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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

On the Thursday before Baltimore burned, Mr. Lee went to Washington.

He didn’t have far to go. Rev. Tony Lee is the 46-year-old pastor of Community of Hope, an AME church housed in a shopping mall in Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, just minutes from the D.C. line. Under the auspices of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, a Washington-based advocacy group, he led a delegation of 200 African-American men to Capitol Hill. They went to their capital to talk to their legislators about issues that impact their lives: racially stratified policing, education reform, voting rights and more.

It was not about protest. It was about policy.

“Protests,” Lee told me in a telephone interview, “are one way that pushes people’s feet to the fire. Whatever the issue is, it’s brought to the forefront. But … there’s still a need for people to do legislative advocacy, dealing with policy, whether it’s from the national to the local, showing people how to be engaged and (affecting) the policies that have such direct impact.”

Too often, said Lee, African-Americans have focused solely on protest — an important element of social change, but not the only one. He used the analogy of weightlifters that focus solely on building upper-body mass while “their legs are toothpicks. … In many ways, our policy legs are like toothpicks. Most people don’t know how to engage that. What you find in the policy area is more the politicos, more the people who have been doing this stuff a while. But we want just everyday brothers — and sisters — to see how they can get engaged in policy and to make sure that their legislators, whether it’s federal, or … local, city, state, know who they are, hear their voices…”

Full disclosure: I’ve known Rev. Tony Lee for about eight years. He christened my granddaughter. And I couldn’t think of a better person to respond to Tracy. As I said in my last column, she is a reader from Austin, Texas, a 55-year-old white woman, who wrote me that she is heartsick about police violence against unarmed African-American men. I decided to focus a series of columns — open-ended and running irregularly — on finding answers to the question she asked me:

What can I do?

“I have a framework for people like her and for others,” said Lee. “It’s educate, advocate, and participate. Educate means to get educated on the issue. A lot of times, what will happen is … you can end up having a lot of blind spots because you haven’t educated yourself on the issues. … Some of those local and national organizations have a great wealth of information that you can be able to educate yourself on what’s happening around some of the issues.”

Nor, he said, should she keep what she learns to herself. “As she’s becoming more informed, start talking to the people in her life. She should never minimize what it means to talk to people who are around her, people that she daily deals with. It sounds like that would be white people. She can talk to her friends and her neighbors and … educate them on what she’s learning.”

Having educated herself, he said, she should advocate, i.e., start “to deal with and talk about these issues and how she feels about them to people who are in decision-making authority in her region, whether it’s her local lawmakers or even her national representatives.”

Tracy, said Lee, should understand the advantage her skin color affords her. “It’s one thing for some of her lawmakers to hear from some of the usual suspects. It’s another thing for them to hear from constituents that aren’t black, but are white … to hear from some of their constituents who say, ‘Hey, this is wrong.'” Even the civil rights movement, he points out, included white Americans of conscience, who realized it was not just a struggle for “black” rights, but for human rights.

Which brings us to the third leg of Lee’s model for civic engagement: participate.

“Just get connected,” he said. “All organizations can use volunteers, (even if) it’s just to come in and say, ‘I’d love to work the phones for you all for a couple of hours a week.’ But find a space to participate. The other piece of participation is to be able to give. Many of the organizations in her region and nationally, need resources to be able to do the work. … Never think that any gift is too small.”

Nor, he said, does giving stop there. “You may be in a position of fund-raising. It may be that you are able, not just to give, but to shape sessions among personal networks to be able to raise funds for some of these organizations.

Educate, advocate, participate. It is, admittedly, not an agenda as immediately and viscerally gratifying as street protest, but it highlights a salient truth about American social transformation.

On the street is where the change is demanded. At the table is where it is made.

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132. Readers may contact him via email at 

AFP Photo/Justin Sullivan

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29 responses to “Protests Are Fine, But Policy Is Where Change Needs To Happen”

  1. Dominick Vila says:

    Protests demanding justice and equality are necessary to influence change, but the most important element of change involves the pragmatism and courage of elected officials willing to take steps that may not be popular among their supporters.
    The need to stop police brutality must be addressed and solved immediately. What we saw in Baltimore is not an isolated case, it is becoming the norm, and something that should not be tolerated in a country like the United States. Secondly, government at all levels must invest in improving our dilapidated inner cities, to improve the standard of living of those currently living in Third World conditions, and to create jobs. Accusing people of depending on welfare, while doing everything possible to ensure they live in abject poverty is not a solution, it is a strategy designed to deny the existence of second class citizens in a country that boasts of freedom, democracy, and opportunity for all.

