Working to Impact Substance, Not Symbols

June 13, 1993

Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the Nationa Association for the Advancement of Colored People, met Tuesday with the editorial board of The Baltimore Sun. Here is a partial transcript of the meeting.

Question: What's your assessment of the Clinton administration at this stage? You said earlier that you don't want to protest just for the sake of protesting but you want to win. Have you had any wins yet from this administration?

Answer: There are more minorities in this cabinet than ever before in major positions where we never have been before. Secretary of Commerce, Secretary of Agriculture, Secretary of Energy, there has never been an African-American or a person of color in those positions, and these are major positions. Traditionally it has been either HUD or HEW, not to play those down because those are very important. So Clinton has kept his campaign promise to make the cabinet reflect some of the diversity of our nation, and if you look at the sub-cabinet appointees, they also reflect this diversity. I was on the Clinton-Gore transition team so I know something about the internal process of balancing that makes the process slower, but I also believe it makes the process much more representative. So we have won in terms of getting this administration, at the top and at the sub-cabinet level, to be more racially diverse.

When the House passed a budget, we also won, because in that budget that was passed by the House there were provisions that supported.

Now, going back to the stimulus package, obviously we did take a hit when Dole and others filibustered and blocked the plan because in the stimulus plan there was a major provision for summer youth jobs. I plan to meet with Senator Dole very soon to let him know we have strong branches of the NAACP in Kansas. We intend to hold Mr. Dole accountable, and not only Dole but all of those that vote against our interests. . . .

We've also won some in foreign affairs. While there's a lot of attention on Clinton's sort of flip-flop on the Haitian refugee question, which we are very concerned about. . . . I'm on record saying that he should grant Haitians political asylum, we should stop interdicting at sea, because I believe our immigration policies which we inherited from the Reagan and Bush administrations are racially discriminatory. The Clinton administration, a few weeks ago, recognized the republic of Angola. That is a major policy shift. We won on that. I was in Angola this past September for the elections. . . . So African policy has changed with the Clinton administration. I met last week with Secretary of State Warren Christopher and had a long talk with him about this. We are calling for a more comprehensive African policy to keep the pressure on South Africa to dismantle apartheid.

If you look at the aid question, why are you going to try and rescue Russia and I think that we should rescue Russia, but as we rescue Russia we should also be rescuing other parts of the world. If you look at our aid to nations of the world there also appears to have been a pattern of racial discrimination about which countries get aid and which countries do not get aid and what are the criteria on which these countries get U.S. aid.

You may say, "why is the president of the NAACP talking about foreign policy matters?" It is because we see what goes on in South Central Los Angeles or the south side of Chicago or in Baltimore has not been isolated from what is going on in Soweto or Luanda or Sudan. We live in a global community. While there is a domestic policy and a foreign policy, increasingly domestic policy is interrelated with foreign policy.

We have a seminar today on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and we are going to take a position on it because the economic state of the African-American community and other people of color communities in the United States are increasingly impacted by the decisions that we make in terms of trade and employment.

We're ending gang violence [through a series of NAACP-sponsored "gang summits"]. That's not a result of a federal program, but on the other hand, once we get people to lay down their weapons, what are they going to pick up? I'm glad that the truce in L.A. has held for over a year. We have one in Kansas City, one in Minneapolis, Chicago, Cleveland, Boston but those truces aren't going to hold forever.

We don't have the alternative to balance drugs and self-destruction on the positive side in terms of job training, employment, health care, all these things are interrelated.

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