US Politics

‘Off the Table’ at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference:

Black Mass Incarceration, Unemployment, Unjust Wars, Corporate School Reform, Rampant Privatizations

By Bruce A. Dixon

There was a time when the Congressional Black Caucus reflected to some degree, the political will of its constituents. Elected from the most reliably antiwar and pro-job creation, pro- education constituencies in the nation, every year during the dark years of Reagan and Bush-1, the caucus, to leverage and make visible the will of their communities, introduced and held hearings on their own budget recommendations, demanding the diversion of tens-of-billions from the Pentagon’s weapons programs, unjust wars and global network of bases into what Dr. King called programs for human uplift—education, job creation, mass transit, healthcare and housing.

Neither the wishes of Black voters nor the needs of Black communities have changed much since the 80s. But today’s Congressional Black Caucus does little or nothing to project the political will of Black communities onto the national stage. A quick look at the session schedule for the CBCs signature event, its Annual Legislative Conference, popularly known as CBC Week, reveals the immense gap between the priorities of the current Black caucus and those of the communities they supposedly represent.

The plague of mass Black imprisonment touches nearly every African American family in the land. We are one-eighth the nation’s population, but half those in its prisons and jails. The war on drugs is waged exclusively in our communities. Apart from a single workshop on the topic of ex-offender re-entry, the CBCs weeklong festival of backslapping and mutual admiration sessions utterly ignore Black mass imprisonment. Black political leaders, if there were any such, would be about the business of figuring out how to roll back the numbers of us in prisons and jails, about ending mandatory sentencing and restoring families and neighborhoods by rolling back the nation’s longstanding policy of Black mass incarceration.

Black communities are the most steadfast bastions of antiwar sentiment in the country. But the subject of how to leverage the widespread antiwar sentiment in Black communities on the national stage to affect policy is a non-starter for any workshop sessions at this year’s CBC Week. The same goes for the wave of public school closings, de-fundings and privatizations. The privatization of public schools, and for that matter the plague of privatizations affecting water and transit systems, roads and other public assets in Black communities are also absent from the concerns addressed at this year’s CBC Week.

The Black unemployment rate is at its highest in sixty years, but the CBC is not interested in mobilizing its constituents to demand real job creation to replace the millions of jobs that have disappeared. African American communities everywhere are sites of the worst toxic dumps, chemical spills and industrial pollution, and have the least access to remediation, and this too is ignored at CBC Week.

What you can find at CBC Week are plenty of workshops on how to get paid, how to be a contractor with the Pentagon, with the police state at the Department of Homeland Security, how to get in on government procurement and the like. Although there are no sessions on the need for support of public transit, you can find a session on how your business can get some surface transit money.

The fact is, CBC Week, and the CBC itself have been swallowed by big business. The head of the CBC foundation, which puts on the affair, is a Black AT&T exec. She is surrounded by her peers from McDonalds, Wal-Mart, Bank of America, and Lockheed, by military contractors and the banks that gave us the sub-prime scare, and more. The congressional Black Caucus has become indistinguishable from its big business funders, and almost from their white colleagues. It’s time to stop pretending that the CBCs Annual Legislative Caucus has any relation to the needs or political aspirations of our people.

Black Agenda Report, August 11, 2010