There is something very wrong going on in the Congressional
Black Caucus. However, the malady has a long history. A class
of Black politicians think that we exist to support them,
rather than that they are elected to support us.
The sickness became acute at the CBC Weekend, in
Washington, DC – as much a social occasion as a political one.
The newly formed CBC Monitor had circulated hundreds of Report
Cards, that showed seven members had earned the distinction of
of the Black Caucus.” The “derelicts” had voted against the interests
of their constituents – the people who voted them into office
– in favor of the corporate agenda pushed by the Republican Party.
At the top of the list were Rep. Harold Ford, Jr, of Memphis,
and David Scott, of suburban Atlanta. Riding right behind them
on the corporate money train were Representatives Sanford Bishop
(D-GA), Albert Wynn (D-MD), Artur Davis (D-AL), Gregory Meeks
(D-NY), and William Jefferson (D-LA). All had crossed over to
the Republican side of the aisle on a number of key economic issues,
including the bankruptcy bill that threatens to further impoverish
Black communities that are already encircled by predatory lending
The CBC Monitor was established to keep track of
the Congressional Black Caucus, which claims to be the “conscience
of the congress.” We wish that were so, but in this session of
congress, fully 37 percent of the Caucus voted with the GOP on
“bright line” issues. (See BC, “How
to Fix the Fractured Black Caucus,” April 28, 2005).
But CBC chairman Mel Watt (D-NC) doesn’t see the
bright lines. Although Watt has voted as a consistent progressive,
as CBC chairman he has shown no inclination to rein in the opportunists
in the CBC ranks – those who sell out to the corporations that
contribute to their campaigns. Instead, he has allowed them to
themselves, and proliferate throughout the key positions of the
Caucus and the Democratic Party.
Mel Watt, the CBC chief, saw Leutisha Stills sitting
at his table during CBC weekend, speaking on her cell phone. What
followed was an amazing encounter that speaks volumes. Watt didn’t
know that Stills had been circulating the CBC Monitor. He approached
her. Leutisha Stills reports that “the conversation started pleasantly
enough, but took a nasty turn when the Report Card was mentioned.”
The Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t want to be
reported on. Watt went off. At that moment, Niyi Shomade, a CBC
Monitor founder arrived, to confront the congressman. Watt dismissed
the criticism of the CBC as “name-calling” by “you damned bloggers.”
He “went on,” according to Stillls, to “a rant about how our group
was no better than the white media in exposing the fractures within
It seems the CBC Monitor hit a nerve. A deep one.
The point that Mel Watt appears to be trying to make is that Black
folks shouldn’t criticize Black leadership. Otherwise,
we are helping white folks. This is ridiculous, and denies us
our right to democratic action. We became citizens, finally, in
the Sixties. No Black man is going to extinguish that. Not even
The fact is, the CBC is broken, and cannot make
a decision that represents the Consensus of the Black community,
because it is infested by corporate money. Watt denies that economic
issues, which were the basis of the CBC Report Card, are key Black
issues. Watt told the CBC Monitor’s Leutisha Stills that “the
bankruptcy bill or CAFTA wasn’t going to have the effect on the
Black community as been perceived.”
What Mel Watt and an apparent consensus of the CBC’s
leadership (not its members) have seemed to decide, is that no
position can be taken if there is no unanimity. That means that
any corporate whore who gets bought can stop the machinery. If
this remains the norm, there is no reason for a Congressional
Black Caucus. In fact, there is a need for split that would allow
the truly progressive Members to act.
Splits are difficult. They should not be taken lightly.
But what Mel Watt spoke lays down the line – that there should
be no criticism of Black politicians by Black people. That is
unacceptable. We will no longer worship Black elected officials
who do not represent.