Walter E. Fauntroy, taking a page from the book of conservative fund- raiser Richard Viguerie, is laying plans for transforming the disorganized voting strength of black America into a formidable political power.
His idea is to use a computer hookup to reach black voters and, through them, their congressmen, in the interest of legislation vital to blacks. Fauntroy, the non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia and this year's chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, says enough has been done already to convince him of the almost limitless potential of the approach.
"We are organizing ourselves to impact the political process, to reach out on a very careful basis in coalition with those whose interests coincide with ours," he said in a recent interview.
"As the beginning of that process, we have put together a National Black Leadership Roundtable, consisting of the chief executive officers of more than 150 organizations, and a Black Leadership Forum, composed of the heads of about 16 highly visible national black organizations--the Urban League, the NAACP, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, PUSH, the Urban Coaltion and so on.
"What the plan calls for is getting each of these organizations to break down its membership by congressional district, enter it into the computer and give us one person in each key district (the 110 congressional districts where blacks make up at least 15 percent of the population) who will be our communicator.
"As a case in point, my own fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, has broken its membership down and given us in each of these districts a Kappa who, when he gets the word that, say, the Voting Rights Act is up for consideration, will know his job is to contact the Kappas in his district and have them contact their congressman. I'll get a Baptist to call the Baptists, and so on with the Methodists, the Deltas, the Elks, the Masons and so on. We've already got about 41,000 names in the network; we need a couple million, in terms of just the ability to get the word out and to get it out institutionally."
He cites a recent example of how the system might work. "On the weekend before the Voting Rights Act was up for consideration, I got the Women's Hookup (a coalition of black women professionals) to come in and call 1,000 people in each of these districts and ask them to call their congressional representatives. The vote is scheduled for Monday, we told them. Call and say our Voting Rights bill is up on Monday, and we hope that you can vote for us so we can vote for you when you come up next year. Came Monday, 389 members saluted the flag. And that's just with the network we have now."
Fauntroy, a Baptist minister, doesn't like to speak of punishing uncooperative legislators at the polls, but that clearly is implied in the approach.
"If the Baptists and the Methodists and others who have been writing these people say this guy didn't do anything we asked him to do, it won't be a matter of the caucus punishing him. We will communicate, through the National Newspaper Press Association, the voting records of congressmen in the key districts. We are prepared to support those who support us.
"I'm going to have a real time with many of the guys who supported us on the Voting Rights Act because many of them were so cruel on the budget questions. There will be 69 untouchables-- those who joined in support of the caucus' alternative budget."
Nor, he said, will the caucus be bound by party considerations. As he said in his keynote speech at the recent Congressional Black Caucus Weekend, "We may have to let down some Democrats and lift up some Republicans in congressional districts that our votes have kept Democratic for decades."
Fauntroy recognizes that voter discipline won't be enough to accomplish what he has in mind. It is also necessary to undertake political fund-raising on an unprecedented scale, he said. "We may even have to think in terms of forming a Black PAC. Our great need is for an independent resource base. Right now, you take away labor and perhaps Jewish support from the black civil rights organizations and politicians, and they are in trouble. We have the money to support our own organizations, but we just haven't done it.
"Our real goal is to build a leadership family that includes the heads of the institutions in the black community. Just this summer, there were 20,000 black Shriners in town. They are giving us a guy in each district. Those voters who don't respond to the preacher or to the NAACP or the Urban League might respond to the potentate, and he is a member of the Roundtable."