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For Some, Black Caucus’ Hartford Visit Missed An Opportunity


By Ann-Marie Adams, Op-Ed Columnist

HARTFORD — Connecticut is ground zero for a new civil rights movement that will be centered on educational and other disparities among the minority community.

This state has the widest academic achievement gap. Its capital city has a 20 percent unemployment rate. And both factors impact health disparities.

So when news came that the Congressional Black Caucus, “the conscience of the nation,” was coming to town, some people had high hopes for the  Harriet Beecher Stowe-sponsored town hall meeting at the Bushnell Theater.

After all, it was indeed an historic event because the Caucus had never been to Connecticut to participate in a town hall meeting about social justice. This was a chance for them to really make the kind of history their predecessors made.

For some, hopes were dashed.

Alas, there was not going to be a replay of the 1960s, when brave Americans gathered in Birmingham, Alabama because it was ground zero for the racial injustice throughout the South. Mississippi also  exemplified the evils of the Jim Crow era and the world bore witness when television showed Martin Luther King Jr. and others marching against fear.

Decades of struggle prompted the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, which gave way to many opportunities for blacks, Latinos, white women and other disadvantaged population.

Nothing of that magnitude happened in Hartford on Friday. It was a missed opportunity for the Caucus to actually be the conscience of America.

The significance of representational politics was poignantly present, though. Although from a specific district with specific constituents, the Black Caucus, like it or not, symbolically represents all blacks across America, including those in Connecticut.

There are no black congress person from Connecticut. So blacks in the state cling to white surrogates. A popular joke at gatherings is that Sen. Richard Blumenthal is a “brother from another mother.” And most people like 1st District Congressman John Larson (D-CT) because he maintains close relationships with his constituents. In the black community, he has an interesting relationship with so-called black leaders, who get rewarded with invites and tickets to parties with VIP guest lists.

So when nine members of the  Caucus came to Connecticut to participate in a town hall meeting about social justice, there was some expectation among many blacks that the body of leaders would be the conscience of the nation, especially in a state with alarming disparities.

That conscience was not on public display much, except by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Yvette Clark, (D-NY)—but that was after the panel discussion. During the town hall meeting, local black politicians such as Rep. Gary Holder Winfield, (D-New Haven) and Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Hartford/Bloomfield) articulated briefly the disparities and the historical roots of those inequities. Rev. Michael Williams eloquently placed the educational disparities in its proper context of race. And Larson’s youth cabinet was outstanding.

But still, many expected the Caucus to speak truth to power in Connecticut, given the tenor of the political debate across the nation. The  Caucus was supposed to be that voice in this particular “call for action,” which marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Stowe. This former Hartford resident was dubbed the woman who wrote a book, Uncle Tom. It sparked a conversation about slavery.

On this historic occasion, none of the local black mouthpieces mentioned another historic event unfolding in the state: Tanya McDowell, a black female mother of a six-year old boy,  is facing 20 years for “stealing a quality education” from Norwalk.

There was no call to action on that matter at the town hall meeting. Local community representatives were too busy trying to promote themselves and their community programs. But U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois) gave them a reality check: Larson will not have funding for those programs. The House Republicans have made sure of that.

Sadly, the only history that was made in Hartford on Friday was that nine Black Caucus members came to celebrate 200 years since the birth of Stowe.

And Stowe’s celebration was an opportune moment to help self-interested parties write their own story.

Ann-Marie Adams, Ph.D. is a Race and Gender Associate at Rutgers University. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook. You can reach her at annwritestuff@msn.com.

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Larson Welcomes Black Caucus To Hartford


HARTFORD — Congressman John Larson on Thursday welcomed members of the Congressional Black Caucus, saying they will on Friday morning “make history.”

Larson (D-1st District) invited members of the Black Caucus to join in the celebration of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 200th birthday.

