by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
[A]n August 11 letter published by Rev. Jesse L. Jackson in the newsletter of MMTC, a notorious mouthpiece of corporate telecoms protests that this and other publications, and a growing number of activists have called our traditional civil rights organizations “shills” and “sellouts” for consistently backing the interests of their corporate funders over those of the public they supposedly represent. Is it incivility? Or is it the truth?
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson released what we at Black Agenda Report think was an important letter  early this month. Reproduced in the newsletter of the Minority Media Telecommunications Commission, a notorious mouthpiece of Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and its other corporate funders, it starts out like this:
“Over the last few weeks, almost all of the nation’s leading national civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, National Urban League, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC), LULAC and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, have been unfairly attacked by progressive and conservative media outlets for their stance on the Federal Communications Commission’s open Internet proceeding. One blog post went as far as to suggest that national civil rights organizations are acting as “shills” and “sell outs” to the interests of large corporations. As a leader of one of the civil rights groups under attack, I find these labels to be highly offensive, inciting and creating deeper divisions between social justice groups and advocates who are working toward the same goals of social justice and equity…”
- First there simply are no “conservative media outlets” attacking the old-time civil rights organizations on this count. Perhaps this is a sidelong insinuation that anybody who criticizes them is probably “a conservative;”
- Second there is way more than “one blog post” branding the old civil rights outfits, most of the Congressional Black Caucus and the good reverend himself on this issue as the shameless sock puppets of their corporate funders. There’s Black Agenda Report, there’s Free Press, there’s Davey D, there’s Breaking Brown and way too many others to mention.
- Third, I for one am truly sorry that the good reverend is offended. But this ain’t personal, it’s political. When the rev and the allied organizations he speaks for take the sides of interests who want to privatize public education , pray tell what should we call them? What’s the right name for civil rights organizations who need to “forgive” the predatory banksters that saddled tens of thousands of black families with unpayable loans so they can go back to getting their good work funded by Wells Fargo and Bank of America? What’s the proper civil and respectful term for black elected officials, the NAACP, the SCLC, and others who take money from vicious corporations like Wal-Mart, and Southern Companies/Georgia Power and are silent when their benefactors destroy local economies or poison entire black towns  with radiation? And while he’s at it, the reverend should explain to us what’s the right name for civil rights organizations that file with the FCC claiming they have a “constitutional right” to conceal the funding they get from corporations  when they go before the FCC to speak (supposedly but not really on OUR behalf) on matters that affect the interests of those companies?
- Fourth, when civil rights organizations act on behalf of funders rather than our people they are no longer “social justice groups” and are definitely not “working toward the same goals of social justice and equity…”
We’d be the last to say that they shouldn’t take corporate money, although if they were persistent advocates of taxing the rich and using THAT revenue for better education, job creation, housing, public transit, getting off fossil fuels, they might be a lot less dependent on their place in line at massa’s back door. It’s not a fuzzy line at all, the distinction between being a sellout, a shill, and not is really pretty easy. If you can take the corporate money without being inhibited in your speech against corporate abuse, well then OK. But that too is unrealistic. Taking the money today makes you fearful of speaking out tomorrow, lest the funding for your good works be discontinued.
The interests of the public and those of greedy corporations are at irreconcilable odds. They want war, people want peace. They want low wages, people want a living wage. They want to privatize and monetize the atmosphere and public resources and let the public pay their costs. People want to educate their children and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Everybody knows Comcast and AT&T are not going to donate to members of Congress or civil rights organizations who stand for consumers and the public instead of corporate interests. If they did, their shareholders and board members would swiftly correct them.
So maybe the former civil rights organizations and their leaders should stop pretending. Perhaps they should resign and confine themselves to being the mere dispensers of corporate charity, and silence themselves altogether on the grown folks business of politics. That would at least be honest. The fact is that since the days of Ida B. Wells there haven’t been many black organizations that did not derive their original funding or continued legitimacy from the patronage of white capitalists. This is where and what our traditional civil rights organizations are. They are zombies going through the motions, dependent upon corporations for funds and on the fiction that they represent us for their legitimacy.
It’s not our job to put zombies out of their misery. But it is our duty to tell the truth, to label them for what they are. Refusing to tell the truth is not incivility. It’s lying. And if our zombie civil rights organizations don’t like being called shills and sellouts, maybe they should just stop shilling, stop selling out.