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Ford: The black left has been comatose since Obama became president but “Black is Back”

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PAUL JAY: Welcome back to The Real News Network. We’re talking to Glen Ford. He joins us from Plainfield, New Jersey. Glen’s the executive editor of Black Agenda Report. Thanks for joining us, Glen.

GLEN FORD: Thank you.

JAY: So, in the first segment of our interview, we talked about race in the health care debate. We talked a bit about the issue of Obama’s health-care plan and what’s turning out to be a fairly sweetheart deal with PhRMA, and likely with the insurance companies, which has led to a lot of criticism of President Obama from people who supported him in the election and some who didn’t who said—well, I guess they’re now saying, “I told you so,” because they supported people like Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader. So, Glen, talk to us about this organization you’re now involved with called Black Is Black.

FORD: On September 12, individuals and organizations, a group of us, came together to form the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace, and Reparations. We’re going to have our first inaugural rally and march on the White House on November 7 in Washington, DC. The purpose is quite simple and basic. The black left has been asleep, comatose, since Barack Obama became a serious consideration for president. And during that period of, oh, I guess, the last two years, what we have seen is a disaster, a worldwide disaster of historical proportions, and yet there has been no response from the black left. Now, by my calculations, over the decades, black folks make up numerically about half of the Americans who could reasonably be considered progressive, and historically we have been in the forefront of progressive politics. We certainly are the most antiwar ethnic group in the country. But we understand the need for government to right social wrongs and take the side of the people. And so our absence not just numerically but politically from a progressive movement is a crippling absence. But we must reinvigorate this movement on our own terms through our own independent organizing. And that’s what the Black Is Back coalition for social justice, peace, and reparations is trying to do.

JAY: So, specifically, what type of demands would you be making at the march in November? What are the objectives of the movement?

FORD: Well, of course, we’re an anti-imperialist organization. That means out of all the wars that Obama is getting us into and continuing from his predecessors [sic]. Certainly we are speaking here today about breaking the back of finance capital, which is in control of this government, that is in control of this administration. Here we have, according to a government inspector general, a government that has dedicated at least $23 trillion to shoring up finance capital in one way or another, through loans, through guarantees, through outright just cash money. This is not only unprecedented; this is a world-churning development. And yet black folks, the black left, has had no very public critique of this, has not engaged in organizing our folk to confront this administration and its pro-banker policies. Nothing is more important than those two goals: stop these wars and get rid of this rule of the bankers.

JAY: To what extent are you being heard in African-American communities? I know, certainly up until recently, at least, it was very difficult to have a critique of President Obama in most African-American communities in the United States.

FORD: It has been. Some of us have kept up the drumbeat, and we’ve had an ever-increasing audience, which is, of course, quite logical. Disasters occur month by month, and black folks are bearing the brunt of the disaster. And this reflexive black loyalty, this deep and abiding desire that this president succeed, cannot overcome the real facts of the devastation that is gripping black America. So of course those activists who traditionally have been out front know it’s time to get back out front, and we’re trying to create a focus for that to happen.

JAY: The argument you hear most commonly from people within the community, but also people who are kind of in the inner circles of Washington and understand how Washington politics work—at least they think they do—is that he’s dealing with a real and very ingrained, systemic power structure. He’s dealing with a country that almost voted—almost as many people voted for John McCain as voted for him. He’s dealing with a real political process, where the Senate can block just about any kind of progressive reform, that he’s in the reality of the American political world and that it’s easy to kind of critique him from the side for not being, you know, pure enough or reformist enough. But he’s dealing with the real world, and you guys aren’t.

