There's been a lot of talk in the progressive community, that is, in the mostly white progressive community, that Black people are not pulling their weight in opposing Bush's war on Iraq.

I hear these thoughts on KPFK radio in Los Angeles. I heard them recently at the Socialist Scholar's Conference in New York where I "appeared" to be the only African-American panelist. I hear it from my fellow Greens. Why aren't Black people marching against war?

Let's look at these allegations and try to determine if Black politicians, Black people, and the Black media are avoiding the issue of war on Iraq, or worse, are for the war on Iraq.

Last year, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., a Black woman, was the only House member who voted against a resolution authorizing President Bush to use force against anyone associated with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Lee remains committed against the war. She was one of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus who took to the House floor to address the conflict with Iraq on the Tuesday before the U.S. attack.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Chairman of the Black Caucus, tried unsuccessfully to meet with President Bush to address the war.

Rep. Donald Payne, D-N.J. asked that we seek everything in our power to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Iraq.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., questioned whether the United States had set aside the search for Osama bin Laden and his top lieutenants. "We are worried that the war on terrorism is taking a back seat to a pre-emptive strike on Saddam Hussein," Waters said. "Yes, every country should be able to defend itself, but we're in no danger from Iraq. Striking Saddam is not fighting terrorism."

Former Washington, DC Congressman Walter Fauntroy, just back from a 10-day peace mission to Iraq, said many African Americans oppose the prospect of war because it would divert resources from more important programs at home. "We know that every bomb that explodes is robbing our children and their families of five things: Income, education, health care, housing and justice."

OK, it seems that Black politicians unlike White politicians (except for the voice of Presidential Hopeful Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who attempted to rescind the authorized use of force given to President Bush by 81 Democrats and 215 Republicans last October) are speaking out against the war. Well, then it must be the Black person on the street who won't speak out against the war. Where are they on the war issue?

On March 5, 2003 the Southwest Wave in Los Angeles asked this question of Black people. "Do you favor this war?" The answer was 100% "No". Every Black person I ask on the street, except for one religious fanatical friend who's waiting for the second coming of Christ, is against this war.

OK, maybe it's not the people on the street that we're talking about. It must be the Black newspapers that won't speak out against the war. Where are they on the war issue?

"It is now time for us as citizens to get involved to express our views on this expensive war issue. If you believe we are going to take care of soldiers after the war, ask any veteran standing on freeways asking for money for food and standing on street corners waving you down to get your car washed." - Hardy Brown, Editor, Black Voices.

"Some of the most important anti-war efforts - the city council resolutions opposing war - have taken place in cities where whites are a minority. In fact, of the 25 cities with population of over 100,000 that have passed anti-war resolutions, 15 have white minorities. Of these 15, six have an African American majority and six an African American plurality. For the past four decades, Black elected officials and mass organizations have expressly linked issues of domestic social justice and peaceful international relations. Polling evidence is conclusive over two generations: Anti-war politics is mainstream Black politics." - The Black Commentator.

"Congress should repeal [the] Iraq Resolution, Bush should come before Congress if he seeks to go to war." - Exodus Newsmagazine.

"More than half of the African American population joins with Fauntroy in opposition to a war with Iraq. Just 44 percent of African Americans favor military action in Iraq, compared with 67 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Whites." - The Sacramento Observer.

"At the National Student Strike and Peace March in Oakland, California on March 5th, aggressive police attacked the peaceful, singing crowd of young and elderly people of color with their motorcycles and weapons. Two reporters from the SF Bay View newspaper were injured and then also arrested." - San Francisco Bay View.

OK, it looks like Black politicians unlike most White politicians, Black people on the street unlike most White people on the street, and Black newspapers unlike almost every mainstream white newspaper, are firmly against the war on Iraq. Why then is the white anti-war movement accusing Black people of not pulling our weight against the war?

The answer to this question lies in the specter of racism firmly entrenched in America.

Still it is true. Black people are not represented in demonstrations in numbers approaching our proportion of the population. And for good reason!

1. Black people remain under the prison industrial complex in proportions far greater than our proportion of the population.

2. White activists do not share leadership with, and are not willing to follow the lead of people and organizations of color.

3. The movement against the war on Iraq fails to recognize the continuing war on communities of color. White activists continue to ignore issues that speak to the experiences and struggles of people of color.

