemployment, poverty, inadequate health facilities, environmental degradation, poor performing schools, the infestation of drugs, crime, gangs, the illicit economy, fear, police occupation and terror – all feeding a prison-jail industrial complex where Black and Brown people are the primary fodder. As depicted on the television series “The Wire,” life in America’s dark ghettos can be deadly and destructive of the aspirations of a people; the tragic consequence of broken individuals, families and communities.
Most importantly, contrary to the exhortations of “America’s Dad,” Bill Cosby, this is a fate which is not of our own choosing. Nor are these the same “ghettos” that past generations grew up in around the country. As William Julius Wilson observes, in the face of globalization, massive de-industrialization and the calculated shrinking of ameliorative public programs and services under the guise of creating a more efficient government, the most disadvantaged of our people are living in communities where “work has virtually disappeared.” Moreover, there is an almost total collapse of supportive community based institutions like settlement houses, health care centers, hospitals and viable schools. And, African Americans in past generations did not grow up in communities where guns and drugs were so readily available and violence and deadly force was endemic to daily life.
“Ethnic cleansing is afoot in New Orleans.”
Currently there is no acceptable response to our plight by policymakers in Washington. Total neglect or the conservative mantra of “blame the victim,” is the order of the day. To the degree that there has been a response, it has been by developers moving in, aided and abetted by local governments, to displace Black working class and poor people from their neighborhoods, scattering them hither and thither as Whites have decided to recapture the “Chocolate Cities” of this nation. Gentrification has become the “Negro removal program” of the 21st century. It is precisely this kind of “ethnic cleansing” program that is afoot in New Orleans as local developers attempt to remake this African city to create a Disney World, theme park environment.
While we must continue to urge our people who are imprisoned by these conditions to do all they can to assume responsibility for rising above and overcoming the pathology which now afflicts them/us, we must be clear that the racist and exploitive policies of government are primarily responsible for our plight. Ultimately we must compel the government to rescue and transform this nation’s dark ghettos. And this will require a massive allocation of resources, not only to improve the physical environment but to heal and restore broken lives and communities. The transformation of America’s dark ghettos demands nothing less than a program equivalent to a Domestic Marshall Plan.
Long advocated by the National Urban League under the leadership of John E. Jacob but de-prioritized by his successor Hugh A. Price, the concept of a Domestic Marshall Plan was derived from the massive and unprecedented expenditure of U.S. resources to rebuild Europe and Japan after World War II. Mr. Jacobs consistently questioned why the United States could not rebuild urban areas here in America in the same way it had rebuilt entire foreign nations. The same question is relevant today. How is it that America can instantly find billions of dollars to wage an ill conceived, ill advised and illegal war in Iraq, including billions to rebuild this strife-riven nation, and not muster sufficient resources to expeditiously rebuild New Orleans, the Gulf and transform the dark ghettos of this prosperous land? Black America must muster the resolve to compel America to respond in the affirmative to this question.
“How is it that America can instantly find billions of dollars to wage an ill conceived, ill advised and illegal war in Iraq, and not muster sufficient resources to expeditiously rebuild New Orleans.”
Every organization that gathered for the Black Family Summit Policy Institute, e.g., National Association of Black Social Workers, National Medical Association, National Association of Black Psychologists, Mental Health Healers Alliance, National Association of Black Veterans, International Association of Black Professional Firefighters is engaged in treating some aspect of the malady which afflicts our most destitute and desperate communities. Each organization has specific initiatives and programs designed to address some dimension of the crisis. The value of these efforts notwithstanding, strategically, I believe it is imperative that a broad ranging collective of organizations and agencies come together to adopt a comprehensive/holistic, consensus strategy/approach to address the desperate and deteriorating conditions in America’s dark ghettos – an approach that must prescribe solutions to the physical, cultural, educational, spiritual and social justice aspects of the crises.
At a minimum the approach must include affordable housing, public service employment, job training, environmentally sustainable community economic development, quality education based on culturally inclusive curricula, Black adoptions, drug and alcohol abuse counseling and treatment, AIDS counseling and treatment, community based health centers with facilities for mental health, community organizers, gang prevention programs, re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated persons and civic engagement and empowerment programs. The same approach should apply to rural communities with an additional focus on Black land retention and programs to assist and enhance the viability of Black farmers and agriculturalists.