  2. johninPCFL says:

    Good start on the columns, Mr. Pitts.

    We need to have conservatives involved. It’s their future and their tax dollars, too. But focusing on school choice is a problem I see coming. Not-so-well-off parents will send their child to the school that offers the most promise (so far so good), but will keep them there only so long as the grades the kid gets make them feel good about their choice. They will NOT internalize lower grades as a signal to force the kid to buckle down (and in my school career I had a few teachers who were just plain bad – no amount of “buckling” would have helped.) The parents will then move their child to a school they hear about (isn’t the internet great?) and the grades improve – maybe become “A”s. Only when the child can’t perform in college do they learn of the failure. This is happening right now in FL with many for-profit private schools. Of course, now it’s a decade too late to do anything about it.

    The typical conservative mantra “not my kid, not my problem” serves the plutocrats well. They then consolidate their control over the rest of us (since they have the means to get a “good education”) and set whatever policy best suits their fancy.

    Jefferson had a different perspective: “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” He aggressively advocated FOR public education, and ultimately founded the University of Virginia.

    Want to end tenure? Fine, but that means that instead of the bargain “work for less than the private sector but have a job for life” (i.e. tenure), we negotiate each position fill FROM the private sector at a higher price. Fewer mediocre teachers, but higher property taxes to pay for it. Who sells that to the public?

    • charleo1 says:

      Well look. The Republican’s core problem with public school, is the teachers union. Not the especially poor quality of education Johnny, or Sally is receiving, if that’s even the case. And not because unions protect bad teachers, or make changes to curriculum, or accountability impossible. But because teachers unions finance their political opponents. And religious schools, which fund their politics, using the Bible as a science course, face huge Constitutional hurdles in getting the public to pay for their blatant proselytizing. And with these two motivations in mind, the Right has done all within it’s considerable power to promote and fund, private, for profit, Charter Schools. Which they allow to function under a completely separate set of rules and standards, than is required for public schools. And as a result, are able to tout very different, very superior outcomes. One primary difference is, Charter Schools have the power of selection. Choosing only the best, and brightest. The most proficient, well behaved, and so forth. Secondly, they reserve the Right to expel permanently any student that fails to meet their standards. Very nice, if you don’t mind a little brainwashing, and ignorance being drilled into your kid. But the overall results for public schools have been devastating. Monies to fund public school has been diverted to finance Charter, which they advertise as the solution. Touting better test scores, less drugs, and gang violence, and better facilities. While Public Union School teachers, and Administrators are singled out for demonization, scorn, and threaten to either bring up scores, in their much different student populations, or be summarily fired for incompetence. And the results have been predictable. The next decade will produce a teacher shortage. As careers with higher wages, less stress, and more job security, with similar skill sets, like nursing, and social sciences are being chosen. Joe Scarborough MSNBC: “You can send an inner city kid to a 6 million dollar public school, but they need to fix the culture of public education.” And where is that 6 million dollar public school located in Baltimore City, Mr. Scarborough? And where are those quality teachers of tomorrow going to come from, if this onslaught on our public schools, and teachers continues?

      • johninPCFL says:

        Yeah, what I said earlier is that private for-profit schools do NOT produce better outcomes, at least here. The students may make “A”s, but their college entrance performance is generally worse than public school students.

        • JPHALL says:

          Yes. Because colleges do not to teach to the tests

        • Independent1 says:

          Private schools rarely produce better outcomes anywhere – just like private prisons do poorly in keeping inmates from becoming hardened criminals. Just one more right-wing fantasy gone awry.

          • Why should my tax dollars support a prisoner getting his pdh?? Thats the problem with our institutions

          • johninPCFL says:

            Because then instead of being warehoused for life at your expense, he can get a job and pay taxes himself. That takes you off the hook.

  3. charleo1 says:

