Following a four-hour closed door meeting Monday, the leaders of four African American advocacy groups emerged looking pleased to announce a collective wish list they plan to deliver to President Barack Obama for his second term.
The “black agenda,” as the groups have called their wish list on Twitter, starts with ensuring the fiscal cliff doesn’t disproportionately hurt African Americans. That’s something Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, has worried about before. But Morial also listed five new priorities that came out of what he called Monday’s “historic gathering.” Those include: working for parity for Blacks in education, health care and the economy; reforming the criminal justice system; and protecting and defending voting rights.
The White House did not immediately respond to request for comment about whether the president would make these priorities a focus during his second term.
But according to Morial, the voting rights priority is key. “When our community was challenged by voter suppression…they reacted with power, with dignity and with force,” he said.
Despite allegations by liberal advocacy groups that voter suppression tactics by the right hindered minority voting, Blacks represented 13 percent of the electorate in 2012, a percentage about equivalent with 2008.
But Al Sharpton, the founder and president of the National Action Network and a liberal commentator for MSNBC, warned Monday that “the voter suppression tactics we saw this year are still in front of us.”
African American Demands Compared to Civil Rights
Sharpton also compared the new Black agenda with the Civil Rights March on Washington, a major demonstration by African-American civil rights groups in 1963 that led to two major pieces of legislation: the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“It is in that spirit a half a century later we say that we’ll work together, that we’ll come together, to try to set an agenda,” Sharpton said. While the new wish list is unlikely to lead to such historic legislation, unity by various African-American advocacy groups may prove important.
An October study from Washington University in St. Louis found that some African American groups, namely conservative and religious Blacks, felt deeply disillusioned with the president. These groups said they felt less free when it came to political participation than they had under previous administrations, because of ideological differences they had with the president.
Morial acknowledged the importance of unity, though none of the four main advocacy groups involved in Monday’s talks are headed up by religious or conservative leaders. “Against the backdrop of… a great deal of hope and promise that we have in our president’s second term,” he said. “We felt it was important for us to come together.”
By; Elizabeth Flock