Power to the Poor: Black-Brown Coalition and the Fight for Economic Justice, 1960-1974

By Gordon K. Mantler | Go to book overview
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3 War, Power, and the New Politics

As the United Farm Workers celebrated its first triumphs over California grape growers, other activists dreamed of a much larger victory in national politics. Championing what it called the “new politics,” a cadre of mostly white, male organizers from the anti-Vietnam War movement began laying the groundwork for what they hoped would become a multiracial coalition to challenge the establishment liberalism of President Lyndon Johnson at the ballot box. Arguing that “it is now abundantly clear that the cost of the war has doomed hopes of any meaningful attack on our slums and ghettos,” organizers including William Pepper of SDS and former SNCC chairman Julian Bond sought a new national coalition of black, white, and increasingly brown to fight poverty, racism, and U.S. involvement in Vietnam.1 By linking the three issues so closely, proponents of the new politics rejected not only Johnson’s liberal political assumptions but even those of the recently unveiled Freedom Budget, written by A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, endorsed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and predicated on using a greatly expanded welfare state to eliminate poverty without altering war spending.2 A war against poverty and injustice, new politics adherents charged, can never be won if the United States remained in Vietnam.3

After more than a year of discussion, recruitment, and the occasional endorsement of challengers to establishment liberals in the 1966 congressional elections, the National Conference for New Politics (NCNP) held a convention to prepare for the 1968 presidential campaign and to “end the reign of Lyndon Baines Johnson.” From August 30 to September 4, 1967, the convention took over the famed Palmer House hotel in Chicago— symbolically important as the city of Johnson ally and “old politics” titan Mayor Richard J. Daley. More than 3,200 delegates from about 200 political organizations attended to hammer out a strategy to defeat Johnson, perhaps through a third party led by someone deeply respected in the antiwar movement, such as King or celebrity pediatrician Benjamin Spock.

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