Black and Urban Groups Ponder an Obama Presidency
By Krissah Williams Thompson
For one group of policy advocates, the election of the first black president has turned politicking on its head. How do black advocacy groups push a black agenda to a black president?
Under unfriendly Republican administrations, they protested and demanded.
Under friendlier Democratic administrations, they pushed forcefully on social issues of interest to the African American community.
The new dynamics of a federal government headed by President-elect Barack Obama could demand a gentler approach, and leaders of the NAACP, Urban League and other groups were sober-minded at a forum today -- after admittedly giddy celebrations -- as they considered how best to proceed.
"This is just one more moment where our access to power and our avenues for how you get things done have expanded," said Benjamin Jealous, the 35-year-old president of the NAACP, at a Washington forum organized today by the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. "We are now at a different place in black political power. We're going to have to always reserve the hard options of in your face advocacy, but we have a lot of softer options for getting things done as well. We need to recognize that."
Ronald Walters, director of the African-American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland, said blacks expect Obama to attend first to the issues of the broader electorate, such as the nation's economic woes, ending the war in Iraq and providing universal health care.
"The question is where are our interests in that pile," Walters said. "We must work with [Obama] to deal with our issues. We have a black agenda that needs immediate attention and it needs to be in on the transition now. We need to help him deal with his other policy issues and then raise our agenda."
That agenda, Walters said, is long and includes: the mass incarceration of African Americans, poverty, pushing Obama to open a White House office on urban policy, education, employment training and dealing with health care disparities.
There is also hope that lingering questions about racial profiling and uneven law enforcement will be dealt with, Jealous said.
"We have a president whose name is Barack Hussein Obama. He has had a hard time catching a cab and one assumes at some point in the last seven years he has had a hard time catching a plane," he said. "Those sorts of issues we know that he has personal insight into -- and we need to hold him accountable on them."
The black advocates are taking nothing for granted, said Avis Jones-DeWeever, a director at the National Council of Negro Women.
"We can tell by the way this brother ran his campaign that he doesn't work on CP time, so we don't need to," said Jones, referring to a slang term for a propensity for tardiness. "We need to move now because he will."
Posted at 5:45 PM ET on Nov 7, 2008
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