Gary Convention: A Showcase of Political Impotence

George Curry

By George E. Curry
Last weekend was supposed to be a remix of the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary, Ind. Richard G. Hatcher, who became the first Black mayor of Gary in 1968; Newark, N.J. Mayor Ras J. Baraka, the son of the late poet/activist Amira Baraka, one of the original organizers; and Tuskegee, Ala. Mayor Johnny Ford were among the co-conveners.

According to organizers, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had confirmed they would attend. Convention officials had been in touch with Donald Trump’s camp and were convinced that he, too, would land his jet in Gary. But within a week of the event, convention organizers said each presidential candidate said they would not be in attendance and offered to send a “representative” instead.
For all of the talk about the importance of the Black vote and, in Donald Trump’s case, “My African American,” it was what Bernie Sanders would characterize as a “hugeeee” slap in the face.

To illustrate just how “hugeee,” consider the legwork for the conference performed by the National Policy Alliance (NPA). Its members include:
* Blacks in Government (BIG)
* Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)
* Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (Joint Center)
* Judicial Council of the National Bar Association (NBA-JC)
* National Association of Black County Officials (NABCO)
* National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBCLEO)
* National Black Council of School Board Members (NBCSBM)
* National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL)
* National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO)
* World Conference of Mayors (WCM)

NPA’s website declared its “purpose is to give voice to the nearly 10,000 African American elected officials and the more than 3 million African American government employees who serve the nation. Together, these public servants represent not only the interests of the 35 million African Americans, but the interests of all Americans. For example, the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus represent approximately 40 million people of every racial and ethnic group.”
Yet, the major political candidates thought so little of African Americans that they were only willing to send a “representative” instead of coming themselves.

I can say without fear of contradiction that neither of those candidates would have exhibited such an appalling disrespect toward a White organization of similar standing. As we have already seen, all of the major candidates cleared their schedules to speak before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Sanders spoke there even though he believes “to be successful, we have to be a friend not only to Israel, but to the Palestinian people, where in Gaza, they suffer from an unemployment rate of 44 percent – the highest in the world – and a poverty rate nearly equal to that.”

Except for Trump – who had advance warning that he would probably be booed – Republican presidential candidates knew they had to appear before the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Ted Cruz was there. Marco Rubio and John Kasich checked in. And so did Ben Carson. They were too afraid to not appear if they wanted to win the conservative vote.

Meanwhile, Clinton and Sand- ers in particular felt no need to show up in Gary. Mayor Johnny Ford, one of the Gary co-conveners, is a Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention and he couldn’t persuade her to attend. Sanders has Professor Cornel West, actor Danny Glover and former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous in his corner, yet none of them successfully pressed their candidate to go to Gary.
Evidently, when it comes to African American voters, we are Roger Dangerfield – we get no respect. And we don’t demand it. Republicans know that in order to win, they must get a small slice of the Black and Latino vote and augment that with their disenfranchisement efforts in different states.

Democrats, who have been winning with a minority of the White vote and an overwhelming majority of people of color for the last half-century, simply cannot win without the Black vote. As the Washington Post pointed out, “in the 1992 election, 13 percent of the Democratic vote came from Black voters. In 2014, it was 23 percent.”

Since Lyndon B. Johnson’s election in 1964, Republicans have carried the majority of White voters every year except 1996, the year Bill Clinton carried the non-Hispanic White vote over Bob Dole by one percentage point, according to Gallup.

In addition to questioning the presidential candidates, a goal of the Gary conference was to develop a Black Agenda and force the presidential nominees to respond to it. But the convention got off to a rocky start. I was asked to moderate the convention’s Presidential Forum, but was told of the cancellation only days before the convention was to begin. I was also asked to moderate an intergenerational Town Hall, but that, too, was cancelled. With things falling apart, I decided to skip the convention.

Before plans for the Presidential Forum fell into disarray, Mayor Johnny Ford told me:

“Every presidential candidate has been invited. If they are interested in Black votes, they ought to want to come out and hear from us. We hear from them all the time.”
Apparently, they are content to keep it that way. And we keep accepting it.

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