Next Wednesday, a few blocks south of Trump Towers and a few blocks north of Fox News, the first major national convention this year bringing together faith leaders, elected officials, grassroots organizers and more will kickoff in New York City. Opening with former Attorney General Eric Holder and followed by other notables over the course of several days like Bernie Sanders and many others, National Action Network’s (NAN) annual conference will take place at a time when so much of this nation’s progress is on the line. As we convene, it is in the backdrop of a city where racial manipulation in the late ‘80s and ‘90s was prevalent, and it is what NAN was founded to combat. While we were working to bring about justice and serve as a voice for the voiceless, others were spreading racial fears and building entire empires using that division. People like Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and yes, Donald Trump, have all amassed tremendous wealth and power by stoking the fire of racial bias instead of telling people the truth. It’s time to set the record straight.
NAN was founded over 25 years ago as we were fighting for justice for Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old shot and killed in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, after being surrounded by a mob of bat-wielding white youths, as well as the case of the NJ 4 (black and latino youth shot by NJ state police) and the Central Park Five who were wrongfully convicted in the horrific jogger case ― Trump, I might add, also took out full page ads at the time in major newspapers calling for the death penalty to be reinstated in NY against those five teenagers. All of these tragic incidents dealt with racial bias from working class whites or police out of those communities. They were the audience that O’Reilly and Ailes fueled and then profited from tremendously. Fox News built a machine that told them they were being ignored at the expense of others, rather than telling them what was really taking place.
It began in New York, where O’Reilly hails from and where he and Ailes crafted their media careers. It is also the same place that produced an outer borough white guy who grew up right near Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, and who would then go on stoking those same fears decades later in order to win a presidential election. The false narrative that working class whites were somehow under assault from blacks, latinos and other minorities is what these three men used to raise their own clout, amass their own wealth and gain power.
O’Reilly, Ailes, and Trump rose despite their blatant bias, homophobia and misogyny because they played to a market of people who were legitimately marginalized but sold that it was others who were marginalizing them. Fox News played on the racial and sexist fears of people who were victims of Reagan’s trickle-down economics and failed Bush policies who then turned around in some cases and victimized others. It is a cruel game of divide and conquer where the ones cashing in have been people like Ailes, O’Reilly and Trump, and corporations like Fox News. I suppose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to unite the black and white working class because he understood that they were being pitted against each other. We must move in the spirit of Dr. King to find a way to tear down the wall (Mr. Trump) constructed by those who stoke fears rather than change policies that make us unstable and insecure.
NAN was founded to carry on Dr. King’s work and seek a society that is fair and just regardless of one’s color, creed, gender, orientation, religion or background. People like O’Reilly, Ailes and Trump may seek to divide us for their own selfish benefit, but we must not fall for deceit and must continue to unite. Next week we gather once again because everything ― literally everything ― is at stake.
Please visit nationalactionnetwork.net for more information on NAN’s annual convention.