Is the ‘Conscience of the Congress’ Unconscious?

Wilmer Leon says it’s time for the African-American community to take stock, not of the original 13 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but of the current 58.

Congressional Black Caucus meeting with President Richard Nixon, March 1971. (National Archives)

By Wilmer Leon
Black Agenda Report

Even though we think first of those we were directly elected to serve, we cannot, in good conscience, think only of them — for what affects one black community, one poor community, one urban community, affects all…,” Letter from Congressional Black Caucus to President Richard Nixon in 1971.

In the 1960s, Rep. Charles Diggs (D-MI) established the Democracy Select Committee (DSC) to bring the nine elected African-American  House members together.  They were organized in order to help them strategize around their common issues and develop policy initiatives that would address the problems facing their African-American constituents.

“The sooner we get organized for group action, the more effective we can become,” Diggs said. The operative words in Diggs’ statement are “group,” “action” and “effective.” Is the current iteration of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) as a group taking effective action?

By the beginning of the 92nd Congress, (1971-1973) the number of African-American representatives had risen from nine to 13. Rep. Louis Stokes (D-OH) said, “In addition to representing our individual districts, we had to assume the onerous burden of acting as congressman-at-large for unrepresented people around America.” Those 13 African-American  members founded the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971.  It was from that above referenced 1971 letter to Nixon that the CBC became known as “The Conscience of the Congress.”

Actor and activist Ossie Davis was the keynote speaker at the first CBC fundraising dinner in 1971. The title of his address was, “It’s Not the Man, It’s the Plan.”  In this address he challenged the members of the CBC by stating, “…the time has … come when rhetoric will begin to take a back seat. … Give to us a ‘Ten Black Commandments,’ simple and strong…”

He closed by saying, “Let us stop making history by ad hoc methods and impromptu improvisations. Let us plan the whole thing out  ….” He directed CBC members to give people their assignments and hold them strictly responsible if they don’t carry them out.

January 1971: Congressional Black Caucus members, from left: Rep. George W. Collins,D-Ill.; Rep. Ronald V. Dellums, D-Calif.; Rep. William L. Clay, D-Mo.; Rep. Charles Diggs, D-Mich.; and Rep. Shirley Chisholm, D-N.Y. (Library of Congress)

Now is the time for the African-American community to take stock, not of the original 13 members of the CBC, but of the current 58.  Are they in fact addressing the problems facing the African-American  community?  Are they taking effective “group-action?”

Has the “conscience of the Congress” become unconscious? Have they devolved  into a comprador class of relatively privileged, wealthy and educated natives of a colonized land who have been “bought” by the colonizers? More simply put by the late journalist Glen Ford, have they become “the Black Misleadership Class?”

According to the CBC website,

“…the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has been committed to using the full Constitutional power, statutory authority, and financial resources of the federal government to ensure that African Americans and other marginalized communities in the United States have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream.”

Davis said in his address, “…the name of the game is power – and if you ain’t playing power, you’re in the wrong place.”  Is the CBC using its power as a 58-member potential voting bloc to demand substantive change, or are they a rubber stamp for the interests of the American elite?  They appear to be less effective now than they were 51 years ago.

Ossie Davis speaking at the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Foreign Policy Blunders

Before examining domestic policy, take a look at some foreign policy blunders. In April the House passed the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act. Using pages from the Cold War playbook, the U.S. is once again invoking the threat of a Russian boogeyman to justify American imperialism in Africa. The bill passed the House on a 415-9 vote.  All of the so-called “progressive” members of the House, the Squad and the CBC supported this legislation. 

The act sanctions African nations that fail to follow the American lead and choose to exercise their sovereignty by ignoring American dictates not to do business with Russia.  SADIC, the 16-member regional bloc of Southern African countries, said in a joint statement that the United States is “bullying” African nations and punishing them for not following the “failing U.S. sanctions regime” that has made the African continent “the target of unilateral and punitive measures.”

The U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) is another unfortunate example of the U.S. using militarism as an offset to diplomacy and the basis of interventionism in African countries. The CBC’S direct and tacit support of AFRICOM is a travesty. 

