I had the honor this week of attending a historic gathering of African American leaders in Washington devoted to address the “state of black America.” More than 60 of America’s leading civil rights and community leaders gathered to discuss key issues in the black community as the nation prepares for President Obama’s second term.
The meeting was convened by Marc H. Morial, president of National Urban League, Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, NAACP National President and Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, among others.
The meeting was convened in part to answer the questions that many African Americans have asked since Election Day: What should a “black agenda” look like in Obama’s second term? Many civil rights leaders have said that because African-Americans turned out in historic numbers and overwhelmingly voted for Obama, he should pay special attention to the community’s concerns, as he did for other constituencies during his first four years.
“We are taking this from rhetoric to results from people saying that we need an agenda to us sitting down and collectively coming up with one,” Sharpton said to the guests.
““There are those left teetering on the precipice of financial ruin and there are some who would ask working, low and middle class Americans to give more,” said Morial. “We...urge all leaders involved in these negotiations to move toward a fair and rational approach that preserves the safety nets so crucial to struggling families including Medicaid, Medicare, social security, and support for investments in education, innovation, jobs and infrastructure that will be necessary for real and meaningful recovery.”
The leaders said that the administration should promote policies that achieved economic parity for African Americans, equality in educational Opportunity, protect and defend voting rights and develop policies that eliminating healthcare disparities, among others.
“The plight of the African-American community underscores the urgency of our demand, the leaders said in a written statement. “The African-American community was disproportionately battered by the Great Recession, and has benefited the least from the fragile economy recovery. Unemployment remains unacceptably high; income inequality and the ever-widening wealth gap threaten to relegate the black community to perpetual underclass status. Those who wish to curtail investment education and career preparation further dim the prospects for upward mobility for our young people.”
All of this sounds great- in theory. And yes it is important to have an agenda. But one thing missing: a realistic strategy to combat a reluctant GOP-led House of Representatives. Even in talks regarding the “fiscal cliff” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has made it crystal clear that he will not cooperate with President Obama. So can we believe that the lofty policy goals for black America have a chance as well?
For example: The Republicans for weeks have called the president’s position on fixing America’s fiscal woes as a “non starter”. It appears they plan to duplicate the same level of resistance they gave in the first term.
Meanwhile, the GOP provided a counter proposal which offers $2.2 trillion in debt reduction, increases Medicare eligibility age, and puts social security cuts on the table. They also proposed to lower tax rates for the “1 percent.” This approach is the opposite of the “black agenda” laid out by Sharpton, Morial and others.
And the fact that public opinion appears to be on the president’s side isn’t helping matters. According to a Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation poll, 82 percent of Americans oppose reducing social security benefits , 67 percent oppose raising Medicare eligibility age and 60 percent support raising taxes on the wealthy.
This hints at the fact that the majority of Americans do not agree with what Boehner is proposing.
So, it’s not just African Americans who the GOP have it out for. And this is my concern about the future of the black agenda. We have all identified the bad guy and it’s not President Obama. The question I have for the over 60 civil rights leaders who convened this week is: how do we defeat the opposition when it appears as though they would rather see President Obama fail then see America succeed?
Etan Thomas is an 11-year NBA veteran and author, along with Nick Chiles, of “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” “More Than an Athlete,” and soon to be released, “Voices of the Future.” He is also a member of President Obama’s Fatherhood Initiative. To read more, visit Etanthomas.com or follow on twitter @etanthomas36
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