misleadership class, which is nearly indistinguishable from
its black business class, has struck again.
In a stunning coup, a mainline African American voting rights
group has been enlisted on the side of AT&T and other telecom
monopolies in their legislative push to privatize the Internet and
roll back hundreds of agreements with local communities that force
these monopolies to extend Internet and cable service to poor and
rural communities around the country.
A time-worn corporate technique for dishonestly manipulating
public opinion is to create what are called in the world of public
organizations and front
groups. The indispensable site SourceWatch.org spells it
out like this:
"An industry-funded organization
receives funding from a company or industry and often acts as a
mouthpiece for views that serve the industry's economic interests...
Industry-funded organizations come in many shapes and sizes... trade
associations, think tanks, non-profit advocacy groups, and media
outlets. Some of these organizations serve as ‘third parties’ for
public relations campaigns. The third party technique has been defined
by one PR executive as ‘putting your words in someone else's mouth.’”
"A front group... purports
to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party
or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The
front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third
party technique. For example, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)
claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to
choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is
a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage
industries, which provide all or most of its funding...”
For this legislative sales season, the telecommunications
monopolies have created a deceptively named corporate mouthpiece
called Hands Off the Internet. Its chief public spokesman is former Clinton
White House official Mike McCurry.
A look at the Hands Off member
organizations reveals a list of the usual suspects like the
American Conservative Union,
the Center for Individual Freedom,
and the notorious National
Association of Manufacturers. As bankrollers and hosts of the party, one
expects to see AT&T and Cingular listed, and they are.
Renting black Republicans is neither a new nor a big
deal, so the National
Black Chamber of Commerce, which recently fronted for the proposed
privatization of Social Security on the grounds that fewer African
Americans lived to collect it, is along for the ride too.
In their attention to detail the telecom monopolies have
even rented the traditional contingent of black preachers, constructed
them a web site and bestowed upon them the title of Ministerial Alliance Against the
BC was quite surprised, however to see one of the mainstays
of black voting rights activism listed among the members of the
group: the National Coalition on Black Civic
Participation. How and why did this happen? What does it mean for NCBCP and for what remains
of the civil rights movement?
Why Network Neutrality is a Black Issue
April 27, BC published two stories about CBC member Bobby
Rush's sponsorship of
this year's noxious telco legislation.
We explained how the Rush-Barton Act, also called the COPE
Act or HR 5252, would
kill off public access TV, strip towns and cities of the right to
force cable monopolies to serve blacker and poorer areas in return
for being able to do business in the wealthier parts of town, and
allow companies to charge web sites like this one for allowing content
or email to reach users. We called attention to the acceptance of a million dollar donation
by a tentacle of AT&T to a not for profit organization associated
with the congressman. All
this earned us a call that morning from a Chicago-based defender
of the congressman.
was making a big mistake, the caller told us, by leading with the
issue of network neutrality. Our
deeply misguided caller accused us of playing into the hands of
white media activists. Network
neutrality, she said again and again in the course of an hour long
conversation, was just not "our issue.”
when a black member of congress accepts a million dollar telco donation
for a supposed community-based project in his district, and turns
up as co-sponsor of telco legislation to redline and disempower black communities nationwide,
along with suppressing everybody’s freedom of access to the Internet,
it is indeed a black issue. When
AT&T rents black ministers and black Republican sock puppets
like the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and even recruits the
National Coalition on Black Civic Participation to its team, network
neutrality has very definitely become a black issue.
incongruity of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
finding itself in bed with AT&T, the American Conservative Union
and the National Association of Manufacturers is downright striking
when you look at who serves on the NCBCP Board of Directors. To
start with, there’s Dr. Howard Dean, whose campaign for president
would have been impossible without a free and open Internet. There are luminaries like Dr. Joseph Lowery and Dr. Ron Walters
of the African American Leadership Institute.
We counted at least a dozen representatives of labor unions,
including an assistant to AFL-CIO president John Sweeny, the UAW
SEIU, and both national teachers unions
and the A.
