Where was the Congressional Black Caucus for the last ten years?

by B. Mchie
By their own choice, for almost eight years, the members of the Congressional Black Caucus existed in the shadow of the first black president. They praised President Barack Obama's achievements while at the same time nudging him to do more for their constituents. African America supported Obama’s campaign and administration in 2008 and 2012. But is seems that the CBC got comfortable with ‘saying’ they pushed the president to do more for their black constituents and understanding that he was not just the president of black people only. You see the executive branch (presidency) is like the hood ornament on a car, the legislature (both houses) and judiciary are the motor and transmission that actually make to car run.

The Congressional Black Caucus was formed in 1969 to focus on issues of particular interest to Black Americans. Founding members were Representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Parren Mitchell, Robert Nix, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes, and DC Delegate Walter Fauntroy. Their goals were to positively influence the course of events pertinent to African-Americans and others of similar experience and situation, and to achieve greater equity for persons of African descent in the design and content of domestic and international programs and services. While the CBC has been primarily focused on the concerns of African Americans, the caucus has also been at the forefront of legislative campaigns of human and civil rights for all citizens.

It is that last sentence that motivated the writing of this blog and is where I feel the CBC has let their constituents of all colors down in the last ten years. While Obama was president it has been said that he did not unify the Democratic Party. The results of the mid-term elections showed this, but I’m certain it was his job alone. White push back by republicans and conservatives signaled that they meant business that they were going to oppose his every decision. The balance to do what is best for black America against possibly endangering ones political career was at stake and CBC could have done more for black America. Over 1000 legislative seats and governorships were lost during his two terms. I cannot blame him alone for this some has to fall on the shoulders of his party and the CBC. But with Obama gone black lawmakers in the House and Senate are reassessing their place. Perhaps they realize the limelight takes attitude change and work. Hopefully they’re ready and it is not too late to become the most visible and powerful African American politicians in the nation's capital.

A 2017 perspective shows President Donald Trump may face a more aggressive caucus, which will advocate for positions with "a bit more force," said Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill. I submit that Rep. Davis and the rest of his caucus do everything short of taking a bullet for the cause African America. The CBC must call out the whiteness first philosophy of his administration. Here are two more quotes from caucus members in 2017. "Without President Obama being in office, there will be more forceful articulation vis a vis administration policy." To the outgoing caucus chairman, Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., "The consequences are too enormous for us to be indecisive." With a black attorney general not one policeman or policewoman was found guilty for their role in the death of black citizens from Tamir Rice to Eric Garner.

This year there are more black lawmakers in Congress than ever: 49 African-American men and women were sworn in. Also serving on Capitol Hill is the first Indian American senator, 38 Hispanic lawmakers, including Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, the first Latina senator, and 15 Asian Americans. The caucus never had a perfect relationship with Obama, and several powerful members initially backed Hillary Clinton during Obama's first run for president in 2008. Those lawmakers felt disappointed when Obama did not focus as much as they would have liked on issues their minority constituents valued: criminal justice and policing, minority representation on the Supreme Court and other high offices, bringing jobs and industry to rural and inner city areas. So what did they do? They became politically correct, just what they did to the first black person to run for the office Obama just left.

On January 25, 1972, Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the United States Congress, announced her candidacy for president in a stump speech that sounded very much like those of today’s presidential candidates. She ran without the support of the Congressional Black Caucus. The reason? Some of the CBC’s members thought Chisholm’s focus on gender and outreach to other groups subverted the caucus’s mission and explicit focus on race. Four decades later, Representative Donna Edwards sought to become the first black senator from Maryland and only the second black woman ever elected to the body. Like Chisholm, she also did not enjoy the explicit support of the CBC. Edwards confronted CBC members, and they cited her “difficult nature” and failure to establish good relationships as reasons for not endorsing her. In November 2016, Edwards lost her bid for the Senate seat in a close primary race that may have turned out differently if she’d received the endorsement from more members of the nation’s most powerful body of black legislators.

Among young African Americans, there is a growing sense that there are significant generational differences with the CBC and that the organization may have lost its conscience. While some of these criticisms are valid, there is little question that the CBC is of immense value to African Americans and the nation at large. For decades, it’s been the organ through which the concerns of black Americans have entered the halls of Congress and the means by which policy victories have been delivered for disenfranchised minority communities. There is simply no doubting that the interests of black America remain central to the caucus’s aims.

During Black history month 2017 and the president insulted the legacy of Frederick Douglass and the CBC with phrases like ‘he did a good job’ and ‘do you know any of them.’ The best response from this political watchdog group is basically saying ouch. The president just hit you and you’re not hitting him back in return, that hurts this blogger deeply. My hope is that they begin to play hard in this game of politics. The Congressional Black Caucus remains black America’s hope for having a voice in Congress. No matter what person or party occupies the Oval Office, controls Congress, or the demographic makeup of the Supreme Court, the CBC could be the primary mechanism through which black people can be heard. But this will only be true if the CBC resolves not to become mired in the partisan politics that have stalled Congress, instead giving primacy to the interests of black Americans. The caucus has proven its ability to deliver on policies, but it will need to evolve if it is to usher the nation towards the place where equality and opportunity are available for all. The criticism it receives for not supporting women like Chisholm and Edwards will likely pale in comparison to the damage that’s done by losing the support of the next generation of African Americans.

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