The true nature of Republican “outreach” to African Americans is revealed in their furious attempts to impose school vouchers on a population that resoundingly rejects them: the people of Washington, DC. With utter contempt for Black public opinion – and for democracy itself – the Bush men bluster, bribe and bludgeon the District, intent on creating a national showcase for school privatization in a mostly Black city.

During decades of urban struggles, nobody Black ever marched for private school vouchers, a scheme born in Dixie to fund “segregation academies” for whites fleeing school desegregation. Fermented and refined for years in the think tanks of the racist rich, southern “massive resistance” has morphed into the even more ambitious school voucher offensive, whose object is nothing less than the destruction of public education.

“We see that the goal is to force out public schools, not encourage them to improve,” says Melody Webb, head of Stop D.C. Vouchers. “DC students will become the casualties of a crusade to impose vouchers at all costs.“

Washington is, in some respects, the nation’s largest plantation – and the Bush men have bought the Black Mayor, Anthony Williams, for a promise and a smile. (See “Black Spinelessness in High Places: DC Mayor sells out on vouchers – for nothing!” May 8) So naturally bowed is Williams’ back, he managed to stand up for less than two months before crumbling to White House demands that he accept millions of dollars in voucher money. The Republican Congress in January earmarked $75 million for voucher programs in several cities, giving not a damn that voters across the nation have rejected such schemes at every opportunity presented to them. As recently as last November, a Zogby poll showed 85 percent of DC Blacks and 76 percent of District voters in general, opposed vouchers. No matter. The White House discovered that even its dull-witted Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, could convince Mayor Williams to betray his constituents. Williams agreed to embrace vouchers, in return for vague assurances that the public schools would also see large increases in federal funds – a formula that can be found nowhere in the voucher crowd’s grand strategy, existing only in Williams’ mind.

Cascading vertebrae

Predictably, a few other spines collapsed on the City Council and the school board – this is a plantation-like place, remember – providing a compliant little quorum that the Bush men could pretend to negotiate with. DC's non-voting Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton cried “sell-out!” but that didn’t dissuade Williams and his band of peddlers, who imagined that they were engaged in serious palaver. However, just as Williams betrayed his constituents, the Republicans did the same to him – poetic plantation justice.

In February, Arizona GOP Congressman Jeff Flake introduced legislation to subsidize $3,750 yearly in private DC school tuitions for 1600 students. Melody Webb’s Stop D.C. Vouchers group takes credit for derailing the Flake bill, through an email and petition campaign. Immediately, Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis stepped forward with his D.C. Parental Choice Incentive Act of 2003, doubling the tuition subsidy to an even larger number of students – and not a cent for the public schools.

“The Flake plan is off,” said Webb, in a June 24 press release, “but like a hydra-headed monster the voucher proponents in Congress have grown a scarier, more powerful head for its voucher-for-D.C. efforts, in the form of Davis' new-and-improved plan."

Rep. Davis has a whip to crack.  As chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Davis “has unilateral control over legislation concerning D.C. in Congress,” Webb explains. In a display of cynicism and overweening arrogance that is the hallmark of his political breed, Davis dangles the possibility of backing voting rights for the District in the House, in exchange for vouchers. (Currently, DC’s Delegate cannot vote on the House floor.) Citizens of Washington are asked to accept the imposition of vouchers into their local school system against their democratic will, as the price for democratic rights on the U.S. House floor.

What racist gall! Yet, the imitation of a Mayor, Anthony Williams, is not insulted. Rather, he is encouraged by the Washington Post to believe himself man-like. “He has taken a politically courageous position in backing school choice, given where his party stands on the issue,” the Post editorialized on June 24. “The mayor and his supporters are putting parental desires and the educational needs of children first.”

Free minstrelsy

The Post knows full well that the people of DC oppose vouchers, and have demonstrated so since rejecting a voucher tax-credit scheme back in 1981. The paper is an institutional liar and a journalistic fraud, the Big House organ on the DC plantation, bestowing approval on the confused and empty-handed House Negro, Williams. The day before, June 23, the newspaper reported:  

Conservative Republicans have balked at including more aid for D.C. public education in the voucher legislation. Budget writers warn that new federal support will not be forthcoming. Other priorities that Williams has pushed include $50 million for the city's infrastructure and $43 million for a separate public education initiative to help disabled children.

