The Demise of the Congressional Black Caucus

Something is wrong with the Congressional Black Caucus. For starters the organization doesn’t represent the majority of black people in the United States. As a matter of fact, one could rightly argue that the Black Caucus is anti-black. Sounds excessively harsh, I know, but let’s take a look at one of the most influential blocs of politicians in Washington. 

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has changed dramatically since its inception in 1969. The progressive spirit of Shirley Chisholm, one of the organization’s courageous founders, has been replaced by an unyielding adherence to corporate power and militarism, with an unreserved neglect for the needs of the caucus’s minority voting base. 

On September 26 the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the fundraising arm of the legislative conclave, hosted a four day Annual Legislative Conference (ALC), which, in the their own words, “[provided] a platform for the 42 African American Members of Congress to share the progress of their work on legislative items and also allows for the exchange of ideas correlated to policy issues that are of critical concern to their constituents.” 

Indeed, the conference provided a platform for Congress’s black politicians, but that stage was not propped up by citizen action. It was instead supported by such influential corporations as Coca-Cola, Citigroup, Bank of America, General Motors, Pfizer, Lockheed Martin, Exxon Mobil, Shell Oil, Anheuser Busch, and many more. 

This past summer the Black Caucus was compelled to cancel a Democratic Presidential Forum it had planned with the Fox News network after activists exposed the foundation for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars from various branches of the Fox Broadcasting Company. While the CBC did not seem to mind the criticism it received from constituents for the association with Fox, Democratic presidential candidates were sensitive to the disapproval and withdrew from the forum, forcing its cancellation. 

However, the CBC had better luck at the Annual Legislative Conference. The black community didn’t call for the termination the ALC because Shell Oil had a card in the CBC Foundation’s donor Rolodex, despite the company’s blood-spattered history with the Ogoni people of Nigeria. Nor did the members of the CBC abandon support for the event because the Foundation accepted cash from the nation’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, which was recently awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to defend the oil fields of Saudi Arabia. 

Evidently the CBC isn’t shy about its precepts. A look at the ALC’s itinerary of the week’s events was telling enough. Despite the fact that the majority of black Americans opposed the invasion of Iraq, while even more oppose a military foray with Iran, there was not one session scheduled to discuss these important issues. 

Rep. Bobby Rush, who has accepted over $200,000 from the telecom industry since 1998, headed an event titled the “telecom brain- trust.” As Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report writes, “[Rush] co- sponsored legislation in 2006 to strip local communities of the power to negotiate cable franchises, allowing cable and broadband providers free rein to redline and deny broadband access to African American communities [and] would end network neutrality.” 

There was not one forum on the negative effects of three strike laws on the black community. There was no unified call to end the racist death penalty or the drug war. There was not one organized plea for a living wage. There were no workshops on media reform or the real economic crimes of the black ghettos. There were no “braintrusts” that challenged the myth of “homeland security,” which fattens the pockets of Halliburton and Blackwater. Instead of going after Blackwater mercenaries for their devastating role in post- Katrina, repression, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, held a forum on how blacks could become subcontractors of these very corporations. 

There was not one session called to challenge the direction of U.S. foreign policy. This could be for good reason. The CBC is notorious for rubber-stamping U.S. aid to Israel, but seems unwilling to address the basic health concerns of sub-Sahara Africa, where malaria and tuberculosis, along with HIV, run rampant. So what gives? 

Niyi Shomade of Nigeria asked that very question to the Congressional Black Caucus during an infamous meeting between the CBC and Ralph Nader in 2004 where Shomade, who has worked on a number of human rights campaigns, from debt relief in Africa to the AIDS crisis, asked why the CBD ignores many of the issues of its ancestral lands, yet approves billions in aid to one country in the mideast. Shomade was shouted down by members of the Black Caucus for even raising the issue. 

It’s not just Israel they embrace with open arms. Last spring the majority of the CBC backed off from their previous opposition to the war in Iraq and signed on to their party’s special budgetary bill, which gave Bush billions more to continue U.S. wars. Likewise, the majority of CBC members agree with Barack Obama’s Iran doctrine, which leaves all options on the table, including the use of nuclear weapons. The money the CBC has given to Bush’s war effort and Israel’s occupation of Palestine could have paid for free health care and a college education for every child in this country.  

A look at the Congressional Black Caucus’s September conference leaves one wondering what the organization actually represents.

Joshua Frank is co-editor of Dissident, author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush, and, along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels (AK Press, June 2008).