Time for a New Civil Rights Revolution


2-27-07, 8:22 am

Detroit -- 'It's time for a new offensive for civil rights,' said Jarvis Tyner, executive vice chair of the Communist Party USA, at a meeting of area activists in honor of African American History Month last Sunday.

Tyner made this call for reinvigorating a broad, labor-led civil rights movement fittingly in Detroit where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. first marched in July of 1963 with autoworkers, other labor union members, civil rights supporters, and thousands of people in the community. It was at this march that Dr. King first delivered his famous 'I Have a Dream' speech.

'We need to think about how we can take the offensive on health care, jobs, and saving public education,' Tyner added. 'We need fresh winds in the civil rights fight.' Tyner proposed a March on Washington to symbolize the new stage of struggle and to celebrate the history of the civil rights movement.

Tyner pointed out that the Bush administration's agenda of privatization, aiding companies in moving jobs overseas, tax cuts for the ultra rich, and endless war work in concert to gut public services and slash needed funds for health care, schools, and to destroy jobs.

This agenda, which is designed to benefit the wealthy and corporate interests, hurts all working people, but disproportionately impacts people of color. The Bush/Republican ultra right agenda is also aimed at dismantling federal government programs that were designed to eliminate racial discrimination.

Tyner noted that though official unemployment rates for African Americans, for example, hover around 9 percent, when under-employed or marginally employed workers are added to the figures, the real number is closer to 16 percent nationally. When imprisoned African Americans are included, the number is astronomical.

Tyner also pointed out that cities with large African American populations like Detroit, Gary, Cleveland, Philadelphia, for example, have been hard hit by ultra right economic policies with a racist edge.

Racism, Tyner argued is not just a set of prejudicial ideas or cultural values. Racism is a system that needs to be examined from its political and economic aspects as well. Racist ideas serve to justify the ultra right's economic and social policies, its foreign policy aims such as Bush's wars, and lead to genocide and brutality.

'Racism has always been at the center of what the ruling class has done to the working class and to people of color,' Tyner stated.

Racism often confuses people and blinds them to their self-interests. 'The vote in Michigan to overturn affirmative action shows we still have a long way to go.' Racist ideology spread by the ultra right convinced a majority of white people in the state to vote to overturn affirmative action, Tyner said.

Nevertheless, Tyner expressed confidence in working people to see through ultra right racist ideology. Tyner cited the 2006 election as an example.

Black voters have consistently reject Bush and pro-Bush candidates. The country as a whole turned against Bush when Hurricane Katrina exposed the systematic racism that destroyed the Gulf Coast and killed many hundreds of working people in New Orleans.

Tyner cited this event as a turning point in national opinions about Bush. Opposition to the war quickly followed. By the time the 2006 elections came around, the voters had shifted the political terrain to the left nationally. Working people overcame racist, anti-immigrant, anti-gay ideological smokescreens to deliver 'an historic setback for the right wing,' Tyner said.

Tyner described the election as 'a struggle that was bigger than the Democrats and Republicans; it was a people's struggle for democracy. It was a vote about ending the war, helping the people affected by Katrina. It was about jobs and health care.' The outcome of the election created a new terrain of political struggle with new possibilities. A new movement for civil rights is one such possibility.

Tyner also expressed confidence in the African American people to help lead a new upsurge for civil rights. African Americans have always understood what Bush and the Republicans have been doing and have refused to support him or his wars, Tyner said. 'The African American freedom movement,' Tyner added, has always had a big 'impact on the history of the planet.'

With leadership in a new offensive for civil rights, that impact can be felt once again.

--Joel Wendland is managing editor of Political Affairs and may be reached at