On the Eve of Congressional Black Caucus Conference, A Lesson on How The CBC got Started

Photo: Photo by Warren K Leffler/PhotoQuest/Getty Images (Getty Images)
Photo: Photo by Warren K Leffler/PhotoQuest/Getty Images (Getty Images)
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The Relentless Pursuit

1971 was quite a year for America. Nixon was President and the streets were filled with protestors demonstrating against the Vietnam War. The Weather Underground detonated a homemade bomb in the men’s room of the United States Capitol and the 26th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified lowering the voting age to 18.

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They came together because, after the progress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Pay Act and more, President Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” was stoking a white backlash across the country, not only to stop equality’s march in its tracks, but turn back the clock on those historic gains.

Photo: hoto by Drew Angerer/Getty Images (Getty Images)
Photo: hoto by Drew Angerer/Getty Images (Getty Images)

They came together because they refused to let that happen. They came together because they knew there was work left to be done. They came together because they were stronger together than they could be apart.

More than half a century later, as we look towards their upcoming 52nd Annual Legislative Conference, we see a CBC that has come into its own, larger and stronger than it’s ever been, with key leaders in key roles like Chairman Rep. Steven Horsford, House Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC) Chair and Co-Chair Rep. Joe Neguse and Rep. Lauren Underwood. We see Rep. Jasmine Crockett serving as this session’s Freshman Class Representative, Rep. Barbara Lee serving as the House Steering and Policy Committee Co-Chair. Rep. Jim Clyburn serving as House Assistant Democratic Leader and the People’s Republic of Brooklyn’s own Congressman Hakeem Jeffries serving not only as Democratic leader, but the first African-American to lead any caucus in our nation’s 247-year history.

Led by Rep. Horsford, this CBC is building on the landmark leadership established by Rep. Joyce Beatty,extending her playbook and embracing our diversity, engaging men and women, old and young, voices from every geography, spirituality and economic background. Like the folks used to say, we’ve got Hip-Hop and R&B…and we’re stronger for it.

Yes, things certainly have changed.

The Constant Struggle

But the more things change, the more they stay the same because we know, for every ounce of progress we make in this country, especially when it comes to issues impacting marginalized communities, there’s a backlash from folks who want things to go back to the “good ole’ days” when we knew our place and they were the only ones who mattered. They long for simpler times when you could treat black folks, women, LGBTQ Americans and working families like garbage. They want to “Make America Great Again.”

And, let’s be honest, their mission is deliberate, intentional, disciplined and absolutely relentless. But that’s always been the case, hasn’t it?

What happened when a new generation of freedmen emerged from the crucible of the Civil War with the hope and promise of Reconstruction backed by the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments to our Constitution?

They were met with newly instituted Black codes and Jim Crow ordinances. They faced armed resistance from lynch mobs like former Confederate General Martin Gary’s “Red Shirts” and the Ku Klux Klan—both determined to reestablish the old order of Black subservience and fear. They bled the ground at the New Orleans Massacre, the Wilmington Insurrection, the Jackson County War and more as their dreams were met with violence and death.

What happened when the Great Migration and Progressive Era spurred cultural and economic opportunities for Black families across America and new manifestations of possibility made headlines with the founding of the NAACP and the Urban League, the Harlem Renaissance, and the emergence of Black Wall Street?

Simply, the good ole boys buttressed a new segregation era with new legislation like Virginia’s Racial Integrity Laws, used the filibuster to block federal antilynching laws, and launched a new wave of violence, like the Red Summer of 1919, the Tulsa Massacre and the assassination of Marcus Garvey.

We saw the violent opposition to desegregation and voting rights that pretended to be a defense of “statesrights” during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. We saw a repeat of history with Voter ID and Tea Party extremism after historic Black turnout elected the first African-American President…and we’re seeing the same thing now.

It’s the same fight our parents faced and our grandparents, our great-grandparents on down the line. But it’s not up to them to keep this country moving forward despite the reactionary forces and their relentless pursuit to turn back the clock. This fight is ours.

Redistricting and Voting Rights

While potentially the clearest struggle in the tug of war, the MAGA veto on voting rights is also the most insidious. The GOP pretends it’s trying to “protect the integrity of our elections.” Meanwhile, what began as slow erosion has kicked into overdrive from gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013, to states like Alabama refusing to redraw racist district lines even after the Supreme Court ordered them too.

