Saturday, September 26, 2015

Extreme to mainstream

There is a new documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution and it gives Carimah Townes a chance to show that their extremism of the 1960s has become mainstream.

The militant methods of the Black Panthers made the white power structure of the time quite nervous, as shown by the FBI campaign to destroy the Panthers. Of course, the Panthers were seen as extreme. Townes lists three ways the Panther message doesn't look so extreme today.

The Black Panthers made a big deal of watching cops. Their communities were being brutalized by cops, so they studied law and due process, then patrolled the streets, watching the cops to prevent, or at least document police brutality. And now, due to Ferguson and Baltimre, lots of people are quick to whip out their cell phones to record police misdeeds. There are even phone apps to prevent videos from being tampered.

The Black Panthers called for the end of mass incarceration, saying trials were not fair and the justice system was stacked against black people. That was before the prison population ballooned 790%. That call was seen as laughable. Now it is a top topic in American discussion. There are several bills before Congress and state legislatures to aim for smarter sentencing and for restorative justice and rehabilitation rather than simple incarceration. These bills are supported by Democrats and Republicans.

The Black Panthers knew police brutality was only part of the problem. Their holistic vision included full employment, decent housing, education, and free health care. Yes, full social services, such as feeding breakfast to school children. That vision is now called intersectionality and is a hot buzzword. Racial justice is now a progressive idea, no longer considered fanatical and dangerous.

Terrence Heath reminds us there is still much to do. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said:
Our current approach to fighting poverty, though well-intended, is failing too many Americans. This disappointing data, five years into an economic recovery, underscores the need for a new effort to modernize our country’s safety net programs.
Oh, yes, when Ryan says "modernize" he means "eliminate." With that in mind, let's go back to the first part of that statement and turn it around. The current approach to fighting poverty is actually keeping a great number of people out of poverty. Social Security keeps 26 million out of poverty. And then there is food stamps, housing subsidies, Earned Income credit, and unemployment insurance which also keep lots of people out of poverty.

However, Ryan is right. The current system is failing too many people. I'll jump in here and finish the sentence: … because the GOP makes sure these programs are underfunded.

Heath looks at it a different way. He notes:

* Yeah, there are lots more jobs in the economy, three million added last year. But it is possible to have one of these new jobs and still be in poverty. It is time for a raise in the minimum wage.

* Equal pay would mean the poverty rate for working single mothers would fall by nearly half.

* Women's risk of poverty jumps dramatically in her childbearing years. We need guaranteed maternity (and paternity) leave and ensured paid sick leave.

* Mass incarceration hits the families of prisoners hard. The main wage-earner is gone and the family can't afford the costs, such as phone calls and visits to the prisoner. We need to end for-profit prisons and actually pass those smarter sentencing bills.

It isn't just the underfunding of the social safety net. Heath says we also need justice to stop demonizing the neediest. We need to introduce justice into our policies.

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