Philip Randolph Institute.
After an NCBCP staffer assured
BC on the phone that “Yes, we signed off on that,” BC phoned and
emailed more than a dozen NCBCP board members affiliated with labor
unions. Of the six that
returned our calls or emails, all claimed to be unaware of the connection
between NCBCP and the telco front group.
Those few we had actual conversations with before this article
was posted expressed horror at the company NCBCP seemed to be keeping,
and some said they’d be taking the matter up with NCBCP executive
director Melanie Campbell.
Our assumption is that some NCBCP staff and board members
committed this act of treachery against the interests of African
Americans in return for a sizable donation with which to continue
some of its actual good and commendable work. As disturbing as this is, it may not be the
first piece of dirty money NCBCP has solicited or accepted.
NCBCP prominently displayed a Wal-Mart banner at a summer
event on voting rights it held in Washington DC, prompting questions
at that time from some people close to the organization.
BC cannot say with any certainty what Wal-Mart is getting
for its money from NCBCP, but the basic motives of Wal-Mart, and
the mission of anyplace with a name like “National Coalition on
Black Civic Participation” seem fundamentally and irreconcilably
at odds. We hope that NCBCP's
board members will find the time to untangle these questions soon.
“This is something they did without my knowledge, probably
without the knowledge of most of us,” a union member of the organization's
board told BC. “If we knew about this, or about an NCBCP affiliation with Wal-Mart
or the National Association of Manufacturers, I'm sure we'd have
had a lot to say about it.”
In the three decades of NCBCP's existence, labor unions
have consistently been among its principal contributors.
That support threatened to falter in recent times, partly
due to changes in campaign finance laws that favored other types
of organizations, and partly as a result of cuts in those kind of
expenditures by some unions and by the AFLCIO.
of what we call the “black
business leadership” class
consulted their speed-dial lists, opened up their rolodexes and
delivered the National Coalition and its hard-won credibility into
the hands of AT&T, and of Wal-Mart, and who knows who else?
Whatever else you can say about this bunch, they know an
opportunity to pick up an undervalued property when they see it.
In a BC cover story last October titled Where
the Left Lives, we cited a recent study by the Bay Area Center
for Voting Research of 250 American cities ranking them in order
from most to least conservative and most to least “liberal.”
The conclusions were not the least bit surprising to us at
“The nation’s remaining liberals
are overwhelming African Americans.
“The BACVR study that ranks the political ideology of every major city
in the country shows that cities with large black populations dominate
the list of liberal communities. The research finds that Detroit
is the most liberal city in the United States and has one of the
highest concentrations of African American residents of any major
city. Over 81% of the population in Detroit is African American,
compared to the national average of 12.3%. In fact, the average
percentage of African American residents in the 25 most liberal
cities in the country is 40.3%, more than three times the national
“The list of America’s most liberal cities reads like a who’s who of prominent
African American communities. Gary, Washington D.C., Newark, Flint,
Cleveland, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Birmingham have long had
prominent black populations. While most black voters have consistently
supported Democrats since the 1960s, it is the white liberals that
have slowly withered away over the decades, leaving African Americans
as the sole standard bearers for the left….
The message seems clear enough.
If labor values its only stable base constituency, and its
own future, it must invest more heavily in the grassroots organizations
that work in and for black America. Otherwise some of those grassroots organizing
efforts will die, some will be stillborn, and too many others will
be subverted by corporate dollars.
Finally, if network neutrality
becomes a black issue when telcos can buy, sell and rent black organizations,
when a black congressmen accepts a million dollar telco donation
and sponsors legislation that allows the industry to redline and
disinvest in our communities, that's a black issue too.
Bobby Rush, in his statement
answering the Chicago Sun-Times offers the transparent legalistic
defense to conflict of interest charges, that since the donation
was from a single company and the legislation benefits several telcos,
no conflict exists. What
else can you expect from a legislative body that elects its Speaker,
its majority and minority leaders not on the basis of who has the
most compelling vision for the nation and its people, but who can
raise the largest number of corporate dollars?
