Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘post civil rights generation’

Growing up in the south in the late 80s, amid the ashes of the Civil Rights Movement, I was routinely reminded that my generation, generation X or the post post-civil rights generation,stood on the shoulders” of those great men and women that preceded us. 

We were born well after voting rights and school integration, but one day my generation would be called upon to take the reins and write our own chapter in the history book of our people’s progress.  The notion was never contested nor forgotten.  Only thing, I was never told what to do if those who came before me would rather bequeath a cold shoulder than spare a friendly one as their generational parting gift.

In the 40 years since “Unbought and Unbossed,” I’ve watched the once audacious and divergent Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), which once drafted a Black Declaration of Independence, grow larger in number and influence but shrink further and further from political relevancy and independence within the Democratic Party.  

So much so, that since the enactment of the King Holiday, I’m afraid many of my peers would fail to pinpoint any resonating, forward-looking proposal or cohesive action taken by the now 43-strong “conscience of the Congress” to rally around for the future.  Case in point, their recent walkout of the Capitol with the rest of the Democrat caucus contesting Attorney General Holder’s contempt vote this past June, barely raised an eyebrow in comparison to their Annual Legislative Conference (ALC) scheduled this week.

Although there are no more Adam Clayton Powell’s or Shirley Chisholm’s, the sole address for African-American politicos reads like a short list of “Who’s Who in Black History.”  Some are the former foot soldiers of SNCC, BPP, and the NAACP.  

Conversely, individuals like Georgia stalwart Rep. John Lewis remain irrefutable legends in their own right, while others have simply become relics of a proud but bygone era and political calculus better suited for the last century.

During his 2008 primary fight, then-Sen. Barack Obama alluded to being 14 years Sen. Clinton’s junior as an edge in recapturing the spirit of the younger generations, as well as breaking through the stifling arguments that consumed much of her husband’s presidency.  

Unfortunately, like the former first lady, more than half of the members of the current CBC are of the retiring baby boomer generation or older.

In the past, the story of our progress as a people was always inscribed in the voices and vigor of our youth.  In 1905, it was a 37 year-old Dubois that helped form the Niagara Movement

Dr. King was only 34, when he stepped onto the bright, marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963; and Rep. Chisholm and then-Sen. Obama were both candidates for the highest office in the land by the age of 47.

Yet, for the first time in our history, and against the wisdom of the past, we have kept our aging foot soldiers on the front lines effectively turning our politics into a venture of veterans.  Thus, alienating the very vitality and endurance of our youth that has always been at the very core spearheading our progressive campaigns.

In 1971, when the CBC was founded, the median age of its members was 45.  Today, that number has skyrocketed to 62, almost seven years above the median age for the entire House of Representatives.  This 17-year jump is mostly due to an aging class of pols groomed in the throes of the civil rights movement that insist on maintaining their seat at the head of the table of the black body politic.  

For example, after almost a century of combined Congressional tenures, longstanding members like Representatives Conyers and Rangel, ages 83 and 82, respectively, stand emblematic of our present problem.

This unwillingness to transition on into an elder statesman/mentor role and effectively enlist those of us who grew up reading about the Edmund Pettus Bridge rather than marching over it, has, in my opinion, left many of my generation not only estranged from the political process, but worse yet, more cynical about participatory politics.  

While out registering young people to vote in 2008 for President Obama, I was told by several African-Americans on the streets of Philadelphia that the national elections were not only rigged but that there was “no way” a black man could be elected President.  

Though the tenuous history between African-Americans and the ballot box is well documented, I believe some of the fault for these perspectives can be laid at our feet.  In almost every facet of life, be it academia, pop culture, sports, or religion, young African-Americans have long witnessed a “passing of the torch” or sea change.  Well, all except for, you guessed it–politics.  

In the world of politics, it’s as if Larry, Magic, and the rest of Jordan’s 1992 Dream Team are still first string, even though Lebron and Kobe are well into their prime.

During the 2010 midterms, I watched a brazen Tea Party movement, fully steeped and brewed, hijack the national political conversation and put forth candidates from Delaware to Nevada that echoed their sentiments around issues of taxation and debt

And last month, I watched that movement bear fruit on the national stage when 42 year-old Congressman Paul Ryan was chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate on the national Republican ticket.  

Immediately, I began to wonder: “Where was our young “Paul Ryan” of color?  Where were our new breed of foot soldiers for the 21st century to counter the Janesville native?  We can’t afford to wait on another “Obama” candidate!  

Mr. Ryan was first elected to Congress at age 28, and I cant help but think if some Congressional seats opened up in some of the traditionally minority districts, then maybe we could begin grooming our own twenty-something gurus to champion our modern issues.  He or she wouldn’t listen to AC/DC as Ryan noted, but possibly Jay-Z and Weezy.  They could begin to “occupy” our own street and start restoring the channels of communication and understanding between the youth and the policies that stand in their way.     

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we owe a great debt to the lions and lionesses of the civil rights generation, I just think they have brought us as far as they can.

I believe it’s time for the world to be introduced to the starters of the second half of our movement, men and women that can harness the full vernacular and power posed by social media like Obama, and be responsive in a moment’s notice through Twitter like Newark’s Cory Booker.  

These men and women would organize around green technology jobs and internet access and freedom in the same vein those great men and women of the past organized around living wages and voting rights in their day.

Like anyone, I am grateful for the past efforts of the caucus, but they must understand that today is a new day.  Our parents have their stories of how they helped tackle the larger issues of their day, its time we were left to tackle ours.  And if we are made to wait much longer, I’m afraid we do so at our own peril.  

Years ago, Rep. William Clay, Sr., a founding member of the CBC, famously stated, “black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent interests.”  And with all due respect, sir, though I thank you for your service, I now believe you’re on our time.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »