In the smorgasbord of movement politics that is the Congressional Black Caucus's annual conference, you never know what you might hear from the random conferee or two.
There's the woman talking on her cell phone, loudly praising her Lord inside the exhibition hall. "Glory be to God! God did it!"
She is Danetta Glass, president of an Atlanta youth group, reporting back to one of her board members that her band of young people here at the Washington Convention Center did in fact meet with the corporate chief they'd been seeking at the caucus's legislative weekend. That's what it's all about, she says: bringing the grass roots to the table.
There is a group of women talking about being stressed, one of whom is saying, "If Bush gets in again we're going to all need stress relievers." Overheard by a reporter, she doesn't want her name used. No matter. Her friend Gloria Willingham, has plenty to say, and all for the record, about the subject on everyone's mind here. And no, it wasn't the third anniversary of Sept. 11. (More about that later.)
Rather, it's the election. Let's be more specific: It's voting President George W. Bush out of office. It's getting out the black vote ("We want to make sure every vote counts," Willingham adds) to support John Kerry, who last night spoke to the caucus and received a rousing ovation when he said, "My friends, I need your vote. And I'm here tonight to ask for your help, to ask for your vote."
"We're not gonna let them put a Do Not Enter sign on the White House of the United States of America . . . We need a president who's not afraid to sit down with the NAACP and the Black Caucus."
Each year, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation throws this legislative shindig, filled with workshops and parties and panel discussions that, taken together, constitute a showcase of black empowerment and the struggle for more. Celebrities major (Cosby) and celebrities minor (Omarosa) regularly appear.
But a measure of the seriousness with which the Black Caucus is taking the voting challenge could be seen in its program. On a schedule of workshops whose topics veered from the Underground Railroad to the "down low," from black tourism to lupus, from diet to reparations to jazz, there were three separate panels on voting rights and the 2000 election.
"People, I think, never want to see an election stolen," Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) says at a reception before Kerry's speech. "This is about democracy and the democratic process."
There is, among some in this crowd, an abiding bitterness toward Bush and his victory. It is no surprise, then, that Bush, who was invited to the caucus event, did not attend.
"The guy" -- the president -- "didn't come to the NAACP; he has not come to the Black Caucus." That's Velma Charles-Shannon, third leg of the trio with Willingham and the anonymous friend.
"We feel that blacks have been overlooked in this administration," Charles-Shannon says. The presence of prominent black people in Bush's cabinet doesn't temper her view.
Never mind the talking heads on the TV. These women are filled with political spin. They're not legislators, not congressional aides or staffers, but they're supporters of the Black Caucus and its agenda for change. They're constituents.
"I have another statement," says Willingham, who splits her time between Alexandria and Tampa, where she is a Florida voter and embittered by the 2000 electoral debacle there.
Her statement: "I think Bush and Cheney are the most deceptive individuals. They take Americans to be dupes."
She's talking about the war and what she believes is the plying of fear and the pandering to insecurity that characterizes the political process.
"Republicans try to say Kerry is a flip-flopper. He is not," Willingham says.
The biggest flip-flop, she says, was the Bush administration's pretext for the Iraq war.
"Initially we went in for weapons of mass destruction. Now we're in to do democratization."
There is but scant mention by these women or on the caucus agenda of terror and the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, although last night part of the dinner program included performances remembering the day.
When asked about terrorism their cynicism flowers to full form.
"I have a sense that they're trying to make people think there's a threat," says Willingham.
Bill Clinton tried to warn them, Charles-Shannon is saying. But Bush, she complains, didn't pay enough attention to issues happening off America's shores.
Her voice has grown preachy as she sums it all up:
"If you don't do foreign policy as president, it will do you."