Thursday, October 11, 2007

Unity Equals Survival

Recently we have spoken with some institutional, thought and political leaders in the African American community. We were actually shocked to learn how possible it is for them to exercise decisive power on behalf of ordinary citizens. Citizens have all the means but have not yet arrived at the collective will to strike a blow for independence and self-determination. As a result the real power and the powerful shots concerning who gets what and when in Newark are being called by people and institutions that care little for the people affected by their decisions.

Not one of the individuals that we spoke with was happy about the condition they found themselves in. Again, we were surprised at the level of discomfort they expressed. They clearly understand that their roles are being compromised because there is a lack of cohesion. They know that scripts to direct and govern our community are being developed and dictated. They understand that their span of control over their own areas of responsibility have been limited by more powerful players. Our leaders are in need of rescue.

All over Newark people are deeply concerned about the direction of our city. Whether it’s the social, political, educational or economic sphere, there is deep concern. Our fears about the future are fed by a lack of understanding about who is really in charge. The State of New Jersey is in charge of the schools, criminals are in charge of the streets, business and higher level political leaders have massive influence over governance and economics, and those who hold titles and positions of supposed leadership spend too much time dancing to external tunes. Those who dare try, have to scheme to do right by the people.

The community is reacting. It is a simmer moving toward a boil. We are being left out and soon to be driven out unless we take control of our own future. But it would be a critical mistake to focus on the wrong target out of a sense of frustration. Our first and most critical task is to organize and establish communications across the fake lines of historical, political and personal demarcation that have been deliberately and cleverly drawn between us. We have to grow up and stop fussing and fighting over inconsequentialities. We have to be willing to compromise. These are traits that we readily admire in others but are ourselves too ego driven to practice. Those who won’t make a legitimate and earnest effort to establish a rational basis for collective action must be isolated. They are a problem that just might not be resolvable. Let’s not waste time on them. Let’s move on.

Once we develop a reasonable framework for action we have to encourage leaders to work together to achieve goals clearly beneficial to Newarkers. Our resources and institutions must be preserved and advanced in ways that favor residents. Would be benefactors and patrons will always be with us but should not control our growth and development. Wealth creation should be a real goal, not a shell constructed of unachievable platitudes.

The corporate and foundation communities control Newark. We are on decision-making lockdown. Our range of influence stops at the perimeter of decision making. There is no one sitting in the halls of real power as our surrogate. We are virtually voiceless where major decisions are made. It does not have to be this way. But change will require great courage—something that has been in short supply among our leaders for a long time.

Here’s how it works: Many corporations create foundations to support activities of community-based organizations. They also conduct leadership seminars and workshops and hand pick who they want to attend. In many cases they ordain the leaders of these organizations and grant them fundability authenticity. They also spend considerable time cultivating the leaders of these organizations to ensure that their actions are predictable. This constellation of all-stars represents a formidable front line assault against substantial legitimate community interests. Whenever corporations take actions or express preferences that are counter to the community’s interests, they can predict that the organizations they fund will not support the community position. Controlling the lifeline of up and coming leaders and the organizations they head effectively neutralizes resistance when our interests are at stake. This strategy has and continues to be effective.

Corporate-grown as opposed to community-grown leadership has taken a relatively firm hold on community expression. Freeing ourselves from this exploitation will require sacrifice. We know something is gravely wrong but have found ourselves defenseless. Unfortunately, we have been operating with a savior complex. And that is why we have taken only a few tentative steps to save ourselves. We have been longing for someone(s) to come along and extract us from suffering and abuse. It’s time to wake up. It’s time for us to organize into a formidable force that can demand a change in behavior that favors the community. We are certainly doomed if we fail to know that unity equals survival.

Attacking our institutional leaders is a shortsighted error. They must be encouraged to cooperate with one another. Allowing others to drive wedges between them only diminishes the possibility that the enormous resources that they control can ever be jointly used to benefit the people. If we truly come together, they will run together. Our success is in an effective bottom up strategy. Expecting top led liberation is fruitless. It cannot happen. Our leaders are in need of rescue. And the future really is ours if we dare.

We must insist on a better deal. Our leaders must negotiate that deal for us. We must give our leaders the support they need to take an iron fist in a velvet glove to the negotiating table to hammer out agreements that protect the community’s future. We will remain without power as long as we remain without organization. Every entity that seeks to minimize our opportunities is well organized. Opposing them in our current state is foolish behavior on the road to predictable defeat. The supremacy of oppressive forces relies heavily upon fear and fragmentation among the oppressed. This dynamic runs deep in Newark…especially among our leadership.

October 10, 2007


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