I consider myself one of thousands of hip-hop era leaders who are not completely trusted by the civil rights generation. We see their black and white news clips and are awed by their actions that have gotten us to this point. We also cringe when they bring late 60’s sensibilities to a new area of civil rights and politics, waiting for Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly to use their latest dated statements to berate all African Americans.
Such a moment happened in the political cauldron of Chicago this week when Bobby Rush took the dais at Governor Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to the vacant Illinois Senate seat. “We need to have not just one African-American in the U.S. Senate. We need to have many African-Americans in the U.S. Senate. So I applaud the governor for his decision.” This is the first of two quotes that made me cringe. This is a text book example of conflating two issues, the need for more African American representation and the political mess that is Governor Blagojevich’s pay to play scandal. It is hard for me to fathom why the congressman would make this statement, but I’ve tried my hardest to do just that.
Rep Rush made a completely legitimate point about the absence of African Americans in the countries most important governing body. What I don’t understand is the timing. The US just elected the first black president, and the appointment he is defending was made by a publicly perceived crook. He is a harsh critic of Blagojevich and as a seasoned politician would have to see that he volunteered to play the race card. The only thing that makes sense to me is that his impromptu speech was a reflex reaction from a civil rights era leader, without completely taking in the circumstances he was dealing in. I like that explanation more than the race baiting, Jesse Jackson style, that Representative Rush seems to have gotten himself into. After researching on Bobby Rush, a lot of my preconceived stereotypes of him were justified. A quick wikipedia search lead me to some absolutely amazing accomplishments in a biography that starts making noise in the late sixties when he was heavily involved in the Civil Rights Movement. A former army soldier, he was a member of SNCC and a founder of the Illinois Black Panther Party. While with the Black Panther Party he was integral in the free breakfast and free medical clinic that developed the nations first mass sickle cell disease testing program. Rush also joined a tremendous and epically outstanding fraternal organizations called Iota Phi Theta that I can personally vouch for. Our motto of “Building a Tradition and not Resting Upon One” has guided many of my life decisions, and a lot of my perspective of this story. All this being said, Rush is the guy I imagined myself being if I was alive during the civil rights era and black power movement. Even as a 62 year old cancer survivor, his instincts to stand for the downtrodden have not dulled. Representative Rush was one of a few congressmen to be arrested in a peaceful protest against the genocide in Darfur in 2004.
So when does the torch get passed? What if a man feels that the experience of years of running, are more important than the fresh legs and perspective of the young whipper snapper he’s passing it off to. Representative Bobby Rush is the only man to ever beat Barack Obama in a political campaign. He’s quoted as saying during their contest for his Ill House of Representative seat, “Barack Obama went to Harvard and became an educated fool. Barack is a person who read about the civil-rights protests and thinks he knows all about it.”
Many in Rush’s generation feel the same about the youngsters who, like myself, would never had taken the stage in the situation to applaud the appointment of Black man when the issue at hand is more about political transparency and the fight against corruption. To many leaders in his generation, this will always be the issue, no matter what historical event we are in the midst of. Frankly, leaders like Rush don’t have to stop fighting for racial equality, because the fight is not over. But the battle fields have changed, the strategies have to change with it. Like Barack so famously said about another civil rights/black power movement era leader in Chicago, “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress had been made”.
The second statement by Rep Rush really caught everybody off guard. “…and I will ask you to not hang and lynch the appointee as you try to castigate the appointer. Separate, if you will, the appointee from the appointed. Ronald Burris is worthy.” I’m extremely disappointed that Rush equated the national media, and the almost unanimous national political uprising against Governor Blagojevich to a hanging or lynching. He took this saga to a completely unnecessary melodramatic level. It’s not the move of someone who is seeing politics through the eyes 2008, more like ’88 or ’78.