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“…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, it never will…

Representative Barbara Lee (D-California), Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

On Sunday afternoon, July 11th, Representative Barbara Lee (D-California) was part of the panel for a legislative workshop titled “Engaging Congress: the NAACP’s Legislative Agenda to Achieve One Nation, One Dream”. Representative Lee spoke on health care reform and other issues:

Representative Barbara Lee (D): [applause]….Thank you so much. Good afternoon. [voices: Good afternoon.”] Hilary [Shelton], first of all, thank you so much for that very warm and humbling introduction. But also, I just have to thank you for your leadership. And, uh, during those very difficult days in two thousand and one I, I want to tell you, it was very difficult to be the only one to vote against giving any president a blank check to go to war forever endless war. But, Hilary, many of you, all of you really stood right there by my side because you knew what that was about. And I really want to thank you so much for your support. [applause] And also I just have to say, yes, we’re trying to end this, uh, endless war. The American people are war weary. And I was so humbled the other night when we took one step toward that and the Lee Amendment got one hundred votes with the majority of the members of the black caucus voting for us to begin to get out of Afghanistan. [applause]  So that was a major, major step in the right direction…

…Let me, uh, thank Reverend Barber, thank you so much for your leadership. Thank you for staying on the front line with all of our foot soldiers of freedom. I want to thank Leon Russell and I have to just thank the entire membership of the NAACP for staying strong and focused and dedicated to freedom and justice. I come from El Paso, Texas originally. My family was a family that was actually, they raised me in the NAACP.  My grandfather, my mother, they helped to desegregate, uh, the schools in El Paso, Texas with, you may know the name, Dr. Nixon. [voices:  “Yeah.”] You remember Dr. Nixon.  So, uh, the NAACP, uh, runs in my blood. And if it weren’t for the NAACP I certainly would not be standing here as a member of Congress. [applause] And so I honor you. I thank you. We’ve come a long way. We have so much further to go.

Let me also take a moment to just, uh, thank Ben Jealous. I know he’s not here, he’s very busy, but Ben, I, he’s still my constituent, you know, he’s from the, uh, Bay area, lives in Alameda. Doing a phenomenal job with the NAACP, as is Roslyn, our board chair. You know, all the young people here, uh, this time is just, uh, it makes me realize that our future is secure. [voice: “All right.”, applause] And so I just have to thank [applause] the leadership for that. Let me also take a moment to, uh, thank Alice Huffman and my, who is our state chair from California and George Howland [sp], my Oakland chair, for, I think the California NAACP, and Hilary and I talk about this, we’re always on the cutting edge of so many issues, and I just have to thank them for staying the course and for really, they can be very proud of being part of the overall California NAACP movement. And of course, to my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, let me, uh, thank Senator Burris for your leadership. Havin’ one voice in the Senate [applause] I tell you can make a difference, that one vote. [applause] And, also, to Congressman Bobby Scott, I mean, Bobby, of course you know [applause] that he’s gonna speak in a minute, but. [applause] He has got a, the entire Congress focused on why we need to put money on the front end in terms of educating our young people, rather than on the back end in cracking this prison, this cradle to prison pipeline, so thank you again, Bobby. [applause] He’s done a [inaudible] job and [inaudible] which you’ll hear about in a minute.

And I have to, uh, just take a moment to say to Charles Ogletree, and, and I really have to share this, Charles, thank you so much for your leadership. And it, when, when Senator Burris came you know all the brouhaha was taking place. I was sworn in as CBC chair during that same week of the brouhaha, right. Bob Harris, my finance committee chair, from Oakland, thank you Bob so much for being here. {applause] Bob called me, Charles called, my first act as CBC chair was to engage in a very clear discussion about why the CBC had to take a unified position and communicate to the Senate that we wanted Senator Burris seated as our Senator. [applause] They backed down after that and I want to thank you Charles [inaudible] thank you Bob. [applause] And that was a tough one, because you know we were just getting back into, uh, session, just elected a CBC chair, I said, oh my goodness, this is gonna be my task, baptism in fire. But I wanna thank forty-two members strong CBC, they got it immediately. There would, there really wasn’t any debate about that. They understood the constitutional issues, they understood that we needed a voice in the Senate, and they knew that he must be seated. And so, I just have to say to the CBC, uh, publicly, thank them for, for that first act, making it such a successful, uh, first act.

