SHARPTON FOR PRESIDENT By Sonya Rose
When (an if) Al Sharpton takes over the Oval office in 2004, he plans to invest in America's "industry" to create jobs for all citizens, subsequently put in place programs to alleviate racial discrimination in the workplace, and make educational excellence a priority in all public-learning institutions - just for starters.
In fact, once he gets the money together and the support of community variants and decides officially to throw his hat in, there's not much else to stop the Reverend from dethroning George W. And, make no mistake about it, he's serious: "I think that when people are forced to make hard choices, that's when you can make more movement. During more relaxed times - that's when people may not stand up and do what's necessary," he muses during our recent talk at his National Action Network headquarters in Harlem; that is to say, at a time when our nation is experiencing supreme duress from the Middle East war-fallout and economic recession with its subsequent job-loss trauma, ultra conservative patrons may be more apt to side with moderates and even minorities, and choose change.
A change is gonna come, oh yes it will, and Sharpton seems sure he is the conduit. The press 'n curl coiffed Reverend is adept at using his street savvy to move formal political circles. It's as if his grassroots upbringing and leadership efforts, first as a child preacher, then Operation Breadbasket officio and now as NAN's CEO, have all prepared him for the national stage, where he will have to draw on every non-physical fiber of his Christian soul to unite our nation under one umbrella, racial, religious and economic. Even more, he claims, he is up to the task to make things better for all people.
I have to admit, however, part of me wants to believe that Sharpton is full of sh--. I mean, the man used to dress and speak like the hustlers from my old Chi-Town neighborhood. And, his activist streak only seems to profit the folks whose wrongs are worth national, televised coverage. A Black construction worker from Ohio wrongly fired in a racist assault from his employer may not get the Brooklyn-born preacher on the phone, but a call from a woman axed from a nationally-known Texas-based energy trading firm may get him on a plane.
But Sharpton also counsels ex-cons on re-entry into 'free' society. He oversees a Homeless Committee at his NAN office that helps displaced persons find housing. The married (Kathy) 57-year-old father of two (Dominique and Ashley) recently began offering GED classes in an effort to aid dropouts in job-skill preparedness. He was on-site in Vieques to protest the U.S. Navy's dangerous bombing range, even main-stage post 9-11 calling for universal racial tolerance--not profiling. The man is an enigma; at once appearing to exist on an unending avarice and need for exposure, but the next moment taking a young brother off the streets, and personally guiding him toward seeming Black-American salvation: a job, an apartment and an NAN membership.
One of my sharpest memories of Al Sharpton was as a constant and powerful television presence when he presided over the Tawana Brawley case, with what I felt then was a fearless abandon. The memory of this enormous and loud Black man in slick gear front-and-center podium testifying about the tragic and alleged rape of a teenaged New Yorker will forever be etched into our collective consciousness, for better or for worse. It was, though skewed, a vision of Black power (U.S. style) at its pinnacle. (There was reported evidence that Brawley may not have been raped, and Sharpton was forced to pay off one of the accused, prosecutor Steven Pagones, for defamation.)
Yet all of a sudden, during the debacles height, here was this huge and angry, though undeniably brilliant, orator purporting to speak on behalf of the Black underclass, that class of African-Americans that live way below America's economic, social and political radar in sub-standard conditions; a class so low and sometimes so loathed that even some African Americans seem to have forgotten their plight.
Today, Sharpton is slim and fashionable, and developing a possible presidential platform for our country that includes, he says, all of its citizens. His developing agenda includes election reform in hindsight of the Gore/Bush ballot-count fiasco ("There has not been a correction in terms of what they did in 2000"); salvaging the economy ("Because what he [Bush] has done has only helped the wealthy, like with tax breaks"); and, managing the nation's ever-burgeoning criminal justice system ("We have an unprecedented 2 million people in jail... Black and White").
The infamous Reverend says he is not afraid to take on President Bush or terrorism. And, though some might question a minister's readiness for battle, he elucidates that his faith would not prevent him from leading our nation into war if the situation called. "War is all throughout the Bible," he argues. "I think that my faith doesn't prevent me [from calling for war] based on my beliefs, any more than his [George W.] beliefs prevent him (...a practicing Christian). One has nothing to do with the other."
During a recent Saturday rally in Harlem, Sharpton and his beautiful wife guided the hopeful fold of gatherers. Sharpton was center-stage in an expensive Black suit and vertical black-and- white-striped tie, the colors on the soft fabric running upwards, side by side - but never touching. He guided a chant of remembrance and of anger: "We will not forget Amadou Diallo. We will not forget..." And the packed house swayed and repeated the salvo, some even breaking out in righteous dance. Saikou Diallo was there, draped in glorious golden African robes, making quiet preparations for a vigil to be held in honor of his slain son--to mark three years passing.
"No Justice, No Peace," Sharpton continued, and he urged the crowd to join hands. Then he sent his flock out into their respective committee-blocks, Homeless, Women's Issues, Education; and afterwards, he huddled with confidants in his office to prepare for his next appointment.
Sonya Rose is a Harlem-based writer. She is completing her second novel, a work of fiction, to be released in 2002. Miss Rose can be reached at Writer_SR@hotmail.com
Tuesday, February 12, 2002