One month after the re-election of President Barack Obama, more than 40 Black leaders convened this week to begin crafting what appears to be a strategy by which to hold politicians accountable to a suffering Black community that has given overwhelming political allegiance to President Obama and the Democratic Party.
“We just concluded a historic four-hour discussion about the state of the nation, the state of Black America, the challenges and problems we face, as well as the excitement we feel about our ability to impact the challenges of now and the future,” National Urban League President/CEO Marc Morial began the afternoon press conference Dec. 3. “We embrace our historic role as the conscience of the nation and we are united in our mission to support and protect the well-being of the African-American community, low income and working class Americans across the nation.”
Immediately, Morial read a joint statement from the group, focusing on what politicians and economists are calling the “fiscal cliff”, a year-end convergence of tax hikes that could throw already economically destitute people into a tail spin.
“Millions of African-Americans are still reeling in the wake of the great recession and trying to regain their footing after overwhelming losses in wealth, income and security,” Morial read. “In this first year of the recovery, 93 percent of the income gains have gone to the wealthiest one percent. Yet, African-Americans, low, middle and working class Americans have already paid a disproportionate price and have been left teetering on the precipice of financial ruin. And some would ask middle, low and working class Americans to give more.”
The meeting, led by Morial at a Washington, D.C. hotel, was convened by him, Melanie Campbell, president/CEO, the National Coalition of Black Civic Participation; the Rev. Al Sharpton, president/CEO, the National Action Network; and Ben Jealous, president/CEO of the NAACP. A string of other stalwart Black organizations were also represented, including the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies; the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law; the National Congress of Black Women; the Black Women’s Roundtable; the Hip Hop Caucus; and the Institute of the Black World – 21st Century.
The joint statement, which specifically addressed the fiscal cliff, urged leaders to preserve tax cuts and take a “fair and rational approach” that will secure the safety nets of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and support “investments in education, innovation, jobs and infrastructure that will be necessary for real and meaningful recovery in these communities.”
Morial called the gathering a “first step in a new direction.” But, as they promised to continue their watchdog roles and share their proposals with politicians, little was said about what exactly they will do if the Congress and President do not listen.
“We believe that it is the responsibility of those that offer leadership to push the envelope forward. We cannot sit and ask the president to write an agenda to himself from us. It ought to come from us to him or the Congress from us to [them],” said the Rev. Al Sharpton who has typically held mass marches and demonstrations in order to get his points across. He stopped short of saying whether such action is on the agenda.
“Next year will be the anniversary of the March on Washington, where a collective of civil rights groups came to Washington and raised the issues of our community to then President Kennedy and the Congress,” Sharpton said. “They did not ask the president to write the agenda. They asked him to receive the agenda and from that they went back into the South and got the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and the Voting Rights Act of ‘65. It is in that spirit a half century later we come to say that we’ll work together, we’ll come together and try to set an agenda that will alleviate the economic, electoral, as well as criminal justice disparities that yet plague our community a half century later. We have made a lot of progress in 50 years, but we’re nowhere where we need to be. We are closer, but we have not arrived.”
As the Black community finds itself still embroiled in economic and criminal justice inequities, sporadic battles continue to arise that symbolize the overall battle for racial justice.
In that regard, Melanie Campbell, who also heads the Black Women’s Roundtable, announced that the Black leadership group has joined the BWR’s petition against the political attacks on United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice. Republicans have viciously attacked Rice, claiming to oppose the possibility of her nomination as secretary of state because of initial inaccurate or insufficient information she gave the public after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi in which four Americans were killed. Rice has said and it has been confirmed that she was only reporting information given to her by the intelligence community, namely the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency.
“We gathered on last week with over a hundred women leaders,” said Campbell, appealing – not only to Black leaders – but “those who believe in fairness.” She said, “The attacks on Ambassador Susan Rice should cease and desist now. And she should be given her due respect in her role.”
Campbell added that Black women and youth will continue to build coalitions on top of those that turned out yet another historic vote on Nov. 6.
The progressive agenda needed to gain even a semblance of equality for African-Americans includes issues that are incredibly broad and detailed. Representing the NAACP, Hillary Shelton, vice president for advocacy and policy, named a litany of such issues:
Economics; jobs; small business contracts; strengthening the infrastructure; support for quality education for pre-kindergarten to support of HBCUs; quality health care; voting rights and election reform; voting rights for convicted felons; and the reform of the criminal justice system from the misuse of the death penalty to the end to police brutality and profiling are among those he listed as being a part of the agenda.
Calling the issues, “game changers,” Shelton concluded, “We must move forward to a prosperity agenda…And we look forward to working with everyone to move this agenda forward.”