To anyone not mired in the culture of corrupt public officialdom,
Rush's position reeks of a conflict of interest, whether it meets
the legal definition or not.
congressman, his donors, and their front organization, Hands Off
the Internet claim that handing over the Internet to private corporations
and eliminating network neutrality will lower the cost and improve
the quality of Internet service for everybody.
This is nothing short of an outright lie.
According to Stanford University's Dr.
Lawrence Lessig in a recent interview with Robert McChesney, broadband Internet access
in France, Japan and South Korea and several other countries is
cheaper, faster and more widely available than in the U.S. In every case, they do this by making the provision of service to
everyone law and public policy, not leaving it up to “the market”
or the whims of private corporations.
whole “free competition” and “leaving it up to the market” argument
flies in the face of how AT&T and other telco and cable monopolies
came into existence and how they actually conduct their business.
As the Univeristy of Illinois's Dr. Robert McChesney explained
recently on Democracy
”...the phone companies and the cable companies,
which provide Internet access to 98% of Americans and almost all
businesses, are viewing – you know, they are companies that were
set up by the government. They're not free market companies. Their entire
business model has been based on getting monopoly license franchises
from the government for phone and cable service and then using it
to make a lot of money. And they’re using their political leverage
now to try to write a law basically which lets them control the
”...what they want to do desperately
is be in a situation where they can rank order websites. And websites
that come through the fastest to us, to the users of the Internet,
(will be) ...the ones that pay them money or the ones they own.
And websites that don't pay them come through slower, much harder
to get, or in some cases, they’ll have the power to take them off
the Internet altogether.”
”...there’s no technological
justification for this. There’s no economic justification. It's
pure corrupt crony capitalism. They're basically using their political
leverage to change this so they get a huge new revenue stream, and
it gives them an inordinate amount of power over the Internet.”
In the interview, McChesney also discusses the impact
of cable and Internet service to minority communities and how this
will be affected by Rep. Rush's legislation.
”...one of the core fundamental aspects of telecommunications policies
historically... was the requirement that the phone companies, if
they were going to get these monopoly licenses to make a pile of
money, they had to serve the entire community. They couldn't discriminate
against neighborhoods, against cities. They had to give universal
access...they hate that. They basically want to serve just wealthy
and middle class communities and skip poor and rural communities.
And they’re trying to write it into the law that they can basically...
redline, that they can be discriminatory about which communities
they offer their best services to and only offer in the most lucrative
Congressman Rush concludes his defense by observing
that “The real conflict here is America's unwillingness to invest
much needed capital in (oppressed) communities like Englewood.” His legislation though, allows telcos to deny our communities investment
in their own communications infrastructure. Cheap, ubiquitous and comprehensive broadband
access is as necessary to the economic well-being of our community
as good streets.
By the time this BC article is printed, almost 700,000
Americans will have signed the petition against the telecom bill
that Bobby Rush co-sponsored and NCBCP has endorsed.
We urge any BC reader who has not yet done so to add your
name to the list. By
the time it comes to the House floor later this month, there may
be a million signatures on the petition against it, despite the
fact that no mainstream news outlet will cover the story.
Whether or not you’ve already emailed, do call your own representative
in Congress today and tell him you oppose HR 5252.
Thanks to our readers and hundreds of thousands like you,
the tide is turning against this atrocious legislation.
They say that the other superpower in the world today
is public opinion, and that the only force stronger than organized
money is organized people. Given
the wave of public revulsion at this naked grab for power and profit
on the part of the telecom industry, it’s not at all too late for
Bobby Rush to find a way to withdraw his sponsorship.
And it’s not too late for NCBCP to remove itself from the
telecom front organization, and to undertake a general reconsideration,
in light of its historic mission, of who it takes money from and
BC Editor Bruce Dixon can be contacted at