To Be Equal: The Loss of Legends Cummings and Conyers Highlights the Importance of Congressional Black Caucus
“The three of us—Stokes, Chisholm and I— came to Washington determined to seize the moment, to fight for justice, to raise issues too long ignored and too little debated. We were described by the media as militant, aggressive new leaders determined to make changes in the way black members of Congress had been viewed in the past.”
—U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Sr., Co-Founder of the Congressional Black Caucus
In recent days America lost two influential African Americans who served as high-ranking members of the Congressional Black Caucus, John Conyers and Elijah Cummings. Their loss has served to reaffirm the importance of the CBC and the election of dedicated public servants. John Conyers, who represented the Detroit area in Congress for more than 50 years, was one of the founding members of the CBC. Conyers was part of a wave of civil rights activists who arrived in Congress in the 1960s, determined to change the status quo. In 1968, Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan convened an informal group called the Democracy Select Committee.
“The sooner we get organized for group action, the more effective we can become,” Diggs said.
By 1971, the number of Black members of Congress had risen from nine to 13, and the Committee members decided to formalize their organization, and the Congressional Black Caucus was formed.
The group immediately butted heads with then-President Richard Nixon, who refused to meet with the members. They interpreted his refusal as a broader rejection of the interests of all Black Americans, and responded by boycotting Nixon’s State of the Union Address. “We now refuse to be part of your audience,” Rep. William Lacy Clay, Sr., wrote in a letter to the President.
The CBC was responsible for the anti-apartheid Free South Africa Movement that brought worldwide attention to the human rights abuses of the racist South African state. The longest civil disobedience movement in U.S. history, it led to the enactment of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, which imposed sanctions against South Africa and set preconditions for lifting the sanctions that would apartheid. President Ronald Reagan’s veto of the legislation was overridden, the first foreign policy veto override in the 20th Century.
The National Urban League has maintained a long and productive partnership with the CBC since its inception. As noted in the official House of Representatives history:
The legislative agendas of African-American Members in the post-1970 era reflected the diversity of their committee assignments and the range of interests within the general membership of Congress. Most sought to advance a broad progressive legislative agenda supported by advocacy groups such as the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)—extending voting rights protections, improving educational and economic opportunities, fostering urban renewal, and providing access to better health care.
While the CBC has enjoyed much closer and better relationships with Presidents since landing on Nixon’s infamous “Enemies List” in the 1970s, the group has clashed with the current occupant of the Oval Office.
A few months after his inauguration, members delivered a 130-page rebuke of his policies on criminal justice, voting rights, education, health care and other issues.
Many CBC members boycotted President Trump’s 2018 State of the Union Address following his disparaging comments about African and Caribbean nations. Those who attended wore kente cloth to show solidarity with Africa.
Today, CBC membership stands at 54 after the loss of Elijah Cummings, the largest number in history. Four of the House of Representatives’ Standing Committees are chaired by CBC member: Bobby Scott, Education and Labor; Maxine Waters, Financial Services; Bennie Thompson, Homeland Security; and Eddie Bernice Johnson, Science, Space and Technology. CBC Member Jim Clyburn holds the position of House Majority Whip, the number-two-ranking office in the chamber.
As the current administration continues working to dismantle civil rights protections and deny the vote to people of color, the work of the CBC is more important than ever. In honor of the legacy of Elijah Cummings and John Conyers, we must continue to support the CBC’s mission and recognize its leadership.
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ChildWatch: Acting to End Child Poverty
“We’ve had 20 years of presidential debates, and we have never talked about the violence in America of child poverty. We have got to begin to talk more eloquently and persuasively and urgently about doing the things not just to make sure fair taxes are paid by people on the top, but that we deal with the moral obscenity of having the highest levels of child poverty in the industrial world.”
—Senator Cory Booker, October 15 Democratic presidential debate
The Children’s Defense Fund has been standing with 18-year-old Beat the Odds® scholar Israel Glenn in calling for a presidential debate question about child poverty. It’s been 20 years since
presidential candidates have been asked in a debate how they would solve this urgent crisis. Israel started an online petition demanding this question be asked because he doesn’t want another generation of children to experience the burdens of hunger, homelessness, and instability he did. More than 30,000 people and five presidential candidates have joined him and during the last presidential debate Senator Cory Booker spoke up to agree. The fact that the United States has one of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world is a moral obscenity and profound threat to America’s future. It’s time to ask all those running for president and public office at every level what steps they will take to end it.
