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E-Letter To Dr. Ron Walters Re: Return The Congressional Black Caucus To Power

Your article, Return The Congressional Black Caucus To Power, in my opinion, articulates the most important goal of the Black electorate this campaign season year. I wholeheartedly agree with your opinion that the Congressional Black Caucus is more critical to the interests of Black voters than any one presidential candidate. However, I don't share your view that Black electoral support of the Gore-Lieberman ticket should necessarily be part of a strategy to re-elect or to empower the Black Caucus.

In fact, in many respects, I believe that support of the Gore-Lieberman ticket may undermine the responsiveness of a Gore administration and the Democratic Party to a Black agenda, in the event that Al Gore is elected president of the United States. By supporting Gore-Lieberman, several key issues that are on a Black agenda could actually be ignored and watered-down.

While I share some of your concerns about Ralph Nader's willingness to champion issues that involve race and which particularly benefit Blacks, I don't see the potential support of his candidacy as a non "political" undertaking as you do. In fact, I think that support of Nader may provide the Black Electorate with the vehicle that they have lacked to communicate their displeasure with the Democratic Party as well as the opportunity to vote for a candidate whose agenda contains issues that the Democratic Party and the Gore ticket have successfully ignored this campaign season in their pursuit of white middle class voters in the "center" of the American electorate.

There are three issues that the Gore-Lieberman campaign won't touch with a ten-foot pole that Black voters are very much concerned about and which Ralph Nader's candidacy has the potential to address. Those issues are the death penalty, environmental racism and reparations.

The Gore campaign is in support of the death penalty just as is Gov. Bush. It was interesting to note Gore's silence on the execution of Shakah Sankofa (Gary Graham) in Texas. The campaign did not utter a word on the execution and ignored the efforts of Black Democrats like the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and the Congressional Black Caucus to stop the execution. It will be very interesting to see what the Gore ticket would do in the event that Mumia Abu-Jamal - who is intensely revered by many Black voters -- were up for execution prior to the November elections. In such a scenario, Gore's support of the death penalty would be in direct opposition to the wishes of the Black Electorate. In addition to all of this, the Gore campaign has ignored the efforts of Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to push a bill through Congress that would institute a moratorium on death penalty executions.

The Gore campaign has also been noticeably silent on the issue of environmental racism and Gore did virtually nothing to address the problem of pollution, dumping and the plethora of environmental poisons in the inner cities where Blacks live and which particularly affect children. A recent General Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that 700,000 children served by federal health care programs like Medicaid remain at significant risk for toxic lead poisoning. The report also revealed, "despite federal policies, most children in or targeted by federal health care programs have not been screened" for lead poisoning. Despite his rhetoric to the contrary that he is "against the big polluters", Gore has been missing in action over the last 8 years on addressing the contamination problem in the Black community and did nothing to address harmful Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policies that contribute to the problem. And so far he has outlined no clear plan to successfully solve this problem if he were to become president.

The Gore campaign and the Democratic Party as a whole have not dealt with the issue of reparations. For years, the Democratic Party has ignored the efforts of Rep. Conyers to have the U.S. Congress officially study the issue. Clinton and Gore have been silent on the issue - even when poll data and the sentiment of Black voters indicate that there has been a tremendous groundswell of support for the issue in the last year. Thus far, the Gore campaign remains silent on the issue and those who are expecting the ticket to address the issue are delusional. Gore strategists are fearful that if he supports reparations, even in theory, he will lose a significant amount of white voters.

But on all three of these issues Ralph Nader has expressed his support. He has called for an end to the death penalty and his support for environmental health issues applies to low-income Blacks living in housing projects in the inner cities. And his recent support from Randall Robinson, a leading advocate of reparations, bodes well for Nader elevating that issue during the last two months of the election season.

In light of all of this, I am perplexed by your characterization of the possible support of Nader as non-"political" simply because Nader probably will not win in November. I simply ask you what difference does it make if Gore wins if his candidacy and administration doesn't champion issues and critical aspects of an agenda that reflect the will of the Black Electorate? How is that likely scenario "political" as you characterize it?

In your piece you wrote:

In this context, the choice of Nader is not political because it does not speak to the possibility of who will win the election and therefore who will directly address the possibility of dealing with the concrete interests of the black community. Second, it is not political because it does not consider what the main body of blacks will do. I have heard to some of my brother and sister activists intellectuals justify their vote for Nader in what amounts to individualistic grounds. That is to say, if they do not respect the direction of the masses, then they are operationalizing a highly personalized political agenda.

How so? If Nader speaks to three huge issues that Gore ignores how is support of his candidacy "operationalizing a highly personalized political agenda"? Since Gore ignores these issues, to me, it would seem appropriate that you criticize those that support him in a similar manner as you have those Brothers and Sisters who support Nader. Furthermore, the public record contains a well-documented track record of Gore ignoring the concerns and issues advanced by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Doesn't that matter to you as well?

Dr. Walters, I do not doubt that you may be proven correct in your belief that there may not be a need to channel a Black agenda through the likes of Ralph Nader or that such a strategy may prove to be ineffective but, at present, I see even less of a case for doing so through Al Gore, a man who has proven to be unresponsive to many issues that matter to Black voters, even when directly confronted with these issues by members of the Congressional Black Caucus - the very body that you are seeking to empower.

If it is in the best interests of Black voters to have the Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives a nice coalition of Black opinion leaders like Tom Joyner, Rev. Jackson, Rev, Sharpton, Minister Farrakhan and Tavis Smiley could advance a united voter registration campaign that would accomplish that goal with no sweat. They all are fond of the Congressional Black Caucus, have supported them in the past and have collectively registered more voters in the last 15 years than any other five political or civic leaders - white or Black, Democrat or Republican.

Furthermore I see no need for Black voters to rely on Gore's coattails to elect Black members of Congress as you argue -- Black leaders and their supporters can do that all on their own and in a manner that holds members of the Congressional Black Caucus accountable to a Black agenda. Issue advocacy and financial support of candidates is all that is needed to ensure this

Black opinion leaders can also advocate the election of Democratic candidates for Congress all over this country without supporting Gore.

So whether the goal is empowering the Black Caucus or electing a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, either can be accomplished via a direct relationship between Black opinion leaders, organizations and voters, and without a vote for Gore as the intermediary.

I think you have outlined a wonderful idea and elevate the most important goal of this election cycle but I do believe your emphasis on Black voters supporting Gore as the means to accomplish this goal is flawed and not necessary to the empowerment of the Congressional Black Caucus. I also believe that it enables Gore to not have to answer for his record over the last 8 years on key issues or be responsive to several issues that his campaign has ignored thus far.

I especially believe this would be the case, if your idea for a presidential debate on Black issues doesn't materialize. And all signs indicate that your suggestion will be ignored by both the Gore and Bush campaigns.

If the Congressional Black Caucus must be returned to power it should be the responsibility of Black leaders and Black voters - they certainly have the ability to achieve that objective, even if they were to turn away from Gore and support Ralph Nader for president.

I am confident that it is possible to advocate for the Black Caucus without inserting Al Gore into the effort.


Cedric Muhammad

Monday, September 18, 2000

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The views and opinions expressed herein by the author do not necessarily represent the opinions or position of or Black Electorate Communications.

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