He co-hosted a reception at the Artist Collective Thursday night for CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver Jr. (D-MO), Reps. Corrine Brown (D-FL), William Lacy Clay Jr. (D-MO), Hank Johnson (D-GA in photo conferring with his wife and Larson), Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) and Laura Richardson (D-CA).

From 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. today, CBC members will participate at a town hall meeting in the Bushnell Theater, Call to Action: A Conversation on Race and Social Justice. They are expected to discuss ways to address the academic achievement gap, racism and social justice.

Cleaver, Jr., who has been to Hartford before for a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, said he was in town to help celebrate Stowe’s birthday.

“You don’t go to people’s house and tell them they need to vacuum their carpet,” he said when asked about Connecticut’s achievement gap, the widest in the nation.

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Congressional Black Caucus To Visit Hartford


HARTFORD — In what might be an unprecedented occasion, several  members of the Congressional Black Caucus will convene on June 10 at the Bushnell Theater to hold a town hall meeting about race and social justice.

The visit was triggered by the 200th-year celebration of the birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the “little woman” who supposedly instigated the nation’s Civil War, then President Abraham Lincoln said upon meeting her.

The “Social Justice: A Call to Action” town hall meeting at 9 a.m.  is a part of Stowe’s three-day celebration, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Congressional Black Caucus.  The town hall meeting will also highlight the impact that Stowe’s book had in ending slavery in the United States.

Additional activities include panel discussions on Closing the Education Achievement Gap, The Economics of Race and Health Disparities in African American communities.

CBC members attending include Chairman Emanuel Cleaver III (MO-05), and Reps. Corrine Brown (FL-03), G.K. Butterfield (NC-01), Donna Christensen (Virgin Islands), William Lacy Clay Jr. (MO-01), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Gregory Meeks (NY-06), Donald Payne (NJ-10) and others.

Congressman John Larson (CT-01) will welcome the Black Caucus at a special reception on June 9 at the Artist Collective.

All events are open to the public and all are encouraged to attend.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

WHAT: Inspiration to Action Fair: Panel Discussion on “Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.”

WHEN: 3:15  p.m. – 5:30 p.m.

WHERE: Immanuel Congregation Church
360 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT 06105

 

WHAT: Larson to host reception for CBC members.

WHEN: 7:00 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.

WHERE: Artists Collective
Albany Avenue.
Hartford, CT 06105

Friday, June 10, 2011

WHAT: Social Justice Call to Action Forum: A Conversation on Race & Social Justice

WHEN: 9:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

WHERE: Bushnell Belding Theatre
166 Capitol Ave
Hartford, CT 06106

 

 

Saturday, June 11, 2011

WHAT: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 200th Birthday Community Event

WHEN: 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

WHERE: Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
77 Forest Street
Hartford, CT 06105

 

 

 

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African-American Politicians Under Attack in Washington


News Report, Charles D. Ellison

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In 2010, African-American politicians find themselves under siege.

Black political power and influence appears strafed and demolished in less than two weeks time. Even President Barack Obama is not immune as he fends off assaults from both left and right, including a Washington Post column by two prominent Democratic strategists recommending he pass on re-election in 2012.

A combination of scandal, Republican electoral tsunamis and lack of a coordinated response to the new political climate have left Black politicos trapped in a smoky wilderness of uncertainty.

It could not have come at a worse time for African Americans, near paralyzed by unemployment double the national average, record foreclosure rates and a recession which vaporized a quarter of the Black middle class.

Two of the most senior Black Members of Congress — Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., — are faced with full-blown ethics “trials” this lame duck session of Congress, with two additional Members — Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., — in the House Ethics Committee pipeline for further consideration.

Rangel’s inquiry ended with the Harlem congressman being found guilty on 11 counts and the House Ethics Committee voting for censure. Rangel’s demise quickly devolved into the heartbreaking embarrassment of a celebrated, longtime founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus — who once wielded the gavel to the most powerful committee in Congress — unable to afford a lawyer.