    The truth is, there’s a lot of low hanging fruit in Baltimore’s inner city. Another truth is, no one is actually trying to pick it. Problem one: Avoid, and misdirect the issue, by blaming the victim, and playing politics. Joe Scarborough, Morning Joe, MSNBC. “The Liberals, since LBJ, have thrown billions at the problem for 60 years, with no results. It’s time to try, “something,” different. So the unemployment in Baltimore City, is 45% among the inner city adult population, and 80% among inner city teens. In Baltimore City Police last Aug, made 8500 arrests, of which 3000 resulted in some prosecution. That means 5500 persons were unnecessarily, and arbitrarily stopped, and questioned with little or no probable cause, then taken into custody, largely because of where they live. It is fact, in inner City Baltimore, as well as inner cities in general across the Country. Are policed differently, and more aggressively, than more the affluent neighborhoods. Now, all of these 5500 wrongly arrested individuals were probably not able to report for work the next day. Were forced to stay in custody until they could see a judge to set bond, post bond, acquire, or be appointed a lawyer, and wait for the disposition of a sham case. That got them fingerprinted, a mugshot taken, and a record of an arrest permanently attached to their name. Meaning the next time they are asked by Police, “Have you ever been arrested?” Their answer will have to be yes. Of course Police will already know. Creating a whole host of other biases, and perceptions that could lead to abuse. Another important question is, how many of these 5500 retained their jobs after their false arrest? Who live in this area with a 45% unemployment rate? And, how long before they could retain another? When the reason for leaving the last job was being arrested, unable to show up for work, and so was dismissed? Yes. Perhaps the zero tolerance policies Police work under, temporarily bring down the crime statistics. That’s good for the, “get tough on crime,” politicians, the Mayor, the Governor. But at what cost to communities, and the police relations within those communities? Where those policies are being the most stringently enforced, and used for most of the financing of the city government, and police department? As was found to be the case in Ferguson Mo. Well, where are the Fathers? The family values crowd cries indignantly? With their purse strings defiantly remaining closed. Ignoring study after study that shows, the number one determiner of poverty is not an absent Father, but a felony on one’s arrest record. Ignoring the situation where 1 in 3 African American males in this Country, are either incarcerated, or on supervised release. How living in impoverished neighborhoods directly effects the quality of the schools, and standard of education the children attending these inner city schools receive. A recent study of child poverty revealed, of the 21 States where more than half (51%) of the student body lived below the poverty level. Thirteen of those State were located in the South. While six were located in the West. Mississippi having the highest rate. Where an embarrassing 71% of that State’s students live below the poverty line.

    • Whatmeworry says:

      Hmmmm Baltimore is ranked 3rd on school spending per pupil so what’s your excuse now??

      • Daniel Max Ketter says:

        I believe Williamsburg is ranged 5th on school spending. It was my tax dollars with the United Auto Workers spent well, keeping the teacher unions operating. God bless the BTU for their service to our youth, and for their service to our country.

      • charleo1 says:

        I’m not making excuses, just some observations. Pretty touchy aren’t we? Now, 53rd on student spending is fine, if it was distributed equally. But, it’s not. The schools in Sandy Town-West Baltimore, are deplorable, as is the surrounding area. And the underfunded, poorly equipped, and dilapidated schools themselves, are only a symptom of the much larger problems of joblessness, poverty, (51% of residents earn less than $25,000 per year. Another 20% earn less than $40,000.) And, unfortunately, drugs is one of the main industries. Having replaced the once decent paying manufacturing jobs. And much of the hope for a future those jobs provided for much of this part of the city.

    • Hmmmm Baltimore is ranked 53rd on school spending per pupil so what’s your excuse now??

  4. FT66 says:

    Most of the folks avoided to tackle the root of the problem which is “POLICING”, instead they rushed to praise the woman nicknamed “the mom of year”. Really is she? This woman as she said and many saw was trying to protect/discipline her son for just only that moment. What about tomorrow, the day after and as her son grows up to become a man? If nothing is done, that boy will come to be stopped by cops without even throwing half of a rock to them and may be, be treated like what it happened to the late Gray or Trayvon Martin.

    • Daniel Max Ketter says:

      Sounds like a fine woman! Its sad the nazi fascist in blue are targeting our black youth, they don’t have a chance in a white racist society.

  5. Whatmeworry says:

    Maybe if black started paying taxes and got off the dole society at large would treat them different

    • Daniel Max Ketter says:

      That’s not fair picking on blacks. Heck, I lived on food stamps and HUD for 10 years until my union checks began arriving. Now I’m back on the dole gettin my disability premiums because some doctor said I’m too fat to work. Thank You taxpayers (with a little help from the UAW) for paying off my home.

    • Independent1 says:

      Being the clear racist that you are, you really feel qualified to make those kinds of remarks?? Blacks aren’t disadvantaged like they are maybe because of people like you are they?? Racists, who will do anything to screw them out of a job. Racists like you who would even maybe deny them even an opportunity to apply for a job. Given the extensive amount of racism, especially in the area of Baltimore -you’re comment is nothing but total nonsense AND YOU KNOW IT!!!

    • Independent1 says:

      Are you even aware, that in the area of Baltimore where these riots occurred that the life expectancy of a black person is 20 years shorter than for people who live not that many blocks away. It’s a lot more than jobs and paying taxes – and if that 20 year difference in life expectancy doesn’t tell you something. You need a lot of growing up!!!

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