Young activists have often accused Black elected officials of being out of touch with their issues. But as the late Rev. Willie Barrow, herself a tireless activist who stood in the shadow of her male peers, said: “We are not so much divided as we are disconnected.”
To their credit, the Democratic National Committee Black Caucus made a good effort trying to connect the many factions of the Black Agenda during its virtual presentation Monday afternoon.
The caucus kicked off on Sunday with a tribute to the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., with several prominent speakers honoring him for his long record of civil rights activism, and his 1984 and 1988 bids for the Democratic nomination for president.
“People didn’t think it was possible. In 1984, it was like laughable,” Jackson said in a recorded interview.
With Sen. Kamala Harris being the first woman of color to be on a major party vice presidential ticket, Jackson said he would be working every day and night for Joe Biden’s success.
It is an attitude that Democrats hope will sweep across Black America.
“We have work to do ... health care for all, right now. Equal education for all, right now. Peace for all, right now,” said Jackson, who is struggling with failing health.
That event speakers sat before computer screens to deliver messages meant to fire up the party’s loyal base wasn’t the only change from past conventions.
These were younger Black leaders working to change a system that some of their peers argue should be completely torn down because of “systemic” racism.
Mandela Barnes, the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, a key battleground state, said he grew up in Milwaukee in an area where Black people were “stripped of political voice.”
“Nothing like the spring election can ever happen again. Voters waited in long lines for hours. We have a task ahead. We can’t take this election for granted,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) boasted about being the youngest Black woman ever elected to Congress, and about being a proud resident of Northern Illinois.
“My generation and the next will not stand idly by while our fundamental American values are under attack. We will lead the way to a more perfect union. I grew up in Naperville … This summer I saw my predominantly white community embrace the cause of equality and justice. High school students led marches across our community. They stated unequivocally that Black lives matter.
In 2016, gun violence was at the top of the agenda for the Democrats, with delegates vowing to do more to stop the carnage.
This time around, the priority, at least for the Black Caucus, is ending police shootings that have claimed the lives of too many young Black men and women.
“This election will be the most consequential election of our lifetime,” said U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
“The truth is we don’t organize just for an election. We organize to build communities, to build community power. We are writing the next chapter of our Civil Rights Movement,” she said.
Travis Nelson, western director of the DNC, said he intends to hold Black leadership accountable.
Nelson said he was tear-gassed at a Black Lives Matter protest in Portland, Oregon.
“I have lived in Portland for well over a decade. The environment, health care, housing and systemic racism is finally being called out. The status quo is no longer acceptable, and these four years have been a disaster,” Nelson said.
He pointed out that even if Harris makes history as vice president, things aren’t necessarily going to change.
“We need to back them up. We’ve got to continue showing up at City Hall and State Houses, and the National Capitol. You have to vote like your lives depend on it,” he added.
Tamika Mallory, one of the primary organizers of the 2017 Women’s March, acknowledged the “greatness” of a Black woman being nominated as vice president.
“The historic moment is not just someone being chosen, it is about how do we turn that appointment into power,” she said.
“We need to do the work of pushing that administration to be all they need to be. Let’s be bold. Being politically correct will probably not get it done, and we will have to turn the system upside down,” she added.
It was 12-year-old Keedron Bryant’s powerful video, “I Just Wanna Live,” played midway through the caucus event, that brought the messages home.
This election cycle, “Black Lives Matter” is taking center stage.