At the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, the premier political event in Black America, the corridors were abuzz with conversations about the critical mid-term elections which pundits predict will be disastrous for the Democrats. And, as if on cue, the Washington Post ran a major article detailing how the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is frantically turning to Black voters as its most reliable constituency to avoid losses that could result in Republicans regaining control of the House and the Senate. Party leaders calculate that a higher than usual turn-out by Blacks could be the decisive factor in a number of tight races. Therefore, in a season where much of the Party’s base is lethargic, the DNC hopes that the emotional investment in the first Black President of the United States will be sufficient to motivate a massive Black voter turn-out. The Post article references “several meetings” by Rev. Al Sharpton with Tim Kaine, Chairman of the DNC, and White House staffers to discuss turn-out. Mr. Kaine also mentioned meetings with Rev. Sharpton when he was asked about Black voter discontent on one of the Sunday morning talk shows recently.
Those meetings may not be enough. The problem is despite a 91% approval rating among Blacks, there is an undercurrent of disappointment and discontent with President Obama and the Democrats. The approval rating suggests that Blacks certainly want the first Black President to succeed; however, there is growing unease among Black leaders with his reluctance to target policies to address problems like joblessness which disproportionately affect Black communities across the nation. In recent months, New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has repeatedly scolded the President for being silent on matters of race and refusing to target policies to ameliorate the crises in urban America. Mr. Herbert noted that Mayor Adrian Fenty was defeated by D.C. Council President Vincent Gray because he was aloof and detached from his Black base. The not so subtle implication is that the President suffers from a similar failure to more explicitly deliver for the base that enthusiastically delivered 95% of its votes for him in the historic general election of 2008.
President Obama made another surprise appearance at the Congressional Black Caucus Dinner this year and was generally well received. He touted his accomplishments as President and appealed to the audience to go all-out to enable the Democrats to retain control of both houses of Congress. It was clear that the audience wanted to believe in the President, but quietly members of the Congressional Black Caucus complained about his detachment from that body and lack of responsiveness on urban policy and devising policies to relieve unemployment/joblessness in the Black community.
At the Memorial Celebration for our beloved Dr. Ronald Walters, Black America’s Pre-imminent Political Scientist, Congresswoman Maxine Waters was very clear about her ambivalence regarding mobilizing Black voters to ride to the rescue of the Democrats once more. Conscious of Dr. Walters’ legacy as a proponent of a Black Agenda and leverage politics, she expressed frustration that the President and the Democrats have not been more responsive to the “State of Emergency” in Black America despite numerous opportunities to do so. To the roaring approval of the audience she proclaimed, “If I don’t hear from Ron Walters, I’m not sure what I’m going to do in November.”
The sentiments expressed by Congresswoman Maxine Waters were compounded by a conversation I had after the Celebration with Melanie Campbell, President of the National Coalition for Black Civic Participation, the leading non-partisan voter mobilization organization in Black America, and other friends. I was stunned to learn from Melanie that very few resources have been made available by progressive donors aligned with the Democratic Party to take on the herculean task of mobilizing Black voters for an election where issues of vital importance to Black America will be decided. She indicated that it has not been this bad in all the many years she has been doing voter mobilization work. Others raised the question, “What do we have to work with?” -- in other words , given the reluctance of the President and the Democrats to respond to Black issues, what message do we use to motivate Black voters to turn-out for the mid-term elections.
Once again, Black leaders and Black voters are in a difficult predicament. As I have stated time and time again over the years, Black voters are never rewarded by the Democratic Party in proportion to our steadfast/unwavering support or in proportion to our needs as Black people! At its most basic level, participation in elections is about securing goods, services, opportunities and policies that will positively advance the interests and aspirations of the group in exchange for votes. This equation has seldom worked as it should for Blacks as the most loyal constituency within the Party. Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, the Republicans have not been a viable option/alternative in terms of delivering the policies required to advance our interests. Indeed, as is the case currently, conservative Republicans have stood in the doorway of our path to progress. Most of the advances we have made in the past half century have been at the behest of the liberal-progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Therefore, we have continued to support the Democrats even though at times their support for our agenda has been lukewarm. But, lukewarm is better than ice cold! Hence, the dilemma/quandary posed by the mid-term elections.
Clearly my preference is to do everything possible to resist the conservative tide that would magnify the voice, power and influence of the Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Senator Jim De Mint, Joe the Plummer and Tea Party Patriots of the world should the conservatives be swept into power. They are already salivating over the chance to reverse health care, financial reform and other aspects of the Obama/Democrat agenda as well as gains made by Blacks over the past half century. And, the ethics investigations that are currently underway will look like child’s play if the reins of power are seized by the conservatives. That’s the reality.
So, Blacks need to mobilize to march on ballot boxes to avert such a destructive outcome. However, if Black leaders are to step up to mobilize the Black vote, we must have the tools to accomplish the task. First and foremost, President Obama needs to give the people a “sign,” some visible actions that leaders can use to galvanize the Black vote. For example, Black farmers who were discriminated against and excluded from opportunities by agencies of the Department of Agriculture have suffered long enough waiting for Congress to approve the settlement that would provide modest funds to repair the damage. President Barack Obama could approve this long awaited settlement with the stroke of the pen by issuing an Executive Order. He doesn’t have to shout Black Power or wear a Dashiki – just issue the Executive Order! Secondly, the President needs to elevate the profile of the Office of Urban Affairs so that Black folks know such an agency exists, what its programs are and who’s in charge. The President kept his promise to create such an office, but so far it’s been a stealth operation. Folks can’t act on what they don’t know.
Thirdly and equally important, the DNC must put up sufficient resources for the rescue operation and urge progressive donors to fund non-partisan groups skilled at GOTV. High profile meetings/ consultations with and references to Rev. Al Sharpton are not enough. I’m certain Rev. Sharpton would agree that what is required to rescue the Democrats again is a collective effort. Accordingly, a select group of voter mobilization advocates along with Rev. Sharpton should demand a meeting with the DNC post-haste. The message ought to be straight forward, “we’re sick and tired” of being disregarded until the Party is in trouble. It’s time to put up or shut up or our motto will be “no resources, no rescue!”
There is a lot at stake for Black America in the critical mid-term elections. Armed with significant signs from President Obama and adequate resources, Black leaders should mobilize Black voters to march on ballot boxes to meet and defeat the conservative onslaught and continue the struggle for a more visionary and progressive agenda to overcome the State of Emergency in Black America and transform the nation into a more just and humanistic society for all!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at email@example.com.