The Congressional Black Caucus hosted its 41st Annual Legislative conference last week—a four-day mix of issue forums, roundtables, and after-hours events.
President Obama used his time to address the CBC, perhaps unsurprisingly, as an opportunity to sell his jobs bill, The American Jobs Act. “Pass this jobs bill, and every worker in America, including nearly 20 million African American workers, will get a tax cut.”
He also used it to criticize—without naming—CBC members like Maxine Waters and Jesse Jackson, Jr, who have said that they’re “getting tired” of Obama’s inaction on black unemployment: “Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. We are going to press on. We’ve got work to do, CBC.”
It was a strange rallying cry, considering that the CBC, out of frustration, launched its own jobs initiative this summer that included a series of jobs fairs across the country. And the conference itself was host to multiple panels and information sessions on jobs, job creation, and the black wealth gap that has been exacerbated by the recession.
More than 70 forums and panels ran over the course of the four days, including one of the CBC’s first issue forums on LGBT rights, featuring anti-bullying advocate Sirdeaner Walker, whose son killed himself after taunts about being gay; Cheryl Kilodavis, author of “My Princess Boy” (and Colorlines Daily Love subject); Valerie Spencer, a transgender activist and founder of the Transcend Empowerment Institute; and Phill Wilson, executive director of the Black AIDS Institute.
The issue forums served as a place for attendees to listen to experts, and share the experiences they’re having in their hometowns, be it Dallas, L.A., Atlanta, or Camden, N.J.
District of Columbia Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton led a panel on D.C. statehood, featuring Johnny Barnes, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union. “No one can deny that every American should be treated the same, and we’re just not, in Washington D.C.,” Barnes said. Not only do the 600,000 District residents not have a vote on national issues, the city just had its credit outlook downgraded by Standard and Poor’s, in large part because its budget is tied up with Congress.
The ALC has been running since 1970, and has become a popular place for black power-players to socialize with legislators, celebrities, and each other. It’s not uncommon to get handed a flyer to a club party that’s co-opted the conference name, and even The Root D.C. polled frequent attendees on what makes for a good social event.
This year’s conference was sponsored by a long list of big name corporations including Coca-Cola, Verizon, Wal-Mart, Toyota, ExxonMobil, Comcast, Time-Warner, AT&T, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and PepsiCo.