Does the Congressional Black Caucus Really
Represent Black America? And What Should We Do About It?
“True leaders never confine their demands to the immediately possible.”
The short answer to the first question is "no." A look at the report cards issued by CBC Monitor, the groundbreaking project which grades CBC members from an African American point of view reveals that an entire layer of black representatives in Congress, all males, have decisively detached themselves from their constituencies in Black America.
In 2006 two-thirds of caucus members voted for telecom and cable bills that allow cable and phone companies to bypass and shortchange our communities. Smaller numbers supported measures ranging from a presidential line item veto to abolishing the estate tax on a tiny portion of the nation's wealthiest, to making it harder for ordinary people to mount class action suits against corporations. An unprecedented political shift is underway, not among the broad masses of African Americans, but among the tiny elite of elected officials who nominally represent them.
While black politicians drift steadily rightward, black America waits impatiently for its elected representatives to go beyond raising the minimum wage and address the nearly 50% rates of unemployment among inner city black males and propose the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs. Black America wonders when its political leaders will begin to offer meaningful opposition to the nation's policy of racially selective mass imprisonment, under which African Americans, who are only one eighth the nation's population, are fully half of those in its prisons and jails. Black America wants to how and why the dispossession and dispersal of New Orleans -- a centuries-old black city of hundreds of thousands has been allowed to happen and to stand.
The bright lines of black opinion on these and several other questions are well-defined.
Racially Selective Mass Incarceration
America's prison population has grown six or sevenfold since the mid 1970s. With half the nation's 2.2 million prisoners drawn from its black one eighth this is incontrovertible evidence that an unspoken but very real national public policy of racially selective mass imprisonment is in effect. Such broad, and broadly destructive social policies cannot begin to be changed till they are acknowledged, and until real political leaders have the guts to make them into real political issues. It's time for the cowardly and complicit silence of black political leadership, including most of the Congressional Black Caucus on the question of mass incarceration, to end.
Katrina: The Drowning, Dispossession and Dispersal of Black New Orleans
Thousands died in the man-made disasters attendant to Hurricane Katrina due to government failures on every level, from presidential refusals to fund and maintain levees, to the failure of federal, state and local officials to plan for evacuation, but so far as we know only one government employee was fired, and none have seen a day in a court of law. The majority of pre-Katrina New Orleans residents were black and renters. So-called reconstruction efforts have pointedly excluded jobs, housing, schools, health care and infrastructure that would enable them to return, to reunite their families and to rebuild their communities. National Democratic party leaders, always afraid of being too closely identified in the minds of white America with the problems of blacks can never be counted to stand up for us if our own nominal representatives, the Congressional Black Caucus, does not.
Single Payer Health Care
Every advanced industrial society on the planet has some form of national health care insurance in which health care is delivered to the population with only 1% to 3% diverted to non-health care costs. US health care is the world's most expensive, largely because 15% to 25% of every health care dollar goes to advertising and shareholder profit rather than medical care. African Americans comprise a larger proportion of the nation's forty-some million uninsured than any other ethnic group in the country, are the most victimized by rising health care costs, Medicaid and Medicare cuts, and receive worse care than others even when similarly insured. Endorsement of HR 676, co-sponsored by Representatives John Conyers and Dennis Kucinich, is a good step in the direction of a single payer national health care system, a bright line behind which black America is already arrayed, waiting for our political leaders to join us. How much longer will we wait?
Voting Rights, Jobs, Education
As Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. pointed out several years ago, the second amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to own a gun. But the Constitution is silent on the right to decent employment at living wage, on the right to a quality education, or the right to vote, and have every vote counted. As long as these basic and sensible human rights are not enshrined in the Constitution, excuses will be found to deny them.
Should the economy work for people? Is everyone's child worth educating? Is every vote worth counting? These are arguments that can only be won on their own merits, and the only way to frame a discussion on their merits is to pose them as Constitutional Amendments.
And the only way to win them once and for all is to write them directly into the US Constitution.
We know we need jobs. We know that quality education is a human right. And we know that our votes should be counted. Black America's political leaders must discover the vision to pick these fights and lead them.
40 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King declared that he "...knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube..."
The current generation of America's leaders have foisted upon us a so-called "Global War on Terror," which they expect to last decades, and requires the US, with less than 5% of the planet's population, to spend more than all the rest of the world combined on weapons and the military for the indefinite future. For historical reasons, black America tends to be more skeptical and less supportive of imperial ambitions and imperial war than our white neighbors. Black political figures who don't represent their constituencies on this issue can't represent them on anything else. They should be shunned and shamed, until such time as they can be replaced.
Why Demand Things That Can't be Passed in this Session of Congress?
The words "politician," "leader," and "political leader" are often used interchangeably. If they are indeed the same things, we have the right to demand that black politicians act like leaders. True leaders never confine their demands to the immediately possible, to those measures which can be enacted into law in this month, this year, or the next. Leaders possess vision, and they exercise leadership to make today's political impossibilities into tomorrow's realities.
Everything that Dr. King demanded in his heyday was deemed "politically impossible", and much of his historic agenda remains unaccomplished.
We have outlined here the bright lines, as we understand them, of street level opinion in black America, of political stands and just demands widely held among our people, from which too many of our nominal leaders are drifting, and some are running away from as fast as they can. They can run. But they can't hide.
During this Black History month, Black Agenda Report and CBC Monitor will issue the 2007 CBC Report Card and along with thousands of our friends around the nation, initiate a groundbreaking political action project to carry the demands of black America directly to our nominal representatives in Congress.
Other Articles by Bruce Dixon