Elections determine who is in power, but they do not determine how power is used.” – Paul Collier, “The Bottom Billion,” June 1, 2007
With American citizenship comes great responsibility. Since the birth of this nation, every four years we decide who will take on the mantle of president. No decision we make as citizens could have a more profound impact on our lives—and in the broader international arena. When we determine who will take on the role of commander in chief, we effectively decide our national priorities, our agenda and under what political philosophy we wish to be governed. Voting for a president is neither an exercise to be taken lightly or undertaken in blissful ignorance. Every four years, you are challenged to choose the candidate who promotes your agenda.
At the National Urban League, our agenda revolves around education, jobs and justice. This is not about endorsing candidates; it’s about endorsing democracy. This is not about endorsing a particular politician; it’s about endorsing those ideas that benefit communities of color, benefit our cities and benefit all low-income and working-class Americans. The National Urban League, along with the heads of eight other historic civil rights organizations, recently met with democratic presidential candidates Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to hear their respective platforms and to promote our respective agendas.
In addition to myself, the meetings included:
Melanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation
Cornell W. Brooks, NAACP
The Rev. Al Sharpton, National Action Network
Kristen Clarke, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Benjamin L. Crump, National Bar Association
Sherrilyn Ifill, NAACP Legal defense and Education Fund
Ingrid Saunders Jones and Janice Mathis, National Council of Negro Women
The political truth is that, today, a candidate for the office of president will find it almost impossible to win a nomination without the support of African-American and Hispanic voters. Communities of color are a large voting bloc and their concerns must be acknowledged as vital, top-of-the-agenda items.
We covered much of those items with the would-be-presidents using the coalition’s “21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom” as a framework. The public policy paper,developed almost five years ago in a series of meetings attended by nearly 60 leading civil rights, social justice, business and community leaders in Washington, D.C., identified five urgent domestic goals for our nation:
1. Achieve Economic Parity for African-Americans;
2. Promote Equity in Educational Opportunity;
3. Protect and Defend Voting Rights;
4. Promote a Healthier Nation by Eliminating Healthcare Disparities; and
5. Achieve Comprehensive Criminal Justice System Reform
Both of the candidates spoke candidly on a host of these issues—and more. Both of the candidates demonstrated an ability to speak fluently and fluidly on the topics of race relations and racial inequality, and how the enduring pairing of the two has had a devastating impact on communities of color all around our nation. It was important for those of us gathered around the table to understand that as the first Black family to reside in the White House moves out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the concerns of Black Americans and underserved communities aren’t swept under the rug behind them–to paraphrase my esteemed colleague Rev. Al Sharpton of National Action Network.
Our goal is to help set an agenda for the next president, but that agenda will ultimately be set with every individual vote cast. You have a seat at the table too. Find out where the candidates stand on the issues that are important to you and cast a vote—and make sure your family and friends are doing the same—because your vote is your access to the proverbial table. It is your unique opportunity to let the candidates know what is most important to you.
I hope this will not be the last meeting between civil rights groups and presidential candidates. The invitations have been sent and we look forward to more conversations, because in politics, there are no permanent allies or permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.