I’ve written here about brokerage politics before. The brokerage politics model is fairly simple. You’ve got a large body of “clients” that for whatever reason cannot attain some good using their own devices. So in steps a “broker” who negotiates on behalf of the “client.” The end result is that the client gets something that he/she couldn’t get without the broker. The problem with this model politically speaking is that the clients are usually disempowered (the broker has no interest in giving the clients the resources needed to cut deals on their own), the broker cuts deals on the client’s behalf in private (which makes it impossible to determine whether a better deal could have been garnered by the clients themselves), and there are no means of holding the broker accountable (the broker is not usually a political official hence can’t be voted out of office, and the broker usually operates on a scale that makes shame ineffective).
Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are both brokers. Their livelihood has been garnered by a combination of powerful speaking skills, and brokering deals on behalf of black constituencies with private and public parties.
There was a time not long ago when events like Jena and Paris would have come to light THROUGH them (or someone like them). After ensuring that they had their facts straight, Jackson and Sharpton would then spread the word about the events nationally….and perhaps some type of redress would come from it.
The internet combined with black talk radio and other black information sources (remember, Shaquanda Cotton was picked up first by an African American Chicago Tribune columnist) in effect removes Sharpton and Jackson from the equation in their former capacity. Even if, because of the nature of rural political power, the people in Jena did not have the power to make change on their own…black people in Chicago, Detroit, and other urban areas DO have this power. They have the power of the podium, the power of numbers. Making these events transparent is usually enough to get some type of redress, because we have progressed enough that nationally shaming a municipality does work. Jackson and Sharpton are both sharp enough that they’ll hold on in some capacity…likely as media pundits.
However the problem here is that what we’re facing is much larger than rural racism writ large. There’s a reason why people went to Jena and stopped there, rather than say, continuing 4 hours and moving to New Orleans and camping out there until the city and the people in it are made whole. Transparency in the case of this form of subjugation is not enough. This requires a level of organizing and planning that cannot occur through this type of protest. And just as the media has a very short attention span….so do we. I have no idea for example whether Paris, Texas is dealing with its black children any better than it did before the Cotton case made headlines.
I mention the media.
The other thing to take from Jena and Paris is that we actually have developed what some call a “counter-public sphere.” A place where we can engage in debates and come to consensus on issues separate from those created by the mainstream media. However the types of events and discussions that are held in this virtual space is still constrained by a range of factors. We are more likely to talk about domestic subjugation than say the white progressive blogosphere (it’s important that this be acknowledged…it isn’t that the “progressive blogosphere” missed out on Jena while the “black blogosphere” picked it up. Rather the “black progressive blogosphere” picked it up and the “white progressive blogosphere” purposely missed it). But we are not any more likely to talk about say, the potential role of city-level socialism in ameliorating poverty.