Civil Rights Groups Band Together to Create a Jobs and Freedom Agenda

Leaders believe they can be more effective if they work as a team on a specific set of issues.

Posted: 08/23/2013 12:30 PM EDT

The National Urban League, National Action Network, NAACP and other civil rights organizations have traditionally focused on their respective agendas. As NAACP president Ben Jealous likes to say, his group's priority is justice, while over at the Urban League, Marc Morial has got jobs covered.

But in the past several months, Black leaders have come to understand that to make a universal impact, they needed to develop a specific and comprehensive agenda around which they could all coalesce.

"It was very important because we've all had agendas, legislative proposals, policy positions and papers, but we've not been as strong because we've not been as unified," Morial told reporters Friday morning.

So, approximately 60 of them put their heads together and came up with a "21st Century Agenda for Jobs and Freedom" that was unveiled the day before the commemoration of the 50th anniversary March on Washington.

It focuses on five issues: economic parity for African-Americans; equity in educational opportunity; protecting and defending voting rights; eliminating health care disparities; and achieving comprehensive criminal justice system reform.

"We really believe that this march is the beginning. We are working to create a climate of change in this country because we want there to be a new movement for civil rights and economic justice for jobs and freedom. This is going to form for us the beginning of what we mobilize around," Moral said.

Their proposals include specific recommendations that can be expanded and will be shared with members of Congress, state legislators, members of President Obama's administration and others to build support. And they believe that there are some items that are very doable, such as increasing the minimum wage.

"Those who earn that wage are going to spend that money back into the economy on necessities. It primes the pump; it adds to demand," Morial said.

Melanie Campbell, who heads the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, added that another key next step would be for Congress to act swiftly to complete the voting rights task the Supreme Court has given Congress. Lawmakers must develop a new plan to determine which states and jurisdictions must seek federal pre-clearance before making discriminatory changes to voting policies and procedures.

"That's something they can get done as soon as they return to Washington in September," she said.

They also would like to see Congress act swiftly to pass the president's American Jobs Act, which conventional wisdom says is not very realistic.

Although Morial and Campbell remain optimistic that Congress will at least pass some components of the jobs bill, they acknowledged the importance of using the agenda to mobilize African-Americans and others who don't traditionally turn up at the polls during mid-term elections.

"We have work to do and there's a lot of work to do to ensure that people turn up not only during [congressional] mid-term elections, but for their gubernatorial, mayoral and other local elections," said Morial.

In addition, the groups will judge political candidates vying to keep or capture state houses, city halls and other elected positions, based on their willingness to endorse the agenda.

"But as a [former elected official] I think the idea that we mobilize around an agenda of policy priorities that doesn't come from an elected official or party or think tank, but comes from leadership in the community is a potential game changer," Morial said.

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 (Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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