I have to, uh, also remind you now about the CBC. It was founded in nineteen seventy-one.  Thirteen members. The CBC continues its role as the conscience of the Congress.  And we are the conscience of the Congress [voice: “That’s right, that’s right.”] . We know that we have not a political but a moral responsibility mind you. This is a moral responsibility to address the issues of, of inequality and injustice. We have to do this and now is our moment to move forward with the NAACP to begin to close these, what we call, moral gaps.  When you look at the NAACP’s legislative priorities, and I just have to say again to Hilary how much I appreciate his hard work and his commitment and his brilliance, because we work so closely together, when you look at this, and he’s gonna get you the CBC’s agenda, each member submitted one bill, we call, our bills to watch. You look at the, the NAACP’s legislative agenda, very consistent, very consistent. We speak with one voice, we’re working together on our Washington agenda, which is not only an agenda to begin to close these moral gaps in the African-American community, but really begins to close these gaps so that America, of course, can be stronger and the American dream can be realized for all. And so these forty-two bills to watch are opportunities for all, pathways out of poverty. The agenda really is the agenda of the NAACP. And so I just want to thank you Hilary again and thank all of you for making sure that we are able to move this agenda forward.

Now let me tell you about the Senate. You heard Senator Burris, he, he, he got down on them. And I just have to tell you a couple of things that, that as the CBC we’ve been doing. You know we’ve been working very hard to get, uh, a jobs bill passed. Uh, Senator Burris mentioned summer youth jobs. I mean, we have been dogging this for months now. Our young people need jobs. They need jobs not only to help build their resume and to give them the work experience, but with this economic downturn they need jobs to help their families [voice: “That’s right.”] put food on the table [voice: “That’s right.”] and pay the rent. They need a job. And so the CBC has been pushing forward, we first had three billion, then we had to pare it down to two billion, and then one point five, we finally got one billion into the House bill several times ’cause we said we weren’t gonna do, we weren’t gonna vote for anything if it didn’t have our bill, our money in it. We got it in, of course, where is it
now? Languishing in the Senate and summer is half way over. So went over several weeks ago to Senator McConnell’s office, CBC members, and we delivered letters for Senator McConnell  and we asked for a meeting and we’re still waiting to get that meeting, but we delivered a letter to members of the Senate who have high rates of unemployment and high rates, high numbers and percentages of African-Americans. We said to Senator McConnell and the senators, we said, you may not know this, but, in your state you have maybe twelve percent African-Americans, you have a fifteen percent unemployment rate, why don’t you get with the program? You know, you’ve got people who are desperate for jobs who haven’t benefitted from this economic recovery. And so I think, I, I’m sharing that because you need to know that inside of the House of Representatives with the CBC not only are we working with our leadership in the House, but we’re trying to help Senator Burris by making sure that his colleagues understand that they are NAACP chapters in their districts, there are people of color, there are African-Americans, there are Latinos in their districts and they need to be accountable. They need to be accountable. And if they’re not accountable, once again, we have to unleash our power at that ballot box. [voice: “That’s right.”] And that’s the only way justice will be served in our country, is unleashing our power. This is a defining moment. We have a president in the White House, Barack Obama, who gets it. We helped elect the greatest president ever. [voice: “Right on.”, applause] The African-American community did that. And he has done a phenomenal job. When you look at health care reform, I mean this was a hard bill to pass. [voice: “That’s right.”] And you know that. But because he was determined, and the Congressional Black Caucus, we had to work very hard with the President to make sure that our issues on health care reform were not dropped from the table. And I’m gonna tell you what some of them were. One is closing health disparity. You know in our communities diabetes, HIV and AIDS, heart disease, all the health disparities in our community have been totally neglected. And so under the leadership of the Congressional Black Caucus, Congresswoman Donna Christensen who’s a wonderful medical doctor as well as member of Congress from the Virgin Islands, she chairs our health task force, we went to the President. We had several meetings with him and the White House staff and said there is no way the Congressional Black Caucus can support this health bill if our health disparities provision aren’t included, if our minority medical colleges aren’t provided for in terms of equal funding, if in fact we don’t expand community clinics, if in fact we don’t do x, y, z. And we had a whole list, I call, of demands. [voice: “Um, hm.”] Well, I want you to know, the President got it. He said yes, we can. We put those provisions in the House bill, those and then some. Got that House bill to the Senate – Rolland remembers – those provisions were dropped just like that. I said, wait a minute [voice: “Um, hmm.”], call Senator Burris, call Harry Reid, [inaudible] we had a conference call. Well I want you to know within sixty minutes those provisions, thanks to Senator Burris, were [laughter] restored [applause] in the bill. [applause] In the bill. You wasn’t gonna vote for it unless it had ’em  in it, that’s right. You told everybody that, and we communicated that. But it couldn’t have happened, again, had they not known that Hilary [Shelton] was watching and waiting and, and in those offices. And that you at our state level were sending those e-mails, communicating to those Senators, saying, look, this health bill has got to have provisions that really begin to close these huge health disparities in the commun, in our communities of color and in the Black community.  And so I share that one piece of information and story with you because I think that shows how, if we speak with one voice and if we do what Hilary and the NAACP and what your chapter presidents are asking you to do we will unleash our power in a big way. [applause] In a big way. [applause] In a big way.

