Marianne Williamson unveiled her proposal to create a U.S. Department of Peace Monday in Des Moines.
Olivia Sun, Des Moines Register
In what felt equal parts Southern church service and social justice rally, leaders of the newest wave of the civil rights movement shouted cries of black power and economic restoration to a crowd of a few hundred people at the nation’s first “American Descendants of Slavery” conference.
The Louisville-based event, which drew participation from civil rights leaders from across the country and presidential candidate and author Marianne Williamson, focused on exploring policy and social change to address slavery, its modern-day repercussions and reparations.
This reparations movement, which seeks financial redress for decades of legalized segregation and discrimination against African Americans, has spread across social media in the past few months. Its leaders include Howard University graduate and political analyst Yvette Carnell and Los Angeles-based attorney and activist Antonio Moore.
Carnell is the founder of and a writer for BreakingBrown.com, and Moore is an attorney and Emmy-nominated producer of a documentary titled “Freeway: Crack in the System.” In addition to Williamson, both were speakers at the Friday event at Simmons College, outlining the demands of the “black agenda.”
In a QA session, Williamson expressed her “universal, spiritual” belief that “you cannot have the future that you want unless … you fix the wrongs of the past.”
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Williamson tells the Register editorial board, “We need some huge strategized acts of doing the right thing” to repay African Americans for slavery.
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She called for atonement and amends in the form of reparations for black Americans who are descendants of slavery, by not only recognizing the debts they are owed from the systemic effects of slavery but by paying them back.
“For those who don’t understand, look at it this way: If you take $1,000 from me, I would very much appreciate an apology, but I also want my money back,” she said.
Though Williamson is polling at less than 1% and did not qualify for the third Democratic debate in September, she’s one of the first people on a national political stage to argue for and create a formal plan for reparations.
“I do not believe the average American is a racist, but I believe the average American is woefully undereducated about the history of race in America,” Williamson said Friday.
On the other side of the issue, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in June he opposes paying reparations for slavery, arguing “none of us currently living are responsible” for what he called America’s “original sin.”
“We’ve tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “We elected an African American president.”
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Simmons College President Kevin Cosby, the pastor of St. Stephen Baptist Church, opened the day to a standing ovation.
“We have waited 51 years for this,” he said, referencing the last major shift in the civil rights movement in 1968.
“Just like the great historic gatherings of the past — including the Montgomery church meeting after Rosa Parks was arrested and the black political convention in Gary, Indiana — the inaugural ADOS conference will be recorded in the annals of American history for its importance in changing the trajectory on the issue of economic justice for black people,” Cosby said.
Moore said the movement, which recognizes those with a direct lineage to slavery, has several major demands. They include reinstituting the protections of the Voting Rights Act, creating a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan targeted to communities with slaves’ descendants, developing legislation to triple the current federal allotment to historically black colleges, a health care credit to pay for medical coverage for descendants of slaves, and the passage of a reparations bill in the House.
“Without these changes, we will be left to be living a Third World life in a First World country,” he said. “It’s economic slavery.”
Carnell added, “There is an urgency in this movement. Four hundred years after the first ship with Africans enslaved arrived to what is now the United States, we cannot continue to live in the wealthiest place in the world with no wealth.”
A prerecorded message from Mayor Greg Fischer was also shown at the conference.
“In this 400th year since enslaved people arrived in our country, we are still feeling the effects and stain that it left,” he said. “While none of us contributed to the original sin of slavery, we are responsible for fixing it.”
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Fischer said Louisville is working to “explore and confront” the issues that are plaguing neighborhoods and making efforts to educate people on the history of slavery.
“We need to regenerate neighborhoods while not replacing the soul of people who built them,” Fischer said.
Williamson said: “Reparations for slavery for me, as a white woman, is not a matter of the ‘black agenda.’ To me, it is an issue of the American agenda. America simply cannot become the nation it wants unless it cleans this up.”
Williamson also said that in her travels across the country, she tells white audiences that lynchings and the Ku Klux Klan are domestic terrorism.
“I don’t believe we need another study, we don’t need more evidence, we need a plan,” she said Friday to a standing ovation and chants of “Stop studying.”
“No matter what amount you say for reparations, there are people who will say it is too much and those who say it is not enough,” she said. “If you do the math for freed enslaved people and what they were owed, we’re talking about trillions of dollars.”
Williamson’s plan calls for $500 billion to be disbursed over 20 years for education, renewal and projects for communities.
“The relationship between blacks and whites in the U.S. is a long and tortured history,” Williamson said. “It takes time for a culture to process and integrate what’s happening. It’s my experience that we have a younger generation who gets it. We will have for the first time in this election, millions of Americans voting who were not even born in the 20th century.”
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Reach culture and diversity reporter Savannah Eadens at email@example.com or at 502-381-9498. Follow her on Twitter at @savannaheadens.