While mentioning increasing “minority homeownership,” for the most part George W. Bush was mum on issues affecting African-Americans, Latinos and other communities of color in his State of the Union address Jan. 29.

The next day the Amsterdam News, New York City’s oldest Black newspaper, had no less than three articles addressing this omission. They weren’t the only ones raising criticism.

“It’s more what wasn’t in the speech than what was,” said Debbie Bell, chair of the Communist Party’s commission on African-American equality. “Seventy-five percent of it was balanced towards world-wide conflagration.”

Bell, who was active in the civil rights and peace movements during the 1960s and ’70s, said support for Bush’s war on terrorism is “not very deep.”

Bush’s emphasis on widening the war, calling North Korea, Iraq and Iran the “evil axis,” is a dangerous message, according to Bell.

“[Bush] keeps putting the country in debt to fight invisible enemies at the same time [that] people don’t have jobs and decent living conditions. There is a connection between peace and good economic conditions for the people,” Bell said.

“Since day one, there have been demonstrations against the war as well as a tremendous number of lectures and workshops. These aren’t being advertised.”

Actions speak louder than words regarding the Bush administration and its policies toward ending inequality. The day after Bush promised to create jobs, his budget slashed job-training programs.

After no mention of ending racial profiling, his Department of Justice undertook one of the largest racial profiling programs directed towards Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Bush’s nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, Charles Pickering, is notorious for opposing civil rights. His nomination is being contested by a coalition that includes People for the American Way and the NAACP.

“There’s an economic crisis where tens of thousands of African Americans and Latinos have been laid off. Corporations have either downsized, merged or moved and people of color are usually the last hired and the first fired,” said Bell.

Layoffs for Latinos and Blacks are twice as high as for whites but President Bush didn’t indicate how he would address this part of the economic problem.

“There is a close relationship to what’s in the budget and whose needs are overlooked,” said Bell, a retired teacher and union activist in Philadelphia.

“There are no funds to make substantive improvements to public education. The funds going to security and war are giveaways to Big Business.”

Bell recently helped led a sit-in of teachers, students, and parents against the takeover of the Philadelphia public school system by the state and the for-profit Edison Schools, Inc.

Bell stressed that this was the fifth year of welfare reform, where people with the most need, including children, will be wiped from the rolls for life, losing any economic security net.

“Anyone who is thinking and breathing knows there aren’t enough jobs,” she said.

Looking to this year’s elections as a way to blunt the Bush agenda, Bell spoke about the possibilities and problems ahead.

“The passion generated following the stolen presidential election is still on people’s minds. But that doesn’t mean it will bring out the vote,” she said.

“In some contests people feel the candidates are the same. There is the factor of African-American males being disenfranchised [because of the disproportionate number in prison]. So all this becomes difficult to mobilize, especially during a midterm election,” she said.

“People vote when they have a vested interest. The issues of democracy, electoral reform and Bush treading on the Constitution have to be highlighted in terms of political education.”

Bell emphasized the unity of people of color, labor and other democratic movements as the coalition that can defeat Bush’s agenda.

The author can be reached at talbano@pww.org For information on the CPUSA African-American Equality Commission e-mail damisbell@aol.com.

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