Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Sad Shakedowns Of Rebb'n Al & Jesse Louis

Rebb'n Al's in trouble again.

I know, I know. You should take everything in the tabloid-ish New York Post with a grain of salt. So consider this a disclaimer and don't waste your keystrokes commenting on it.

Still, there's lots of "Shakedown"-ishness (it that a word? it is now) to this recent article, which essentially accuses the good rebb'n of extortion. And here I was thinking the National Action Network was being funded by it's thousands of dues-paying members. Silly me.

Anheuser-Busch gave him six figures, Colgate-Palmolive shelled out $50,000 and Macy's and Pfizer have contributed thousands to the Rev. Al Sharpton's charity.

Almost 50 companies - including PepsiCo, General Motors, Wal-Mart, FedEx, Continental Airlines, Johnson & Johnson and Chase - and some labor unions sponsored Sharpton's National Action Network annual conference in April.

Terrified of negative publicity, fearful of a consumer boycott or eager to make nice with the civil-rights activist, CEOs write checks, critics say, to NAN and Sharpton - who brandishes the buying power of African-American consumers. In some cases, they hire him as a consultant.

The cash flows even as the US Attorney's Office in Brooklyn has been conducting a grand-jury investigation of NAN's finances. A General Motors spokesman told The Post that NAN had repeatedly - and unsuccessfully - asked for contributions for six years, beginning in August 2000.

Then, in December 2006, Sharpton threatened to call a boycott of the carmaker over the closing of an African-American-owned GM dealership in The Bronx, and he picketed outside GM headquarters on Fifth Avenue. Last year, General Motors gave NAN a $5,000 donation. It gave $5,000 more this year, a spokesman said, calling NAN a "worthy" organization.

Sharpton denies his organization pressures corporations for cash.
I'm sure some of my more critical readers will slam me for "trying to bring another black man down", but come on, can we not just call this what it is? Extortion. A Shakedown. Racial Pandering At It's Worst.

I haven't seen a stickup this bad since Omar cleaned out Marlo.

This story isn't incredibly different than the "shakedown blueprint" perfected by Jesse Jackson and outlined in a comically biased, yet still informative book called (what else?) Shakedown a few years back. Jesse would do the same thing: find a company with shady employment/community investment/minority contracting record, threaten to boycott or picket, and quietly settle by getting each company to donate to Rainbow/PUSH and/or steer business the way of one of Jesse's close associates. Once word caught on, the gig was up. Corporations finally figured out the whole card game and called Jesse's bluff. "Eff' it, boycott us then! We're not cutting you anymore checks!" And since Jesse's juice in the Black community was already on the wane, he couldn't muster up the numbers to comprise any credible public protest.

I really have hated watching Jesee almost singlehandedly reduce himself to a walking caricature. The man's powerful oratory gave strength to a political movement in the mid 80's unforeseen in America until Obama-mania took hold. Who the heck can ever forget "Run! Jesse Run!"!?!?

Obama 08' couldn't hold Jesse 88's jockstrap when it comes to inspiring talk.

While I give my parents all the credit for impressing upon me the importance of the Democratic process, the guy who actually got me to registered to vote, and subsequently pull the lever[1] as a wide-eyed freshman engineering student was none other than Jesse himself. I can still remember the window-rattling "Vote For Harvey Gantt" semi-sermon he gave that day in our campus auditorium, and my hand still aches from the grip dude gave me as he handed me a voter registration form with the other hand. For all his faults, I'll likely carry that positive memory to my grave. So it's easy to see and understand his motivating effect on others.

The really disappointing part about this all is that much like Jesse, Rebb'n Al for all his warts, has indeed done lots of good. He advocates the voiceless, even when they don't necessarily want his help. At the bare minimum, he gives those who listen to, and call into his radio show (which I listen to pretty regularly) a forum to speak. Folks will phone in and literally drone on and on for uninterrupted minutes, spouting all manner of tin-foil hat musings and barbershop k-nowledge. And if you listen very closely, I swear you can hear the faint sound of Rebb'n Al finishing off a platter of spare ribs just inches away from the studio mic. Seriously, listen in sometime and try it.

It's good listening, with lots of credible information being dispersed when Al isn't busy riling up "Freedom Fighters" and prattling on and on about "speaking truth to power". As bleak a picture as I'm painting, I really wish more folks would give the show a listen, if only because it paints a far less threatening (read: very shifty and very disingenuous) and far more human (read: very funny and very likable) picture of Sharpton than most news accounts.

So what really stumps me is why, other than an unbridled lust for money and power, either of these guys have ruined their own reputations with such sleazy "behind closed doors" tactics to get rich. Besides, other than rib tips and hair products, what exactly is Rebb'n Al spending all this money on? He sure isn't dropping any loot on The National Action Network's embarrassingly amateurish site. Can you say Fisher Price™ My First Webpage? That sh*t is just awful.

Did they really need to shake down Fortune 500 companies to keep the lights on? Couldn't they just preach or something, given the fact that both are (allegedly) ordained ministers? Isn't a life of service payment enough? Sheez!

MLK is crying inside.

But let's not end the post with Al & Jesse bashing here. I'd prefer to present this as simply a cautionary tale of what happens with the desire for money and power overcome the desire to do good for your own people. So my question's going to be a bit different.

Question: Name something GOOD that either Jesse or Al have done in their lifetimes. No, that isn't a trick question. And if you can't say anything nice... just do what you know your Mama said to do.


[1] For none other than Slick Willie. Hey, I was young and stupid. I did far worse as an 18 year old through.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.