The fact is that, between January 1, 2022, and September 12, 2022 alone, at least seven states enacted 10 laws making it harder to vote and, since the beginning of 2021, lawmakers have passed at least 42 laws to restrict your right to vote in 21 states. That’s almost half the country and it’s just some of the hundreds of bills we’ve seen aimed at restricting our most basic democratic right to vote since Black Americans came out in droves to vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election.

Healthcare and Reproductive Freedom

It’s the same story with reproductive freedoms, the relentless MAGA assault against a woman’s right to choose started on January 22, 1973 and kept pushing until they installed activist judges that not only overturned nearly 50 years of legal precedent putting their political agenda between American women and their doctors, but put millions of lives at risk by denying free screenings for preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, free counseling for perinatal and postpartum depression and more.

This is from the party that pretends to care about the “sanctity of life”...but not those lives.

Of course, this GOP backlash has a backlash of its own. Just look at Montana where voters soundly defeated a GOP-led referendum to criminalize abortion, Wisconsin where pro-Roe v Wade women elected Judge Janet Protasiewicz giving Pro-Choice voices the majority on that court for the first time in 15 years. Look at Michigan, Kansas, or even Ohio where the GOP-controlled state legislature, an extremist Secretary of State, MAGA Senate hopeful Frank LaRose and more still couldn’t hijack the people’s voice and voters are set to protect abortion access with a constitutional amendment.

Gun Violence

Let’s talk about gun safety. Beginning in 1934 when Congress passed The National Firearms Act in a reaction to gangland criminals like Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone, we seemed to be on the right road when it came to stemming gun violence in America.

The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 required gun dealers and manufacturers to have a license. The Gun Control Act of 1968 banned firearms that had no “sporting purpose,” imposed age restrictions and prohibited convicted felons and the mentally ill from owning a gun. In 1993 the Brady Law imposed waiting periods, expanded background checks and kept guns away from domestic abusers and 1994’s Assault Weapons Ban did just that…it banned assault weapons.

But since the GOP failed to renew the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, the radical right has continued to push an irresponsible and violent war against common sense gun safety until, as of April, at least 26 states will let anyone carry a concealed firearm with no permit, no training and no idea who they’re going to hurt. As a result, at least 327 Americans are the victims of gun violence every single day and our children are practicing active shooter drills in their schools because it’s only a matter of time before they need it.

Affirmative Action

In June, the MAGA activist court didn’t turn the clock back 50 years. However, they were satisfied with bypassing 40 years of legal precedent and gutting race-based affirmative action. Oh, and they got the disturbingly misnamed “Students for Fair Admissions, Inc” to do it. Then again, these are the same guys who hamstrung the unions claiming the “Right to Work.”

Of course, this is just a natural escalation of the “school choice” tactic they’ve been using since the 80s claiming, somehow, white students are being discriminated against because they’re forced to share the classroom with Black and Brown students. It’s the “reverse racism” dog whistle at its best.


Finally, we have the LGBTQ+ community who found themselves squarely in the conservative crosshairs when this conservative Court leveraged the most ridiculous set of circumstances that I can remember in order to say bigots don’t have to serve gay clients…kind of. I mean, the plaintiff in this case isn’t even gay, never has been gay, and appears to have had his identity used without his knowledge or consent. And the Supreme Court was so set on ruling against the LGBTQ+ community, they didn’t even notice the whole thing appears to be manufactured.

But none of that matters to the MAGA reactionaries who have been waiting to wipe out any bit of equal protection they can. After all, as far as they see it, the LGBTQ+ community isn’t really American…and neither am I…and neither are you.

Let’s be clear, whether we’re talking about voting rights or reproductive rights, equal rights or our most basic rights as Americans, the MAGA mob’s mission to turn back the clock until we don’t have any rights at all is disciplined, deliberate and absolutely relentless. So our pursuit for justice and progress must be just as relentless if not more so.

America’s pursuit toward that more perfect union doesn’t have time for pauses and pit stops. They will turn this car around if we let them. So we can’t afford to let them.

Like the CBC, it’s time to come together because we refuse to let that happen, because we know there’s too much work left to be done and because we’re stronger together than we ever could be apart.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic strategist and CBC political consultant


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