A panel at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s 47th Annual Legislative Conference strongly recommended Friday that Blacks collaborate to help bring about a less conservative agenda in next year’s midterm elections.
The nine-member panel, made up of voting rights advocates, lawyers and activists, met on the third day of the conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in northwest D.C. to discuss voting rights and activism beyond the ballot box.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit chapter and one of the panelists, spoke even more bluntly.
“If you ain’t willing to join nothing and to start your own, [then] you need shut your mouth and sit down,” he said. “We fight until we win.”
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) hosted the dialogue as part of the conference’s judiciary brain trust.
The panel emphasized how schools must incorporate more civics lessons so students can understand the government structure and local politics.
The Education Commission of the States and the National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement published a report in December to outline how all 50 states and the District capture civics.
According to the document, only 17 states that include Maryland and Virginia provided specifics details and examples on history and civics lessons incorporated within the curriculum.
For instance, the Maryland standards for an eighth-grade social studies curriculum presents a subject titled “Peoples of the Nation and World” with this objective: “student(s) will understand the diversity and commonality, human interdependence, and global cooperation of the people of Maryland, the United States and the world through a multicultural and a historic perspective.”
A student from Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast asked the panel how he and friends can engage his peers in conversations about the criminal justice system.
Symone Sanders, 27, a CNN political commentator and Democratic strategist, said critical topics must be explained in a real-life, daily perspective.
“You have to go to the grocery and get lettuce that’s not brown, that’s politics,” she said. “If you want to be able to play basketball in your neighborhood, that’s politics. Politics governs every single part of our lives.”
When the talk focused on why some Blacks didn’t vote in last year’s election, several panelists said those who didn’t vote can’t get upset with proposals the Trump administration presented this year, such as a commission to target alleged voter fraud and compel states to provide access to voter data, or a strict voter ID law in Texas that a federal judge ruled last month discriminates against minorities.
Michele Jawando, an attorney and vice president of Legal Progress for the Center of American Progress, a liberal think tank in D.C., expressed both frustration and hope.
“I have three little girls who now have to look at this president [Donald Trump], who every single day has an administration that is devoted to keeping them from the ballot box,” Jawando said. “When we marshal our resources and we see our power in the possibilities that lie in our communities, there is very little that will ever stop us.”
Tanya Clay House, a former U.S. Department of Education official, said people must be reminded about the importance of civics locally, regionally and nationally.
“We have selective memory in this country — we forget how we felt and we forget [what] happened,” said House, who owns a consulting firm. “We all have a role to play. Believe me, that one vote does matter.”