02-19-2017  7:58 pm      •     

(NNPA) - Ron Walters was a gentle man. Yes, he was brilliant, insightful, a political genius with a passionate love for African-American people and for our advancement. But he was also gentle and kind in a way that many with genius are not. He balanced life skillfully, caring for issues, but also for people. He was my friend, sometime my partner in activism. I will miss him.

Indeed, I cannot my disbelief upon learning of his death. He was sick, and in these last months, even frail. We were together when dr. Ron Daniels convened a Capital Hill meeting of the Shirley Chisholm Commission on Presidential Accountability, a group on which Ron Walters and I both served. He came in, looking a bit thinner than usual, with a voice softer than usual, and when I voiced concern, he said he had been ill. While there was evidence of illness in his physical countenance, there was none in his spoken presentation. Indeed, he was awesomely incisive in raising questions about issues of accountability and questions that must be raised to judge the Obama Administration. Always fair, he was also clear that the Chisholm Commission was not about holding this administration to a harsher standard than any other. Indeed, he was clear that accountability is something that is to be expected of any leader.
On Saturday morning, at the National Council of Negro Women prayer breakfast, the gathering was abuzz with news of Ron's Friday evening death, voices somber and shaken at the magnitude of our loss. We have lost a phenomenal analyst, a caring advocate, an inspirational mentor, and a dazzling teacher. Ron Walters was not only a leader; he was an advisor of leaders. His relationship with the Rev. Jesse Jackson, whose 1984 and 1988 campaigns he played pivotal roles in, is an example of the groundbreaking work he has done, both as a political scientist and as a political activist. At the NCNW breakfast, someone asked how long I'd known Ron Walters. After some reflection, I had to reply that I simply didn't know.
I do remember a call from him, though, back in 1984. We didn't know each other well, then. I was a professor in San Francisco and had been involved in the Jackson campaign. He was one of the campaign leaders and keeping things together. One of the San Francisco radio stations had asked that a Jackson, Mondale, and Hart representative do a morning conversation each day during the convention about its happenings. Ron Walters asked me if I'd speak for Rev. Jackson and I, of course, enthusiastically agreed. I'm as volatile as Ron is calm, so after my first radio appearance I got some coaching on how to "tone it down." The coaching was offered so gently that it had to be considered. I still chuckle at the memory.
We worked together, again, during the 1988 Jackson campaign. I'm not sure what all Ron Walters had me doing, but I remember both writing about the convention and running from one meeting to another to be helpful to the campaign. Our paths continued to criss cross over the years, more so when I moved to Washington in 1994 and we saw each other more frequently. We presented on panels together, worked on causes together, and sometimes connected just because each of us needed to bounce ideas off a like-minded colleague. Whether we spoke one on one or in a group, my recollection is that Ron had plenty to say and was measured in how he said it. Again, the word "gentle" comes to mind.
Our gentle friend left a legacy of excellent and thorough political analysis. He was more than a political analyst and teacher, though. He was the "scholar activist" that WEB DuBois so often spoke of, the person who takes information and data and uses it to empower a people. Ron Walters was not about the bloodless political analysis that manipulated numbers to come up with results. Nor was he about the passionate pronouncements some pundits offer that often come out of nowhere. Instead, he balanced the two with gentle grace. He cared about black people, about inequality and injustice. He cared about historically black colleges and universities. (A graduate of Fisk University, he spent much of his career at Howard University. When we last spoke, he was considering an invite to come to speak at Bennett College for Women in the spring). We will miss his gentle caring. We will miss a gentle man. And we are so very aware of how blessed the African American community has been to have him with us for the 72 years of his amazing life.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC.

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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