Yet, observers are left wondering why it went that far, especially after Ethics Committee lead counsel Blake Chisam reluctantly admitted at one point on the record that he saw “… no evidence of corruption” in the Rangel case.

“We’re in a period here where due process is inconvenient,” says Lauren Victoria Burke of Crewof42.com.

“I hope that my colleagues in Congress, friends, constituents and anyone paying attention will consider my statement and how the Committee has been unfair to me,” complained Rangel, rambling defensively in a statement released shortly after his abrupt and reality show-like exit from an adjudicatory subcommittee hearing last Monday. “They can do what they will with me because they have the power and I have no real chance of fighting back.”

Waters, once a rhetorical titan and activist member who would famously dress-down House committee witnesses, is barely audible and under the radar. While she vehemently denies any wrongdoing, she’s been largely quiet, reserving comment until her trial scheduled before the end of the session.

Rangel, for his part, won’t go down without a fight. The New York lawmaker plays hardball with plans to run for ranking minority member on the committee he previously chaired. Obviously, that will be a long shot given the recent censure rebuke.

But, it’s not just Rangel and Waters that have the tightly knit, 40-year old CBC worried. The Black Caucus is frantically searching for some footing on the new political landscape. Its predominant Democratic make-up creates a problematic political calculus as it enters a Republican-led Congress next year.

How they decide to interface with the two new Black Republicans on the block, Rep.-elect Tim Scott, S.C., and Rep.-elect Allen West, Fla., is unknown. Still, the newly elected chairman of the CBC, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., is famously known for his ability to reach across the aisle.

And Cleaver, who barely managed to beat back a belligerent Republican challenger two weeks ago, won’t be expected to play defense for the White House all the time.

“We recognize the need to support the president, but there’s also the feeling being expressed rather loudly that the White House will become concerned only about the survival of the president in 2012, and we will be out here blowing in the wind,” Cleaver said in a telling interview with the Kansas City Star, his hometown newspaper. “We may be moving down two separate paths toward 2012.”

“With Cleaver at the wheel, look for a more pointed reality-based appraisal of the CBC’s dealings with the White House,” notes Burke.

Also set to lose their House chairmanships in January are Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, D-Mich., and Homeland Security chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Republicans, however, are among the least of the CBC’s concerns as the venerable Black political institution finds itself actually having to scrape for leadership positions within its own minority party.

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced an impasse-breaking deal to create a brand new No. 3 minority leadership position for loyal deputy and House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., the Democratic Caucus breathed a heavy sigh of relief that a bruising intra-party contest was avoided between Clyburn and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

While many observers said Hoyer had the winning votes lined up, Clyburn still had a spoiler in his pocket: the other 41 House Members of the CBC, including two Maryland Members, who were ready to back their most powerful colleague at all political costs it seemed. Clyburn did not hide his feelings that the contest was about more than just him — he was on a “mission” to preserve the CBC’s influence on the Hill amid devastating losses on Nov. 2.

But, at eleventh hour, Clyburn’s resolve buckled under the weight of devotion to Pelosi, who announced a newly chiseled “Assistant Leader” position that would report to her. In the new spot, finalized by a vote from Democratic Members, Clyburn would report to her in a fashion similar to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who now holds the “assistant to the speaker” position.

Satisfied that disaster was averted, Clyburn ran to the Caucus for support. “What we are doing is saying that everybody will maintain their relative position in the 112th,” Clyburn said in a CNN interview. “So there is nothing unusual about this, and I was very pleased with the agreement that Speaker Pelosi came with.”

A skeptical CBC, eyeing the move with suspicion, wants details. “You mean ‘assistant TO THE leader,” snapped a source close to the Caucus who did not want to be identified. “Clyburn should have gone all out with it. He looks weak and the CBC doesn’t want to look weak along with him.”

CBC Chair Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., appeared to confirm as much. “We fully support our current whip, Mr. Clyburn, for the No. 3 position and we’re currently reserving judgment on the entire package until we see what the actual portfolio entails in terms of responsibilities,” Lee told a group of reporters after a closed-door meeting of the Caucus which discussed, among other things, its fate in the new Congress.