At the end of his life Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference were planning a Poor People’s Campaign as a way of articulating the concept of an Economic Bill of Rights to guarantee a basic quality of life for Black people and all Americans. Similarly, Malcolm X was urging us to control the politics and social life of our communities, and to see our struggle not just as a fight for civil rights but human rights as well. The idea that oppressed people should exercise the power to control their communities and the conviction that every person in this country is entitled to enjoy certain basic human rights, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should constitute guiding principles for our approach to resolving the crises in our communities.
“It is time to draw a line in the sand to rescue and transform our communities.”
While the Domestic Marshall Plan concept captures the spirit of what I am advocating and has a familiar ring for policymakers and the public, given the scope and character of the approach envisioned, it might be more appropriate to call this proposal the Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative. In addition, it is important to have a title which resonates in the Black community as the base constituency for this initiative. It is also important to indicate that this initiative should not be viewed as a substitute for affirmative action or, ultimately, reparations, as policy prescriptions to repair past and present damage to Africans in America as a consequence of the long and tragic travail of enslavement and racial apartheid in this country.
It is time to draw a line in the sand to rescue and transform our communities. It is time to mobilize the political muscle to demand that the Congress of the United States and the President implement a comprehensive/holistic program to rebuild depressed and oppressed communities in this nation. Accordingly, as a vital exercise in operational unity, I am suggesting a Black and people of color led Emergency Mobilization, April 4th to May 19th as the first phase of a campaign to create public awareness of the plight of America’s dark ghettos and to demand the enactment of the Martin Luther King-Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative. We must mobilize Black people to take the lead in issuing a clarion call to end the war in Iraq, rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf and invest in transforming America’s dark ghettos, reservations and neighborhoods.
I am proposing April 4th because it is the date Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam: A Time To Break Silence” speech at Riverside Church in 1967, and the date he was assassinated one year later in Memphis as he was preparing to launch the Poor People’s Campaign. May 19th is the birthday of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, our “Black Shining Prince,” Malcolm X who increasingly viewed the struggle of Africans in America as a human rights struggle. Hence, we capture the vision, spirit and courage of two of Black America’s seminal leaders in advancing a powerful concept for the rebuilding and restoration of America’s dark ghettos. I would also like to dedicate this Initiative to the memory of Damu Smith, our young ancestor, veteran social and political activist, founder of the National Black Environmental Justice Network and Black Voices for Peace; a stalwart in the struggle for liberation of people of African descent and oppressed humanity.
The intensive emergency mobilization would be preceded by working sessions with scholars and policymakers to flesh out the basic elements of the MLK-Malcolm X Initiative. IBW would also craft a proclamation outlining the rationale for the Initiative and a call to action. The model Initiative and proclamation would be released April 4th followed by a National Forum on the subject in Washington, D.C., April 6th where leading scholars, policy makers and activists would address the importance of the Initiative. A similar forum would be convened by the New York area IBW Ujima Support Committee April 7th to kick-off an extensive nationwide education campaign utilizing Black talk radio, Black newspapers, the internet and the majority media to promote the Initiative and mobilize constituencies/participants for a March/Rally in Washington, D.C. May 19th.
“America has the opportunity to erase the ugly images of Katrina from the consciousness of the world by transforming America’s dark ghettos.”
May 19th would mark the culmination of the first phase of an ongoing campaign/mobilization to build public support for the enactment of the Initiative including injecting the idea into the presidential campaign. The forthcoming State of the Black World Conference II, tentatively scheduled for November 28th – December 2nd this fall in New Orleans, would be another major focal point for galvanizing support for the Initiative. Ultimately, Africans in America and our allies must generate sufficient momentum to force the Democratic Party, which has taken Blacks for granted for too long, and a nation which has been in denial about the debilitating effects of racism, poverty and inequality on Blacks and people of color, to take an affirmative stand in favor of this vital Initiative.
America has the opportunity to erase the ugly images of Katrina from the consciousness of the world by transforming America’s dark ghettos. There is no better way to achieve this mission than by doing for the dispossessed in this country what this nation so magnanimously did for Europe and Japan after World War II. Americans must demand that the U.S. government end the war in Iraq, seal the “demonic suction tube” that is draining vast resources away from urgent domestic needs and massively invest in rescuing and transforming America’s dark ghettos. Africans in America and the oppressed must settle for nothing less.
R.I.P. Eddie Harris