National Urban League: Evolve or Die

In the wake of the mortgage meltdown, many (overwhelmingly conservative and Republican) critics have tried to make scapegoats out of “unqualified minority home purchasers” in general, and the Community Reinvestment Act, in particular. The CRA is a federal law which was designed to expand home-ownership for minorities in light of a long history of discriminatory lending by American banks.

This idea has been debunked as being wrong and even offensive. Marc Morial, who heads the National Urban League, gave compelling testimony before the Senate last week in which he defended the CRA, and decried that black borrowers were the subject of “blame the victim” attacks.

I hoped that Morial’s remarks, which I heard on C-SPAN radio, might be put on YouTube so I could post it to this blog. No such luck.

I thought that maybe the NUL website would have a transcript of his testimony, parts of which I could cut and paste onto this blog. No such luck.

What’s up with that?

In times like these, groups like the NUL should be taking advantage of modern communication tools, like YouTube, to spread its message. But that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Recently, I’ve been reading the book The Practical Progressive: How to Build a Twenty-first Century Political Movement by Erica Payne. Payne makes the comment:

After the defeat of Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, conservative philanthropists began to build a set if ideologically-aligned institutions-academic centers, think tanks, legal advicacy institutions, watchdog groups, single issue groups, community organizations and media vehicles-to change the intellectual and political climate of the country.

In the last 40 years, this “infrastructure” has supported and promoted conservative ideology so effectively, that it ultimately assured its political dominance.

In 2002 progressives began to wake up to this enormous structural disparity. We began to understand that our candidates are losing not because they were bad candidates but because they were structurally outmatched.

We were sending David to fight Goliath without a slingshot. So we began to build new institutions outside of politics and to transform old organizations to meet the challenge.

Payne’s book contains profiles of several dozen progressive organizations, such a ACORN and, which are part of the new “progressive infrastructure” that is working for positive change in our society.

The NUL was conspicuously absent from the groups which are included in the book. Apparently, it is not sufficiently transformed to be considered a reliable force among the network of progressive groups.

I’ll discuss this some more in a follow-up to this post. But the point I want to make now is this: It’s past time for groups like the NUL to evolve into effective 21st century vehicles for African American advocacy. That’s not just my opinion; the belief is widespread among many observers in the black community. Reportedly, the membership in these organizations is declining, and their reputation is taking a hit as well.

I’m not expecting the NUL or other older black groups like the NAACP or SCLC to change overnight. But is it too much to expect that these groups use Internet platforms like YouTube to capture and publish their message en masse? If they’re unable to do basic tasks like that, then real change within these organizations is going to be a long time coming.

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