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The Demise of the Congressional Black Caucus

 

Something is terribly wrong with the Congressional Black Caucus. There has been for decades. For starters the pro-black organization doesn’t represent the majority of black people in the Untied States. As a matter of fact, one could rightly argue that the Black Caucus is anti-black. Sounds excessively harsh, I know. But let’s take a look under the hood of one the most influential blocs of politicians in Washington.

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), first coined the Democratic Select Committee in 1969, has changed dramatically since its inception. The progressive spirit of Shirley Chisholm, one of the organization’s courageous founders, has been replaced by an unyielding adherence to corporate power and militarism with an unreserved neglect for the needs of the caucus’s minority voting base.

On September 26 the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the fundraising arm of the legislative conclave, will be hosting a four day Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), which, in the their own words, “provides a platform or the 42 African American Members of Congress to share the progress of their work on legislative items and also allows for the exchange of ideas correlated to policy issues that are of critical concern to their constituents.”

Indeed, the conference provides a platform for Congress’s black politicians, but that stage is not propped up by citizen action, it is instead supported by some of the country’s most influential corporations including; Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Anheuser Busch and many more.

It hasn’t been the best year for the CBC Foundation. Last summer the Black Caucus was compelled to cancel a Democratic Presidential Forum it had planned to do with the Fox News network. Fortunately activists exposed the foundation for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from various branches of the Fox Broadcasting Company. While CBC did not seem to mind the criticism it received from constituents for the group’s association with Fox, Democratic presidential candidates were sensitive to the disapproval and withdrew from the forum, forcing its cancellation.

It isn’t likely that the black community will call for the termination of this month’s Annual Legislative Conference because Shell Oil has a card in the CBC Foundation’s donor Rolodex, despite the company’s blood-spattered history with the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Nor will the members of the CBC abandon support for the event because the Foundation accepts cash from the nation’s largest defense contractor Lockheed Martin, which was recently awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to defend the oil fields of Saudi Arabia.

Evidently the CBC isn’t shy about who its precepts. In fact a look at the ALC’s itinerary of the week’s events is telling enough. Despite that the majority of black Americans opposed the invasion of Iraq, while even more oppose a military foray with Iran, there is not one single session scheduled to discuss these important issues. Lockheed Martin seems to pull more weight than CBC constituents.

One event, titled the “telecom braintrust” is to be headed by Rep. Bobby Rush, who has accepted over $200,000 from the telecom industry since 1998. As Gerald Ford of The Black Agenda Report writes, “[Rush] co-sponsored legislation in 2006 to strip local communities of the power to negotiate cable franchises, allowing cable and broadband providers free rein to redline and deny broadband access to African American communities … [and] would end network neutrality.”

There is not one forum on the negative effects that three strike laws are having on the black community. There is no unified call to end the racist death penalty or the drug war. There is not one organized plea for a living wage. There are no workshops on media reform or the real economic crimes of the black ghettos. There are no “braintrusts” that challenge the myth of “homeland security” which fattens the pockets of Halliburton and Blackwater. On the contrary, instead of going after Blackwater mercenaries for their devastating role in post-Katrina, Louisiana, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, is holding a forum on how blacks can become subcontractors of these very corporations.

There also is not one session that calls to challenge the direction of U.S. foreign policy.

This could be for good reason. The CBC is notorious for rubber-stamping U.S. aid to Israel, but seems unwillingly to address the basic health concerns of sub-Sahara Africa, where malaria and tuberculosis, along with HIV, run rampant.

So what gives?

Niyi Shomade of Nigeria asked that very question to the Congressional Black Caucus during the infamous meeting between the CBC and Ralph Nader in 2004, where Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina allegedly uttered an “obscene racial epithet” toward Mr. Nader. Shomade, who has worked on a number of human rights campaigns, from debt relief in Africa to the AIDS crisis, asked why the Caucus ignores many of the issues of its ancestral lands yet approves billions in aid to a lone country in the Middles East.

Shomade was literally shouted down by members of the Black Caucus for even raising the issue. They simply wouldn’t have it.

Except it’s not just Israel they embrace with open arms. Last spring the majority of the CBC backed off their previous opposition to the war in Iraq and instead signed on to their party’s special budgetary bill which gave Bush billions more to continue his wars in the Middle East. All but four CBC members opposed the legislation. Likewise, the majority of CBC members agree with Barack Obama’s Iran doctrine, which leaves all options on the table, including the use of nuclear weapons.

One can only imagine what those billions of dollars would have done for our impoverished inner cities. The money the CBC has given to Bush’s war effort and Israel’s occupation of Palestine could have paid for free health care and a college education for every black child in this country. What the CBC has done is perhaps worse than criminal.

A look at the Congressional Black Caucus’s festival this month leaves one wondering what the organization actually represents. It is certainly not their constituents’ needs. Instead it is big business, poverty, war and the continued neglect of the majority of black people in America.

JOSHUA FRANK is the co-editor of DissidentVoice.org, and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008. He can be reached through his website, BrickBurner.org.

 

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JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank.

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