Rangel, NAACP Prez, #BlackLivesMatter Founder Talk, #SOTU, Race + Voting

Rangel, NAACP Prez, #BlackLivesMatter Founder Talk, #SOTU, Race + Voting


Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) missed what would have been the Harlem lawmaker’s first State of the Union in 1971, when Richard Nixon was President.

The then 13 member Congressional Black Caucus boycotted Nixon’s speech because he ignored requests for a meeting with the Caucus on issues facing African Americans.

Rangel, 85, who is a founding member of the Black Caucus, was in attendance for Obama’s last State of the Union last night.  It will likely be Rangel’s last as well as he is planning to retire at the end of the current Congress.

“I had expectations that this President would put a dent in racism in this country but unfortunately that hasn’t happened,” the Harlem Congressman said in an interview with The Root before the speech.

“You can’t even fight it if you can’t talk and see what the hell it is.  We’re a young country. The arrogance that we can settle ethnic and cultural wars that have been going on for hundreds of years is the arrogance of our country.  But we went from slavery to the Presidency in 300 years — it means that it’s a hard struggle,” Rangel added.

When Rangel was asked if he felt that just by being there Obama made a dent in racism in America, Rangel answered, “No.”

“I thought it was an amazing victory and I had hoped — but if anything it gave false hopes unfortunately.  Which has nothing to do with his presidency but everything to do with the question of racism,”  Rangel concluded.

Issues of race, poverty, the wealth gap and police brutality were not mentioned by the President last night.  But the President did mention justice reform broadly in first few lines of his address.

The issue of police brutality went international in late 2014 after the death of teenage Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.  The year before, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi founded Black Lives Matter after the death of Trayvon Martin.

Garza attended the State of the Union last night as a guest of Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) and was seated in one of many visitor’s galleries others of which included the First Lady, dignitaries and important guests.

During a TV interview this morning, Garza reacted to the President’s speech.

“The thing that I think was glaringly missing from the conversation last night was really the conversation around not just gun violence broadly — although that is a major issue in our country — but police violence as it relates to our communities.

“As I was sitting there last night I couldn’t help but to think about Samaria Rice and I couldn’t help but think about all the mothers who have lost their children — not just to gun violence broadly but to the very people who are supposed to protect and serve us,” Garza said during a TV interview this morning.

“I think that many people who have been involved in this movement certainly wanted people to hear Barack Obama, possibly the last Black President in our country’s history really talk about what’s going on in Black communities specifically and really address the question of race racism and structural violence and talk about what kind of proposals were on the table to ensure that Black people can live full lives in this county like everyone else,” Garza added.

“There wasn’t anything extraordinary about the speech,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) told The Root standing in Statuary Hall in then U.S. Capitol after.

“There’s no memorable lines that we would find in some of the other speeches but I though the best part was his appeal to the Congress to release the best part of who we are and I agreed with him when he said the vitriol has gotten worse.” Cleaver added.

“The fact that the President brought up both eliminating impediments to voting and restoration of the voting rights act — I thought that was incredibly important,”  NAACP President Cornell Brooks told The Root after the speech.

“But he also talked about measures done to make it easier vote that have rolled back. For example: Early voting, Sunday voting, pre-registration for 17-year-olds. All of these things make it easier to vote. So the fact that he did it the way he did, which I thought was important,” Brooks added.

Brooks felt the President used his last State of the Union to speak on a “higher moral plane.”  During his last year in office, it will be interesting to see if the President can implement some of the ideals he spoke on last night in a way that Congress, activists and advocates find appealing.

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Lauren Victoria Burke
Lauren Victoria Burke is a writer, comms strategist and political analyst. She created Crewof42, a blog focused on African American members of Congress, in 2009. Ms. Burke also writes for NBC BLK, The Root, NNPA and is the Managing Editor of Politic365. As part of a diverse career in politics and media, she has served as a congressional staffer for the U.S. Senate Democratic Policy Committee, Communications Director for U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) and Director of Communications for Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor of Virginia. From 2014 to 2017, Ms. Burke appeared each Monday on NewsOneNow with Roland Martin on TVOne. Ms. Burke holds a B.A. in History from The American University. She was born and raised in New York. Email: LBurke007@gmail.com. Twitter: @LVBurke. IG: @laurenvburke. Periscope: @LVBurke