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Julianne Malveaux

Let Members of Congress Live Like Other People

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(NNPA) Congressman Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) couldn’t bring his French bulldog, Lily, on an Amtrak train. So when Amtrak funding came up for a vote, he inserted a provision that required one car on an Amtrak train to be designated a “pet car.” Pet owners will pay a fee to bring their furry companions on the train, and there are size restrictions to the pets that can travel. Still, this new provision is seen as a victory for pet owners who ride trains.

Would this new provision have been proposed had Rep. Denham’s dog not been rejected from an Amtrak train? Republican members of Congress were warned by the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, fiscally conservative groups, that they should not vote to subsidize Amtrak. Would they have joined Democrats in voting $1.4 billion a year for the next four years had their Republican colleague made his pitch about pet travel?

All too often, good legislation is only supported when someone with a personal agenda is able to add an amendment to further that agenda. Perhaps the pet cars make sense, but there might not be a pet car had not Rep. Denham pushed the agenda for his Lily. I’m not perturbed that he made the personal political. I’m just wondering what might happen if more members of Congress had to experience the same things as the rest of us.

What if members of Congress were routinely rejected from receiving bank loans (unlikely given their average net worth of more than a million dollars and rising, compared to the $81,000 median wealth of a U.S. family)? Might they then not look at some of the rules that banks use to restrict access to capital? What if members of Congress were stopped and frisked occasionally? Might that not provoke examination of stop and frisk laws?

What if members of Congress had to sleep on the street for just one night? Might they not consider the way our nation deals with the homeless? What if they had to travel hundreds of miles to obtain an essential medical service? Might they not, then, reconsider restrictions against abortion, a medical service many women consider essential? What if members of Congress had to survive on food stamps for even a week? Would that increase their empathy for those, some employed full time, who rely on food stamps in order to eat?

Let’s not stop there.

What if members of Congress were required to spend a week, without staff and handlers, in a strange community? Take House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and leave him in East Oakland, Calif. wearing a hoodie and some jeans. Take Small Business Committee Chair Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and leave him in Fifth Ward Houston with just a few dollars in his wallet. Let Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) hang with a homie as his BFF in Ferguson, Mo. Put Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) in a housing project in Los Angeles. Let Homeland Security Chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) spend a little time in New York’s Riker’s where civilization sometimes takes a break. Let Budget Chair Tom Price (R-Ga.) stand in line for a couple of hours to learn about unemployment benefits.

Will these legislators then be able to put their humanity on leave as they process their experiences?

The provision to fund Amtrak passed 316-101, and it wasn’t a perfect piece of legislation. Members of Congress ride the high-revenue Northeast corridor (Washington to Boston), so despite the warning from their influential fiscal conservative groups, they choose to continue to support Amtrak. Still, they didn’t support using revenues from the heavily traveled Northeast corridor to subsidize less-traveled routes in cities that are distant from airports.

This may mean that service in some smaller cities may be cut. Why not drop members of Congress into some of these cities and let them figure out how to get from one place to another? If we believe in the notion of a nation, we ought to have as strong an interest in the citizen in Washington as the citizen in a much smaller city. Those members of Congress who would privatize Amtrak have rejected the notion of national connections and equal access to transportation in favor of profligate profit seeking.

Members of Congress live a privileged existence. Some say they deserve it because of the service they render to our nation. But if their health care access were the same as ours, if their access to transportation were the same as ours, if their access to financial services were the same as ours, might they behave differently? If they spent just a minute with a gun pointed at their head because they had the temerity to jaywalk, if they were beaten because they dared ask questions of a police officer, if their 5-year-old child was handcuffed because she had a tantrum, would our laws be different?

Thanks to Congressman Jeff Denham, whose dog could not ride Amtrak, we know how personal inconvenience can turn into transformative legislation. If members of Congress spent a week living in a constituent’s shoes, how might our laws change?

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

Democrats Still Searching for Winning Formula

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(NNPA) Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel just got spanked. Despite a campaign war chest of more than $15 million and the support of President Barack Obama, the former Congressman and White House chief of staff could not avoid a run-off in the non-partisan election.

Garnering 45 percent of the vote to runner-up Jesus “Chuy” Garcia’s 34 percent, he did not clear the 50 percent bar for victory. Emanuel, the darling of the mainstream Democratic Party, has earned the dubious distinction of being in the first Chicago mayoral runoff in nearly 20 years. He also runs the risk of being the first incumbent mayor ousted since Harold Washington beat Jane Byrne in 1983.

