The New Rights Agenda

The Urban League is the latest to take aim at removing economic barriers from the pursuit of the American Dream

a time of serious soul searching for civil rights organizations,” says Hugh B. Price, CEO and president of the National Urban League. “We all have been asking ourselves how we can best serve our constituencies.”

In most cases, this “soul searching” has led to a more sharply defined and targeted approach to achieving basically the same objective– economic rights. The NAACP, for example, is seeking economic reciprocity agreements from industries and is acting as a consumer advocate; Rainbow/PUSH is applying pressure to corporate America through Wall Street and the media; and the SCLC continues to threaten direct action to force corporate commitment to the black community.

Why is economic development now the agenda of choice for the Urban League and so many other organizations? David Bositis, a senior political analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Washington, D.C., believes that the current environment has much to do with the timing. The reasoning is simple: it’s far more effective these days to lean on corporate America to support black America’s economic agenda than it is to lean on the government.

“Washington, D.C., is a lot more inhospitable now than in the past, and it’s tougher getting laws passed,” Bositis says. “Since times aren’t conducive for government activism, self-sufficiency has become the watchword.”

The concept of establishing agreements, covenants and partnerships with companies to achieve black hiring, promotion and contractual objectives is not new. Rainbow/PUSH, when it was Operation Breadbasket, was the first organization to wrest an economic covenant from a national corporation, using the powerful technique of boycotting.

However, despite past successes, Bositis cautions against relying too much on this strategy to accomplish economic goals. “These days, the white working class is suffering from anxiety too. To just make a statistical statement about needing to hire more black people won’t necessarily work,” he says. “White workers may view this as a power grab, which lessens the public relations benefit [and] the moral authority, but the tactic is much more effective if you can catch a company with its pants down, as in the case of Texaco.”

The Urban League’s plan is devoid of any references to “boycotting,” although Price agrees there is room for a range of tactics within the economic movement. Based on an 87-year-old history of partnering with corporate America, the Urban League plan exhorts African Americans to demonstrate the same entrepreneurial zest that existed for blacks from the end of the Civil War through the 1920s. It urges African Americans to lessen their dependence on a weekly paycheck by saving and pooling their individual and collective resources and investing them wisely. Other points are to build up local business districts in black neighborhoods (“instead of standing around like tourists in our own communities as others cash in,” says Price); increase home ownership; produce more executives in income-producing divisions of corporate America; and convince young people that academic excellence is the key to competing at a world class level. “It’s a plan for

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