One of the admonitions the late actor and sage Ossie Davis gave an early gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) four decades ago was to come up with a plan to restore and advance the interests of Black Americans. The CBC needs to heed his advice at this critical juncture of the Black experience in America. As Black lawmakers converge on the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference, Black America is desperately in need of a plan.
Critics have ridiculed the annual policy conference of the CBC as a social event or three-day party for Black elites but the truth is that the event serves as the singular most important convening for the discussion of public policy and politics affecting the Black community. Over the course of three days there will be dozens of substantive panel discussions and forums, with participants from within the CBC and public policy organizations, and attended by tens of thousands of constituents. There will be a fair dose of “fluff” in the form of receptions and banquets, but we should not discount the very serious and weighty discussions that will take place.
Black America is facing a true dilemma. Forty-five years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act we now have a number of Black mayors, state legislators, a sizeable contingent of members of Congress and a Black President. Yet, our fortunes seem to be sagging just at the time when Blacks should be ascending. Poverty continues to ensnare a substantial portion of the Black community and while the nation suffers a historic recession, Blacks are experiencing Depression era conditions. The mortgage crisis has crippled the Black middle class and long-term joblessness is most certainly curtailing any notion of Black prosperity. A dropout crisis is suppressing the aspirations of Black youth and incarceration continues to overwhelm young Black men and adults. On the health front, despite the passage of historic health care reform legislation, Blacks rank high on the lists of several chronic illnesses. It is not a pretty picture and there is no sign of improving fortunes in the immediate future.
Making matters worse is a growing strain of hate that is masquerading as a populist movement in the form of the Tea Party, a right-wing faction of the Republican Party. The rhetoric aimed at the Obama administration is a thinly veiled assault upon an emerging majority of color in this nation. The recent rise of anti-Muslim sentiments across the country is just the latest manifestation of a potentially viral strain of racism and xenophobia in America. What is most alarming is that the Black community appears unprepared and disorganized when the very existence of Blacks in our nation is at risk.
This is where the Congressional Black Caucus comes into play. The Caucus is the singular political body that has the capacity and network to develop a comprehensive plan to advance the interests of Black Americans. What is has failed to do in the past is coordinate its policy agenda and seek input from the community of grassroots organizations in its districts. It has also been negligent in carrying the discussions of its annual conference to its logical conclusion – broad based policy interventions. Some of that is due to the tenor of Congress and the political disposition of the White House, but too frequently there have been missed opportunities to mobilize the Black community for action.
We look forward to the discussions at this year’s ALC and encourage the Caucus to keep the momentum going and work harder to engage a larger swath of the Black community in a progressive agenda for economic justice and social change.