The right lessons as history is made

Manning Marable wrote that many of today’s African-American leaders drew the wrong lesson from the civil rights movement leading to the “messiah syndrome” a hope for a transcendant leader like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Since King wasn’t such a figure, but the spokesperson for a broad-based grassroots movement even from the earliest days in Montgomery, the personality based leaders have failed to match those successes.

As Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, nears the Democratic nomination for the White House, we have an opportunity to improve our historical analysis.  His election doesn’t mean:

—whites have cast aside racism

—he’s smarter than any black politician before him

—or he’s just lucky to follow the worst president in history

The lesson to be learned, just like the lessons of Montgomery, are lessons which can be applied by anyone in any political or public policy context.

Obama is being taken seriously because he has been able to raise money. When Rev. Al Sharpton and Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun ran in 2004, they didn’t break seven figures together.  I suggested then that either or both should have invested the energy in creating a black political action committee to give African-Americans the clout of an Emily’s List or moveon.org.

The counterargument has always been that black people are less affluent and can’t afford to make political donations.   In fact, they can’t afford not to. Just ask Native American tribes.

As important as voting has been to black progress, it is money that makes sure the right candidates get on the ballot and that they can afford to discuss the most important issues.

We’ve been down so long that it is a whole new experience to see a black candidate with the upper hand, particularly against a former First Lady and President.

But Obama is not Superman.   Unless other African-Americans begin to put together aggregations of political resources independently controlled in our communities, we’ll be sitting around wondering why he or any other President doesn’t pay us any attention.  He’ heading towards $300 million, but African-Americans as a group make that much in four hours.  We just don’t keep that much and we don’t wield our economic power the way we’ve wielded our votes in 2008.  It’s time to add a new habit.

If we don’t pay ourselves for the ability to influence public policy, it will not matter who the President is.  Money talks.

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