By Nia-Malika Henderson
Monday, September 20, 2010; 1:29 AM
President Obama rallied a crowd of black lawmakers on Saturday night, telling them to "guard the change" his administration has begun and calling for a return to the kind of vigorous grass-roots organizing that drove the civil rights movement forward.
In a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus, Obama warned that Republicans want to "turn back the clock" and said: "I need everybody here to go back to your neighborhoods, and your workplaces, to your churches, and barbershops and beauty shops. Tell them we have more work to do."
While many Democratic lawmakers facing election are keeping their distance from Obama, polls show that the president enjoys a 91 percent favorability rating among African-Americans, and the Democratic National Committee is eager to tap into that enthusiasm to stave off major losses in November.
"It's not going to be easy," he told the black-tie crowd at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. "I said back on the campaign that change would be hard. It wasn't just a matter of me getting elected, and suddenly, our problems all go away. It was a matter of all of us getting involved, all of us staying committed, all of us sticking with our plan for a better future until it was complete. That's how we've always moved forward in this country."
Ticking off his administration's achievements, including the health care and financial regulatory overhauls, Obama linked his achievements to the long struggle for civil rights.
"Each and every time we've made epic change - from this country's founding, to emancipation, to women's suffrage, to workers' rights - it hasn't come from a man. It's come from a plan. It's come from a grass-roots movement rallying around a cause," he said. "What made the civil rights movement possible were foot soldiers like so many of you, sitting down at lunch counters and standing up for freedom. What made it possible for me to be here today are Americans throughout our history making our union more equal, making our union more just, making our union more perfect. That's what we need again."
Obama said that the recession had been especially hard for African-Americans - the unemployment rate for blacks is 16.3 percent.
His remarks were interrupted by applause on several occasions, particularly when he blasted Republicans for obstructing his agenda.