The man who delivered the Emanuel whipping, Chuy Garcia is a county commissioner and former alderman. His base is the poorer neighborhoods of Chicago, the Latino community, and the teachers’ union. He pounded on the theme of income inequality and exploited the widespread perception that Emanuel is arrogant and removed from poor people. Indeed, most of Rahm Emanuel’s support came from wealthy White voters who helped raise his large campaign fund. Garcia didn’t have a fraction of Emanuel’s money, but he had a large cadre of volunteers to help deliver his votes.

There were three other candidates in the race, and their combined 20 percent of the vote will likely determine the outcome of the April 7 election. Just a day after the election, both Emanuel and Garcia were courting their competitors, seeking their endorsements. So far, those opponents have been noncommittal.

Emanuel’s loss is a major setback to the Democratic establishment. Voters are tired of income inequality being acknowledged, with nothing being done about it. Their only recourse is the vote, and on February 24 in Chicago, they used it.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Emanuel rode to victory on the coats of Blacks four years ago with 58 percent of the votes in the six wars that are more than 90 percent Black. This time, he won 42 to 45 percent of those same wards. Blacks may determine the victor of the April 7 election.

Another possible Democratic setback is looming as Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) weighs the possibility of challenging former Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.

Warren has been portrayed as a champion of the people, especially where consumer protection and financial matters are concerned. She has raised her voice against financial skullduggery by banking institutions, been a critic of attempts to weaken the Dodd Frank bill, and a defender of consumer rights.

The architect of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Warren has been the darling of the left, and has enhanced that status with her travel to many progressive gatherings. While she has demurred when asked if she will run for president, her replies, if somewhat definite, also seem coy. Additionally, there have been efforts to draft her into running, with online petitions and other efforts.

While Warren seems to have little baggage, Hilary Rodham Clinton seems less than invincible. Questions have been raised about the Clinton Foundation and the sources of its money, especially when this money has come from foreign governments that have mixed relationships with the United States.

Other questions have been raised about the high six-figure speeches Clinton gives and the audiences she gives them to. Certainly, she is entitled to earn what the market will bear, but some say those who foot the bill are the very Wall Street scions that Elizabeth Warren rails against.

Could Elizabeth Warren seriously challenge Clinton? Is there a chance that she could win the Democratic nomination? If she chooses to enter the presidential race in the next several months, she will be entering the race at about the time Barack Obama did eight years ago. Like Obama, she has penned an autographical book that explains the origins of her populist views. And like Obama, she has the chance of “catching on” with voters.

After Clinton, the only competition Warren is likely to have for the Democratic nomination is Vice President Joe Biden. But Biden, at 73, may be considered too old to be considered a viable choice for president. Biden also has a history of both oral and behavioral gaffes, most recently offering a rather intimate whisper into the ear of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s wife Stephanie at Carter’s swearing in.

Whether she enters the race or not, Warren’s very presence pushes Clinton to the left on populist economic issues. And if Warren enters the race and pulls three or four states, and about 20 percent of the popular vote, she offers Clinton a serious challenge. If these “draft Warren” petitions catch on and hundreds of thousands of signatures are gathered, that too, presents a challenge to Hilary Clinton.

Voters are looking for alternatives and Democrats aren’t providing them. Instead, they are offering a party line that inhibits discussion of issues and hews to the inevitability of party favorites. Rahm Emanuel’s defeat and the Warren challenge to Hilary Clinton suggest that the party line is unsatisfactory.

Julianne Malveaux is a Washington, D.C.-based economist and writer.

Cherishing History that's in your Attic

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(NNPA) We gather together this month to lift up the names that have been frequently lifted, to call the roll of those African Americans who have made a difference. While some names are the tried and true names of important leaders, we need to pay as much attention to the legacies of those whose lives and contributions have been swallowed.

Madame CJ Walker’s life and legacy is no secret. There is a woman who shares her name though, and she is rarely lifted up when the roles of Black women in our nation’s history are mentioned. Maggie Lena Walker, with a second grade education, established Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va. She was the first African American woman to establish such a bank. Through the Great Depression, and through bank regulation shifts, some version of Penny Savings Bank existed until the early 21st Century. This woman’s contribution has been overshadowed because it is easy to ignore her contribution to history.

