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"It's D.C. today. It's Chicago tomorrow, St. Louis, New Orleans, Los Angeles next week, then it's all of America. The message...goes far beyond Washington, DC," warned Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) as the House passed a $10 million private schools voucher bill for the nation’s capital.  

The Black Chicago Congressman’s rhetorical flourish was actually understated. The phony voucher “movement,” hatched only a few years ago by the same rich, racist, rightwing foundation that funded Charles Murray’s infamous book, “The Bell Curve,” has proven to be the perfect Trojan Horse. Hard Right money has successfully infested – poisoned – the national Black body politic, a penetration so deep and toxic, the victims of the “experiment” may never recover.

The lavishly funded conspiracy – an eminently proper use of the word – began in the Milwaukee boardrooms of the Bradley Foundation, which has invented and bankrolled ($400-plus million to date) virtually every anti-Black, anti-labor, anti-environment, and anti-women political offensive and front group of the past two decades. Bradley’s purpose was to create an alternative Black “leadership” that owes its very existence to the checkbooks of the rich, white, Hard Right. To this end, and with additional millions from the Olin, Scaife, Walton (Wal-Mart) foundations and other Republican moneybags, Bradley’s operatives created media impressions of a “movement” that had never before existed, based on a “demand” that Black people had never advanced: public funding of private schools. Through unlimited financing, Bradley & Co. grew its original, motley crew of Black education business hustlers into a national presence, now including the Mayor of Washington DC, Anthony Williams. The enemy has bought itself a place at the table of African American political discourse. It is a fatal conversation.

Printer friendly version of the right-wing vouchermobile cartoon.

The wedge issue

Congressman Davis is no Chicken Little. The sky really is falling – a deluge of greenbacks intended to undermine and then replace existing Black leadership. Vouchers are the Right’s wedge issue, carefully chosen to create divisions between the Democratic Party’s two strongest pillars: Blacks and public employees unions, most notably, teachers. Keenly aware of African American reverence for education, the very people who wage relentless war against the public schools wave vouchers under the noses of the poor, knowing full well that private schools cannot possibly meet the needs of the vast bulk of Black children. Private capital has no interest in taking on the responsibility of educating the masses of Black kids. Rather, their strategy is to sow dissension in Black and progressive ranks while setting up contra outposts in scattered, publicly funded private schools, places of employment and propagandizing for new waves of African American mercenaries. These hirelings will then form the core of “alternative,” “conservative” Black leadership in all those places Rep. Davis cited: ”… Chicago tomorrow, St. Louis, New Orleans, Los Angeles next week, then it's all of America.”

The GOP is intent on staging an internal Black coup of historic, catastrophic proportions. The Right’s entire urban strategy is keyed to vouchers. Yet too many African American officeholders fail to take the threat seriously enough.

Thieves in the night  

On the evening of September 9, House GOP leadership staged a surprise vote on H.R. 2765. Forty miles away, the Congressional Black Caucus was co-sponsoring with Fox TV a Democratic presidential candidates debate. Despite furious efforts by DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and House Democratic leadership, the voucher bill passed by one vote. In addition to candidates Dennis Kucinich and Dick Gephardt, eight other Democrats failed to make it back to the House floor to cast their votes against vouchers, including Congressional Black Caucus members Elijah Cummings (MD), Harold Ford (TN), Charles Rangel (NY) and Edolphus Towns (NY).  

Republicans rebuffed requests from Democratic leadership and the Black Caucus to reschedule the vote (Rep. Cummings is Caucus Chairman), and the bill goes to the Senate for the final battle, later this month. There, key Democrat Diane Feinstein (D-CA), a 30-year opponent of vouchers for her state or the public schools in general, has decided to make an exception in the case of mostly Black Washington, DC. “If we look at what works for children,” Feinstein told the September 4 Washington Post, “we would probably agree that different models have to be provided, because what works for one child may not necessarily work for another." Translation: Vouchers are bad policy for white kids, but hell, let’s experiment on the Black children.

Feinstein dares to express such racist reasoning because the Right has purchased – through ad campaigns and media manipulation – a degree of credibility for its Black voucher front groups. The illusion has been created that Bradley’s mercenaries possess a real political base. The $10 million DC voucher program will only “benefit” 1,300 students, but that is not the point. Polls show that the people of DC overwhelmingly oppose vouchers (85 percent, among Black residents), as does a majority of the school board and city council but, that is not the point, either. With tens of millions in public and private dollars at their disposal and the endorsement of the “liberal” Washington Post (liberal in the same sense as Feinstein), the Right is determined to create its private school showcase in the nation’s capital in order to soften opposition in the rest of the country.

