“I tell you this. The Congressional Black Caucus loves the President too. We’re supportive of the President — but we’re getting tired y’all.” That’s what Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told an audience at a jobs town hall in Detroit Tuesday night.
At an emotional and wide ranging town hall meeting on the second stop of the Congressional Black Caucus jobs tour — a lively exchange took place between audience members and Rep. Waters regarding President Obama’s attentiveness to the issue of black unemployment. As the CBC tours the country and provides job seekers access to over 200 employers in Cleveland, Detroit, Atlanta, Miami and Los Angeles, debates on political strategy and the President’s role have also arisen.
Over 6,000 people attended the CBC’s Detroit job fair. The crowded town hall that followed was hosted by The Grio’s Jeff Johnson who asked out loud why the President was touring a rural part of the country on jobs instead of an urban city with high unemployment. Yesterday the White House announced a new initiative focused on rural jobs.
Black unemployment is currently at 15.9% nationally. Elected officials in Detroit including the city’s two Congressman who hosted yesterday’s events, Reps. John Conyers and Hansen Clarke, say the unemployment rate is much higher in the black community and over 40%.
Several other CBC members attended the Detroit events including Rep. Waters who addressed the issues of the President Obama’s involvement. Waters did so within the context of a black community that generally views America’s first black President as a source of great pride.
Waters addressed the issue directly. “We don’t put pressure on the President because you all love the President. You’re proud to have a black man as the President of the United States of America. If we go after the President too hard you go after us,” Waters said as a few members of the crowd were vocal in response.
“When YOU tell us it’s alright and you unleash us and you tell us you’re ready to have this conversation — we’re ready to have the conversation,” Waters said. “It’s alright!” — a woman in the audience loudly responded. The “conversation” Waters appeared to be referring to is a referendum and a challenge to the Obama White House on targeted help for black Americans facing high unemployment.
“We want to give the President every opportunity to show what he can do and show what he is prepared to lead on… But our people are hurting. The unemployment is unconscionable. We don’t know what the strategy is. We don’t know why — on this trip he’s on now — he’s not in any black communities. We don’t know that.”
“We’re politicians. We’re elected officials. We are trying to do the right thing and the best thing,” Waters continues. “When you let us know when it’s time to let go, we’ll let go.” Several members of the audience were heard yelling “let go, let go.” Another man was heard to say loudly “let go now!
Rep. Conyers called for a meeting with the President and the CBC on black unemployment. Conyers also called for a protest on September 20th on jobs at the White House.
After a meeting in February of 2010 with NAACP President Ben Jealous, National Urban League President Marc Morial and Rev Al Sharpton on black unemployment, the President was quoted by the leaders as saying “a rising tide lifts all boats”. He affirmed that when then general economic picture improved so would joblessness in the black community. The black unemployment rate at the time was 15.2%. The black unemployment rate was 16.2% when the President met with Morial and Jealous in late July of this year.
Though Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan attended the first CBC Jobs tour stop in Cleveland, no senior Obama Administration official joined the members on stage at the Detroit stop. The next stop in in Atlanta on Thursday.
The subject of criticism of the President as it pertains to issues disproportionately effecting black Americans is a long debated one. Many argue that assisting the President’s enemies, particularly the Tea Party, is a tactical mistake. Others say this President needs to be held accountable regarding issues of high unemployment in the black community just as any other President should be and that targeted help is essential in confronting the problem.
Today the President will be in Iowa before leaving on a vacation with his family in Martha’s Vineyard on Thursday.