Madame CJ Walker garnered public attention, and few realize that she was not the first to do “black hair.” Annie Malone developed a thriving hair care business in St. Louis and surrounding areas. According to some sources, she had at least two dozen training schools in the early 20th Century. Some say she mentored Madame CJ Walker. Many acknowledge that her hair care educational foci were a model for Madame Walker. Did Walker, more flamboyant and better connected, establish a place in history while Annie Malone and Maggie Lena Walker could not? What does it say about Black history when the glitz and glitter are substitutes for sacrifice and substance?

Far too often, we expect leaders to embrace and lift up our Black history. And far too often, we ignore the history in our attics. We forget the uncle who was a member of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, independent union of sleeping car porters and maids established in the 1920s to advocate for their rights. We forget the aunt who was a domestic worker in New York City. We remember the cousin who was a teacher in Mississippi, Alabama, or Louisiana (the last states to desegregate schools), but we have never explored the sacrifices she made to manage such a segregated environment.

We glorify those whose names are represented in the headlines. We ignore those whose contributions, albeit important, hover on the sidelines. We know that we stand on mighty shoulders, but we are unwilling and sadly sometimes unable to call their names.

These are the names we must call. We call them when we pour libation. We call their names and say “ache.” Our next responsibility is to lift their names up, to claim them as the postal workers, the civil rights workers, and the activists. Our next responsibility is to remind ourselves and those around us that we don’t have to have a name to have “cred.”

We call their names when we read Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States that exemplifies “the people’s history,” not the celebrity history. We own our history and affirm our connection to it, when we own the papers in the attic.

As I move around during this Black History Month, people tell me stories that they need to tell others. There was the uncle who took his horn through the “chitlin circuit” backing up major artists, and leaving the circuit when the pull of family took him home. These are the revolutions that will not be televised, the stories that will only be told when we tell them.

We need to tell them year round. It is a travesty of history to reduce an accounting of our heritage to a one-month commemoration of the history that defines our nation. When we are unable to recount the occurrences of Tulsa and Rosewood, of the Red Summer of 1919 and the Poor People’s Campaign, we allow our history to be swallowed and appropriated.

Commemorate Black History Month, if you will. Attend the gatherings at your churches and colleges. And then go home and pull the history out of the attic. If you are a citizen of the world, race notwithstanding, you have some hidden history in your attic. When you share your family stories, you take ownership in a Black History Month that is not about those named, but those unnamed who have made a critical difference in our lives. Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington D.C.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington D.C.

Poverty Doesn’t Have to be a State of Mind

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(NNPA) The racial differential in the poverty rate is staggering. Last time I checked, about 12 percent people in the United States, one in eight people are poor. Depending on race and ethnicity, however, poverty is differently experienced. Fewer than one in 10 Whites are poor; more than one in four African Americans and Latinos are poor.

Differences in occupation, income, employment and education are considered the main reasons for poverty, with current and past discrimination playing a role in educational, employment and occupational attainment. We see the discrimination when we consider that African American women with a doctoral degree have median earnings of about $1,000 a week, compared to about $1,200 a week for Black men and White women, and $1,600 a week for White men. White men earn 60 percent more than African American women, and a third more than Black men and White women.

It would not take much to recite the differences, by race, or education, unemployment, earnings and occupation. The recurrent question in reviewing the data is: What are we going to do? It makes no sense to just recite the data and then wring our hands as if nothing can be done. The three steps in social change are organization (especially protest), which leads to legislation (with pressure) and litigation (when legislation is not implemented).

Often laws preventing discrimination have been passed but not adhered to, forcing litigation to get offenders to do the right thing. Of course, it takes more than a minute. It takes people who are committed for the long run. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” Dr. Martin Luther King said in 1964.

Carter Godwin Woodson understood the long arc when he founded the Journal of Negro History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1915. The organization and the journal have changed their names to reflect the nomenclature of these times, and they are now called The Journal of African American History and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. Both the organization and the journal have now existed for 100 years which is perhaps why ASALH chose “A Century of Black Lives, History and Culture” as its 2015 theme. (ASALH choose a Black History Month theme each year). This year, their focus on the long arc of African American life in our nation and asserts that “this transformation is the result of effort, not chance.”