“It’s that quintessential example of the rules getting changed when it comes to African American politicians,” says The Source Magazine’s political editor Jason Johnson. “The fact that Clyburn’s position has to be eliminated and re-created is absurd.”

But, some observers note that Clyburn did not want ranking Latino Democrat Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-CA) bumped from the leadership caucus, which could have happened under a shake-up.

“Clyburn did not want to bump Becerra, which is smart if you think about it given that [Latino] voting bloc and other issues like immigration. He took the hit, in a way, to keep Becerra in the leadership.”

It’s not like the Caucus hasn’t been in bad spots before. But, this year found the Caucus besieged by an incessant string of high profile troubles peppered with gaffes, missteps and ethics debacles. Lee’s reservations reflect a growing sense that the CBC is losing grip as three of its Members lose powerful Committee chairs and eighteen will no longer Chair subcommittees.

The uncomfortable jolt of reality is already spurring bold bids for ranking member positions on major committees as Black members find their bearing.

Outgoing House Government Reform Committee Chair Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-NY), a longtime king of the Brooklyn political machine, wants to stay on as the committee’s Ranking Member to the chagrin of leading Democrats — including one corner that needs him the most: the White House.

Towns is ready to glove-up and go cage match with an emboldened incoming chair Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the loquacious center-right Congressman who’s promised to blast the Obama Administration with a ceaseless barrage of inquiries, probes and subpoenas.

Appearing on a CNBC program on Election Night, Issa argued that the administration was “corrupt and arrogant.”

And then there’s Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., the West Philly political brawler who had announced back in May that if Democrats retained their majority, he would pursue an unorthodox seniority-bucking bid for chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.

Willing to shake up the antiquated Democratic seniority system Fattah planned to hurdle from his No. 21 spot all the way to the top, directly bumping heads with longtime lawmaker Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA). Now, Fattah says that he’s switching gears and gunning for Ranking Minority Member, a move certain to rile both Dicks and senior Democrats who’ve been waiting in line.

That prompts a larger question: how bad is it?

“I definitely think it’s a challenging time,” admits Angela Rye, Founder and Director of Strategic Partnerships for D.C.-based IMPACT-DC, an organization closely aligned with the CBC. “But, it’s been a challenging time for years. There is a lot of work we can continue to do.”

Rye argues, along with other leading Black Democratic strategists, that the CBC still retains some power as former chairs will simply transition into ranking member status.

Johnson partly agrees.

“I’m not willing to claim it’s as bad as the nineties where it seemed as if every single Black mayor was under investigation,” says the political science professor. “Or when every Black cabinet member in the Clinton Administration was under investigation — with one ending up dead in a plane crash,” citing the tragic and untimely death of former Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.

Still, there is a larger issue of waning Black political influence nationwide. Loss of 19 state legislatures to Republicans, who now wield the ruthless magic wand of redistricting, poses a political life-and-death scenario to the 630 Black state legislators (mostly Democrats) spread throughout the fifty states.

Some are nervous they could lose seats to a happily gerrymandering GOP. In Pennsylvania, longtime political powerhouse state Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, lost his position as the top Democrat on the state House Appropriations Committee following the GOP takeover of Harrisburg.

Even on the Republican side — and despite major gains for the party on Nov. 2nd — a chorus of GOP elected officials are calling for the resignation of Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele, the party’s first Black chair. Recently, Steele’s own political director Gentry Collins resigned in a flashy public retort of Steele’s tenure.

“In stark contrast [to 2004 and 2008], we enter the 2012 presidential cycle with 100 percent of the RNC’s $15 million in lines of credit tapped out, and unpaid bills likely to add millions to that debt,” Collins spit in a scathing letter to the RNC.

Republicans, no longer feeling defensive about the lack of diversity in their party after so many GOP minorities winning office, view Steele’s ouster as a risk their willing to take.

