What started out as a bold statement affirming the legitimacy of African-American voices on Capitol Hill has transformed into the foremost public policy conference addressing issues of concern to the Black community. This week policy wonks, civil rights leaders, members of the business community, elected officials and regular citizens will converge on the nation’s capital for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Annual Legislative Conference. The theme of this year’s conference is “Inspiring Leaders, Building Generations.” Events kick-off Wednesday with conference workshops held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center and a host of activities occurring throughout the District.
While many mistakenly label the event the “CBC weekend,” the annual legislative conference is sponsored by the Caucus foundation, the not-for-profit, nonpartisan public policy research organization that is part of the lineage and legacy of the organization representing the African-American members of Congress. The CBCF engages in a number of activities and research throughout the year that not only informs members of the Congressional Black Caucus but it stands out as the single most coordinated voice on public policy matters related to Blacks in America. It is why the Annual Legislative Conference has become a must-attend event for many in public policy circles. It is one of the only events where the public can see African-American legislators, from members of Congress to mayors, entertainment figures, and prominent leaders from the faith community, civil rights icons and some of our foremost intellectuals from academia. A combination of workshops, larger town hall meetings, and social events, the ALC draws from all segments of the African-American community.
This year’s conference convenes with a sense of urgency as it takes place a little over a month before the nation’s presidential election when the first African-American President seeks re-election. It was just four years ago when then Senator Barack Obama, at the time the only African-American in the United States Senate, walked out on the stage of the cavernous ballroom of the Washington Convention Center to thunderous applause at the black-tie dinner on a Saturday evening. It was a historic moment as the first African-American presidential candidate for a major party was just weeks away from making history. This year the dinner will be graced by the presence of First Lady Michelle Obama as the President stumps on the campaign trail.
With the election as backdrop, the Annual Legislative Conference will take on the controversial efforts across the country pushed by Republicans to impose voter identification requirements on voters casting ballots in the November election. The GOP has pushed these laws on the grounds that they will help combat voter fraud but in Pennsylvania Republicans admitted in court that there was scant evidence of systemic fraud in balloting in the state or elsewhere in the nation. The push by the GOP for these laws is all the more suspect because efforts are focused in key battleground and swing states in the November election, such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania. In some of these states there are significant Black voting populations. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a civil rights legend, took this issue head-on from the podium of the Democratic National Convention just weeks ago; likening the voter ID laws to the imposition of the poll tax and other voter suppression schemes during Jim Crow. These new efforts to impede access to the polls is of grave concern to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, as well as their Democratic Latino colleagues, because the disqualification of voters over insufficient identification will fall disproportionately on people of color, the poor, elderly and young adults; all populations favorably disposed to the re-election of President Obama.
A National Town Hall on “Voter Rights and New Age Discrimination,” will be held September 20 from 9:00AM until 11:30AM in Ballroom A of the Washington Convention Center. All attendees will receive a Voter Guide Toolkit with information regarding voter registration and ID laws in each state. Participants in the Town Hall include Rep. Lewis, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center is located at 801 Mount Vernon Place, N.W. in the District of Columbia.