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Confederate Flap: Stand Firm, Howard Dean

Phyllis Gardner says: "This is a fascinating commentary from Constance Rice, a highly respected civil rights lawyer in Los Angeles, and the second cousin of Condi Rice. Her biography is attached below the the article.

"Confederate Flap: Stand Firm, Howard Dean. Candidate's allusion to poor Southern whites opens an important issue. By Constance L. Rice, Constance L. Rice is a civil rights attorney. For the full text, see,1,7780769.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

Howard Dean wants to represent angry white Confederate flag-wavers. He even quotes Martin Luther King Jr. in doing so. And in a televised debate Tuesday he refused to say he was sorry for starting this tempest. Well, Dr. Dean, you may have clumsily launched this issue, but keep at it and keep quoting, because you're right. No, this is not a missive from a Southern rebel driving a Confederate flag-festooned F-150 half-ton to a Civil War reenactment. It's from the great-granddaughter of slaves - and slave owners. A civil rights lawyer, no less, who knows full well the toxic pain and pride tangled in all symbols of the slavocracy known as Dixie.

Dean is right for three reasons. First, he's right politically. Without a vision big enough to embrace Southern white men - angry or not - this country cannot be diverted from its current path toward corporation-focused, downwardly mobile plutocracy and turned back toward people-focused, upwardly mobile democracy. Second, one of Martin Luther King's most profound insights came in his warning that to avoid elimination as the irrelevant unskilled, poor whites and poor blacks had to band together in a "grand alliance" and demand from politicians jobs, justice and opportunity for everyone. King realized that the grand old bargain this country had always offered to poor whites - namely, accept your poverty and we will ensure your racial caste superiority over blacks - must be destroyed before universal opportunity could be realized. King clearly knew that the very whites he was appealing to clung to both the Confederate flag and empty white supremacy. Yet he still proposed this alliance for the greater prosperity of all: "Together [poor whites and poor blacks] could form a grand alliance. Together, they could merge all people for the good of all."

The third reason is that we need to get beyond fighting over Confederate symbols and get to the critical re-founding of this country for its people. As a death-penalty lawyer with a Nazi-tattooed Aryan Nation client, I've known a few whites who defend the Confederate flag as the symbol of slavery that it is. Almost all other white Southerners now reject any defense of slavery but some cling passionately to the flag as if it were the only white buoy in a sea of lost identity and vanishing heritage. Are they in abject denial? Yes. Do I find many Southerners aggressively ignorant about slavery? Yes. Do I find the Confederate flag an obnoxious symbol of slavery? Yes. But I find the Third World poverty of poor American children a more obnoxious symbol of today's slavery. My point here is move on. This family feud about a symbol is not resolvable at this time. But more important, we don't have to resolve it to get to the more important mission of rescuing this country from the merry band of corporatists and robber barons at its helm right now.

So, Dr. Dean, get the interracial sophistication that's needed to carry out Dr. King's vision of the grand alliance, and get it quickly. As much of a minefield as it presents, talking about the Confederate flag, poverty and race is crucial for our country's future as a multiracial democracy. Go for it. And you don't need to apologize.

Biography of CONSTANCE RICE:

Constance L. Rice, lawyer, is director of the Advancement Project in Los Angeles. Rice has turned her formidable intelligence and her passion for fundamental change to the battle for equal education in a city that is racially and ethnically divided. Always a studious tomboy, Rice gained admission to Harvard, only to be physically beaten during her freshman year by a fellow student whom she had refused to date. Left with a broken nose and a determination never to be that powerless again, Rice began studying tae kwon do and became a national champion. With a degree in government from Harvard and a degree in law from New York University, she also is a champion fighter for women's rights, minority rights and community rights.

Rice began her legal career as a federal clerk, drafting an opinion that created the "reasonable woman" standard. She moved to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and became co-director of the Los Angeles office. During her tenure, the fund's Los Angeles office won more than $1.6 billion worth of injunctive relief and damages through class action lawsuits on behalf of multi-racial coalitions of clients. In 1998, the Los Angeles Times designated her one of 24 leaders considered the "most experienced, civic-minded and thoughtful people on the subject of Los Angeles."

The Advancement Project, which Rice co-founded, is responsible for a dramatic court victory that required the state to spend the funds it had to build new schools in the districts that needed them. Also, her firm was deeply involved in efforts to expose the recent Ramparts corruption scandal, and it now has a contract to advise the city's police union. "We need to help them have the tools they need to be humane," Rice says. Unlike her second cousin, Condoleezza Rice, Constance Rice avoids party affiliations and political labels. But she says the two women share an appreciation of "facts, analysis and a solution."

Ronald Hilton - 11.06.03