At a historic gathering of major black advocacy and civil rights groups this week, the leaders hammered out a “black agenda” for President Obama’s second term that includes parity for black in education, healthcare and the economy and, most immediately, insuring that blacks aren’t disproportionately hurt by the pending fiscal cliff deal.
The move puts the president on notice—the black community has outlined its needs and the community will be closely watching to see if he responds with action.
Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network and host of his own show on MSNBC, “PoliticsNation,” said the gathering of more than 60 leaders was on par with the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It is in that spirit a half a century later we say that we’ll work together, that we’ll come together, to try to set an agenda,” Sharpton said. “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.”
There was much clamor during the run-up to last month’s presidential election that African Americans were unhappy with President Obama because he hadn’t done enough specifically to help black people. After black leaders had a White House meeting with the president a few weeks ago, joined by Latino and labor leaders, they decided to be specific about what they would like the president to do for African Americans.
The meeting was convened by Sharpton, Marc H. Morial, President and CEO of the National Urban League, Ben Jealous, NAACP National President and Melanie Campbell, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Morial said he was worried about what would come out of the president’s negotiations with Congress over the so-called fiscal cliff.
The cliff that could take $2,000-3,000 out of the pockets of the average American is a confluence of the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, the expiration of President Obama‘s 2 percent payroll tax cut, and a huge cut in government spending, all set to go into effect at the end of the year and which would take a combined $800 billion or so out of the U.S. economy at a time when the nation is just recovering from the Great Recession.
Ironically, the enormous cut in government spending—including a $55 billion reduction to the Pentagon’s budget in 2013, a reduction of payments to physicians participating in Medicare, substantial cuts to FEMA and the Dept. of Education—was put in place by the White House and Congress during the 2011 debt-ceiling fight as a measure to force the two sides to compromise in order to stop the cuts from taking place. In other words, the two sides agreed to massive cuts that it never intended to let happen as a way of motivating itself two years later.
In addition to insuring that the fiscal cliff doesn’t hit blacks disproportionately, Morial also listed five other priorities that came out of what he called Monday’s “historic gathering.”
The black agenda includes: working for parity for blacks in education, health care and the economy; reforming the criminal justice system; and protecting and defending voting rights.
Morial said the voting rights piece is crucial. “When our community was challenged by voter suppression…they reacted with power, with dignity and with force,” he said.
Blacks made up about 13 percent of the electorate in last month’s election, about the same percentage as 2008, demonstrating that the community was motivated to make sure the voter ID laws and new rules in dozens of states didn’t keep them from voting.
While it’s not clear what the president will do with a list handed to him by these black leaders, having a specific set of wishes will provide the black community with a scorecard to use in judging whether his administration is helping blacks.
“We embrace our historic role as the conscience of the nation,” Morial said. “We are united in our mission to support and protect the well being of the African-American community.”
In a joint statement, the leaders wrote, “The plight of the African-American community underscores the urgency of our demand. 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.”
The leaders also pledged to continue working to fight against any efforts by federal, state or local government to suppress the vote.