FORD: That’s an analysis that’s not based on facts. It flies in the face of facts. Let’s look at the facts. The overwhelming majority of the American people were opposed to the bailout of the banks during the last days of George Bush’s tenure—opposed. Certainly his own party was opposed. Most Democrats were opposed. Polls showed the American people were opposed. But what did Barack Obama do? He rallied the Democratic troops and forced passage of that bailout. Did he have to do that? The scenario you just mentioned, these different forces that are creating a situation in which he has to walk down a certain line, that’s not the way it was. He would have easily, easily been politically covered in opposing the initial bailout, but he does not. He smooths the way for that bailout, and then creates the circumstances as president for an even larger one, and then increases the power of the Federal Reserve to dedicate unlimited amounts of the nation’s treasure to propping up the casino that is Wall Street. He didn’t have to do that. Who is making him do this? Are the American people demanding that? Was the bailout then popular? Is it popular now? No.

JAY: I guess you could make the same argument on health care, because many polls have shown a majority of people not only favor the public option but probably favor a single-payer option.

FORD: That’s right. And Barack Obama’s efforts have only served to confuse the situation and dilute that which had for many years been a very solid majority support for something like single-payer health care. Now—

JAY: There is a political reality.

FORD: —[inaudible] confused, and they’re confused because Barack Obama has been identified as the real health-care reform advocate, although he does not advocate single-payer, and people don’t know who they’re supposed to support. It’s the confusion factor that he has put into this mix that has actually diluted what had been solid majorities for real reform.

JAY: Well, but there is one political reality, which, if you’re going to pass a law, the Senate’s going to have to pass it, whatever opinion polls are. How does he deal with the reality of a Senate that seems extremely really conservative?

FORD: You elect presidents because they have a bully pulpit, and the very fact of that pulpit and that power means they can change the chemistry of the legislature. To look in a snapshot at where the Senate is now and then declare that that is where it has always been and where it always had to be doesn’t take into consideration the real dynamics of politics. If this had been a president that was really pushing for fundamental health care, for fundamental reform, then he certainly would have had an effect on at least the senators from his own party. But what does he do? He invests, in fact, the power of the White House in the most conservative elements of the Democratic Party, so that Max Baucus and the White House position become one. Did the White House position evolve into Baucus? Or in fact were they actually going down the same road all the time?

JAY: So Black Is Back is going to take take these issues on?

FORD: Well, of course—the same issues that are part of the historical black political agenda. Black folks, as I said, have always been opposed to US military adventures abroad. Nothing has changed, except that the commander-in-chief is black, and that has induced a great level of confusion as to how to proceed. Black people have always been in favor of government involvement in reshaping society. That hasn’t changed. What we have, however, is a president that, rather than even pay lip service to the black situation, tells us in Reaganesque fashion that a rising tide lifts all boats. Well, we’ve heard that all before, and all of us know—and I’m talking about people who are certainly not as radical as me or other people in the Black Is Back coalition—all of us know that a rising tide doesn’t lift black boats [inaudible].

JAY: Well, speaking of—the current rising tide is a rising tide of unemployment, and as unemployment grows, certainly African Americans have a higher percentage of that unemployment. What’s the mood in the communities? How patient are people going to be with President Obama if unemployment continues to be so serious?

FORD: The mood is one of despair, and it is the responsibility of leadership to direct people out of despair and into action. And that’s why, first and foremost, the project, the Black Is Back Coalition, is to gather these various leadership organizations to figure out how to create a lasting movement to confront power. The only thing that has changed is that there is a black face on the power structure. But power is acting just as it has always acted, and power never concedes anything without a demand, as Frederick Douglass told us. We have not been making demands. We’re going to start that on November 7.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.

FORD: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Glen Ford is a distinguished radio-show host and commentator. In 1977, Ford co-launched, produced and hosted America's Black Forum, the first nationally syndicated Black news interview program on commercial television. In 1987, Ford launched Rap It Up, the first nationally syndicated Hip Hop music show, broadcast on 65 radio stations. Ford co-founded the Black Commentator in 2002 and in 2006 he launched the Black Agenda Report. Ford is also the author of The Big Lie: An Analysis of U.S. Media Coverage of the Grenada Invasion.