WASHINGTON — Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) laid out its agenda for the year last week at an “emergency summit” at the U.S. Capitol.
Atop their to-do list: ensure a full and accurate count of people of color in the decennial census this year and elect a new president in November.
“There’s a lot at stake in 2020 and we must not take it for granted,” CBC Chair Karen Bass, a California Democrat, said at a press conference.
U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), a caucus vice chair, agreed. “We understand the emergency we face in 2020.”
Held at the onset of Black History Month, the summit came during the same week as the president’s annual State of the Union address and the expected end of Trump’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.
Founded in 1971, the CBC includes more than 50 members of Congress. As the lone African American member of Michigan’s congressional delegation, Lawrence is the only CBC member from the state. Numerous members attended the summit, including ex-presidential candidates U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
Some 600 Black leaders also attended the event, which featured panel discussions with titles like the “fight for justice” and the “power of the movement.” The sessions covered health care, education, criminal justice and other issues, as well as the census and the 2020 elections.
Speakers urged participants to spread word about the census, which determines who is represented in the nation’s political system and who gets what resources from the government.
Census data are used to apportion seats in Congress, which in turn determines states’ representation in the Electoral College — and their say in presidential elections.
They are also used to determine how to distribute billions of dollars in federal funds to states, counties and communities for schools, roads, hospitals and other programs and services. And they’re used in redistricting, the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn.
People of color and other groups have been undercounted in the past and could be so again, summit participants warned. Last year, the CBC launched a census task force to support a full accounting of Black communities.
“We’re not going to let that happen in 2020,” said U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, a Nevada Democrat.
Lawrence agreed: “When it comes to the census, we can’t fight this hard enough, because it’s our communities who suffer.”
Lawmakers and leaders also urged the audience to support voter registration, combat voter suppression and work to defeat President Donald Trump in November.
“Black voters are very dissatisfied with the direction this country is going in right now,” said U.S. Rep. Joyce Beatty, an Ohio Democrat.
The Trump administration, she said, has been “hostile” to Black people — a message underscored by Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “The president’s racist policies have directly threatened the Black community and heightened racial violence,” he said.
On the CBC’s legislative agenda: a bill that would create a commission to develop and study proposals for reparations to descendants of enslaved men and women as well as efforts to address criminal justice, maternal mortality, housing insecurity and homelessness, “prison gerrymandering” and other issues.
Progress on those and many other high-profile Democratic proposals is unlikely in the near future, given GOP control of the U.S. Senate and White House.
But Beatty brushed challenges aside: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”