Though their evaluation is not complete, members of various prominent civil rights and social justice organizations representing the concerns of the Black community met in Washington today for a second time in less than two months. Their joint efforts will end with a formal set of federal policy proposals to be presented to President Obama. A third meeting is planned.
The coalition was convened by National Urban League President Marc Morial, NAACP President Ben Jealous (who did not attend as he has the flu), National Coalition of Black Civic Participation President Melanie Campbell and National Action Network President Rev. Al Sharpton. The group of leaders talked over which issues they will include in a final proposal detailed presentations on voting rights and jobs.
The group announced their final proposal will include support for the Urban Jobs Act and the American Jobs Act among other specific policy on education and criminal justice. The group is also pushing for the President to include support for an urban jobs initiative in his State of the Union address on February 12. The President offered a rural jobs initiative in August of 2011. At that time Black unemployment was at a 28 year high at 16.7%. Though there is a White House Office of Urban Policy, the President has not endorsed an urban jobs initiative as he did the rural one. The President introduced the American Jobs Act near Labor Day in 2011. Republicans in Congress killed the legislation.
“We cannot attain parity while the unemployment crisis goes unaddressed, while two-fifths of incarcerated youth are African American,” said Rev. Sharpton in a statement. “The Urban Jobs Act targets young people who did not finish high school or who have been involved in the criminal justice system,” Morial pointed out.
The pending issue of whether the U.S. Supreme Court might strike down Section 5 of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act came close to overtaking the jobs issue. A rally will be held on the steps of the Supreme Court in February. The coalition of leaders is calling for a national mobilization effort as the Supreme Court considers the case. Last year, several states with Republican controlled legislatures changed voting laws to make it more difficult to vote and eliminate the number of voting days.
Voting rights leaders Barbara Arnwine, President of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Wade Henderson, President of the Leadership Council on Civil Rights, delivered a detailed presentation to the group on voting issues. Other who attended today’s gathering included Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton, ACLU Washington Legislative Director Laura Murphy, Joint Center President Ralph B. Everett, Harry Johnson, Donna Brazile and Rev. Lennox Yearwood.
Much has been said regarding the Obama Administration and the needs of the Black community. The discussion was accelerated as other groups that have supported the Democratic party have won major policy victories. In the case of the gay community, victories have included the end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the President’s support of gay marriage. In the case of the Hispanic Community, the President’s support of the Dream Act through an executive order was seen. Currently, immigration is a top Obama Administration priority.
Still, leaders are quick to point out policy President Obama has championed that will disproportionately benefit the Black community such as health care reform and Attorney General Eric Holder’s attention on voting rights.
As Black leaders met on their agenda at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus were meeting with President Obama less than a mile away at the White House.
LAUREN VICTORIA BURKE, Politic365 Managing Editor, publishes the blog Crewof42 on the Congressional Black Caucus. She can be heard every Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET on WMCS 1290 on The Earl Ingram Show. Ms. Burke has enjoyed employment with USAToday.com and ABC News. Contact: LVB@Politic365.com. Twitter: @Crewof42.