Monday, October 17, 2005

As 12 hours of standard speeches from the regular roster of roasters and roosters at Saturday’s Millions More Movement slowly slipped away, there was not one word from the feisty civil and women’s rights stalwart C. Delores Tucker.

Mrs. Tucker, no stranger to controversy from all corners, had died days earlier in a Pennsylvania hospital after a long illness. She was 78.

Had the articulate, attractive activist been alive and kicking as usual, no doubt this cutting-edge commentator would have had plenty to say at the U.S. Capitol podium, not only about the scary state of black America but also about what black Americans need to do to improve their communities and the communities they left behind.

As always, the woman wearing the trademark turban, color-coordinated to complement her classic attire, might have suggested that blacks look within to tackle their troubles before they rail against the powerful institutions that ignore, harm or exploit them.

“Rise up ye women that are at ease, or the vineyards will perish,” I heard Mrs. Tucker warn in a ballroom filled with ladies at a 1992 Sunday morning meeting of the National Congress of Political Black Women in the District.

The first high-ranking black woman in Pennsylvania state government, Mrs. Tucker established the women’s congress with former congresswoman Shirley Chisholm of New York and civil rights maven Dorothy Height in 1988. That was when black women were locked out of the backroom deals with leaders at the Democratic Party’s national convention who chose Geraldine Ferraro as the first female vice-presidential candidate.

“Never again will we have anybody speak for us,” Mrs. Tucker pledged. “Never again will black women allow themselves to be written out of history.” The eloquent Mrs. Tucker could best some of the more statuesque civil rights stalwarts with her rapid-fire rhetoric, but she was foremost a woman of action.

That potentially worthless word — “action” — took center stage at Saturday’s Millions More Movement as observers questioned the primary purpose of the national rally peppered with political platitudes, black liberation flags and family picnics.

“The measure of this day will be determined by what we do tomorrow to create a movement, a real movement among our people,” said Millions More Movement and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Didn’t we hear the same words a decade ago?

“The day after the rally is when the real work begins,” Mr. Farrakhan said yet again.

In the exemplary words of Mrs. Tucker, who will answer? Like Mrs. Tucker, who will be bold enough to say to “my sistah” or “my brotha” when they’re doing wrong, “That just ain’t right”?

It was “C,” as her closest friends called her, who boldly bashed black gangsta rappers for using lewd and misogynistic lyrics. As a board of trustees member, she even protested the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for giving rapper Tupac Shakur an Image Award.

It was Mrs. Tucker who admonished women and feminist groups for excluding black abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth from the “Women in the Bathtub” monument of Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton when it finally was displayed in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Mrs. Tucker attempted to raise $75,000 to have the sculpture redesigned.

When the Congressional Black Caucus was promoting fashion shows during its annual legislative weekend lineup, Mrs. Tucker hosted substantive panels on pressing issues facing black women.

Who can forget Mrs. Tucker’s festive annual Christmas parties in which she twisted mighty arms in order to pair black role models with disadvantaged D.C. youths?

It is not enough to speak out; we must act out. And, we must develop more effective strategies than feel-good festivals to force change. As Mr. Farrakhan stated, “The day after the march is when the real work begins.”

Millions More Movement sponsors, for example, cannot simply continue to hurl a laundry list of demands at Republican leaders. The Black Caucus members must make good on the promise they made Saturday to introduce and lobby for substantive legislation including a comprehensive anti-poverty bill.

Equally important, black constituents must participate in the political process before Election Day.

“The success of this march will be that we take charge of our communities and make a difference in the [upcoming] elections,” the Rev. Al Sharpton said.

After riding around the Mall for an hour in the Saturday afternoon sun, I was somewhat surprised by the large crowd, resembling a huge family reunion, which grew rapidly.

Unfortunately, there was little publicity and no clear clarion call had been sounded — like the one of brotherhood and atonement — which brought about the Million Man March in 1995.

One friend, who like others I spoke with decided not to attend the gathering out of a “been-there-and-done-that” mind-set, went further to suggest that the Millions More Movement was an ego-driven rally and a last gasp for a group of aging black activists.

But my 36-year-old son, who rode his bicycle through the throng listening to the harsh and sometimes hollow speeches emanating from the Jumbotrons, managed to decipher the main theme. He said: “Ma, stop saying it is a march; it is a movement.”

If the past decade set a standard, we’ll have to do a lot more than pray and pontificate for progress. As C. Delores Tucker’s meaningful life demonstrates, it takes more than millions of wasted words to produce and sustain a “real” and credible movement.

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