On What Ground Are We Standing?


What has become our mantra in this post-George Zimmerman are U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder’s words to the NAACP last week; “We must stand our ground” against injustice. 

Holder drew cheers, “Amens,” and a standing ovation when he spoke those words. The next day, however, Martin Luther King III spoke to the NAACP, and while he did suggest we stand our ground, he went a bit further and reminded me of his father’s speech in Memphis the night before he was killed.  King III, after reflecting on our trillion dollar “spending power,” slipped in a little suggestion that maybe we should no longer buy Florida Orange Juice.  Hmmm.

In light of the Zimmerman not guilty verdict, pressure is on the state of Florida to reverse its “Stand Your Ground” law.  I suppose that also means we should do the same in the other 20 or so states that have similar laws on their books.  The battle lines have been drawn between liberals and conservatives, and the political talking heads have been wound up to fire the first volleys at one another.

More than a million folks have signed the NAACP’s online petition, and many have taken to the streets to protest the verdict and the stand your ground law. But is there anything we can do to make a real change in the way we are treated in the court system?  Of course, as an optimist, I say the answer is a definite “yes,” but do we know what that is, and are we willing to do it?

In his famous “Mountaintop” speech, MLK said, “Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal… Never stop and forget that collectively, that means all of us together, collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

“We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles, we don’t need any Molotov cocktails, we just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, ‘God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment…Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.’

“And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy…Wonder Bread.”

“But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen Black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank—we want a ‘bank-in’ movement in Memphis… I’m not asking you something we don’t do ourselves…we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We’re just telling you to follow what we’re doing.  Put your money there. You have six or seven Black insurance companies in Memphis.  Take out your insurance there. We want to have an ‘insurance-in.’”

“Now these are some practical things we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base.  And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.”

So, upon what ground are we standing as we look forward to our next March on Washington in August 2013?  Are we standing only on emotional ground, or are we standing on the firm ground of the economic base to which MLK referred in his speech?

Trayvon is gone, and his parents are dealing with their pain and agony by demonstrating the same kind of dignity and discipline Coretta Scott King showed after MLK’s assassination.  Our charge must be to use our collective clout to bring about peaceful change – as MLK said, “We don’t have to argue and curse at anyone.”   Just use our collective economic power with the same resolve as Trayvon’s parents.

What can we do?  Let’s work to get Marissa Alexander out of that Florida prison.  March on that in Washington. Sign petitions, write letters, and send emails to Florida Gov. Rick Scott demanding he grant her clemency or whatever he has to do to set her free.  This young sister got 20 years for standing her ground against an abusive Black man; she had no place to retreat and fired a warning shot into the ceiling that saved her life.  Yes, another travesty of justice in Florida, but one we can act upon to give Marissa Alexander the justice she deserves.  If we stand on the right ground in this case, as both MLK’s suggested, at least we can save a life rather than just mourn another one.

Jim Clingman, founder of the Greater Cincinnati African American Chamber of Commerce, is the nation’s most prolific writer on economic empowerment for Black people. He is an adjunct professor at the University of Cincinnati and can be reached through his Web site, blackonomics.com.

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