A responsible critique of BAMN

BY AMER G.ZAHR
The Progressive Pen
Published May 28, 2001

Minority leaders on this campus have a tough challenge ahead. BAMN (under the auspices of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition) is running a conference this weekend (June 1-3) on our campus to organize for a national march on Washington, DC in defense of affirmative action. A prominent display on the BAMN website states that the conference is "open and democratic." All decisions at the conference will be made on the basis of "free and open discussion and democratic majority vote." This statement, of course, comes as a shock to many of the minority leaders here, including myself. We have never known BAMN to encourage any type of free and open democratic policies.

Paul Wong
Amer G. Zahr

Perhaps BAMN is turning over a new leaf with this proclamation. I doubt it. I have no doubt that as a result of this column (as occurred as the result of some of my other actions last fall) I will be labeled a "right-wing collaborator," or some other artful description of the same thing. That kind of rhetoric is not the talk of an open and democratic organization. But it is nothing new to us. Most minorities on this campus have lost their collective morale as a result of the exclusivist actions of BAMN, but many have worked on despite them, notwithstanding BAMN"s labeling of their actions as insignificant and so on.

In fact, allow me to share a quick true story with you. Imagine this. A member of the X-American community decides to run for the student government with the Defend Affirmative Action Party, an arm of BAMN (of course, you may insert Asian, Arab, Latino, or whatever you like for "X"). This DAAP candidate expresses his concern to Jessica Curtin, one half of the presidential ticket of BAMN, that his current job would conflict with his running for student government. Curtin goes on to assure him that he will not win, that in fact, DAAP does not want him to win. They instead want another candidate, Agnes Aleboua, who is running for that seat, to win. Of course, this DAAP candidate is surprised at such a statement and asks for more clarification, to which Curtin calmly responds to the effect that the only reason she had wanted him, a member of the X-American community to run, was in order to get members of his community to vote for DAAP without regard for his own chances of winning. It is this kind of fleeting arrogance, this kind of political ineptitude, this kind of ideocentric thinking that has discouraged the vast majority of colored people on this campus from working with BAMN.

So, colored people have a challenge. Do we say, "the hell with it," and simply let BAMN go on functioning and purporting to speak for us? Or do we forge a new ideology that allows us to speak for ourselves? Of course, we must advocate the latter. We need to move on from defining our aspirations in the terms of a few students and some paid socialist activists from other cities and start demarcating our own territory independent of BAMN. We need to stop blindly allowing cynical politicians like Jesse Jackson (a man who has lost his moral authority to speak on civil rights for reasons much deeper than fathering a child out of wedlock) to use our campus as a political stomping ground, and start becoming our own spokespersons. Black, Asian, Latino, Arab, Jewish, Muslim and all interested students need to take our own stake and define ourselves not as anything anti-BAMN, but rather as something vibrant, something purely democratic and true to our desires as traditionally oppressed minorities on this campus. This does not mean, of course, totally abandoning the upcoming conference. I would encourage any progressive activists to attend and voice their problems with BAMN, along with their allegiance to any truly democratic movement that we can all be proud of. It is a fine line, one that calls for some courage and one that calls for a willingness to be singled out, labeled and even chastised by some sure to be present extreme attitudes at this conference. Yelling and screaming about how BAMN has betrayed us won"t do the trick. We need to be bigger than that, for I am more than confident that most of the colored people on our campus can intellectually outdo any of the empty attacks that would surely come. Rise up intellectually. If they wish to scream, let them scream. But we must not appear as exclusivist as they. We can demonstrate that we are bigger, for if BAMN is right about anything, it is that some kind of civil rights movement must be fashioned to fight the racism and oppression that has now taken on new and sophisticated forms that would have never existed forty years ago. Let"s be part of it, in a manner that is uncensored, egalitarian and honorable.

Amer Zahr can be reached via e-mail at zahrag@umich.edu.