“If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor.” (President Barack Obama)
President Obama’s statement was part of a fighting speech made Sept. 24 at the Annual Phoenix Award Dinner at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
This was a different Obama than the one seen during the debt ceiling debate.
The media likes to talk about the Obama of 2008 with his inspirational speeches that united and motivated millions. At the CBC dinner it was evident that he still has that charisma and self confidence, but most importantly, he has made a big change in his political line. He has gone from an accommodator to more of a fighter, more of a proud “warrior for the working class.”
The CBC responded in kind: They are rallying behind the president and his American Jobs
Act. It is the approach they have been calling for.
CBC members represent 25 million voters. Over the decades they have earned the title of “The Conscience of the Congress.” It was evident at the legislative conference that the CBC and its constituencies are getting fired up and ready to go in the fight for jobs and to defeat the Republicans in the next election.
While there are still criticisms, the progressive people assembled at the conference felt that with the new changes Obama’s chances of rallying his base are good.
The fact is that the Congressional Black Caucus has played a tremendous role in bringing Obama to a better position on jobs and the fight against racism. Their recent job fairs and public hearings have played a huge role in this regard.
One Congressperson at the conference said that a Republican colleague approached her after seeing the long lines at one of the CBC’s job fairs and public hearing and said, “I didn’t know things were that bad”.
The legislative conference featured a half-day forum sponsored by the CBC’s Jobs Commission. A jobs fair was also was held.
The theme of the town hall meeting this year was “Economic Opportunity and Jobs.”
After words of welcome, Rep. Donald Payne, the current head of the CBC Foundation, reminded everyone that the night before, despite a weak case and a worldwide protest, Troy Davis was executed.
Rep. Payne called it “unconscionable and wrong.”
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, the current chair of the Black Congressional Caucus and one of the six panelist pointed out, “This is one of the most unique moments in history. 2,980,000 African Americans are without work. The country may be in a recession, but we are in a depression”.
Dr. Julianne Malveaux, an economist and president of Spellman College, was also on the panel and said the overall unemployment rate is really 16 percent, 29 percent for African Americans and 32 percent for black men.”
Other speakers talked about the extraordinarily high unemployment of black youth, which exceeds 50 percent in some communities. In Detroit the overall rate is 45 percent.
The session was chaired by former Labor Secretary Alexi Herman and included Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif.; Marc Morial, National Urban League; Bill Lucy, head of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists; and Robert L. Johnson, the African American businessman who started the BET Network.
Morial told the town hall audience, “I want to take my suit off and we ought to be marching in the streets right now.”
In her remarks Rep. Waters, one of the most progressive voices in Congress, referred to the bankers on Wall St. as “gangsters who created the sub prime loan scandal. They have money, because we bailed them out.”
She continued, “We need to organize, the Democratic Party needs to organize and show some leadership. We must also reach out to the white poor and unemployed.”
Bill Lucy spoke about how African Americans should not support the efforts of conservative elements to pit black against Latino and immigrant workers. He also pointed out that Dr. King was pro-union and understood that African Americans are majority working people. “Absent the trade union movement, Lucy said, the minimum wage might become the maximum wage.”
Bill Lucy pointed out that Lyndon Johnson said the Civil Rights bill would not pass, but after John Lewis was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, the pressure was so great that President Johnson changed his mind. “That’s when he made his ‘We Shall Overcome’ speech. The Civil Rights Act passed.”
Obama’s address at the awards dinner was a great speech overall. It was not a speech critical of the CBC; rather it was a call to struggle in the best traditions of the African American people. The audience understood Obama’s appeal to march and gave the president a prolonged standing ovation.
Ahead for all progressive forces is a hard struggle to push for the best jobs legislation possible in Congress and on the streets. Such pressure can keep the Republican/tea party/Libertarian Axis on the defensive and create the conditions for a new Congress and a renewed and reelected Obama.
For this to happen President Obama must keep wearing that working-class warrior badge of honor.