Senator Booker’s plan for “Ending Child Poverty in America and Creating Opportunity for All” would expand the Child Tax Credit; create a “child allowance” for families with children; strengthen the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps); provide universal free school lunch to help eliminate child hunger; reform Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to help more children and families escape poverty; and tackle child and family homelessness. It also would ensure jobs pay enough to keep families out of poverty and expand affordable child care for working families.
Senator Booker says: “Eliminating poverty isn’t just a moral calling; we all lose when not everyone can participate in our economic growth. Our children will be the leaders of the future, and the workforce powering the global economy. A recent report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that child poverty costs us as much $1 trillion each year—or 5.4 percent of GDP—driven by higher crime rates, worse health outcomes, and lower earnings among poor kids after becoming adults. Every dollar spent today combating child poverty saves us $7 down the road.”
Senator Booker isn’t the only candidate seeking to solve this moral and economic crisis. Senator Kamala Harris’ “Children’s Agenda” would issue an Executive Order to End Child Poverty and establish a Federal Interagency Working Group to coordinate federal action as part of a plan to cut child poverty 50 percent in her first term. She too would protect and strengthen existing safety net programs, provide middle class and working families a tax credit to address the rising cost of living, and fight to close the pay gap to cut poverty for children with working mothers. Several other candidates have plans to tackle pieces of the child poverty crisis by raising the minimum wage, making child care more affordable, and more. Many of their proposals are similar to those outlined in CDF’s Ending Child Poverty Now report. We are waiting to hear every presidential candidate’s plan for ending child poverty.
After the last debate, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof cheered Senator Booker’s mention of child poverty onstage, saying, “Those kids can’t vote, so they need us to vote on their behalf. Bravo!” We must continue speaking up for children in this election and putting the issues that impact them front and center. Let’s all keep talking about child poverty and demanding urgent action because children only have one childhood and it is right now.
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At Symposium, Van Hollen Calls Efforts to Ignore Climate Change “All Nonsense”
By NORA ECKERT
Capital News Service
COLUMBIA, Md. (October 30, 2019)—Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen on Wednesday stressed the urgency of understanding climate change and dismissed Trump administration efforts to ban the term as “all nonsense.”
The Democrat, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told the University Space Research Association’s inaugural Earth From Space Institute symposium that climate change should be a regular part of the federal government’s conversations, especially regarding the budget.
The two-day symposium, titled “Making Communities More Resilient to Extreme Flooding,” brought together scientists from around the world to brainstorm ways to salvage areas that are hardest hit by flooding and to prevent future damage.
“On Capitol Hill, they say we have a lot of commotion but not necessarily a lot of forward motion,” Van Hollen said. “But here you’re working on very important efforts and projects for the United States and other parts of the world.”
Van Hollen expressed his frustration with how some of his colleagues in Congress discuss climate change—or rather, ignore it—citing reports that some federal departments had banned using the term.
“This is all nonsense. We have to protect the integrity of the scientific enterprise,” he said emphatically.
“There are a lot of people in Congress who totally have your back,” the senator said. “We will be the first to call out any efforts to penalize scientists.”
Van Hollen said he’s worked to do just that, bringing lawmakers’ attention to space-based, national and local methods to combat climate change.
Many in attendance said the senator is a strong ally of the scientific community. USRA President and CEO Jeffrey Isaacson called him someone who “fights to protect scientific integrity in government,” and “a champion of science.”
“We have a leader in Washington who actually knows NASA acronyms,” exclaimed Miguel Roman, the founding director of URSA and the symposium.
Van Hollen has been an outspoken advocate for NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and noted its importance in informing natural disaster response efforts.
“With a changing climate we can expect more disasters, more extreme weather, and we’ll need to use this data more and more from our satellites and space-based instruments to address challenges in our communities,” the senator said.
Van Hollen also highlighted the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and rebuilding towns after flooding, such as Ellicott City, which has been hammered with two catastrophic floods in the last four years.
Officials and residents have debated the utility of rebuilding the downtown and Van Hollen said decisions must encompass sustainable infrastructure and “resilient” rebuilding.
“It only makes sense from a taxpayer point of view...that you’re building it to last,” he said.
In Maryland, Van Hollen said the disappearing islands in the Chesapeake and the danger to cities on the Bay is in the front of his mind while developing the budget.
He said he fought back against proposed cuts on several programs, such as the carbon monitoring program, that work to combat climate change and its effects. These programs will continue to receive funding in the next budget and some will even receive more funds than the previous budget, he said.
Van Hollen said he hopes the United States rejoins the Paris Climate Accord, which subsequent speakers pointed out Howard County joined earlier this year, making it one of the only counties in the nation to do so.
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