4. Current demonstrations, disproportionately white and middle class, are done by those who can most easily take the time and expense to travel to major anti-war events.

Even given that the above is true, we should ask the questions posed by The Black commentator: "Why should it be assumed that African Americans will come when white people call, for any cause? Have white people responded to Black-led movements seeking broad social change in anything approaching whites' proportion of the population?"

The historical answer is, No!

"It is true that older whites participated in the 1963 March on Washington and in the civil rights movement. Yet whites were only a fraction of the quarter-million strong crowd, [and the civil rights movement], while outnumbering African Americans in the general population eight to one.

"A more intelligent question needs to be asked, "Why don't African Americans rally to Black-led causes more often and in greater numbers?"

And, where are the whites in these movements?

Whites could have prevented the social harms in this country to people of color - the prison industrial complex, the death penalty, the lack of education, housing, and medical care. Yet, these movements are not led by the millions of anti-war protesters who march for another "community of color" thousands of miles away. Don't misunderstand me. The war on Iraq is important, very important but it is not more important than the war on communities of color that whites have condoned and promoted for the last 30 years.

Even if Black men wanted to march against the war, one out of three cannot because they are under the yoke of the prison industrial complex. This system ensures we are kept out of the democratic process.

The prison industrial complex in California boomed under Governor Jerry Brown, was expanded by President Bill Clinton, and is maintained and continues to grow under Governor Gray Davis. Do I need to point out the obvious? The massa is white.

The U.S. Senate had an opportunity last year to return Americans back to our "Democracy" with Senate Bill 565. Senate Bill 565 would have restored voting rights for ex-felons. One out of every 3 Black men is in prison, on parole, or under some form of prison supervision. Yet 24 Senate Democrats, including Dianne Feinstein from California, voted to deny ex-felons the right to vote. In California, ex-felons already have the right to vote but Feinstein still voted "no". Most felons in California's prisons are there for non-violent felonies, largely drug-related. The drugs were allowed into the inner cities by the CIA and the Department of Justice in the 1980's.

Where is the white progressive community in this fight?

Black people who would be marching against the war "live in fear of becoming too visible to authorities that treat every young Black as a probationer."

Two weeks ago in Oakland, large numbers of Black and Latino youth from the hood came out and voiced their opinion about the War. Police aggressively retaliated. They ran over the youth with police motorcycles even though the youth demonstrated peacefully.

Anti-war demonstrations also took place in San Francisco during rush hour that day but in San Francisco, a contingent of mostly white youth who took their antiwar protest to the streets and blocked a main intersection causing traffic to back up were not rolled over by police motorcycles.

Americans live in very different worlds. In much of Black America, police state conditions have existed for some time and people of color are disproportionately subjected to poor schools, inadequate jobs, poor health care, and poor housing. The White anti-war movement needs to recognize these facts, and work with Black activists to bring an end to America's war on our communities.

Donna Jo Warren is a native of South Central Los Angeles and a former Green Party candidate for Lt. Governor of California ( She may be reached at [email protected].

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Issue Number 35
March 27, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
Onward Embedded Soldiers - The corporate media’s deputized war coverage

War and the Great White Disinformation Machine by Dr. Kweli Nzito

The Issues
Baraka: "Condoleezza’s a Skeezza"... Affirmative action hangs in the balance... The inevitable clash with Iran

Guest POET
Operation Putrid Smell By Rodney D. Coates, Ph.D.



Commentaries in Issue 34 March 20, 2003:

Cover Story
They have reached too far
Bush’s road leads to ruin - for himself and his Pirates

3 Guest Commentators
3 Faces of Shock, Awe and Death
1 - Jimmy Mack, When Are You Comin' Back? - The real price of war - By Jorge Mariscal
2 - Colin Powell: A hawk with smooth talons - By Paul Rockwell
3 - Nos Morituri Te Salutamus: Salute of Iraqi Citizens to the Coalition of the Willing - Submitted by Roldan Tomasz Suárez

The Issues
Cynthia McKinney on patriotism... Conyers studying impeachment... Marching for action, affirmatively

Frederick Douglass denounces Bush... Dream Black ticket for '04... Phony, funny Black "fronts"... BC a hit in UK, Greece

You can read any past issue of The Black Commentator in its entirety by going to the Past Issues page.