Carter G. Woodson made many choices that led to his education and to the creativity and brilliance that motivated him to uplift Black History through Negro History Week, now Black History Month. Woodson was the son of former slaves, and a family that was large and poor. He worked as a miner in West Virginia, and attended school just a few months a year. At 20, he started high school and by 28 he had earned his bachelor’s degree. He was only the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from Harvard (W.E.B DuBois was the first in 1895). He was a member of the Howard University faculty and was later a dean.

He wrote, “If you can control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”

In other words, poverty can be the reality of living, but it doesn’t have to be a state of mind. Many are trapped in poverty because that may be all they know, and because protest, legislation, and litigation have not provided a passage out of poverty. No one provided a passage out of poverty for Woodson. He worked as a miner to earn a living, and he transcended his status as a miner to make a life of embracing his people and our history. He wrote about the ways that our thinking could oppress us as much as living conditions can. He is a role model and example for African Americans today because, motivated by a desire to be educated, he fought his way out of poverty. There is a difference between thinking you can live like Carter G. Woodson, and thinking that you can’t. (CHECK OUT www.ASALH.org for more information on Carter G. Woodson and his organization.)

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based Washington, D.C.

Making No Progress on Race with 'Progressives'

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(NNPA) I like Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Her progressive ideas are just what we need while Hilary Clinton is straddling the fence, and still cozying up with bankers. Warren says she isn’t running for president, but there are quite a few political action committees urging her to run.

Like President Barack Obama, she released a biography (A Fighting Chance) just two years before the 2016 election. It provides details of her hardscrabble childhood, her early pregnancy and marriage, and her struggles combining work and family when she had a small child. Men and women can relate to her story, as well as at the way she became the guru for consumer rights and financial literacy. When senators would not confirm her for the permanent position in the Department of Treasury, she ran for the Senate. It was her first time running for office and she won.

Warren has consistently articulated a progressive agenda focused on those at the bottom. As progressive as she is, she has consistently ignored race matters. Perhaps this is because progressive politicians feel they will alienate part of their base if they talk about race. This makes Warren and the others not much different that conventional politicians, ignoring the economic differences between African Americans and others.

How would Elizabeth Warren deal with declining revenues for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs)? Would she step in to close the unemployment rate gap or the achievement gap? Would she deal with the housing discrimination that too many African Americans face? Or, would she hide behind the common progressive refrain that when challenges at the bottom are addressed? That is: African Americans are lifted up and their circumstance will change as the plight of everyone else improves.

Another impressive Senator, Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), has articulated a progressive agenda in the Senate for more than a decade. He hails from the swing state of Ohio, and many are wondering why he doesn’t command the same kind of attention that Elizabeth Warren does. While his ideas are solid he, too, has pretty much ignored the issue of race.

At the same time that progressives have been ignoring race, we have been barraged with proof that race matters. Whether we are talking about those in kindergarten or in high schools, African American students face stricter discipline (with some of them, regardless of age, handcuffed and expelled from school), while teachers rely on their sociology classes to justify keeping White kids in school for the same infractions. Conversations about disproportionate rates of incarceration, and racial disparities in the application of the death penalty are rarely raised in Congress unless members of the Congressional Black Caucus bring it up.

Progressives should not talk about race matters exclusively, but they exhibit a pathetic myopia when they fail to talk about race at all.

African American Democrats will hold their noses and vote for Elizabeth Warren, or if they are Clinton loyalists, they will vote her instead. Indeed, Elizabeth Warren has as much a change of winning a presidential contest as I do, but her committees will challenge the Clinton positions on domestic public policy. If she is able to get Senator Clinton to alter her positions on just a few matters, she will have done her job.

Still, like President Obama, the matter of race is off the table. The president addresses race gingerly, mainly because as an African American president he must debunk the myth that he is racially biased. I don’t agree with position, or the way he dealt with it in the State of the Union address when he had nothing to lose by dealing with race or simply saying the words “African American” or “Black.” Race still matters in our nation. What national leader has the courage to say it? Warren, Clinton and Brown have more leeway than President Obama, but they have as much fear as President Obama does for addressing a key national issue.

There is significant excitement about the role Senator Elizabeth Warren will play in the 2016 election. Maybe she will garner enough delegates to force a roll call, or at least the opportunity to nominate Senator Clinton. Maybe she will have a chance to address the nation in one of the prime-time spots during the convention, just as President Obama did in 2000. Certainly, her name will be whispered or even shouted as she gains popular support. But if she is unwilling to talk about race, she will not have met the expectations of some in the African American community.

Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C.

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