Saturday, September 18, 2010

Day 2: CBC Legislative Conference

My second day at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Conference was even more interesting than the first day. On the second day, I attended the following panels - Marching Toward Justice: the Centrality of the 14th Amendment, Is the New Right Wrong for People of Color, the Impact of the Hip Hop on American Politics and Rescuing Our Youth from Chaos and Carnage: Effective Strategies to Address Youth Violence.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) hosted the 14th Amendment panel.  The panelists were Fox News commentator Juan Williams, legendary NAACP LDF attorney William Coleman, Harvard Law Professor Kenneth Mack, Howard Law School Dean Kurt Schmoke, University of Pennsylvania Professor Mary Francis Berry, Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree and Law Professor Michelle Alexander. The panel discussed the controversial proposal by some Republican leaders to hold hearings on whether to repeal a section of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The section in question states that "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."  To combat illegal immigration, some Republican critics argue such language should be repealed.

Ms. Berry explained that the 14th Amendment does not only apply to African Americans. One of the panelists stated that the legislative history of the 14th Amendment clearly establishes that the Congress considered the issue of immigration when they wrote the amendment. Citing Plessey v. Ferguson, Ms. Berry illustrated how the 14th Amendment has been used to suppress the rights of black people. She compared opening up the 14th Amendment to discussion to opening the 13th Amendment up to discussion.

Professor Alexander discussed how the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause did not prevent the emergence of Jim Crow.  She further stated that the 14th Amendment did not prevent the modern day mass incarceration of African Americans.  Ms. Alexander asserted that the discriminatory enforcement of anti-drug laws against poor, black communities has led to the mass incarceration of black people. The war on drugs has created a new group of second class citizens, African American ex-convicts. I look forward to reading her new book, The New Jim Crow

Before she gave her presentation, she sat right next me, but I was too shy to speak to her. Anyway, in her closing remarks, Ms. Alexander stated that the 14th Amendment controversy creates an opportunity for the African American community and the Hispanic community to form a coalition.

At the end of discussion, Charles Ogletree joined the panel. In his brief remarks, Olgetree stated that every area of civil rights is being forfeited. He said that we are at a "point of urgency." Ogletree concluded by stating that "civic engagement is key."

Next, I attended the "Is the New Right Wrong for People of Color?" panel hosted U.S. Rep. Al Green (D-TX). The panelists included Republican Roger Clegg, Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Brian Smedley of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Vice Chair of the North Carolina Republican Party and Chair of the Frederick Douglass Foundation Dr. Timothy F. Johnson and University of D.C. Law Professor John Britain.  This was the most exciting CBC panel.  Unlike other CBC panels, the panelists engaged in a heated debate. 

Rep. Green opened the discussion by reading from the Texas State Republican Platform. The Texas Republican Party opposes affirmative action (including programs based on class ranking), D.C. statehood, motor voter laws, enfranchisement for ex-offenders, government early education programs and minimum wage laws.  The Texas GOP supports the repeal of health care reform, the repeal of hate crime laws and the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.  After reading the platform, Rep. Al Green asked, "Is the New Right Wrong for People of Color?" 

Tea Party supporter Dr. Johnson, an African American, gave a brief presentation. To avoid being labeled as someone who is out of touch with the African American community, Dr. Johnson presented his black man credentials.  He said that he is a graduate of an HBCU, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a former Democrat and a former NAACP member. 

Dr. Johnson defended the Republican Party and the Tea Party.  Dr Johnson argued that the Republican Party emancipated African Americans and fought for civil rights.   According to Dr. Johnson, many Democrats like the late U.S. Senator and former Klu Klux Klan member Robert Byrd opposed civil rights.  He mentioned how many African Americans are social conservatives who oppose gay marriage and abortion.  Although I do not agree with 95% of what Dr. Johnson said, he is a powerful and charismatic speaker.  He will probably become a significant national figure. 

In response to Dr. Johnson's presentation, Wade Henderson acknowledged some of Dr. Johnson's points and proceeded to the explain how the modern Republican Party is opposed to the interests of African Americans and minorities. He discussed the Republican Southern Strategy and its opposition to hate crimes laws and health care reform.  Mr. Henderson stated that the Tea Party opposes the Dream Act, a bill that would permit qualifying undocumented youth to be eligible for a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship. Under the bill, eligible youth would be required to complete college or two years of military service.  He also mentioned that the Tea Party honored Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joseph M. "Joe" Arpaio.  Sheriff Arpaio is one of the main proponents of Arizona's racist, anti-immigration law.

To refute Mr. Henderson's arguments, Mr. Clegg mentioned a Washington Post news article challenging the notion that the modern Republican Party is racist.  He did not mention the title or the author of the article.  The article was in the Outlook section.  Mr. Clegg argued that people should not oppose or support a party based on race.  Unfortunately, I had to leave early in order to attend the "Impact of Hip Hop on American Politics" panel.

I attended the second half the "Impact of Hip Hop on American Politics" panel hosted by U.S. Rep. Andre Carson.  The panelists included Jeff Johnson, WPGC radio host Big Tigger, hip hop artist 9th Wonder, Amanda Diva and a few others.  Hip hop has had an impact on politics.  Recently, examples include's viral Yes We Can video supporting the Obama campaign and Puffy's Vote or Die get out the vote effort. 

However, after hearing Tigger discuss how difficult it is to recruit major celebrities to support his AIDS Awareness program and other community efforts, I am starting to agree with John McWhorter on the issue of hip hop.  According to Tigger and 9th Wonder, many of these hip hop artists are basically money hungry, divas who are difficult to work with. Over 90 percent of the popular hip hop artists only rap about money, drugs, sex and violence.  The few conscious rap artists are far less influential.  If we are depending on hip hop to save us, we are in bad shape as a people. 

Finally, I caught the tail end of U.S Rep. Bobby Rush's "Rescuing our Youth from Chaos and Carnage: Effective Strategies to Address Youth Violence".  NBA great Isiah Thomas was panelist. Since many panels were concurrent, I missed a quite a few good panel discussions. I look forward to attending the CBC Conference next year.  

No comments:

Post a Comment