In the midst of the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebration, a disgruntled Washingtonian protested in front of the Washington Convention Center—which housed most MLK celebration events—and began to chant anti-Obama idioms.
On Aug. 26, right after the “Table of Brotherhood Project” panel discussion, Hassan Shabazz, 45, stood outside of the Washington Convention Center during the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial celebration week on Aug. 26 with a poster that read, “America has betrayed Dr. King's dream” and on the flipside, “No Jobs! No second term Obama!”
Shabazz repeatedly chanted, “Obama, you can’t run forever Obama. You better help the poor Obama,” on the corner of New York Ave., N.W. in Washington, D.C.
His reason: To prove that Obama has put King’s legacy to shame. He is part of a growing chorus of Black criticism, and skepticism, about the link between the Obama presidency and Black America.
Some people say that Obama, as the first Black president of the U.S., has fulfilled a dream African Americans did not think they would see in their lifetime.
But Shabazz said that’s the only “dream” Obama has lived up to. He said the president’s policies and actions have not impacted the Black community enough to say he has lived up to King’s dream of economic prosperity.
“What is he doing for the poor? Is that following Dr. King’s dream?” Shabazz said. “All the poor Blacks are getting evicted in S.E. (D.C.) He’s got to come back to the Black community one day.”
PBS talk show host Tavis Smiley and African American scholar Cornel West have emerged as prominent critics of Obama and recently grabbed the public’s attention as the duo conducted a 16-city “Poverty Tour.” On their website, West said the tour is not an “anti-Obama tour,” but a call for the president and Congress to help Americans who were hardest hit by the recession.
“…it would be nice to hear the president say the word ‘poor.’ To say the word ‘poverty,” Smiley told the Associated Press. “We get conversations about the middle class. Well, the new poor are the former middle class. But we can’t get this president or any leaders to say the words ‘poor’ or ‘poverty,’ much less do anything about it.”
What’s Smiley and West’s inspiration for the tour? A quote from Dr. King, which reads:
“I choose to identify with the underprivileged, I choose to identify with the poor, I choose to give my life for the hungry, I choose to give my life for those who have been left out of the sunlight of opportunity. . .”
In an interview with the Tom Joyner Morning Show this week, President Obama reacted to criticism from African-American leaders and said their disapproval is expected.
“…when things are going good, you get the credit, when things are tough, you get the blame, that’s the nature of the Office. I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about that. I think about what we can do to get the economy growing faster,” Obama said.
With U.S. unemployment numbers stagnant at 9.1 percent with no added jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, Obama’s criticism may continue to grow. But the White House is pinning hopes for a public opinion reversal on a major speech Obama will give Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. Professor Harley Shaiken from the University of California, Berkley called the speech “critical.”
“It could be the opening of a renewed effort on jobs that really gets labor excited, or it could be too little too late, which really increases the frustration,” Shaiken told NPR. “It's going to be an important speech, and it will define where labor is on Election Day.”
John Earnest, spokesman for the White House, told NPR that Obama’s speech would define a common ground between workers and employers.
“It's the president's view that there are a lot of aligned interests here,” Earnest said, “that there's an opportunity for us to put in place the kind of economic policies that could be supported by Democrats and Republicans, that could be supported by American businesses and American workers, that there are American communities all across the country that could benefit from these policies.”
Shabazz, a laid-off construction worker, said that the president’s financial bailouts for major companies and other policies have led the poor to believe they are not top priority.
“We know Dr. King was a great man, we know what he represented, but [is the Obama Administration] practicing it?
“I’m not for Obama. I voted for him, but not anymore,” Shabazz said.
Ray Baker, talk show host of Howard University’s radio station WHUR and brotherhood project panelist, called a comparison between King and Obama “unfair.” He said the only connection the two have is Aug. 28, Obama’s “I Have a Dream” speech in ’63 and the day Obama accepted the democratic nomination for president in ’08.’
“Let's remember Dr. King was a preacher first, so everything he did had to make complete sense to his moral conscience,” Baker told The AFRO. “Dr. King had no constituency and no one to answer to but his own morality so he was in a position to take on the establishment and critique power in honest and ultimately life threatening ways.”
Baker said he doesn’t think Obama has let down King’s legacy because their works are in “different lanes.”
“President Obama has elected to do his work inside the metaphorical establishment, so he is either unwilling or unable to make those same unfettered critiques of power that Dr. King made,” he said.
As the president gears up for a possible re-election next year, analysts cannot definitively determine if public backlash from Black leaders could impact the “Black vote,” but leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus said Black voters may stay home next year if unemployment rates remain unchanged.
“The worry should be … are people going to be enthusiastic about getting to the polls, or are they not going to be as enthusiastic,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) told the Wall Street Journal.
“I'm frustrated with the president, I'm frustrated with the Senate, I'm frustrated with the House,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), who is also chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “The president and his White House team is trying to minimize the discussion of race as it relates to job creation.”