Anyone who follows my writings and work is aware that leading up to the critical 2012 presidential election, I relentlessly urged Africans in America to “march on ballot boxes and mobilize for State of the Black World III” (SOBWCIII) as the “Black imperatives” of the day. Faced with the vicious and virulent machinations of the Tea Party dominated conservative extremists, I argued that President Obama was not the perfect choice but the “better choice” for Black people. The Institute of the Black World 21st Century (IBW) deliberately positioned SOBWC III after the election in order to assess the impact of the outcome of the election on the interests and aspirations of Africans in America and the world.
November 6, Black folks marched on ballot boxes with a determination reminiscent of the Civil Rights Movement, turning out in record numbers to deliver 93% of our votes to Barack Hussein Obama. Far from deterring turn-out, the Republican Party’s voter suppression efforts backfired as Black voters were determined to overcome whatever barriers placed in our way, including having to stand in line for hours in some states, to cast ballots against the reactionaries and for the prospect of a better day in a second term under President Obama. While Obama’s team was able to forge a formidable coalition to achieve victory, in key battleground states like Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, it was the Black vote that made the difference.
Now that Blacks have decisively delivered for Obama and the Democrats, the question is will the President and the Democrats deliver for Black people? After all, politics is not merely about symbolism and access, it is about exercising power and influence within prescribed processes to achieve goals and aspirations including policies, programs, goods and services that address issues or advance the interests of groups and constituencies. During President Obama’s first term many Black leaders, activists and organizers were reluctant to push racially specific solutions for fear their efforts might play into the hands of the reactionaries. However, with a second term in hand, the question of whether Obama will more explicitly address Black issues was squarely on the table at the National Town Hall Meeting convened November 15 by IBW as the first public event of SOBWC III . Broadcast live by SIRIUS/XM Radio from Howard University and moderated by Mark Thompson, some of Black America’s most influential leaders were asked to discuss how the re-election of President Obama will affect the crises of joblessness, economic underdevelopment, educational and health disparities, crime, violence, fratricide and mass incarceration – the “state of emergency” in America’s “dark ghettos.”
The tenor and tone of the discussion was clear. Having access to the President for photo ops at the White House will not be sufficient in a second term to meet the expectations of Black leaders and the masses of Black folks. While Jeff Johnson, Susan Taylor, Rev. Dr. Willie Wilson and George Fraser outlined ways Africans in America can “do for self,” they also joined with Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, Atty. Faya Ora Toure Sanders and Dr. Mtangulizi Sanyika in demanding policies “targeted” to address the crises in inner-city and marginalized Black communities across the country. Indeed, this tone resonated throughout the Conference as participants submitted recommendations to be incorporated into the Declaration of Intent to Heal Black Families and Communities, which IBW is compiling as the blueprint and action agenda of SOBWC III.
December 3, nearly a month after the election, Marc Morial, President, National Urban League, Benjamin Todd Jealous, President, NAACP, Melanie Campbell, Executive Director, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and Rev. Al Sharpton, President, National Action Network convened Black leaders in Washington, DC for a similar purpose – to discuss what, if anything, Blacks should demand of President Obama in his second term. Prior to the gathering, Ben Jealous signaled that “trickle down” policies would not satisfy Blacks under a second Obama administration. An impressive assembly of civil rights, labor, faith, women and youth leaders and elected officials from around the country attended the meeting. There was an air of celebration in the room as participants expressed pride in the massive Black voter turn-out that played a pivotal role in re-electing the first African American President of the United States. But, there was also a heighted sense of expectation that President Obama must act to deal with depression levels of unemployment and joblessness in Black America, particularly among Black youth/young people. Ending the “War on Drugs” and other discriminatory criminal justice policies also received a great deal of attention as well as voter suppression and disparities in health and education.
Because of President Obama’s obvious reluctance to explicitly address Black issues, participants grappled with ways to “target” programs to solve major problems in the Black community without specifically using the words “Black” or “minority” [it was noted that the President has no such reluctance when it comes to advocating policies which affect other constituencies]. In the end, there was a definite resolve to create a collective process to produce a priority public policy agenda to present to President Obama. In the spirit of operational unity, IBW will submit its Declaration of Intent to Heal Black Families and Communities to the clearinghouse established by the group as part of the process. As other organizations do likewise, the clearinghouse will identify those areas within the various agendas where there is maximum agreement as the top priorities for the Black Agenda to be submitted to the President.
It’s a good process and hopefully those leaders who have “access” to the President will deliver the message loud and clear – there is a state of emergency in America’s dark ghettos, and we expect him to act (as we would any other President) to advance policies that will not only relieve Black pain and suffering but produce wholesome, healthy and sustainable families and communities. It remains to be seen how vigorously those leaders who have access will really push President Obama to address Black concerns. Access and symbolism will not be sufficient for Africans in America to acquiesce in the year that we commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Medgar Evers and the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. And, we cannot depend on “leaders” alone to deliver the word. There must be a “message from the grassroots” that as the most loyal constituency of the Democratic Party, Black people are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” It’s time to address our righteous concerns. President Obama should be on notice that those who marched on ballot boxes to promote and protect their interests can and will march on the White House and Congress of the United States to rescue and rebuild Black communities!
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 www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.