Charles Brown CharlesB at
Fri Dec 15 08:40:08 MST 2000

December 14, 2000

Blacks & Labor Belatedly Take to the Streets

By Frances M. Beal <fmbeal at>

Taking marching orders from the Gore campaign managers,
those most concerned about Florida voting irregularities,
outright fraud and racist intimidation had been playing it
somewhat cool since the election. Labor and Black leaders
had reluctantly, but obediently followed the Democratic
Party's stratagem of relying on the courts and their
hordes of lawyers to carry the day. The U.S. Supreme Court's
politically motivated 5-4 ruling that stopped the hand count
of votes, however, has showed the limits of this "judicious"

Even before this ideologically motivated court decision,
it is clear that Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO head John Sweeney
were beginning to feel queasy about the strategy of ensuring
a democratic victory. They made some moves toward mobilizing
people and almost tepidly began to muster their troops with
banners that screamed "Count Every Vote." Simultaneously,
the Greens and others who have been criticizing the two-party
arrangement have begun organizing protests with banners that
demand a fundamental overhaul of electoral laws.

The civil rights establishment that has invested so much in
a Gore victory had a serious dilemma. On the one hand, their
demand for a remedy to address the extensive deprivation of
the black vote did not have the capacity to impact the
immediate election. They could only ask that the Justice
Department launch an investigation of egregious violations
of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). Even if Attorney Janet
Reno had been willing to act upon these complaints in a
timely way - and she was not - this would have put off
the resolution of the accusations for at least months
if not years.

On the other hand, the type of mobilization of people that
brought us the civil rights statutes of the 1960s and is a
historical strength of the progressive constituencies that
compose the base of the Democratic Party, were scorned by
Gore's campaign advisors. In fact, labor and Black leaders,
in particular, were specifically cautioned by Gore's campaign
managers not to mobilize their troops into the streets, but
to go the judicial route. In the meantime, the GOP fielded
demonstrators and gangs of threatening white men at strategic
points to consistently disrupt the count or recount of
various ballots.

By the time Jesse Jackson began to think for himself and
see the ineffective tactics of his Democratic Party buddies,
it was too little, too late. The same can be said of the
AFL-CIO. Right after Election Day, the labor federation
dispatched an army of labor representatives to Florida. But
instead of using their historic strength as mobilizers, they
bowed to Gore's campaign directives to "be nice and polite."
Rather than amassing the people to confront the attempt at
an illegitimate election coup, AFL-CIO operatives were
fielded to sit and count votes or as bystanders.

A month later, Jesse Jackson and AFL-CIO president, John
Sweeney, came to their collective senses, particularly after
the U.S. Supreme Court stopped the vote count the first time.
This combined with mumbling in the ranks and calls for action
in the streets to confront the right wing's henchmen. Finally,
the civil rights and the labor movement came together to
belatedly take the fight into streets.

Speaking at a mass rally in Tallahassee on Dec. 6th Sweeney
announced a campaign of nationwide protests by labor. "We
are taking our case beyond the Florida courts and into the
court of public opinion," he proclaimed to a cheering crowd.
Following on his heels, Jackson then orated, "Our mission is
to honor a standard that everybody matters and every vote
counts. We want democracy by inclusion and not exclusion,
democracy by the count and not by the clock." And around
the country people began to rally at courthouses, at civic
centers, at federal buildings, but the gatherings remained
small and did not get much mainstream press coverage and
before the momentum could be built that would lead to
impressive national protest demonstrations, the U.S.
Supreme Court appeared to usurp and undermine the
battle for democracy.

As tardy as it is, people are beginning to realize that
they cannot rely upon the Democratic Party, the courts,
the politicians and the political operatives to carry on
the dramatic battle for democracy which has been unfolding
before our very eyes. As the fighters for racial justice
turn their attention to mass mobilization of people, it
is hoped that this lesson will not be forgotten again.


Frances M. Beal is a San Francisco Bay View news columnist
and the National Secretary of the Black Radical Congress.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are her
own. Contact: <fbeal at> or <fmbeal at>.

Copyright (c) 2000 Frances M. Beal. All Rights Reserved.

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