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Various essays and extended pieces

Monday, April 24, 2006

Andy Young - The Shameless Son 

Black History Month 2006 ended on a jarring note. Andrew Young, a
former member of Dr. King's inner circle at SCLC, who went on to serve
three terms in Congress, a stint as UN ambassador and two terms as mayor
of Atlanta before cashing out his Freedom Movement chips for a lucrative
career as an international "business consultant," decisively spat upon
the movement for human rights and economic justice that he spent his
early career helping to build. Young announced
on February 27,
2006 that he would chair Working Families for Wal-Mart, a media
sock-puppet for the ruthless multinational firm. The cynical misuse of
his stature as an icon of the Freedom Movement, preacher, former elected
official, and honored elder in black America to mask and obscure the
crimes of his corporate client marks Mr. Young as nothing more nor less
than a corporate whore.

When Atlanta's WAOK -AM radio gave Young several
minutes of live air time the morning of the 27th to justify himself to
an African American hometown crowd, the response was overwhelmingly
negative. How could he do this, one caller after another wondered
incredulously. Wal-Mart does more to depress the wages of working
people on both sides of the Pacific than any other single player in the
game, listeners called in to say. Other callers reminded each other
that Wal-Mart relentlessly discriminates against women and minorities,
ruthlessly crushes unions, and dumps its health care costs onto the
public sector while receiving millions in local government subsides and
tax abatements for each of its thousands of US stores. Andy Young used
to walk with Dr. King. He used to be on our side, more than one
observed. Why, they asked, is this happening?

To get at the answer we need to understand what an international
"business consultant" is. Andy Young is co-founder
, with Carlton
Masters of Good Works International. Stephen Glass's 1997 New Republic
article "The Young and the Feckless
" succinctly spells out what
Andy Young's firm did for its first client, Nike. Public outrage in the
US was building over Nike's outrageous business practices including
child labor and forcing employees to work as many as 65 hours per week
for only $10. Incensed citizens disrupted the opening of a Nike Town
superstore in San Francisco standing in front of the store chanting,
"Just don't do it!"

Two days after the San Francisco incident, Nike CEO Phil Knight
announced that his company was taking swift - and, it would turn
out, savvy - action to shore up its meticulously maintained but
suddenly threatened public image. Nike was commissioning an
independent investigation of its Asian operations: it would make all
facilities and internal documents available to a team of inspectors,
and it would then allow the inspectors to make their findings
public. "Nike has always been a business about excellence and
achievement," Knight proclaimed. And, to prove it, Nike would hire
not just any old corporate hack to lead the investigation into its
overseas operations, but a man of famous independence and renowned
stature - a man who had first gained recognition as a civil rights
hero, who had won wide acclaim as the mayor of Atlanta, who had
served his country as ambassador to the United Nations and who had
co-chaired the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. The
honorable Andrew Young, Knight said, would get to the bottom of this.

...Young had recently founded a firm in Atlanta called GoodWorks
International... Nike was GoodWorks's first big client; its first
chance to send corporate America evidence that GoodWorks did, from
the businessman's point of view, good work. And when, four months
after Knight's announcement, Young's firm published its
seventy-five-page, full-color report on Nike's Asian operations, the
client certainly had reason to feel it had gotten its money's worth.
There was, Young had concluded, "no evidence or pattern of
widespread or systematic abuse or mistreatment of workers" in the
twelve operations he examined. To hammer home the point, GoodWorks
packed the report with photographs - many taken by Young himself -
of smiling workers playing a guitar on their break and relaxing
around a television in their dorm.

As depictions of the actual conditions faced by the real working humans
in Nike sweatshops, Andy Young's photos of contented guitar strumming
Nike workers on a porch had about as much integrity as pictures of
harmonica-playing happy-go-lucky darkies in a 1909 Alabama chain gang or
cotton patch. But integrity is not what international "business
consultants" do.

Only weeks behind Andy Young's cotton patch tour auditors from the
accounting firm Ernst & Young visited some of the same locations, and
detailed the unsafe, inhuman and abysmal conditions. This report
,
promptly leaked by a gutsy company insider with a human conscience
flatly contradicted Andy Young's lies.

Still, the Nike job put Andy Young's Good Works International on the
map, and over the next few years lucrative contracts walked in the
door. Young cynically rented his "civil rights hero" and philanthropist
image out to oil and mineral extracting corporations in Africa, to
bankers in the Caribbean and other interests on the Asian continent to
paper over their atrocities.

In Nigeria, where every sensible person expects the nation's vast
treasure of easily extracted oil to be pumped dry in a few decades with
little or no lasting benefit to the masses of its people, Good Works
International is widely credited with introducing the Nigerian president
to thievery, American style. Andy Young and co-founder Carlton Masters
helped engineer the creation of the first Nigerian Presidential Library,
and one or both sit on its board. Fifty million naira
in corporate donations poured in the
first day, with Texaco and Chevron thought to be among the major
contributors. By early this year the library had netted billions of
naira from Nigerian and foreign firms that do business with government,
generated a storm
of
controversy over the ethics of such legalized bribery, and sparked an
official investigation by Nigeria's Ethics and Financial Crimes
Commission
.
And along the way, Good Works landed the lobbying contract to represent
Nigeria in the US. The motto of Good Works International is after all,
to do good by doing well.

While most callers to the Monday morning Atlanta radio station
excoriated Young's willful treachery, the most interesting response came
from one of the show's co-hosts who spoke in Young's defense. The man
was a civil rights leader, he declared, a former congressman and mayor.
Andy is a philanthropist, he went on to say, whose good works help set
up scholarship funds, endow university schools of public policy, send
kids to summer camp and much, much more. He knows things we don't. He
sees things we don't. It's time to shut up, to wait and see if the
benefits outweigh the prices. Though Young's defender is dead wrong,
his stance reveals the one asset upon which corporate whores like Andy
Young can and will always trade. That asset is our slavish and
uncritical deference to elected officials, to civil rights icons, to the
clergy, to established authorities. This is what Andy Young's clients
count on, and it's what Young himself counts on
.

As the National Black Peoples Unity Convention
in
Gary, Indiana, begins this March, we are well served to bear this lesson
in mind. When is it time to listen to leaders, to icons, to elected
officials? When is it time to ignore or criticize them, or cast them
aside altogether? How many more times will other Andys and Amoses of
our black business-class leadership betray us in the name of what they
say is economic development? Will Gary make a difference at all?

The Gary convention can make a difference, if we don't allow the icons
to work their show, for their own benefit. In that sense, every black
event can make a difference, if we do not allow ourselves to be
hoodwinked and bamboozled by whores like Andrew Young, who have sold us
out to the corporate world - but yet expect us to worship at the altar
of their own prosperity.

Show up at Gary. Show out at Gary. Get crazy at Gary. Let the luminaries
know what you think, and don't allow any of them to get away with the
kind of con game that Andrew Young has run on us. Demand action, and
refuse to provide a pleasant forum for those who betray us, as Andy has
done.

We should never give up on our people. Each venue is another opportunity
to correct ourselves. Let us take up the challenge. Raw and blatant
betrayal cannot be tolerated, and it is up to us to make it extremely
uncomfortable for the betrayers. They cannot sit among us, much less in
elevated positions.

Andrew Young voluntarily surrendered that privilege, years ago. We must
now take it from him. Cast him out of our house. Let him camp out in
Bentonville, Arkansas, with his Wal-Mart benefactors.
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