Woodward: ‘Freedom’ Facts

by Aylin Woodward | 3/4/14 7:39pm

While you may choose to disregard this column as simply one of many reiterative pieces written on the Dartmouth “Freedom Budget” in the past two weeks, I urge you to reconsider. I’m here to clarify the history behind the original document that those who signed Dartmouth’s version said was the genesis of their efforts. They wrote they were “invok[ing] The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement.” However, the original proposal, “A Freedom Budget for All Americans,” has much less to do with King than that line indicates. In fact, the two documents have less in common than the Dartmouth proposal would suggest. I will point out some critical divergences between the two documents and their inception, divergences that highlight the difference between previous inclusive progressive rhetoric and the current tension-filled atmosphere at Dartmouth.

The original “Freedom Budget” was issued on Oct. 26, 1966 as a collaborative effort between intellectual activist Bayard Rustin and the A. Philip Randolph Institute in conjunction with economist Leon Keyserling. Keyserling provided the economic analysis undergirding the project and facilitated the creation of a realistic budget, comprehensible to all. The purpose of the $185 billion, 10-year budget plan was to create a policy to eliminate poverty and improve housing, educational and health care conditions for those on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. King did not write the document, and he had very little to do with its inception. After Rustin, King’s mentor, encouraged King to endorse the budget, he wrote an eloquent forward for the pamphlet. While invoking King as the inspiration for the grassroots movement at Dartmouth sends a powerful message, it is important to realize his contribution to the original document was negligible.

Moreover, Rustin considered framing the debate in terms of widespread applicability a key element of his movement. He made the elimination of poverty seem desirable as a collective goal, attainable only if a majority of Americans applied themselves to the task. The demands of Dartmouth’s “Freedom Budget” are not posed in a manner conducive to campus-wide identification and empathy to its appeals.

Rustin’s two-pronged campaign targeted the infrastructure in place and built a grassroots mobilization effort composed of blacks and whites alike. He approached senators to arrange bipartisan briefings in Congress and actively sought administrative endorsement, not compliance. Rustin recognized that attempting to force compliance did nothing to forward his ultimate goal of economic equality. His budget was concrete and bold enough that the press latched on, giving Rustin the leverage to approach civil rights leadership and secure further endorsement. Over 600 individuals and many organizations — including labor leaders, Americans for Democratic Action, American Jewish Congress and the NAACP — voiced their support. Rustin wanted endorsements from both sides of the racial lines. The Dartmouth “Freedom Budget” demands compliance and does not seek universal endorsement.

Rustin called for all people, regardless of race, to unite around his “Freedom Budget.” He further stated that the act would only work if everyone worked together. Again, the Dartmouth “Freedom Budget” writers makes no effort to engage with students outside their respective gender and racially defined circles. Rustin listened to the racial rhetoric of his era and saw a movement grounded in frustration — much like the movement here at Dartmouth. At the root of both debates, past and present, exists a feedback loop between extremist cries for racial and gender empowerment and the subsequent backlash in favor of the status quo.

Ultimately, the “Freedom Budget for All Americans” failed as the opportunities for progressive coalitions vanished. If history serves as any sort of litmus test, I predict that the misguided execution of this new Dartmouth “Freedom Budget,” too, will cause it to fail. It is unfortunate that its writers have already implicitly eradicated the potential for coalition-building. This new call for action is not the “Dartmouth Freedom Budget.” It is merely a budget penned by “concerned Asian, Black, Latin@, Native, Undocumented, Queer and Differently-Abled students,” predicated on the notion that such demands for racial and gender equality represents the collective voice of campus.