Harry Alford’s Condescension

The right-wing blogosphere is abuzz over the supposed smackdown between Sen. Barbara Boxer and Harry C. Alford, who portrays himself as an “African American and a veteran” who is insulted at Boxer’s alleged racism and calls her on it.

Well, as an African American I don’t know what the hell Alford was upset about — other than the fact that Alford was shown that his shilling for the right is not appreciated in much of the community he claims to represent.

Alford is the president of the National Black Chamber of Commerce, an outfit he and his wife, Kay Debow Alford, run out of a small office in Washington. The Chamber took in about $880,000 in 2006, according to the most recent publicly available Form 990 filed with the IRS, most from membership dues and a $90,000 grant from AT&T (which may have something to do with Alford’s opposition to “net neutrality,” the idea that broadband providers such as AT&T should not have to right to limit what content people can receive via the Internet).

But what was at the core of Alford’s outburst was the reason he was on Capitol Hill testifying before Boxer’s Environment and Public Works committee to begin with: to oppose climate change legislation.

Alford’s organization had already joined forces with carbon-based fuel interests and conservatives to torpedo the Waxman-Markey climate change bill in the House. It released a study in May from CRA International that asserted that by 2030 Waxman-Markey would cost the economy $350 billion in lost gross domestic product and 2.5 million jobs. The National Resources Defense Council has a detailed dissection of the study’s flaws and the disclosure that the NBCC has received $275,000 from ExxonMobil.

In fact, Greenpeace has a page of global-warming-denial comments that Alford has made over the years, which is why ExxonMobil has been so generous with its funding of this relatively obscure organization.

Alford is also an ardent opponent of the Employee Free Choice Act—no surprise, since he also sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a leading EFCA opponent. He’s been claiming that EFCA would harm African-American-owned businesses. His April op-ed for Roll Call on the issue of enabling workers to form unions is an example of how he is willing to use race to push an anti-labor agenda:

The Employee Free Choice Act would eliminate one of the most fundamental tenets of our democracy: the secret ballot. By eliminating the right to vote in private, workers would not only be deprived of the right to vote their conscience, but would also be more vulnerable to the intimidation and coercion tactics known to be used by
union organizers. … African-Americans, in particular, have bitter memories of voter intimidation and have a responsibility to stand up against any proposition that will take away their democratic voting rights.

For a man who compares seeking to organize a union through a person-to-person card-check drive to the efforts of Southern segregationists to violently suppress the black vote, a complaint that Boxer citing a resolution by the NAACP on climate change in a climate change hearing is somehow “racial” and something that would “explode” is certainly audacious. Condescending, though, is more apt.

So let’s be clear: Harry Alford does not speak for the African-American community. He does not speak for me. He speaks for a cabal of conservative obstructionists who are hell-bent on protecting the old order of oil companies being unaccountable to the environment, employers being unaccountable to their workers—and of African Americans who won’t pimp for the interests of corporate America being kept in their place.


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