Friday, July 24, 2015

One City — Two Tales

This weekend’s Movement for Black Lives may frame next year’s GOP Convention

All eyes will be on Cleveland in July 2016 when the Republican National Convention comes to town. Fifty thousand people, including 15,000 members of the media, are expected to gobble up every hotel room for miles around, rent apartments and condos at exorbitant rates, and create an economic impact of some $200 million dollars. The city fathers are absolutely giddy. If recent history runs true to form, the demographics of most of those spending all that money will skew Caucasian, wealthy, heterosexual, Christian. Party leaders hope that their actions will result in one of their own becoming the next President of the United States, the Leader of the Free World, and the Restorer of the Old.

A year prior to this highly publicized event, which is to say starting today, hundreds of black people will arrive largely by car and bus, for a Movement for Black Lives Convening. The demographics of these attendees will be overwhelmingly African American, intergenerational, and omni-sexual, if that term represents the broadest spectrum of human sexual orientation. The economic impact will be slight — many of them will be crashing in church basements or possibly in the homes of total strangers. They will meet in classrooms at Cleveland State University for workshops to learn, heal, organize and mobilize for what they are determined must be a new American regime where Black Lives Matter equally as much as all others.

The backlash of the Civil Rights Movement, the dawning of the Information Age, and globalization are among the potent forces that have produced the growing divide in America between the relative few who have enormous amounts of wealth, liberty, and secure and expansive personal space, and the vast numbers of other Americans who have increasingly less.

While technology has made it possible to create and transfer immense wealth almost by keystroke — the mortgage manipulation that precipitated the Great Recession is Exhibit A — the smartphones and social media that make us all potential eyewitnesses and video reporters have spotlighted the continuing dangers of being black in America.

One hundred years ago Cleveland was the symbol of great wealth in America. It is currently on a run celebrating the centennials of great civic institutions — the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and many other cultural gems in and around University Circle. Nobody looks too closely beyond a point at how the fortunes were accrued that launched these proud markers of civic accomplishment.

The choice of Cleveland as the site of the Movement for Black Lives was made intentionally, because our city has come to represent all of the ills that plague black people nationally: indifference and hostility to women of color, especially members of the LGBT community; excessive and outrageous police misconduct, documented by the most recent U.S. Department of Justice report; economic disparity; a public education system that is besieged on all sides; communities with Third World health statistics; and even Ohio’s status as an open-carry state.

For one observer, this week's Movement for Black Lives convening evokes the spirit of the old Chambers Brothers anthem, Time Has Come Today, first released in 1967 ["I don't care what others say. Time has come today!"]. One spokesperson told us the convening is inspired by this spirit of creative resistance, righteous resistance, prophetic resistance.

More than 800 people are expected to register for this weekend’s programs. Registration is open, inexpensive, and begins at 8am. Information is available online at