Since George W. Bush's election, the question is no longer why black people largely voted Democratic. Neither is it what the GOP can do to win the black vote. The question now is: What do black people do now?
I've always said we shouldn't put all of our political eggs in one basket. Some of us needed to be "in the bushes." Some of us were, and now we must collectively see how to work with the new President. We must look at his agenda and see what will help our community.
I did a quick polling of some of my friends, both Democrats and Republicans, to get some opinions. We came up with this short list.
One of the first things we should do is distance ourselves from the rhetoric of Jesse Jackson. His mean-spirited and divisive orations do not help us. We must have people with cool heads and real strategies seated at the table when national policy is being developed, especially where it involves the black community.
Polling data continues to reveal a top issue is the education of poor and minority children. President-elect Bush said he supports a parental right to choose where their kids are educated. Sounds like a plan to me and to nearly 70% of blacks across America who support school choice, according to the Center for Joint Political and Economic Studies.
President-elect Bush has shown his enthusiasm for former Indianapolis mayor Steve Goldsmith's Front Porch Alliance - the faith-based social policy initiative that joins the power of government with activities of churches to heal the whole person. Churches have done great work in helping people with life problems. Presidential support could go a long way in making even greater gains with these programs of hope.
The full support of a strong and re-energized military is critical. Minorities comprise 40% of the Army, 34% of the Navy, 32% of the Marines and 24% of the Air Force. Some military families are so poor that they qualify for food stamps. That is a disgrace. When I was in a military family during the Carter years, we qualified for WIC and other free programs. We were so happy when Ronald Reagan won. We could see the immediate increase in our pay. If our young people continue to see the military as a career option, it must be viable and worthwhile.
Social Security needs to be revamped. According to Black America's Political Action Committee, today's black high school graduate who earns middle income wages for the next 45 to 50 years is likely to pay more than $700,000 in Social Security taxes. Yet, they can expect to get back only about $140,000. That's a net loss of more than half a million dollars! Seven out of 10 black Americans, in fact, can expect to receive less back from Social Security than they pay into it. That's because, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, half of all 20 year-old black men die before they get back even three years worth of their Social Security. President-elect Bush supports individually controlled voluntary personal retirement accounts. The education of how to personally invest money is a program that could be conducted through faith-based institutions, if needed.
On human rights abroad, we could certainly ask the new president to look into the slave trade around the world. According to Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest human rights organization, there are currently over 20 million people in bondage. The enslavement of the Dinkas in southern Sudan is the most horrific and well-known example of contemporary slavery. According to 1993 U.S. State Department estimates, up to 90,000 blacks are owned by North African Arabs, and often sold for as little as $15 per person in a thriving slave trade.
AIDS is another major concern Bush should address. Besides our own domestic AIDS crisis, large numbers of Africans are infected with the virus. The AIDS fatality rate in Africa is devastating national economies, the ability to conduct international trade and even threatens the ability to secure development loans. On humanitarian grounds and for the safety of Americans who travel freely in Africa, we must take decisive action.
Overall, while we look at atrocities in countries like Kosovo and China, we must encourage President-elect Bush to investigate the problems in Africa and other places where black people are.
With President Bush, potential solutions to some of our problems
are apparent. We can decide to sulk for the next four years,
or we can engage the new President and work together to find solutions
for black people in America and abroad.
(Jackie Cissell is the community relations director of the
Greater Educational Opportunity Foundation in Indianapolis, Indiana.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.
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