‘Course it’s not a perfect bill. It has its flaws. But, guess what? We’re going back to the drawing board to try to make sure that where it’s not a perfect bill it becomes a perfect, well, a perfect law that now becomes a more perfect law. And so we’re gonna work on those provisions that still, we think, need to be put in to place, such as, I don’t know if all of you support this, but I know most of you support it, public option. [voice: “All right.”, applause] We’re working on getting that back in to the bill. [applause]

The ongoing, uh, BP oil spill in the Gulf is really a, a painful, a very sad reminder of the urgent need for our nation to develop and implement climate change options. [applause] Right, we know what that’s about. [applause] Alternative energy solutions. And strengthening environmental justice efforts. Yesterday, and I think Lisa, the Administrator of the EPA spoke to you about why the Black community has got to be engaged in this debate. We’re in Congressman Emanuel Cleaver’s district as we speak and he has been phenomenal. Emanuel serves as the First Vice-Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He’s been phenomenal  and on that committee making sure that, he co-chairs the energy task force for the CBC, he and Jackson Lee and, uh, G.K. Butterfield, they’ve been unbelievable in championing the causes of environmental justice and making sure in the energy bill that we passed out of the House includes provisions that insure that our communities benefit from the jobs that are gonna be created as well as don’t pay the price, uh, in terms of  the cap and trade formulas. So they’ve been phenomenal in how they have addressed this, the bill that left the House is a good bill. it could have been perfect, but it wasn’t, coming from my district, I mean, there were some provisions that caused, uh, some of us heartburn.  But it was the best bill we could get. Now it’s languishing, where? [crosstalk] [Senator Rolland Burris: Where is it?  Where is it?] Where is the bill? [Senator Rolland Burris: Where is the bill?] In the Senate. [Senator Rolland Burris: Where is the bill?] [laughter] So when you go home, call your senators and tell them you gotta, we gotta pass this energy bill because the Gulf oil spill now is a horrible reminder of the job that we must do. Again, we have a moral responsibility also to those who have lost their job, to help them recover, to the survivors of Katrina, five years, many many challenges still being faced by the people in the Gulf region and in New Orleans. And again, I know that’s part of the NAACP’s legislative agenda.

I want to say, finally, in closing, um, that I’ve got to thank you for staying the course and staying vigilant because I don’t know what we’d do without you. CBC, forty-two members, these are, forty-two members of the Congressional Black Caucus are the hardest working and smartest members of Congress. I know that. [applause] I know that. I know that. They couldn’t do anything, we couldn’t do anything without you. It’s an uphill battle, constantly, we’re playing offense and defense. Offense and defense. We’re watching the President’s back, we’re working the, with the President, letting him know what we see coming down the pike so we can circle the wagons. And we’re making sure that all of us stay on track.

November is coming up. And I tell you one thing, we have to cast our vote in November, we have to get people mobilized [applause] and organized. [applause] We have to do that. Ten-two-ten is coming up.  And ten-two-ten is gonna be a very important moment in Washington, D.C. and I’m sure know, and Hilary’s been talking about ten-two-ten. We have to have that massive mobilization because that’s how we deal with the tea party [voices: “Yeah.”] and all of these, these, this noise, which is what it is, that’s out there. We have to make more noise. [voices: “Yes.”] We have to keep that street heat on. And we
have to push forward to make sure that not only our votes are cast, but that they are counted and that we move forward unleashing our power. As Frederick Douglass said, if you remember this now, power concedes nothing. I don’t care who’s in that White House. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, it never will, and that is what we must do as the NAACP. [applause] Thank you again.

Previously:

The 101st NAACP National Convention in Kansas City

NAACP in Kansas City: Benjamin Todd Jealous at the opening press conference

NAACP in Kansas City: EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at the opening press conference

NAACP in Kansas City: report on the impact of the BP oil spill in the Gulf region

NAACP in Kansas City: Sunday – photos

NAACP in Kansas City: Michelle Obama – photos

NAACP in Kansas City: Representative Sheila Jackson Lee on the tea party and human rights

NAACP in Kansas City: Senator Claire McCaskill (D) – “Now is no time to quit.”

NAACP in Kansas City: Representative Emanuel Cleaver – “Don’t you forget it!”

NAACP in Kansas City: Wednesday afternoon press conference – photos

NAACP in Kansas City: Rev. Al Sharpton – “There clearly is some racial leaves in their tea bag…”

NAACP in Kansas City: Rev. Jesse Jackson – “We want jobs, justice, and education for all.”

NAACP in Kansas City: Benjamin Todd Jealous – “…we all need a testament of hope…”

NAACP in Kansas City: press conference Q and A – “…we’ll keep our eyes on that prize…”