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Julian's Time

A Time to Speak, A Time to Act The Movement in Politics by Julian Bond Simon and Schuster $1 95 103pp

By Christopher H. Foreman

I SAW JULIAN BOND for the first time when he spoke at the Harvard Business School last spring. At the time I felt something no other black politician had ever generated within me. Bond, conservatively clad in dark suit and tie, was the very picture of the black preppy. He walked casually to the podium exuding with every step the renowned "cool" that has long been his trademark. The cherubic Georgia peachy face elicited sighs from the women. His delivery was a crisp clear monotone, carefully measured and light on rhetoric. Here, I thought, was a no-nonsense radical black man who could speak his mind and get away with it because of obvious physical charisma and carefully nursed political style. Blacks could listen to him knowing that he was one of their own who, while still young, had paid his dues as a member of SNCC in the early 1960's. And whites could listen to him because he projected himself as less caustic, somehow more "reasonable," than other black leaders. No doubt about it, I thought, this Julian Bond is one smart cookie.

* * *

Bond's first book A Time to Speak A Time to Act The Movement in Politics is a collection of essays that combines both his conviction and smooth low key style. The prose is uncathartic and well shaped; rarely does Bond launch rhetorical fireworks. The essays bridge racial lines; with characteristic catholicism Bond states, "One cannot discuss what life was like in the 1960`s or what it will be like in the 1970's without discussing what appear to be two continuing factors in American life, race and war." Bond's concern reaches far beyond the parochial needs of American blacks to encompass the quality of American foreign policy. Indeed, it was Bond's opposition to the Vietnam War that catalyzed his rise to national prominence.

The book surveys the American political landscape and finds it the same old racist swamp. Bond is at his best when condemning the inconsistency of the American conscience. In the essay on "The Kent State Massacre" Bond rages eloquently at the illogic which focused national attention on the Ohio killings while the blacks who perished at Jackson State a scant ten days later, had their epitaphs scribed in sand. Bond also resurrects the often-forgotten point that school busing is "an old practice in virtually each of the fifty states." On ecology: "Picking up beer cans from the highway is touted as proper social activism by the Nixon Administration, while the corporate murderers who continue to manufacture filth to poison our air and water go free."

BOND CAN HEAR the shrill voice of the angry black man and sympathetically defends it, while setting his own pace, marching to a somewhat different drummer. "The language of the Panthers is often shocking to those accustomed to the ordinary expressions of political figures," Bond says, "but we might as well get used to it for it expresses the sentiments of a vast section of oppressed Americans." Bond pulls no punches even on the homefolk, if he sees a need to hit hard. He chastises the Panthers severely, arguing that their program should be more substantive than "woofing at policemen, feeding breakfast to children, and providing medical aid for the poor." Occasionally Bond becomes vague and imprecise: when he opts for "collectivization" and "community socialism" his arguments lack any mechanical framework for achieving them. Ever the pragmatist, Bond advocates issue-by-issue coalitions based on mutual self-interest as a primary source of black political power. But what specific strategy could transform tenuous ideology into hard reality? Bond does not respond with analytical content but chooses instead to rest upon the catch-all of "commitment."

A Time to, Speak. A Time to Act is a book aimed more at Westchester than Watts. Nothing Bond describes about the failure of black (and white) capitalism, the inadequacies of 1960's lunch-counter politics, or the irrelevance of hippiedom, is news to the black community. The core problem is and has always been white indifference and misunderstanding.

BY FAR THE MEATIEST part of the book, one that appears to break some new ground, is the penultimate piece on "The Need for NAPPI" (Negroes and Practical Politics, Inc.). Here Bond delineates his plan for collating technical assistance for blacks seeking elective office. The idea is a sound and useful one and could go far toward alleviating the disadvantages of the experiential vacuum in which black candidates and office-holders must operate. NAPPI could give a wholesome new complexion to the black body politic.

However, it would be a mistake to consider Bond a "system" man. He has chosen to play elective politics because, he thinks it is really the only game in town. When he describes Atlanta's 1969 city election and the black fratricide that characterized it, one sees that even with his considerable advantages, the game will be a tough one.

No one can say where Julian Bond will from here. His refusal to leave Atlanta (which, last we forget, is surrounded by Georgia), and the recent Congressional victory of black preacher Andrew Young are factors which may force Bond into premature political eclipse. Black state senator Leroy Johnson is now said to wield for more clout than Bond with the state. Judging by his new book, Bond is as eloquent as ever, though his batting average as innovator and philosopher is relatively low, Still, there is promise of good things from Julian Bond. Although it is uncertain whether they will be enacted or merely published.

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