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Exposing the Hard Right’s Bag of Tricks Against Poor and Working White People

by Alan McSurely, Civil Rights Lawyer

Communications Committee Chair, North Carolina NAACP

In 1967, some of us went across the mountains into Eastern Kentucky to start the task of rebuilding the Black-White fusion political movement that had led to progressive state governments in North Carolina and other parts of the south during the latter part of the 1800’s.  We were immediately targeted.  In August, a few months before the gubernatorial election, the Republican candidate for Lt. Governor led a raid on our house, and arrested Margaret Herring, Joe Mulloy, and me, charging us with committing the crime of sedition.  The Pike County Sheriff testified he believed “sedition” was holding meetings with White and Black people together.

A month after we were thrown in jail, the U.S. District Court declared the Kentucky sedition law unconstitutional.  Three months later, the man who arrested us lost the election for Lt. Governor of Kentucky.  When we sued him and his co-conspirators, I was able to get a much better understanding of the bag of race-based tricks that the big corporations and their banks allow their political operatives to use, to elect and re-elect their political agents.

The bag of tricks has a common theme: Target and blame poor people of color for every social problem caused by low-wages, scarce jobs, no health insurance and under-funded schools.  Try not to target poor and working white Americans, although they suffer from low-wages, scarce jobs, under-funded schools and no health insurance, almost as much as their Black neighbors.  Instead offer white working people big doses of propaganda about some social issue like abortion, guns, prayers, gay people, and crime, throw in some patronage jobs, and convince them they are “conservatives.”

In 1967 while we were fighting to stay out of jail for suggesting that white and black people had a lot in common, Richard Nixon was studying a memo written by a young Colgate graduate, Kevin Phillips, which provided a blue print for maintaining racial divisions and suspicions. The memo, soon published as The Emerging Republican Majority, was full of new racial demographics and predictions.  Written shortly after overwhelming congressional majorities passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that unleashed black voting power within the southern electorate, Nixon’s game plan had one central premise. Black kids and black voters entering the mainstream of southern society, with federal assistance if necessary, could be used to scare working white families, particularly if Republican politicians would use certain tested euphemisms to pander to their prejudices.  The euphemisms of Nixon’s southern strategy, and the prejudice-pandering propaganda spewing from lips of opportunistic politicians has been the shameful hallmark of the right-wing anti-democracy movement ever since.

In 2008, a few days (some say hours) after the first black President was elected, the anti-democracy movement invented what it called a grass-roots movement–a virtually all-white group called the Tea Party. Most of its visible black members are paid.  It has popped up in several counties in North Carolina.  Sometimes the Americans for Prosperity, a national hard-right group funded by the Pope and Koch families, puts a call out to the Tea Party to hold counter-demonstrations against the exciting new multi-racial democracy movement we call Forward Together, Not One Step Back.  The Tea Party spokespeople are often tongue-tied when they are asked why they cannot attract any people of color and why their numbers keep getting smaller.

In the next pages, the pro-democracy movement we call Forward Together, Not One Step Back, can learn more about the North Carolina anti-democracy movement, which still uses the Tea Party label. The Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, and its two principals, Leonard Zeskind and Devin Burghart have been studying the internal workings of the far right and white nationalist cadre and those who set up the Tea Party for decades.  Zeskind’s book, Blood and Politics: The History of White Nationalist Movement from the Margins to the Mainstream, published by Farrar Straus & Giroux in May 2009 is the desk book for any political analyst, editor or reporter who is reporting on the real world.  Cong. John Lewis was recently in North Carolina and had an elegant way of stating the present state of the House of Representatives.  “Some of them,” Cong. Lewis said, “have not made the adjustment yet to an educated, thoughtful black man as President.  That will take some time.”

We are seeing adjustments being made today.  When we won a great victory in this fall at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, it has been difficult for the hard-right leadership in Raleigh—Speaker Tillis, Senate Leader Berger, and Gov. McCrory — to adjust to the new real world.

We urge you to study the report the IREHR research team has written for the NC NAACP and join with those of us who have adjusted and are pleased to go Forward Together, Not One Step Back!


Next: Introduction

Alan McSurely

Author Alan McSurely

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