Seat at the table

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Marc Morial, National Urban League president; the Rev. Al Sharpton, from the National Action Network and Ben Jealous, NAACP president, held a press conference call Feb. 10 to discuss their earlier meeting with President Barack Obama.

The men described the meeting as productive and said it lasted over an hour. “The president spent an hour with us,” said Morial, “and was attentive and intensive with his listening.”

They emphasized that the president was not getting enough credit for his administration’s accomplishments in its first year, especially as related to the recession. They agreed that without the measures he’d pushed, the situation would currently be worse.

They added, however, that more needs to be done to help disenfranchised communities and to quell the problem of unemployment, especially among African Americans, and indicated this meeting was an important beginning for that process. Sharpton said, especially as it relates to the creation of a jobs bill, that Black leadership needs to be a part of the conversation. “It is important for us to be involved in the conversation,” he said. “We cannot be excluded as we have the most to lose.”

The men seemed convinced President Obama is committed to having the voice of African-American leadership, along with business and labor representatives, involved in finding solutions for this issue. “We’re not asking for a race-based bill,” said Sharpton, “but we cannot be excluded.”

At the heart of the jobs bill, and the need for it, is reducing unemployment and increasing consumer spending. Morial pointed out that much of the unemployment problem is a holdover from the last recession, which had a jobless recovery. So many of the currently hardest hit communities were heavily impacted because they’d never recovered the jobs lost in 2001-2002. He suggested unemployment be viewed from an education, instead of racial, standpoint, pointing out that the hardest hit are those with the lowest education levels – people often located in urban areas. “We’re trying with our efforts to be more specific with what we are talking about,” Morial said. “They’re not just Black communities. They include all people, but still disproportionately African American.”

The men also agreed the public should have more information on how the obstructionism of Congress, especially Republicans in the Senate, has impacted the progress of recovery. Jealous mentioned that more than 200 pieces of legislation were held up by the Senate last year. “We are frustrated by Republicans who are just saying no to everything and Democrats who are acting too afraid when constituents and the country need them to have courage,” said Jealous.

Morial concurred. “I think that the use of the filibuster and the blue slip process [Senate anonymous bill hold process] on every conceivable legislation is an abuse of process,” he said. “I think the public needs to have a better understanding … 60 votes are not needed to pass legislation, only to end debate. It’s obstructionism if you say, ‘I don’t want to have an up or down vote on anything.’ …

“On the jobs bill [when it is ready], the public deserves an up or down vote.”