There has been a significant increase in coups over the last 18 months, with African military leadership, many of them AFRICOM trained, carrying out takeovers or attempted takeovers in Burkina Faso, Sudan, Guinea, Chad, Mali, Niger and Guinea-Bissau.  The Black Alliance for Peace calls for the CBC to support opposition to AFRICOM and demands the CBC’s commitment to holding hearings about the military program’s negative impact on the African continent. To date the CBC is conspicuously silent on these demands.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, in black coat, visiting U.S. Africa Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, in April 2021. (U.S. Africa Command, CC BY 2.0)

On another front, in response to the rapidly deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in Haiti, the Biden administration is at the U.N. seeking support for “the immediate deployment of a multinational rapid action force” to go into Haiti. The problem is, most of the problems in Haiti are a result of U.S. interventionist and hegemonic imperial policies towards the island nation.  President Joe Biden is now hoping to use the Trump-era Global Fragility Act (GFA) as its cover for U.S. military intervention. 

The GFA is being heralded as an enlightened new approach to diplomacy when in fact it’s old wine in new bottles. Biden said the GFA “…provides a roadmap:  a 10-year effort to strengthen the security and prosperity of people everywhere by helping to fortify the footing of parts of the world that continue to grapple with challenges that can lead to destabilizing conflict and violence.”

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The problem with this so-called logic is that when you look at the countries targeted: Haiti, Libya, Ghana, Guinea and others; the U.S. and its Western allies have been largely responsible for their instability by assassinating their leaders and fomenting coups.

Simply put, the U.S. is implementing a “new” strategy (of which military intervention is an important element) to “solve” the problems that U.S. intervention has caused. The CBC has gone right along with these imperialists, hegemonic and interventionist policies instead of standing up for the victims and speaking up against these racist policies. If the CBC were in the Black Panther movies, they would be called “colonizers” by the Wakandans.

Here’s how the U.S. government uses domestic policy to aid foreign nations that are not occupied by peoples of color. Biden signed the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law.  As a part of this, the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative was extended through 2022 and its funding was increased from $250 million to $300 million per year. 

On March 16, Biden announced an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, bringing the total U.S. security assistance committed to Ukraine to $1 billion in just the previous week, and a total of $2 billion since the start of the Biden administration.

On May 21, Biden signed into law the Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, a law that provides nearly $40 billion in additional military, economic and humanitarian aid.  These U.S. taxpayer dollars provide housing, education, medical and other types of assistance for those in Ukraine. 

Those Ukrainians who have made it to the U.S., as “refugees and parolees,” will receive support through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI); health insurance through Medicaid; and food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

In a time when Americans are facing extreme unemployment, foreclosures and evictions, energy poverty and homelessness, they are in great need of social safety net programs. Yet, the CBC voted unanimously to fund the NDAA and pour hard-earned taxpayer dollars into supporting the military industrial complex and boondoggles like the war in Ukraine. 

The CBC was established to help African-American  members of Congress strategize around their common issues and develop policy initiatives that would address the problems facing their African-American  constituents. They are supposed to be the “conscience of the Congress”; unfortunately for us, they are unconscious.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the author of Politics Another Perspective and a nationally broadcast talk radio program host. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: wjl3us@yahoo.com. www.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com.

This article is from Black Agenda Report.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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7 comments for “Is the ‘Conscience of the Congress’ Unconscious?

  1. robert e williamson jr
    December 4, 2022 at 16:35

    The conscience of the congress was disposed of after the JFK murder. They gave their back bone to the intelligence community out of fear of being neutralized by said intelligence community. If any doubt exists study the Reagan years and the activities of one G H W Bush with his White House ran special psy-ops agenda as reported on by one Robert Parry a mere seventeen years later.

    All actions which humans were pardoned for by the actions of one GHW Bush and Bill Barr. The rest become the sordid U.S. history of never ending wars pursued by neocons..

    Garbage in garbage out.

  2. torture this
    December 4, 2022 at 07:08

    If it’s any consolation, there are no white politicians sticking up for poor white people, either.

  3. LeoSun
    December 3, 2022 at 20:21

    …p.s.s., For Your “Play List:”

    JULY 31, 2018, “Remembering RON DELLUMS: Congressman and Anti-War Activist Led With His Principles”

    “Over the course of some of the most eventful decades in American history, RON DELLUMS was able to pull off what few have done in any of the positions he commanded.

    – HE fought against injustice at home and abroad,
    – HE spoke out against U.S. military exploits when doing so was costly and unpopular
    – HE served effectively as both an elected official and an activist.
    – He was a lifelong champion for the cause of peace who never lost sight of those whose interests he was trusted to serve or disowned his radical roots.”