They would start with the public schools of our nation's capital and from there ransack public education across the country,” says Melody Webb, an attorney who heads Stop D.C. Vouchers. The Right’s plans are even larger than that. As we wrote on December 19, 2002:  

“Both vouchers and faith-based contracting are designed to subvert Blacks, internally, by planting well-funded centers of Republican influence in the very heart of African American neighborhoods…. Rightwing foundation dollars succeeded in grafting vouchers onto the "Black" political agenda, empowering totally non-representative elements, whom we are now expected to deal with as if they are legitimate voices of the community.”

The Right bought Washington Mayor Anthony Williams cheaply. ( See “Black Spinelessness in High Places: DC Mayor sells out on vouchers – for nothing!” May 8.) Then they resold him as the centerpiece of a multi-million dollar, national media campaign for H.R. 2765. The Right rules through media impressions and money. Their African American political coup will be thwarted only when legitimate Black leadership casts aside misplaced notions of civility, and calls the GOP’s Black prostitutes by their proper name: whores for corporate dollars.  

The phony “movement”

The Black Commentator has documented the voucher offensive – a corporate conspiracy of the first order – since our first issue, April 5, 2002. As reported in our Cover Story, “Fruit of the Poisoned Tree,” the Bradley’s Foundation created the premier voucher front group, the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), out of whole cloth in 2000. Various right-wingers funded a $3 million ad campaign as a coming out party. The voucher movement was born as the pure product of corporate dollars. Its luminaries, such as unsuccessful Newark, New Jersey mayoral candidate Cory Booker, were suckled on publicity generated by Right think tanks like the Manhattan Institute, itself funded by Bradley.  

When George Bush came to power, the BAEO received $600,000 in federal funding to conduct more media campaigns (see “Bush Funds Black Voucher Front Group: Your tax dollars pay for propaganda blitz,” November 14). As we reported, then:  

With the cash infusion from Bush's Education Department, the BAEO will be able to put more of its political troops on the streets, infesting parentand neighborhood meetings, spreading the voucher gospel. Federally financed radio and print ads will work relentlessly to create the sound and fury of a "movement" that exists only because Bush, Bradley and the rich make it so.  

Now the GOP is poised to impose its voucher showcase on an unwilling Black city. Local voucher organization hirelings and the traitorous mayor busily prepare the ground for the Hard Right’s wholesale intrusion. In August, Mayor Williams made his pilgrimage to Milwaukee, home base of the Bradley Foundation, and “received an award from the libertarian Cato Institute in recognition of his advocacy,” reported the September 4 Washington Post. Cato has received more than $15 million from Bradley and other Hard Right funders since 1985, according to In July, Williams was awarded for his services by the Manhattan Institute, Cory Booker’s patrons.  

Kaleem Caire, formerly head of Bradley’s BAEO front group, now labors in Washington for the American Educational Reform Council. “AERC's primary funder appears to be the Walton Foundation,” the political pockets of Wal-Mart’s racist founding family, reported Mark S. Johnson-Lewis in BC’s February 20 issue.  

The most frequently quoted Washington-based voucher mouth belongs to Virginia Walden-Ford, a professional Black front for the Right, as we wrote in April of last year:  

She shared top billing, along with Booker, among the Free Congress Foundation's nominees for New Black Leadership. Walden-Ford is executive director of D.C. Parents for School Choice, which received $75,000 from Bradley in 1999 - 2000.

She is also an operative of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (NCNE), the notorious Black GOP invention headed by Robert Woodson. The NCNE has been funded to the tune of $6 million by far-right foundations since 1995, including $450,000 in "ongoing," yearly support from Bradley and more than $100,000 from Bradley's Milwaukee neighbor, the ultra-conservative Helen Bader Foundation. Woodson spent much of his career as a Bradley Fellow with the American Enterprise Institute, a colleague of Charles "Bell Curve" Murray.

Genuine Washington community activists must contend with platoons of paid mercenaries such as these, plus a turncoat mayor who ignores the will of the people, and a neo-liberal daily newspaper that editorializes on behalf of vouchers. The dominant Black radio chain in the city, Radio One, maintains a no-local-news policy that shuts legitimate community voices out of the conversation. Thus, the Mayor lies with impunity, and the corporate Right simply pays to get their pro-voucher messages on radio and television.  

Still, Republicans achieved a one-vote victory for vouchers in the House only by foul trickery. The [GOP] leadership had so little confidence in their ability to pass the legislation that they held the vote in the dark of night during the scheduled absence of members who have a vote and who oppose school vouchers,” says Stop D.C. Vouchers’ Melody Webb.  

Should the Republicans prevail in the Senate, the White House will proclaim a mandate to launch a renewed, national voucher offensive that will extend its mega-funded tentacles into every big city neighborhood in the land, to smother Black politics with corporate dollars. The infestation has just begun.

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