ERICTOUREM -Contributing Writer-
Poverty, urban violence other crises are missing as Romney and Obama pursue the middle class vote and a seat in the White House
ATLANTA (FinalCall.com) – With the Republican and Democratic conventions behind them, President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney are fine tuning their debate skills. The first of three nationally televised debates is set to air Oct. 3, live from the University of Denver’s Magness Arena.
The debate is not open to the public, and university students are selected randomly to attend via a special lottery drawing of tickets allocated to the university by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
As the election draws nearer both parties share a shameful commonality, neither has shown major interest in issues facing Blacks and the poor in 2012.
What does that portend regardless of which candidate wins? Should 40 million or more Blacks, who support the president by a super majority and polled literally zero support for Mr. Romney expect more of the same after Nov. 6?
According to recent Census Bureau reports, Blacks suffer disproportionately from poverty, hunger, joblessness, urban violence, incarceration and lower income.
Will these subjects even come up in the presidential debates and be part of a vision for the next four years? It’s highly unlikely and perhaps impossible.
“I think that presidential debates have evolved,” said Marc Morial, of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans. “They have changed to an extent where candidates are very conscious of not making a mistake versus making overriding points,” he told The Final Call.
“Candidates in presidential debates choose to reinforce and restate, and repeat their basic messages, their basic campaign themes, and their basic campaign positions. They look for convenient, witty, incisive, powerful one-liners that they can use to define their opponents. I caution people, because usually with the presidential debates they (candidates) tend to reinforce the position of those that have decided more so, than help people who may be fence sitters, or change people’s minds in a wholesale way unless, one candidate makes some sort of dramatic mistake.”
Mr. Morial added preparation and time the candidates invest in getting ready for debates are extraordinary. They probably prepared more for the debates than they did their convention speeches. Because, for 35 to 40 minutes, they get the microphones to themselves and they don’t have to contend with someone challenging them or a moderator asking questions, he said.
“So I think that you’re going to see President Obama reinforce his message around education and jobs and how the country is different because of the things he has been able to do in the last four years. I think what you are going to see Romney try to do is reinforce more of a critic of the president, such as the president has not kept his promises and has not done his job; therefore it is time for a change,” Mr. Morial said.
“I doubt very highly, that Barack Obama is concerned with any Africans in this country who do not represent the One Percent. One of the first moves that he made as president was when (Henry Louis) Skip Gates had the problem with the White police officer in Boston and was arrested for breaking into his own home, Barack Obama had a beer summit. He took the officer and Skip Gates and along with Vice President (Joe) Biden and had a beer summit,” observed Kalonji Changa, founder of the Atlanta-based Feed The People Movement and author of “How to Build a Peoples Army.”
“Not one time has our first Black president publicly uttered the name of Troy Davis. He did make mention of the Trayvon Martin case, but that was in passing. We feel that Barack Obama is as good for Black people in America as Ronald Reagan was,” said the outspoken activist. Troy Davis was a Black inmate executed despite concerns about his innocence and Trayvon Martin was a Black teen shot to death by a watch captain in Sanford, Fla.
A September Census report revealed harsh facts about Black conditions today: Blacks are 33 percent of the nation’s low income population and 15 percent (roughly 10 million people) of the nation’s unemployed. Black joblessness is nearly seven percentage points higher than the national average of 8.3. Blacks are one-third of America’s poor and Black children under age five represent 43 percent of nation’s impoverished children. A little over one million Black children live in poverty, with nearly one in four classified as “extremely poor.”
“Children only have one childhood and it is right now,” said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund in a statement released to The Final Call. “We need to protect the already porous safety nets that are keeping children from falling deeper into poverty, and invest in the health and education of our children,” she continued. “Dangerous proposals, including the Ryan budget, that cut food stamps, healthcare, education and tax credits for low-income families while giving more tax cuts to the richest Americans and corporations are shameful and would send many more children into poverty.”
Nationwide, two out of every five youth incarcerated are Black; one out of every five is Hispanic. Nationally, the homicide rate among males between the ages of 14 and 17 is nearly 10 times higher for Blacks than for Whites and Hispanics combined. A new report by the New York City Police Department found 96 percent of all shooting victims in New York City are Black or Latino. Additionally, in 97 percent of all shootings in the city, the shooter is either Black or Latino. The report also found that in 70 percent of robbery cases, the suspect was described as Black and in more than 30 percent of robbery cases, the victim was Black.
Since 2008, more than 530 people under the age of 21 have been killed in the city of Chicago, mostly by their peers, according to the Chicago Reporter; virtually all the shooters were Black or Hispanic.
At the two conventions, noticeably absent from either candidate was talk of Black on Black violence. President Obama has still failed to address the issue on a national platform. And neither has Mr. Romney.
“The debates will address economics on a general level, international affairs on a general level and education on a general level, but, I think that it is unlikely that specific focus on Black America in these debates will happen and for different reasons,” said Bill Fletcher, Jr., senior scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies and the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum.
