Congressman Bobby Rush (D-IL) has dedicated his entire life to preserving the civil rights of Black people. Just check his pedigree.
He cut his teeth in 1966 as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a powerful youth based civil rights movement in the 1960s directed by Ella Baker and Rev. James Lawson. From these ranks leaders such as Julian Bond, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael and Rush emerged with new ideas about systemic and political change— revolutionary concepts about civil rights and how Black people should protect those rights. SNCC served as a launching pad for his advocacy work, but by 1968, Rush found himself as the defense minister for the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, which he co-founded when he was just 22 years old.
With a legacy of service and a constitution embedded in activism, Rush is all about finding ways to fight for his people.
Defining What Matters
Which is why his voice, though shaken by his 72 years, still rings loud and strong in protest against the current attack on Black people’s civil rights manifested on Wednesday in the Comcast Corp. v. National Association of African-American Owned Media hearing occurring in the Supreme Court.
“My concern with the case has very little to do with Byron Allen and Entertainment Studios and their business dealings with Comcast. My greater concerns are related to the overhaul of a statute that was instituted to protect the economic potential of the average African-American,” said Rush in an interview with theGrio.
“I am concerned about how this case, and the statute used in the dispute should Comcast prevail, would be an assault on the fundamental rights of the original Civil Rights Act of 1866 (section 1981).”
Rush reiterates what so many have said over the last few months. This singular act is critical to many of the protected liberties Black people enjoy today.
“They [Comcast, Charter and the Department of Justice] are essentially putting a bed of dynamite underneath this civil rights legislation; one that is basically the foundation that all other civil rights legislation since has been based on.”
Should Comcast/ Charter win this case, Rush believes that American life as Black people have enjoyed it for over 150 years will be in jeopardy.
Power of the People
Now that we know the problem, the question remains, what can people do? Rush maintains that everyday people still have power, and if he has learned anything from his days as a Black Panther and his life-long career as a public servant, it is that regular people with guts can make a difference.
“We have to dismantle their motivation. If they want to dismantle our civil rights, as consumers and activists, we have to dismantle their corporations with our dollars and our ability to protest,” said Rush.
“The NAACP has a petition online that you can sign in protest. But there are other things that everyone can do to deliver some sort of consequence to Comcast if they don’t shift on their position. We have to render to them an economic consequence. We have to hit them where it hurts. Back when I was a Panther, we were more militant, more aggressive, more vocal, more organized, more resistant and we did not take our animosity out on each other. Instead, we took our animosity out on the institutions that denied us our full rights as human beings under the constitution of the United States and denied us economic opportunities. We deserve it just as much as any people, as we have labored for over 400 years to make this economy great. That’s why I say, ‘let’s wake them up.’”
As an active member of the Congressional Black Caucus and the first and only Representative from Illinois’ 1st congressional district in over 27 years, Rush acknowledges that other members of Congress have been silent on this issue. In fact, only a handful signed the amicus brief in an effort to give their support to keep the protections of the civil rights law in place.
“There are some members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have signed on to the amicus brief. We are grateful for them. But there are some of them who did not sign the brief because of so many other reasons. That does not mean that they would not have if the opportunity afforded them,” says Rush.
“I know that they would bleed for Black people and that they are willing to stand up in Congress or anywhere else for Black people. Many have put themselves at risk for Black people. We fight, and Comcast does not have any of us in their pockets.”
Without stating names, Rush mentions that when the actual brief was presented to the CBC, many of its members were in other hearings or did not attend that particular meeting. Between impeachment hearings, partisan bullying and an upcoming presidential election, members are regularly pulled in several directions on the Hill. So much so, Comcast was able to take advantage by reneging on a 2010 promise to several civil rights groups (including the NAACP, Urban League and National Action Network) to engage African-American owned networks in their distribution model.
A Promise Not Kept
Nine years ago, Comcast committed to add at least 10 new independently-owned and-operated programming services over the next eight years targeting people of color. In this Memorandum of Understanding, section 7.B entitled, Enhancing Programming Diversity, Comcast agreed to expand their commitment with General Electric and NBC by adding African-American independently-owned and operated channels in efforts to prove their commitment to diversity.
According to the agreement, they promised to commit to at least eight networks that would have a large amount of participation by minorities (meaning ownership or operational control.) Except, out of this commitment, only two networks were added: Revolt (principally owned by Sean “Diddy” Combs) and Aspire (fronted by Magic Johnson).
The years have come and gone, and the MOU expired last year without Comcast making good on their promise of inclusion even with the opportunity to include Entertainment Studios programming within their network.
The Trump Administration
According to Rush, out of their 30 minutes of time to argue before the Supreme Court, Comcast will yield 10 to Donald Trump‘s Department of Justice. Remember, this is the same individual who has settled a racial discrimination case from the 70’s, because he was accused of not renting to people based on race.
The Department of Justice will propose a “but for” clause in The Act making racial discrimination much harder to prove.
Let that sink in.
Congressman Rush believes that corporations across the board have an obligation to Black people to respect and to protect us, especially if they want our business.
“They can’t say that they are our allies and then turn around and sucker punch us,” says Rush.
What Comcast is proposing will change a law instituted to protect former slaves from racism— during a particular time in American history where post-racialism has been proven over and over again to be a myth.
Maya Angelou famously said, when people show you who they are, you must believe them. Rush adds to this sentiment in his belief that the Black community must demand our respect.
“We must reconsider and redefine our relationship with Comcast,” he says. “If someone tries to take your very fundamental rights away, a right that is just as important as our right to vote, you must call them out. They want to take away our economic viability by attacking the protection of Black people and their contracts.”
If this case does nothing else, it will indeed awaken the country to how systematic racism is yet again perpetuated by the Trump Administration and now also, Comcast. As the final decision is rendered next year, here’s hoping that the nine justices will absolve their own biases to err on the side of humanity, equality, and simple fairness.