Radio Host Calls for 'Blackout'
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
This week, Washingtonians woke up to hear a news of yet another hate symbol making an appearance. Swastikas were sprayed in the door of a Jewish student at George Washington University. This was just the latest in a series of incidents like this around the country. A noose was found in a tree on the University of Maryland campus last month. Another on the door of a professor at Columbia University. And, of course, the nooses hung in a tree at a high school in Jena, Louisiana were at the heart of a series of racial confrontations that have taken place over the course of the year in that town.
Earlier this week, we heard from civil rights activist Martin Luther King III about plans for a march next month on the Justice Department to press for more aggressive action in these cases.
Radio One talk show host Warren Ballentine has another idea. This Friday, he is urging African-Americans to spend no money to protest injustice. He's here with us now from his studio in Raleigh, North Carolina. Warren, welcome. Thanks for speaking with us.
Mr. WARREN BALLENTINE (Radio One Talk Show Host): Michel, thank you for taking time out to allow me to be with you and your audience. I just absolutely adore your show. I think you're fantastic.
MARTIN: Well, thank you. How did the idea for the National Blackout come about?
Mr. BALLENTINE: Well, it came about because of all the injustices taking place in the country, but it also came about because of a conversation that I had with a couple of my law school roommates who are Caucasian. And we were just talking about how this war, the mortgage crisis, the health care issues, how so many things are affecting Americans in this country.
I got on the air and kind of gauged with my audience what did they think about this. And before I knew it, you know, I have 1,000 e-mails saying, we need to not spend any money in this country. So I went to Reverend Sharpton, and Martin Luther King III, Minister Farrakhan and others, and we had a semi-summit in Chicago. And all of them said, look, we think you should call for this and we're all going to support you in this. And then, at that summit, we decided that after the boycott, we needed to do something else and that's when the November 16th date was picked for the march on the Department of Justice.
MARTIN: So that the thought was that those are two coordinated efforts: the boycott on one day and then the march as a follow-up a couple of weeks later?
Mr. BALLENTINE: Yes, ma'am.
MARTIN: A number of the people who are supporting this effort like Reverend Al Sharpton, like Minister Louis Farrakhan, like you even, are considered polarizing, taking stances on your shoes that other people don't support. I just wonder if you have thought about that as possibly diminishing the support that you might otherwise get.
Mr. BALLENTINE: Yeah, I have. And, you know, one of the things that I've tried to do throughout my - not just radio career - but my legal career, I try not to polarize myself with other races because I think, you know, we may have all come here on different ships but we're all in the same boat. But when I see Reverend Sharpton and others coming to support me, I'm not going to turn my back on them just because I know, to some people, they may be polarizing.
You know, this is about America. This is not about black, white or anything else. This world is too global now to be caught up in a black-white issue all the time. This is humanitarian.
MARTIN: But why is it called a blackout?
Mr. BALLENTINE: Well, a blackout happens - you know, if the lights go out, they call it a blackout. They don't call it a whiteout. It wasn't specifically called a blackout for black people. We're just not going to spend any money. It's like the lights are going off.
Mr. BALLENTINE: Anybody who's tired of this government and what they're doing with the war, the mortgage crisis, the education, anything that you see unjust in this country, we're just saying, look, let's all come together for one day, and it's something that every person can do.
MARTIN: We talked about your call for this day of resisting spending on our regular segment called The Barbershop, where a group of guys talk about, you know, hot topics of the week. We talked about this last week with our regulars - Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Michael David Cobb Bowen - and this is what they had to say.
Mr. RUBEN NAVARRETTE (Syndicated Writer, The Washington Post Writers Group): I will tell you, the last time a boycott worked - and I want to give some historical props here, too - the Montgomery Bus Boycott. That was a real boycott that actually worked. The reason it worked was because it went in conjunction with legal efforts and voter registration drives and all of those stuff that was part of the civil rights movement.
I don't think that just straight-out marches and boycotts really work this way. The idea that you're going to get people to not buy something and somehow that's going to bring, you know, these people to their knees, that just doesn't work anymore. It's a tired old tactic.
Mr. JIMI IZRAEL (Columnist, AOL Black Voices): Cobbsky?
Mr. MICHAEL DAVID COBB BOWEN (Blogger): You got to work with the infrastructure. I see this happening in so many different places where people have a social experiment and they think, well, if we do this one thing and if 10,000 people show up, then we'll change the world. It doesn't happen that way. You change the world by working and doing things on a full-time basis.
MARTIN: That was Michael David Cobb Bowen. You also heard the voice of Jimi Izrael and Ruben Navarrette.
Warren, what are you hearing? I mean, that's one - you're hearing from people who are very supportive of the idea, and this is another perspective. What do you think is more predominant?
Mr. BALLENTINE: I've heard that perspective, and to those, I say this: when you talk about change in this country, look, the Civil Rights Act came because of what happened in Salem - that march. It was less than 15,000 people there. We have more than - if I low-balled it - we have more than 30,000 people in Jena. Our voice does matter.
And see, we think that we need to do other things to change things in this country, but even with the immigration issue in this country - I'll use that as a perfect example - I have a very good friend who's a member of Congress. He told me, after our Latino brothers and sisters went to the streets with this, loading up in numbers in the street and marching, that's when that issue went from maybe number 12 on the docket to number one on the docket.
We hired the government, and if we come together and let our voice be heard, somebody up there will pay attention to what's going on.
MARTIN: But what…
Mr. BALLENTINE: That's why they had judiciary hearings about the Jena Six. I mean, it's a perfect example.
MARTIN: But voice being heard to say what, to do what about exactly what? On the immigration issue, for example, I mean, there's a very intense feelings on both sides of that question. On Iraq, there are intense feelings on both of sides of that question. And I would argue that people on both sides of these questions feel that they're not being listened to.
Mr. BALLENTINE: When you're talking about the war or immigration, I think the majority of Americans feel that, you know, this war is unjust. I think the majority of Americans feel, in this country, that the immigration issue, the laws that we have, need to be enforced. We're calling for the federal government to actually intervene, to step in and say, look, let's look at what's going on in the Justice Department. Let's look at what's going on with the health care issues in this country. And I think that the federal government has not been active enough in a lot of different areas across the board, and that's why I think a lot of Americans are just at the point where they're just tired. They feel that they have been taken advantage of and nobody's listening.
MARTIN: But what's the specific goal? How would you know whether you've achieved it or not?
Mr. BALLENTINE: My specific goal is to just simply unify the people to show them that they can do it. I'm not trying to crash the market. I don't even think you can measure.
MARTIN: Well, will you come back and talk to us after the day of the blackout and tell us how you feel it all went?
Mr. BALLENTINE: Michel, I would come talk to you every day if you wanted me to.
MARTIN: Well, that's what we want to hear.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Warren Ballentine is host of "The Warren Ballentine" program on Radio One. He's also leading the National Blackout Day this coming Friday, November 2nd. Warren Ballentine, thanks so much for speaking with us.
Mr. BALLENTINE: Thank you, Michel.