On August 8, 2011, radio hosts and political commentators Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West's "Poverty Tour" of the United States came to Detroit, Michigan. The event was hosted at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center (Detroit City Hall), in an upper-level auditorium.
In recent years West and Smiley have come under fire for their harsh criticisms of President Barack Obama. Within the past year alone, both men have had on-air arguments with National Action Network president and radio host Rev. Al Sharpton.
There was a contingent of local protesters who came to voice their dissent with West and Smiley as they spoke at the event.
A blog site has uplifted the counter-protest as sensible Detroiters standing up for themselves:
(Incidentally, I really hope their use of 'refudiate' was with ironic intent, since, well, it's not a word)
I'm of the opinion that not all criticisms are created equal. It takes being able to mentally compartmentalize and discern. The flailing canards of John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Michelle Bachmann and Newt Gingrich are in one category. The same goes for right-wing media commentators like Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh.
African-American culture is so used to defending its beloved figures from political attacks from hard-right conservatives, that now when certain criticisms come from black figures, critiques that may have been considered spot-on for a George W. Bush are considered racially treasonous as applied to President Obama.
The summation, for some of those who can't stand Smiley and West, is that they are cynical quasi-intellectuals with little to offer in terms of pragmatic policy changes to help African-American communities. Others are a lot more blunt with it: "They're just haters who want [Obama] to fail."
Statistically, Detroit barely voted 51% in the 2008 Presidential election. Maybe just under 50% in the 2010 election. Many polling spots, voting lines were heaviest by early morning, modest, but not jam-packed, by mid-day and were a trickle by late afternoon. I saw it first hand.
Plenty of people still don't have health care coverage a year after the bill passed. It's still not going to be "cheap", so for adults who don't qualify for Medicare (seniors) or Medicaid (lower-income adults and children), they're out of luck, even now it's illegal for Health care insurance groups to deny based on a pre-existing condition.
Whatever the complaints about Smiley & West, they're not to blame for the horrendous voter turnout that consistently happens in Detroit. Also, it speaks ill for the intellectual discourse of black voters if "all" they do is uncritically accept "anything" that Pres. Obama does based on the notion of "well, it could always be worse". Clearly, it could be. But direct engagement with urban, inner-city, and poor communities in general is needed more than ever by the federal government, and it's not happening. Attacking literally any-and-all criticisms of current White House policy smacks of sycophantism. Why weren't there protests in the Van Jones firing or the Shirley Sherrod case?
African-American journalist George Curry hits the nail on the head about the hyper-sensitivity to critiques of the President. http://tinyurl.com/3ln5chs
People can protest Smiley & West all they want. Bravo. But hopefully they're also putting that same energy into making phone calls, emails and letters to their elected officials, including the President, and directly expressing their opinions on what their community needs.