Bringing blacks and whites together

Sam Smith – One of the best ways to bring ethnicities together is to find a common cause. I learned this in the Sixties when black leaders in Washington fighting for civil rights also led on issues in which whites became major participants such as home rule, DC statehood and a battle against freeways. As a white 20 something I even became the media guy for a young black named Marion Barry, after participating not in a civil rights protest but in one against a public transit fare raise. A few years later, living east of the Capitol in a neighborhood 70% black I started a community newspaper at the urging of a minister who was organizing the ‘hood and had been trained by Saul Alinsky, one of the great organizers of modern times.

Here’s how Dylan Matthews described Alinsky in a 2016 article in Vox:

“One of Alinsky’s insights was to realize how many stakeholders there were to organize. He saw that the same grievances connected ordinary citizens, labor unions, churches, small businesses, and more — and if you could somehow get all those groups together, they were almost unstoppable. And he did get them together.

“Alinsky didn’t just theorize about organizing. He was, himself, an organizer. A criminologist by training, Alinsky lived in Chicago, and began his work in the Back of the Yards neighborhood in the 1930s. He created the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, a group bringing together unions, religious leaders, and other stakeholders in that area. At its first meeting, Alinsky biographer Sanford Horwitt writes, the council passed resolutions calling for a new recreation facility, for child nutrition and disease prevention programs, and to ask the Armour meatpacking company to compromise with the nascent meatpackers’ union. The council took on a permanent role in the community, and still exists.

“Alinsky then scaled up his model: he formed the Industrial Areas Foundation, a still-extant group that helps local groups like the Back of the Yards council organize and conducts trainings for organizers-to-be. IAF helped spread Alinsky’s tactics far beyond Chicago. The Community Service Organization, an IAF offshoot organizing Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, launched the careers of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.”

But such organizing would fade in the wake of what became known as identity politics, movements defined by their particularity rather than shared efforts helping a variety of people. Wikipedia cited scholar Sidney Tarrow as asserting “that identity politics can produce insular, sectarian, and divisive movements incapable of expanding membership, broadening appeals, and negotiating with prospective allies.”

In fact, there is plenty of room for both approaches, but the coalition strategy is stunningly weak at this time and identity politics is doing a much better job at creating anger than producing alternative results. The media, in particular, concentrates on reporting evils committed against blacks while hardly discussing what the cures might be.

One of these cures would be for blacks, latinos and whites to come together on working class issues. There is certainly plenty of common ground, including twice as many poor whites as there are poor blacks.

Here are just a few matters that could occupy such an effort

Rebuilding labor unions|
Diversion and inclusion in the work place
Work place conditions
Increase in minimum wage
Expanding cooperatives
Putting workers on corporate boards
Creating a national organization of working class Americans 

As blacks, latinos and whites start to work together on such issues they will discover that their ethnic background need not define their purpose or those with whom they can share their righteous causes. And we will get not only better places but better ethnic relations as well.