Topic: A Year of Reckoning
A Year of Reckoning
Over the next 12 months, we’ll see either an energized movement for economic and social justice or enough soul murder to last a generation. Which will it be?
By J.B. Borders
Like most people, I wish I had the gift of selective prophecy. I don’t want to know everything ahead of time – that would eliminate a lot of the excitement of living – but there are several matters whose conclusion I would love to know well in advance of their occurrence.
Take this year, for instance. I’d love to know now what we will all know on December 31, 2008 – and how we’ll be feeling about it.
Though every year is critical and crucial in the Black World, 2008 is a special year of reckoning and I can’t wait to see how things shake out.
Of course, lots of important things happen every year. But in some years, the things that happen have more of an impact than in others.
This year will be one of those years when some really big issues get settled internationally, nationally and locally.
For starters, we’ll find out if America is ready for a black president. And whether Barack Obama wins or loses his historic quest to become commander-in-chief of the free world, we’ll all end up discovering a lot more than we’d care to know about the underbelly of America’s political process.
I’m afraid we’re also going to find out how low some people will go to prevent a black man from being in a position to run the country. Sadly, there will be black folks in those ranks.
If Obama doesn’t win the presidency, how his supporters feel about the outcome may determine the mood of the nation for several years to come. Will the hordes of newcomers now flocking to the Obama camp be soured on electoral politics if their candidate gets beaten as a result of the kind of smear tactics the Clinton campaign deployed after the Iowa caucus?
If Obama wins the Democratic Party nomination, the Republican attack squads will make the Clinton dirty tricks look like kindergarten games. If the right-wing hate-mongering succeeds in getting another Republican elected to the White House, it will be interesting to see how close this nation comes to experiencing massive outbreaks of civil disturbance and violent strife.
Soul murder is destruction of the love of life in another human being. Some psychiatrists also use the term to describe the compulsion in abused children and adults to subject others to the “cruelty, violence, neglect, hatred, seduction, and rape” they have endured.
If the 2008 presidential campaign leaves millions of Americans feeling abused and violated, how permanent and injurious will the scarring be? I wish I knew that now.
Also, if Obama ends up as the vice presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket, how will that affect him and the global psyche? Will the VP slot be a true stepping stone to the presidency or just a pen to keep him corralled in until someone needs an inspiring speech? In short, will Obama become the Julian Bond of his generation – a major mind and a compelling voice marginalized in the American body politic and other corridors of power?
On the other hand, if by some hope and prayer Obama actually wins the presidency, what then?
All the same, I have a feeling the Obama Movement/Moment will not be the year’s biggest story. That dishonor will probably belong to the economy.
The looming recession has forced the Bush administration to redistribute wealth via short-term tax cuts to keep the economy afloat. Before year’s end, we’ll know if the stimulus worked.
Such moves wouldn’t have been necessary if the financial services sector hadn’t steadily become the slimiest thieves in history during the Bush years. These folks have aggressively unleashed oodles of unethical products into the marketplace since 2000. All were designed to do one thing only – swindle money from the American working class and retirees.
Whether it is outrageous credit card interest rates and fees, payday loans or sub-prime mortgages, the lords of Wall Street – where lying, cheating and stealing are the order of the day – have been intent the past few years on hustling the average citizen out of her or his hard-earned cash. And it has all been done with the blessing of the American government.
As a result, instead of building wealth, nearly 30 percent of black households have zero or negative wealth. And the sub-prime mortgage crisis will continue to create more losses in African-American households across the nation, through both predatory lending practices and a spiraling rate of foreclosure.
According to one study, black folks have lost between $71 billion and $92 billion over the past eight years as a result of excessive interest rates for home mortgages. Nearly 55 percent of African-American borrowers are saddled with these high-cost loans, according to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council.
Several of these contracts contain exorbitant pre-payment penalties. So even if a borrower earnestly tries to get out of debt, he or she has to pay huge additional fees. It amounts to 21st century sharecropping.
As more and more folks of all colors walk away from these loans, the losses will continue to rock the financial markets and depress the national economy. This is the year something has to be done. And I suspect Bush’s $150 billion tax rebate is just the start of a larger campaign to put rampant corporate greed in check.
While the national economic crisis will be softened in Louisiana and New Orleans because of high oil prices and the infusion of post-hurricane rebuilding funds, Afro-Louisianians and Afro-Orleanians will probably continue to catch hell all through 2008. We’ll have higher unemployment rates, lower business ownership rates and shorter life expectancies – unless we resolve to do something about our situation.
On the lighter side, we’ll also have a clear idea of how much Bobby-Ji actually dislikes and disrespects us well before the year ends. And at the rate things are going, he may be the only person of color in his administration.
We’ll also find out in the next few months whether Governor Jindal’s ethics reform will be substantive or merely cosmetic. I’m not holding my breath on this issue.
Closer to home, in 2008 we’ll also find out if New Orleans ends up with its first black female district attorney or chooses to go in another direction.
On the continuing anti-corruption front, the year started off with Oliver “Big O” Thomas heading to the big house and Jacques “No Door” Morial getting six months of home detention for misdemeanor tax evasion. Roy “Big Smooth” Rodney, who pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of tax evasion, will probably be given a probated sentence in the next couple of months.
Despite the hullabaloo when these investigations were launched, Morial and Rodney have won “moral victories” against the federal government, which has spent countless thousands of our tax dollars over the past five years trying to pin something on the former mayor’s brother and attorney. The government saved face by getting minor convictions. The defendants saved money by not having their cases continue to drag on. Such is the price of justice.
Several people are also betting that this is the year Stan “Pampy” Barre runs out of info to barter and gets assigned a bunk in some federal prison. Imagine the potential drama if Pampy does time in the same joint where Big O is paying his debt to society.
One thing that won’t be resolved in 2008 is the Bill Jefferson case. Whatever verdict gets handed down in the Virginia trial next month is likely to be appealed. So the case will drag on for another couple of years unless Jefferson gets a plea deal he can’t refuse.
The really interesting local development worth watching in 2008 is the role members of the Talented Fifth are stepping up to play to bring about greater levels of justice and equity in the city. People like former Criminal Court Judge Calvin Johnson come to mind.
Johnson, who retired from the bench at the end of 2007, is one of the attorneys working on a class action suit to have the state provide a decent level of health care to indigent Orleanians.
During his 17 years on the bench, Johnson helped create a drug court and a mental health court to provide more effective rehabilitative services than mere incarceration affords.
If more experienced senior black professionals actively join these struggles for the equitable rebuilding of New Orleans, I imagine the city could be transformed pretty quickly. If they – if we – continue to stand on the sidelines, however, the city will be wheedled from us so thoroughly that it will be generations before we recover the few gains we have made.
So, this is the critical year for solidifying a new mass movement for social and economic justice in New Orleans and around the globe. The old order is collapsing but the new one must be actively created.
The days can’t go by fast enough for me.