Senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Maxine Waters and John Lewis took the stage during its 47th Annual Legislative Conference to sound a clarion call against a systematic roll-back and threats to civil rights legislation and advances made since the 1960s. The town hall meeting, September 21, offered Lewis platform to passionately demand Americans fight against a rising tide of racial injustice. A tide both believed could be quelled by a stellar 2018 voting season in which more Black participation could remove from office those working against minority interests.
“It doesn’t matter whether they’re Black, or white, Latino, Asian-American or Native American, when you see something that’s not right, not fair -- you have an obligation to do something, to say something,” Lewis told a standing-room only crowd of hundreds. “I feel like taking a bullwhip and just saying to people, ‘You get your butt up. You go out there and do what you must do.'”
Lewis said that far too many Americans remain fearful of the backlash they may face in standing up to injustice and should be reminded that those who fail to fight today, would find themselves challenged with other assaults against American democracy – including the fundamental right to vote.
“I think that some of us have been asleep too long; we need to wake up, we need to use everything in our power, economic recourses, but use the vote also,” Lewis said. “On election day, too many of us are staying at home,” Lewis said. “The vote is precious and almost sacred. It is the most powerful, non-violent instrument or tool we have in a democratic society and we must use it.”
A 2017 Pew Report found that the Black voter turnout rate during the 2016 Presidential election declined for the first time in 20 years – a decline that saw the rate drop to 59.6 percent from an all-time high of 66.6 percent in 2012. According to Waters, even those numbers demonstrate a lack of participation by millions of Black people who could have a positive and lasting impact on issues of crisis (housing, education, employment, prison systems, etc.) currently faced by the average American.
Waters said that ensuring Black people turned up to vote required ensuring there were suitable candidates from which to choose and those best fitted to speak truth to power.
“When you come across some of these young people involved with Black Lives Matter who are saying what needs to be said, then go get them… work with them that have the passion and who want to do it,” Waters said. “There are plenty of them in our communities, but guess what? We don’t associate with them because we think they are too controversial. Black people, you better get controversial! You had better call it like it is. We’ve been shut down because others have defined us.”
Waters said that fifteen years ago when people began to accuse Black people of playing the race card, their response should have been, “yes, I am and there’s a lot more I’m going to play!” In moving away from calling out racists for their behavior publicly, Waters said Blacks have run away from challenges – including impeaching the President.
“How many in your organization have said impeach 45? Well, they don't have what it takes. Here you have a president, who I can tell you and guarantee you is in collusion with the Russians to undermine our democracy. Here you have a president who obstructed justice. And here you have a president who lies every day,” Waters said. “Thank God that the special counsel is beginning to connect the dots -- and understand Facebook's role in it and social media's role in it. When is the Black community going to say, ‘Impeach him’? It's time to go after him. I don't hear you!”
Audience members Sean Blassingame told ACUMEN that each year the CBC makes it clear what is needed from Black people to help them get their jobs done, but little happens. He said he hopes this call to action produces more than a temporary ‘feel good’ town hall.
“We have leaders who have been fighting too long on our behalf and we have not held up our end of things. Black people have got to get a point where the rubber meets the road, where we do something besides ‘Amen’ what these warriors say, and actually get out there and fight with them,” Blassngame said.