“President Obama, because of who he is as well as the way the right wing has used the race card, has consistently attempted to walk around racial issues. He wants to be seen as a person who advocates issues that are a benefit for all and not be pegged as a person who is only looking out for Black folks. One of the mistakes there is that instead of showing how the struggle for justice for Black folks is actually a benefit for the entire society, he has instead acted as though the issues of race do not exist. As for Romney, he has no concerns for the matters of race except to play the race card to energize reactionary White voters–which makes it absolutely absurd that you would have one Black person that would support Romney.”
“I think it’s a sad state in terms of our politics,” said political science professor Cathy Cohen of the University of Chicago. Prof. Cohen is also co-author of “Turning Back the Clock on Voting Rights: The Impact of New Photo Identification Requirements for Young People of Color,” a study produced by Chicago’s Black Youth Project, a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that aims to increase civic engagement and voter participation among minority youth.
“The Republican Party has no interest in talking about issues that concern the Black community. Whether its poverty, homelessness, violence or the cost of war and how that money could be utilized in Black, urban or poor communities, via our educational system; or provide job opportunities for young Black men and women. And the Democratic Party–once again, has taken the Black vote for granted.
So, their target appears to be the independent voter–who they understand to be largely White voters. They’re focused on swing states and particular districts that aren’t proportionately tied in with Black or Latino voters. The Democratic Party might be more interested in securing the Latino vote, but neither party feels obligated to speak to those issues that concern our community.” The study by BYP suggests as many as one million voters could be barred from voting this November due to new voter id laws.
“Black America has been too quiet,” admonished Mr. Fletcher. “From the very beginning, Black America as well as progressive constituencies–at the national level–have been and are now, far too quiet in terms of pushing the Obama administration. They took the position, ‘well, we have to give him (Mr. Obama) breathing room.’ And then, with the emergence of the Tea Party, people took the position that you couldn’t criticize the president, because that would give aid and comfort to the other side. These positions on our part were wrong, wrong, wrong,” he closed.
President Obama’s election in 2008 was celebrated throughout the world and heralded as a new era in the U.S. approach to race relations and foreign policy as it related to the African Diaspora. Instead, there has been more of the same: Drone bombings of African nations, sanctioning of the assassination of North African leader Muammar Gadhafi and saber rattling against Iran, said analysts. Not to mention more domestic assaults on civil liberties and problems of police brutality.
“With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, African Americans and progressives in the U.S. and throughout the world celebrated what appeared to be the beginning of a new era in the U.S. and a possible change in how the U.S. relates to the world. So the pride felt by many African Americans with the election of the first ‘Black’ president was understandable,” said human rights activist Ajamu Baraka.
“And with the rise of the Tea Party and the clearly racist treatment he was receiving, it was also understandable that most African Americans would want to protect this president.”
But, Mr. Baraka continued, what is not understandable “is the complete lack of critical discussion and, or analysis in the African American community of the Obama administrations’ policies. For example, as African Americans approach the next election and have an opportunity to reflect on the administration and the impact of its policies on the health and prospects for the development of African American communities, one would assume there would be serious discussions taking place in our communities where we would examine the administration’s past policies and formulate new demands that represent our community’s concerns and positions in order for the administration to receive our votes.
“But that is not happening. Even though our communities are facing an economic calamity unlike anything experienced since the depression era of the 1930s, not only are those discussions nowhere to be found, but to even suggest the need for a conversation like that is usually met with hostility,” he added.
“There is no question we need to do a lot more. We have not done enough. We have not been vocal enough. When you tie it to the problems of incarceration, the criminal justice system, it’s just a vicious, destructive cycle,” said Mr. Morial.
“I am not going to suggest that in my vest pocket I have a set of answers, but the truth is that we have to say more, we have to do more at the local and national levels. We (National Urban League) have been working to launch some new job training programs in 2013, including some that are going to focus on formerly incarcerated individuals. It is going to be a nice size, but I don’t think it’s going to be anywhere the size needed to address the magnitude of the problem we face. But we have to do more when it comes to the issues of violence and we can’t address in sort of a knee jerk way. We have to really force a discussion and also, we really have to talk to our community about it,” he added.
“During this historical election while people are concerned whether they should vote for President Obama or Mitt Romney, the fact is that there are seven billion people on the planet, one billion of those people are starving. Forbes Magazine has a picture of 12 billionaires on its cover and they said that picture is worth $126 billion,” said Kalonji Changa, an Atlanta-based activist.
“This is the anniversary of the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. It has been one year. Trayvon Martin was murdered this year and no justice has been achieved, and all under the leadership of our first Black president. The greatest trick the devil has pulled in my lifetime, is to give Black people a false image of Black leadership. When in reality, we should not be concerned with who is in office, as the president. We should be concerned with the system in which they manage,” he continued.
“In my opinion, we need to go back to the teachings of Noble Drew Ali, the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and do what they all had in common in their message. That message is to do for self. We have to re-educate our people–not just the 85 percent of us, but we have to also re-educate those of us who know better. In this day and time we have organizations that are not organized. Our unity can’t only be in thought, it has to be in action as well. We have to bring the love back.
We can no longer just point the finger at others when we know full well what’s going on ourselves. Min. Farrakhan speaks a lot about responsiblity and the responsibility of self. We need to do more than just listen to the message. We have to take those messages and those blueprints and act upon them. Only when we can show the world that we have respect for ourselves is when they will respect us.”