(NNPA)—Now we have the Coffee Party which I suppose is a liberal counterpart to the Tea Party that emerged in the Washington, D.C., area by folks led by Annabel Park, a documentary film maker who was horrified by the ugly, menacing and anti-government spirit of the Tea Party crowd that emerged to disrupt the flow of civil discussion about important issues. I’ve been asking, where are the folks who voted for Barack Obama, believing in hope and change and pinning for a new post-Bush, post-conservative America?
Well, many of the ground troops of the Obama movement that were responsible for its grass roots organizing were young adults who went back to school, back to their professional desks or somewhere back to their normal pursuits, but away from politics. In their de-mobilization, they left the field open to the crazies who have mounted a movement not designed to be a force for change, but for the status quo and even for retrogression, wanting to “take back America” from a future they fear. Organizing for Change, the organization created as the repository of the Obama campaign, has largely been ineffective in my evaluation and David Plouffe, its head and Obama’s campaign manager, has recently gone into the White House.
What is developing is a discussion at the level of communities across the country about the role of government and the Tea Party and now the Coffee Party as instruments of civic organizing in this process. The Republican Party seems to be attempting to grab hold of the Tea Party movement and turn it into an election day force against Democrats vulnerable to elections in this cycle. At this point, the Coffee Party has not come that far and the Democratic Party has not made its move.
Where does this put Blacks? There is a healthy discussion going on in the Black community about the role of President Obama and his responsibility, or the lack of it, to the Black community. With the exception of Tavis Smiley, for all the folks who believe that they have to make him accountable to a Black agenda, they have not yet put a mechanism on the ground to do it.
There has been a long discussion about the efficacy of a Black political party and many years ago I joined Ron Daniels and others in an attempt to create one. The irony of that experiment was while half of the people attracted to the idea wanted it to serve as a power-base for elections, others wanted to only exist as a grass roots organizing tool. It eventually split apart along those lines.
Today, it is clear, however, that beyond the general discussion about accountability, there needs to be not only a place where you get down to the “nuts and bolts” about exactly who should be accountable about what, but how to develop effective methodologies of tactics and strategies to achieve it. Thus, whether you call it a party or a posse doesn’t matter, the point is that there is a necessity to mobilize to achieve the ends people are talking about.
A Black Party could enable the discussion about accountability to focus on the cabinet agencies where the federal budget exists to achieve some of the things needed by the Black community. Some of the specific programs being rolled out around jobs and a new focus on home foreclosure, etc., look good, but others such as “race to the top” as an educational program looks questionable to me —and the issue is that few of these programs across the board have been developed with the vigorous input and engagement of those for whom the programs are supposed to be designed.
A Black Party could also monitor and engage local initiatives more effectively. Where the rubber meets the road is in the local communities and there, mayors, county officials, state legislators and others presumably have some idea of what it takes to make Black communities whole, what resources are addressed to that task and what is lacking. A mobilized force could assist in this task of projecting community needs and monitoring whether or to what extent they are met.
What I am suggesting has been happening to some extent with the vigilance of our civil rights organizations, the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and the action of progressive Black officials at the national, state and local levels.
However, there should be a greater role for citizen engagement and a Black Party mechanism could be the key. What we are witnessing is the rush of media attention to these movements, a dynamic that gives them power and places our interests farther and farther into the background. Mobilizing would give us the power to regain the footing to address the truth of our condition.
(Dr. Ron Walters is a political analysts and professor emeritus of the University of Maryland, College Park.)