Rev. Al and the Struggle for Justice
The most moving orator in the public square
On The Role of Charismatic Leadership
When Reverend Sharpton took the podium on the Great Mall in Washington on Saturday to lead a march honoring the installation of a monument to Dr. Martian Luther King, he was entering a tradition that included Frederick Douglass, Adam Clayton Powell, Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and Louis Farrakhan. The greatest Orators in our history! I mean American history. Rev. Al gave a splendid account of himself in a performance that enriched rather than detracted from that grand tradition.
The eloquence and power of his oratory inspired all who heard him – including hard boiled critical thinkers like myself. In relying on biblical text to fashion a social gospel that speaks directly to the economic crisis that witnesses the rich getting richer while the poor grow more desperate, Sharpton was firmly in the tradition of Dr. King’s employment of the Afro-American sermonic art to advocate social justice in the secular sphere.
Dr. King forged this inspiring combination into a weapon capable of fundamentally changing the world’s most powerful society without ever firing a shot. As the most visible heir to Dr. King’s activist legacy, it is both fitting and proper that Reverend Sharpton should have convened this march. And he delivered a speech that reminds us Dr. King was a peaceful but uncompromising warrior in defense of the poor and dispossessed.
Like Dr. King, Sharpton is doing just what Jesus Christ charged those who claim to be his followers to do: Minister unto the least among us! Rescuing this message from the blasphemy of the Christian Right, who hijacked Jesus for avaricious billionaires who starve the poor – is clearly the work of progressive theologians like Cornell West. Yet Corny rejects that role in favor of dispensing dangerous third rate political analysis.
While President Obama is the most moving orator to occupy the white house in my lifetime, Al Sharpton is the reigning master of the public square. For the poor and powerless in the United States at this moment in history that’s a very good thing, because nobody presents their case to the
world more movingly and intelligently than Reverend Al.
I am not dismissing the case to be made by academicians, but they write treatises in obscure polysyllabic Latinate jargon that is understood only by each other….and professional policy wonks. While their work is surely indispensable; it is for the quiet deliberations of scholars in Ivy towers – which can become academic war rooms when engaged in solving real world problems. But they cannot incite the masses to action!
If the masses make history, then they who can move the masses shape the contours of our history. That’s what “Charismatic Revivalists” like Al Sharpton, and his role model Dr. Martin Luther King, are about. As a great salesman once told me: No business gets done until somebody sells something!
And right now, Reverend Al is the best salesman for progressive liberal agenda we have. He is the most powerful and comvincing advocate for the liberal welfare capitalist state that emerged in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal of the 1930s, and was expanded during the Great Society years of Lyndon Johnson during the 1960′s.
Sharpton’s Keynesian view of the role of government in alleviating unemployment by becoming the employer of last resort when the private sector fails to provide adequate jobs at a living wage, is a powerful antidote to the 999 Mumbo Jumbo of Herman Cain and other rightwing lunacies advocated by Republicans. Furthermore Sharpton’s long experience in building movements has equipped him with the political acumen to put the outrage of the people into realizable demands. The Grand Obstructionist Party argues that there is no legitimate role for government in mediating and regulating economic activity; in their view the financial fate of the nation should be left to the “economic royalists” who monopolize our nation’s wealth.
No one on the public stage says no to this vision of America more powerfully and effectively than Rev. Al! His is a voice that arises from the people; he remains close to the common people and bears witness to their pain. That’s why Sharpton’s oratorical prowess embodies the spirit of the resistance movement and makes the word flesh; this is what moves the masses. The white left has produced no comparable charismatic leader. This is why Reverend Al is indispensable to the success of the burgeoning movement for economic justice in America today.
King of the Mall…Not Just a Memory in Stone
Harlem New York
October 19, 2011