Congressional Black Caucus Looks to the Future

Barrington M. Salmon | 1/30/2013, 12:43 p.m.

As the nation celebrated the re-election of President Barack Obama last week, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) promised to continue advancing a progressive agenda that serves the interests and needs of minority communities nationally.

Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Barbara J. Lee (D-Calif.) counted among the estimated 1,100 guests who enjoyed a sumptuous meal, entertainment and dancing into the night at an inaugural gala hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) on Jan. 21. Members basked in the glow of the event and even in the midst of the festivities have eyes cast on the work ahead.

Cleaver, 68, said the relevance of organizations such as the CBC is borne out by the need to respond and act against the constant threat to African Americans, Latinos, the middle class and the poor by those who seek to exploit, marginalize and manipulate them. And he expressed exasperation when asked about those who label the CBC, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League as out of touch and null and void.

"That's a very thoughtful statement of someone who's ignorant," he intoned. "It's frustrating that we've won so many victories and people say that the CBC is irrelevant. We helped black farmers and the voting rights extension wouldn't happen but for us. We've provided the margin for every major piece of progressive legislation recently."

Lee concurred.

"Irrelevant? They're downright wrong," she said. "Where would we be in America? We make sure that there's justice and equal opportunity. Where would we be without the NAACP not fighting to end the death penalty and gun violence?"

They and others cited the CBC's considerable work to blunt the Republicans' voter suppression efforts as proof of their effectiveness.

In the coming days and months, the Obama administration will wrangle with issues such as the debt ceiling, immigration, gun control and finding ways to control spending with the president's Republican opponents poised to continue their spirited opposition to just about every proposal he puts forward.

But on this inauguration Monday, revelry and good cheer was high on the agenda at the black-tie affair.

In the foyer and first and second floors of the Capitol Hilton Hotel - a stone's throw from the White House - a wide cross-section of Washington's political and social elite, businesspeople, members of the clergy and other well-heeled guests stood around conversing, reconnected with old friends, and strolled in and out of a reception room where they noshed on sushi, shrimp, fruits, an assortment of cheeses and sipped various wines and liquor.

Later, during dinner, guests watched a video detailing Obama's road to re-election, the Civil Rights struggle and the symbolic and other ties that Obama's journey had in common with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose national holiday coincided with the 57th inauguration.

"I thought that it was very fitting that the president gave a speech on Martin Luther King's day. It's what King dreamed about," said Ralph B. Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in Northwest. "There was excitement and I felt the energy of the president in his speech. It was good to hear him talking about working together and the degree of confidence he expressed. People felt it."