    On Monday, 7.30.18, RON DELLUMS died (cancer) at age 82 at his home in Washington, D.C.“

    AND, NEVER, EVER forgotten, R.I.P., RON DELLUMS, Born on 11.24.35, in Oakland, CA., Crossed over on 7.30.18, Washington, D.C.

    hxxps://www.truthdig.com/videos/remembering-ron-dellums-congressman-and-anti-war-activist-who-led-with-his-principles/

    And, DR. WILMER LEON w/“The Double AA’s,” Alex & Alexander, The DURAN. Streamed 2 Days Ago. The discussion is about “The Present!!!” I found it this afternoon , 12.3.22. In joy, hxxps://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vMoVraRwsBE

    Best Practice: C R A N K ‘EM, UP!!!

  4. December 3, 2022 at 13:31

    The Black Misleadership Caucus and the Fraud Squad have, without exception, freely given all their power away like candy in their full-throttled support of the Party’s neoliberal agenda. Actions speak louder than words. Their progressive words, followed up with neoliberal actions, have become disappointingly predictable and consistent.

  5. LeoSun
    December 3, 2022 at 12:18

    Is the once revered, conscientious, black caucus, now as reviled as the white caucus & the black, brown and white voters who keep ‘em in Congress, unconscious?!?

    It’s black & white, “Some humans ain’t human!!!” ..i.e., 12.2.22, Joe “the Funeral Director” Biden posing as POTUS masquerading as Human, wielding his ANTI-Union AX, plunging his dirty, bloody claws into the pockets of the Railroaders, Sheet Metal Workers, Boiler Makers, Maintenance & Way Workers, the Railway Signalman aka The UNIONS (SMART-TD, BLET, Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, Brotherhood of Railway Signalmen) “LEFT for DEAD” by the OLDigarch fka “The Big Guy.“ The oh, so F/hollow political corpse, shuffling, fumbling, bumbling his way through the SPAMdemic of his NOT so “golden” years, feeble, fractured & bloody.

    The “SCIENCE” of Biden’-Harris’ SPAMdemic, POTUS does the YAPP’N. CONGRESS does the CLAP’N. The substance, Deception, Destruction, Death, LIVES!

    FRIDAY, 12.2.22, POTUS on his fake set, @ his playschool desk, in his fake Oval Office, in his fake White House, POTUS yapp’n & yell’n that he “negotiated a contract no one could negotiate;” AND, “the contract was “so much better” than “anything” railroaders have “ever had;” and, CONGRESS, CLAPS

    “Most People don’t know that, – They – members of Congress — only work three (3) days a week. Tuesday morning – Thursday afternoon; WHEN they’re NOT on RECESS. HALF the time they’re in offices on Capitol Hill dialing for dollar$; and, “We” wonder why they don’t have time for congressional hearings Monday through Friday.” RALPH NADER

    The CBC, Congressional Black Caucus, is almost completely FUNDED by the BIG OIL, Drug, Agribusiness and Chemical Companies. THAT”S WHY when CBC members are in charge of committees — and they’re still in charge of major committees — THEY DO NOT investigate economic exploitation in the ghettos, THEY DO NOT come out for universal health care; and, THEY DON’T even oppose banning methanol.”

    LOOK “at their contributions, from Toyota, Procter and Gamble, Coca-Cola, the tobacco industry, Facebook, Amazon, chemical companies — one after the other is going to the Black Caucus Foundation. When you follow the money, you understand why members of the Congressional Black Caucus with very few exceptions are not going after corporate crime, bloated, wasteful military budgets that starve domestic priorities.”

    “If you stick a knife in my back 9 inches and pull it out 6 inches, there’s no progress. If you pull it all the way out, that’s not progress. The progress is healing the wound that the blow made.. And they won’t even admit the knife is there.” MALCOLM X.

  6. December 3, 2022 at 10:30

    Unfortunately, instead of serving as stewards for the best interests of the black community, the Congressional Black Caucus has become the collective overseer charged with subjugating blacks and all other Americans to the interests of the Deep State, to perpetual war and military adventures, to redistributing income to the military industrial complex, to censorship and to polarizing the United States citizenry. A total betrayal of the aspirations of men and women like the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

  7. December 3, 2022 at 06:08

    Mr. Leon eloquently adds his voice to the cries of Glenn Ford (whose legacy continues), Cornell West, Margaret Kimberly, Briahna Joy Gray and so many others as they seek to hold accountable those who sit in seats of power. The lack of integrity of our elected officials (of all colors, creeds and ethnicities) astounds me, as one would think that AT LEAST SOME would want a legacy as humanitarians and peacemakers–generous in spirit and compassion. Instead, they all seem content to make their lives excrement–and for what? Reelection and chowing down the pig-slop of corporate greed.

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