Water Man Spouts

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party 2008

The potential for a brokered democratic convention, in which the decision to select the party’s nominee could be made despite the will of the voters, reminds me of the historic experience of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964.

In 1964, the democratic party in the state of Mississippi was run by some politicians who had been in office for a long, long time, and who were not used to having anyone question their authority. They were used to ruling the party with an iron fist. They were ruthless in crushing any potential opposition. One of the groups that they despised were the black people who, if they were given full access to the citizenship, could question their power.

The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was attempting to seat delegates at the 1964 democratic convention. Rather than cover the events in great detail, I will suggest that those who are interested read some of the history books that cover that time. Two that are good are: (1) At Canaan’s Edge: America In the King Years 1965-68; Taylor Branch; Simon & Schuster; 2006; and (2) Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and his times 1961-1973; Robert Dallek; Oxford University Press; 1998.

At the time, the national democratic party was also run by an iron fist, named President Johnson. LBJ was worried about anything that could make his convention look bad. LBJ was concerned about two things in particular: Robert Kennedy, and the MFDP.

Being somewhat of a control freak, LBJ sent Hubert Humphrey to try to control the MFDP. However, the people in the MFDP. They knew that they had the right to challenge the delegate seating proposals of the racist state forces, and they were not going to submit to Humphrey, no matter what he promised for the future.

The MFDP was made up of an early Rainbow Coalition. There were older white progressives, grass roots activists, civil rights advocates, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. They had the support of national leaders from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Malcolm X.
The democratic party struggled with finding a way to resolve that tense stand-off. It is interesting to note that in the next two years, the MFDP was widely recognized as one of the powerful forces that made the democratic party pass historic civil rights legislation.

One more thing: When Martin was struggling in Selma the following year, Malcolm would twice go to the south to make speeches. Those two, made in his last year of life, are among the most important, and of great interest to those people who are interested in building a progressive wing in the democratic party.

The SNCC had invited him to speak to young demonstrators. It was at a time when Martin was in jail. A few of Martin’s people were afraid of Malcolm’s potential influence on those college students, and so they asked Andrew Young to speak to him. Rev Young told Malcolm that he should not "incite" the students; Malcolm responded, "Remember this: nobody puts words in my mouth."

Young and James Bevel spoke to Mrs. King, who then spoke to Malcolm. Now Mrs. King was very progressive, and she found Malcolm’s message reassuring.

The other public event in the south featured Malcolm debating a college student who had been active in the sit-ins. Some of the adults, including James Baldwin, who moderated the debate, were concerned that Malcolm would use the same tactics against the young college student as he did against older opponents. But instead, Baldwin noted, Malcolm treated him with the dignity and respect he would a little brother – for this was what mentoring is all about.

Malcolm asked the young man, "If you are an American citizen, why have you got to fight for your rights as a citizen? To be a citizen means that you have the rights of a citizen. If you haven’t got the rights of a citizen, then you’re not a citizen."

"It’s not as simple as that," the student answered.

"Why not?" Malcolm asked him.

If being a member of the democratic party means anything, it should be having the votes in the primary count. It’s as simple as that.


Post a Comment

<< Home