Andrew Gillum. (Photo: Joey Foley/Getty Images)
At an Emerging Leaders town hall meeting at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference Friday morning, activists and lawmakers stressed the urgency of continuous African-American involvement in the politics and policies that affect their communities, as opposed to showing such enthusiasm only for critical elections.
During President Obama’s first White House bid, African-Americans were fired up, politically engaged and turned out at the polls at unprecedentedly high rates to help ensure the election of the nation’s first Black president. Once their goal was accomplished, they thought their job was done. Unfortunately, President Obama and African-Americans have been hard hit by the economic crisis that preceded his election — Obama politically and African-Americans economically, with high unemployment rates that also are unprecedentedly high. Unemployment has awakened apathetic Black voters, but it shouldn’t take a crisis to keep them up and active, the town hall panelists said.
“My hope is that we don’t allow the campaign to parachute in, bring their resources, bring their money, organize your community and once the election is over, allow that apparatus to collapse,” said Andrew Gillum, a Tallahassee, Florida, city commissioner.
Both Obama and African-American communities have suffered, he said, because they didn’t stay engaged on each other’s issues and agenda, and Black voters also need to keep their local and state-elected officials accountable for providing solutions. Gillum said that although his city is 70 percent Democratic, “the Tea Party is on my butt every day. I’m like, where are my people?” He said that once next year’s elections are over, communities must utilize the organizing efforts and local talent that Obama will bring to them during his campaign to keep it going to make long-lasting change.
Angela Rye, executive director for the Congressional Black Caucus, said that African-Americans have put all of their eggs in Obama’s basket, forgetting that there are other lawmakers who are responsible for dealing with their issues. Citing the Troy Davis case, Rye observed that instead of being proactive, Blacks tend to react to crises. She also said that it is critical that they build alliances with other groups, both minority and white, with whom they have shared interests, which will strengthen their influence.