On June 25, the Post’s news columns once again reveal that Williams’ “deal” was an illusion.

Davis's bill to authorize private tuition grants for District students does not mention more money for public schools, which is opposed by some Republicans who are adamant about not including additional funding in the D.C. voucher program. Davis said funding for the public schools would be addressed in the city's appropriation bill this summer.

This mid-summer chimera is, for Anthony Williams, reason enough to sell out 600,000 citizens – and 80,000 public school students.  To say nothing of democratic rights – a concept that seems alien to the Mayor.

Non-voting Delegte Norton would get to vote on the House floor under the informal (and probably bogus) terms of Davis’ devil’s-deal. But she’s not a party to the farce. Speaking before hearings of the House Government Reform Committee, of which she is a member, Norton said that vouchers would drain the public schools of millions of dollars:

“Our public schools will lose a combination of $12,557 per pupil in both D.C. and federal funds because every school system must be funded on a per-pupil basis. This would be a blow D.C. public school funding simply cannot afford today."

Mayor Williams’ treachery-stupidity (take your pick) is so breathtaking, it distracts from the sheer brazenness of the Republicans’ dismissal of District citizenship rights. Melody Webb, the parent-activist-lawyer, brings democracy back into focus:

"The hypocrisy is astounding.  Rep. Davis pulls the rug from underneath D.C.'s movement for home rule one week through voucher legislation and starts a slow waltz with D.C. through talks of a voting rights plan the next.

"In other words, Rep. Davis is saying to D.C. residents, ‘you deserve democracy enough to get a vote in Congress,’ on the one hand. Yet, when it comes to determining how your schools are run – democracy goes out of the window.

"If Congress supports democracy for D.C. it should immediately scuttle these plans for a voucher program, which D.C. residents have rejected time and time again, through a referendum and opinion polls.  On the eve of launching a voting rights bill to give us a say in national government, Rep. Davis is vigorously advancing legislation to take away our voice over our education system."

Vouchers would vanish as a national issue if subjected to democratic tests. There is certainly no “voucher movement” among Black Americans, only a mercenary band of educational hustlers bankrolled by rightwing foundations and, now, directly funded by the Bush administration. (See “Bush Funds Black Voucher Front Group,” November 14.)

Disastrously, there is also an alarming failure of Black leadership to resist the school privatization juggernaut. In the Mayor’s office at the District Building, Washington DC’s City Hall, not a brain cell is working.

The overseers like it that way.

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Issue Number 49
July 3, 2003

Other commentaries in this issue:

Cover Story
The Slow and Tortured Death of Affirmative Action - Redress of racial wrongs no longer public policy

Supreme Court Affirmative Action Decision

A message from Clarence Thomas to all African Americans.
View the BuzzFlash Cartoon by Eric Harrison.

Strom Thurmond survived by Black daughter... Can the world survive "bubble" America?... DLC could be fatal to Democrats

Movies' 'Magic Negro' Saves the Day - but at the Cost of His Soul by Rita Kempley

Fear of a Black "Street" Army By Glen Ford, Co-publisher, The Black Commentator

The New York Times’ Racist Lies about Africa by Milton Allimadi, Guest Commentator

The "Enronization" of America by Ahmed M.I. Egal, Guest Commentator

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Contents of Issue 48 June 26, 2003:

Cover Story
Obama to Have Name Removed from DLC List: Says "New Democrats" acted "without my knowledge"

Blind, Deaf, Dumb and Deluded: White America unfit for global role

Bubble USA

If it’s true, is it Black male-bashing?... Dixon confronts Georgia professors... "Bright lines" and the DLC

Republicans Go to Bat for Predatory Lenders
by Maude Hurd, National President of ACORN

Up Close - Zimbabwe
A Speech by Cynthia McKinney

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