“I have long championed Michael Steele, not because I’m a partisan, but because the guy has been winning since he’s been in office,” argues Johnson. “Republicans get the biggest wins they’ve had in six years and now he’s out of a job? I think that’s pure racism.”

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Tea Baggers in the Black Caucus—What’s the Point?


WASHINGTON, D.C. — The question of who should or shouldn’t be in the Congressional Black Caucus only came up when new Tea Party–backed n GOP congressmen Allen West (R-Florida) and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) were asked whether they intended to join.

The short answer to the question who should be a CBC member is: any African-American who sits in Congress. The name is the Congressional Black Caucus, not the Congressional Black Democratic Caucus. CBC chair Barbara Lee unhesitatingly tossed out the olive branch of membership and said West and Scott are more than welcome to join.

But in fact, there are several reasons the issue is muddy. Scott and West have sent mixed signals about whether they want in. West says yes. Scott has virtually said no, citing his allegedly rancorous experiences with black Democrats while he was a member of the South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus.

But ruffled personal feelings are just part of the equation. There’s the issue of party affiliation, ideology, and the even larger question of what most African-Americans expect from their representatives.

Scott and West are not merely political outsiders. They are firmly committed to pushing the Tea Party’s agenda in Congress, as they have promised in countless political speeches, pep rallies, and Tea Party confabs. They see nothing wrong in being—and, in fact, take great pride in their role as—the desperately needed black face and voice of the Tea Party and of GOP ultra-conservatives in and out of Congress.

Tea Party leaders have made no effort to mask their one overriding aim: to do everything politically possible to ensure that the Obama presidency is failed, flawed, and one-term.

Scott and West share that goal. This makes them diametrically opposed to the political and philosophical goals of the current CBC membership.

The CBC, counter to the widespread impression, is not a political monolith of knee-jerk, reflexive liberals. Its ranks also include moderates and even conservatives. At times its members have split votes on legislation.

But no matter what their political differences, on some issues, they march in lockstep in support of President Obama and health care reform; affirmative action; increased government spending on education, jobs, and social programs; tight reins on Wall Street and the banking industry; an end to Bush tax cuts for the rich; a massive urban reconstruction program; and a wind-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. GOP leaders and the Tea Party stand for the exact opposite of those goals.

Then there’s the CBC’s mostly black constituency. True, many African-Americans voice frustration, displeasure, and even anger at the Democratic Party for taking the black vote for granted and for saying little (and doing less) on issues ranging from criminal justice reform to the education crisis in inner-city schools. But black voters have been the bedrock of the Democratic Party for a half-century. They will not break ranks with the party at this juncture for two good reasons. The Democrats are still the only political game in town when it comes to giving political voice to their needs.

The GOP, despite occasional lip service to diversity, has shown in word and deed that it is cold, indifferent, and hostile to black interests. Its bread-and-butter constituency for five decades has been white conservatives in the Deep South and heartland, as well as seniors, blue-collar worker, rural voters, and—at times—ultra-conservative Democrats and independents.

GOP leaders have long known that these voters can be easily riled up by the emotional wedge issues: abortion, family values, gay marriage and tax cuts. During the yearlong debate on health care reform and in the months since the bill’s passage, they whipped up their hysteria and borderline racism against the new law. This was glaringly apparent in the ferocity and bile spouted by the shock troops that GOP leaders, in consort with the Tea Baggers, brought out to harangue, harass and bully Democrat legislators on the eve of the health care vote. These are the very same voters that GOP politicians—Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr. and W. Bush, McCain, as well as legions of governors, senators and members of Congress—have called on to seize and maintain regional and national political dominance for decades.

Scott and West will say and do nothing to change this situation. Their goal is to do everything to return the GOP to power in all areas of government. Should the two new congressmen be invited to join the CBC? Of course. Will they accept the invitation to join? More than likely not. The two men are more than just a bad fit with the CBC. They represent everything the CBC is against.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.  Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson

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