On Thursday, September 30, Rep. James Clyburn ( D. SC) held a rare on the record conversation with a handful of prominent and influential African American political bloggers to discuss the midterm elections and voter turnout. Majority Whip Clyburn is the highest ranking African American and the third highest ranking Democrat in Congress.
I was present at the meeting along with Krystal High of Politic365, http://www.politic365.com , Garlin Gilchrist, http://www.communitychange.org , Pharoh Martin of Radio One, Danielle Belton aka the Black Snob, Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt and a representative from The Loop 21 http://theloop21.com/.
A highlight of Thursday’s meeting was a historical perspective from Rep. Clyburn’s view. Pictures of predecessor black members of Congress from South Carolina from Reconstruction Era of the 1860’s and 1870’s hung on his conference wall. Rep. Clyburn followed in their footsteps 97 years later becoming the first African American to be elected from South Carolina since Reconstruction. Rep. Clyburn has lived through the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He analyzes the passing of health care reform to the passing of the civil rights bills. He spoke in terms of losing the public option in health care to losing key points in the 1964 Civil Rights bill. The Civil Rights bill originally pushed for equality in gender, housing, voting, employment and elimination of the literacy tests. However, its final passage was limited in scope, in some ways, similar to the health care reform passed this year. Rep. Clyburn says that a half loaf is better than no loaf. That half loaf in health care left many progressives disheartened.
Rep. Clyburn spoke about the need for the Obama administration to take an incremental approach to change. He believes the American people cannot take too much change at one time. Here’s where we disagree. President Obama campaigned on and was elected on change. If anything, people are frustrated because there has not been enough change. Rep. Clyburn’s generation of the civil rights era is remarkably patient compared to the now generation of the 21st century. So, for this administration to be successful change must come swift not slow. Unfortunately, swift change is not always possible. Government does not move swiftly with the times.
In speaking on health care, Rep. Clyburn told the story about a Florence, SC woman who waited up past midnight on the day of the vote to see the outcome. She E-mailed him saying her son has cancer and her life time health care benefits were exhausted. The passage of the health care bill eliminated lifetime caps. He told the story of another woman who wrote saying she was not terminated as a school teacher due to the Stimulus bill. I asked him where are more of these stories and why aren’t they being told. He jokingly (or at least I hope so) said he keeps the E-mails for prosperity in his drawer. Well, now is the time to take them out of the drawer, dust them off and tell them to the American people. It’s definitely show and tell time. The White House recently released an interactive website that highlights 50 stories in 50 states that voters will find helpful. More stories need to be told by regular people in their own words. Long laundry lists of accomplishments are not sufficient at this point. We must keep it plain and simple and touch people’s hearts regarding the change that has already occurred. This is key to connecting better with voters.
Majority Whip Clyburn expressed his frustration with voters and donors who appear to want to disappear at a critical time. While I understand the frustration of many in the party, Democrats must continue to dance with those who got them to the dance. Finding a way to reconcile before November 2 is crucial.
Rep. Clyburn stressed the major negative ramifications that will occur if Republicans take control. I agree that President Obama will be severely boot strapped and African American lawmakers will lose key committee leaderships, if the Democrats do not retain power. I do not agree with using the emotions of fear to get people to vote. That is, after all, what the Tea Party is doing with its base. The Tea Party stresses fear of everything to get its base out to vote. But, playing to people’s fears is a tricky situation. It’s better to play to the positive rather than the negative. That goes back to the telling the stories of those Americans whose lives have been unequivocally changed for the better by laws of the Obama administration.
Rallies are scheduled for Philadelphia on October 10, Ohio on October 17 and Las Vegas on October 22 and perhaps more to follow. Now is the time to tell the stories. Get out and vote on November 2.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines, Esq. writes on race, law, women and politics. She holds a Juris Doctorate from George Washington University Law School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. She is a native of Baltimore, MD.