Money Talks

The time has come to adapt the old civil rights agenda to a new economic power strategy. The NAACP and the National Action Network are leading the charge.

is focused on advertising, as this is one of the elements in our Economic Reciprocity program."

So as the NAACP and the National Action Network carry on their respective battles, the question before our group was straightforward: How do you combine the spirit of the old 1960s social activism with new millennium-style tactics that can be implemented in 2000 and beyond?

For its part, the NAACP now has an expressed mandate under the present leadership to focus more heavily on core issues such as advocacy, says Hitchcock. "We want to now focus our attention on consumerism. We want to flex our consumer spending power. That’s the advocacy that led to the development of a principle called Economic Reciprocity. Mfume came in 1996 with a strong business background in the U.S. Congress and Chairman Julian Bond brings impeccable civil rights credentials. The combination of the two gives us a strong vision of how to achieve economic empowerment through our advocacy agenda."

This isn’t the organization’s first stab at corporate bigwigs. In the early 1980s, the NAACP had a program dubbed "Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work." That was followed by "Black Dollar Days," where the NAACP promoted the concept of purchasing from minority businesses. It was in the mid-1980s that the group made its first conscious effort to review companies in terms of minority employment and procurement. Currently the NAACP has fair-share agreements with some 63 companies across the country. But according to Hitchcock, the challenge of those programs has always been consistent monitoring. She believes the organization has learned from its past mistakes.

"It’s clear one of the ways to effect change at this point is to leverage your consumer power. For us that means utilizing the po
wer of the members of the 2,200 NAACP units around the world [that] are focused on achieving specific economic objectives," she says. "Economic reciprocity is one of the central components of the economic empowerment agenda of the NAACP."

The organization’s first two targets have been focused examinations of the multibillion-dollar lodging and telecommunications industries. It settled on lodging after calculating that some $233 million was spent by its organization and approximately 65 other African American organizations that held national conventions across the country. "It was clear that we spend a lot of money when we travel," says Hitchcock.

With a target in sight, the group compiled its questionnaire. The survey methodology consisted of reviewing policies as they related to employment, vendor relationships, investment and franchise opportunities, advertising and philanthropy. Survey questions included "How many of your vendors are African American-owned companies?" and "What products or services are currently being provided by black-owned companies?" as well as "How many African Americans are employed in decision-making positions in your company?"

The initial response was what you’d expect. "The first surveys came back," says Hitchcock, "and eight or so of the 16 didn’t respond and there was a big public relations furor." Those same companies that declined to

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