Remove Confederate flag now

— The savage act of racial terrorism at Emanuel A.M.E. Church – Mother Emanuel – in Charleston, S.C., has been met with extraordinary expressions of faith in that community. Last Thursday, the victims’ relatives offered the terrorist their forgiveness. On Sunday, Mother Emanuel’s doors opened for regular services. Hatred and violence would not break the congregation’s spirit.

photo

Jesse Jackson, Sr.

The murderer, Dylann Roof, said his intent was to trigger a race war. He spat on and burned the American flag, but waved the Confederate flag. Naturally, this has revived the demand that the Confederate flag be taken down at the South Carolina state capitol. The flag is a symbol. It stands for secession, sedition, slavery, segregation and suppression of rights. That it flies at the state capitol expresses the failure to address racial division. Germany does not fly a Nazi flag. South Africa does not fly the flag of apartheid.

The flag is a symbol, but the agenda of the flag is very real. The flag agenda is to preserve states’ rights over constitutional rights, racial divide over liberty and justice for all. The flag agenda demands that states, not the federal government, establish rules around voting. When the Supreme Court’s conservative gang of five disemboweled the Voting Rights Act, a flood of measures designed to make voting harder for minorities, the poor and the elderly ensued.

The flag agenda asserts states’ rights over national reform. The Supreme Court’s conservative justices decided that states could refuse the expansion of Medicaid that was part of health care reform. Only one state of the former confederacy then accepted billions from the federal government that would expand health care for their citizens, boost their economy and aid their hospitals.

The flag agenda sustains our systemic system of criminal injustice, where African Americans are more likely to be stopped, more likely to be charged, more likely to be detained, more likely to be jailed and – as we have seen again and again – more likely to be at risk from the police that are supposed to protect them.

The flag agenda suppresses the right of workers to organize, the right to a living wage, a safe workplace, a healthy environment. The flag agenda impoverishes poor White workers by pitting them against poor Black workers.

Today, everyone is outraged at the killings, but there is not the same outrage that African Americans have the highest rates of infant mortality, unemployment, imprisonment, segregated housing and home foreclosures, segregated and underfunded public schools, poverty, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, mental health issues, HIV/AIDS, denial of access to capital and more. The flag is a symbol, but the flag agenda is this institutionalized state of terror.

There was an urgency to identify and arrest Roof before he hurt anyone else, but there is not the same urgency to identify and arrest the current economic and political conditions – the institutional racism and structural injustices – before another generation is lost.

The flag should come down. It is deeply offensive that politicians who aspire to lead this nation as president are too cowardly to call for its removal, hiding behind states’ rights, the poisonous doctrine that is the heart of the flag agenda.

But putting the flag in a museum is not enough. Dylann Roof is 21 years old. He was not alive when Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) existed or when South Africa was under apartheid. He was taught his hatreds; he wasn’t born with them. His hatreds found deadly expression, but so too do the institutionalized injustices that are not limited to South Carolina.

Racism requires a remedy. We need a White House conference on racial justice and urban policy to offer a vision and a policy to deal with our structural injustice. Remove the flag, of course. But we need the president and the Congress to challenge the flag agenda.

The perils of poisonous politics

— By doubling down on his vile slur on President Obama’s love for his country, ex-New York City Mayor Rudi Giuliani created the media frenzy that he craved. He also set up an easy test of decency for Republican presidential contenders: Who has the sense to disavow Giuliani’s poison? Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio passed the admittedly low bar; Governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal failed ignominiously: Governor Rick Perry pretzeled his way through it.

If Republicans wonder why 95 percent of African Americans and 70 percent of Latinos will likely end up voting for Democrats in 2016, they should look in the mirror. Virtually every African American will see this attack on President Obama as racist, something that would not be occur were Obama white.

Silence in the face of the attack will be seen as proof that the Republican race-based politics of division remains in force. In his decision to weaken the Voting Rights Act in Shelby v. Holder, Justice Roberts wrote, “This country has changed.” Giuliani’s insult ratifies the wisdom of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s ringing dissent, that while progress has been made, the Congress surely was right in deciding we still have far to go.

Giuliani’s rant echoes the new hysteria that Republicans are trying to stoke: that Obama is “withdrawing” from the world, and thereby weakening America. A parade of horrors— Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Syria and Iraq, negotiations over nukes with Iran, terrorist violence in Paris— is summoned up and blamed on the president.

Recently, Obama made the simple and common sense observation that we are not at war with Islam, but with terrorist extremists who want to hijack the religion for their own ends. His statement was similar to that repeated frequently by George W. Bush when he was president. Any future president from either party will make similar statements— both to reflect reality and to keep the fear-mongers from fanning hatred here at home. Yet, the president’s comments sparked hysterical comments from across the right-wing noise machine as if common sense were somehow heresy.

This clamor is feeding a mindless war fever. Do we want to have an armed confrontation with Russia over Ukraine? Not really, the macho hawks basically want to fight to the last Ukrainian. Do we want to put troops back into Iraq? Not really, although as President Obama has escalated the U.S. response to ISIS, the armchair hawks have moved to more muscular positions, now even mumbling about “boots on the ground.” We are fighting wars in Afghanistan, providing troops and arms and bombs against ISIS, running drone attacks in nearly a dozen countries, dispatching special forces to 120 countries. And somehow this is scorned as withdrawal from the world.

Missing in the hysteria and the vile attacks on patriotism is a sensible policy debate— and a sensible reckoning of how we got to where we are. The reality is that excessive belief in military force has done more than anything to cause this mess. The catastrophic invasion of Iraq is the worst foreign policy debacle since Vietnam. The decision not simply to go after Bin Laden and al Qaeda, but to wage a counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan and “rebuild” that nation has led to the longest war in our history that shows no sign of ending.

The “humanitarian intervention” in Libya has left chaos and violence in its wake. The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned the country over to Shiite rule, ironically empowering Iran. ISIS comes out of the Sunni reaction to that reality. Meanwhile we’ve only begun to pay the $3 trillion tab for Bush’s Iraq War, even as our own roads, rail, sewage and water systems grow ever more dangerous for lack of investment.

Those who mindlessly call the president weak, impugn his patriotism, and accuse him of withdrawing from the world ought to be called to account.

Well, enough with the rhetoric, the posturing and the poison. What is the policy that they want? Let us hear them explain how they will drive a confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, while fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere.

The only way Americans will accept this nonsense is if they are scared out of their wits. Sadly, that seems to be the intent of the fear mongers, who need to be challenged before they frighten us into yet another costly debacle.

Jesse L. Jackson, Sr. is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH Coalition. You can keep up with his work at www.rainbowpush.org.