Election year in the United States is not concerned only with choosing the next President, or even the members of the two Houses of Congress.
Election year in the United States is not concerned only with choosing the next President, or even the members of the two Houses of Congress. Voters will also be choosing State Governors, State legislatures, city mayors and a whole host of other local representatives. The black population of the United States -- about 22 1/2 million, or about 11 per cent of the total -- has as one of its objectives the gaining of a share of electoral offices more in line than at present with its numerical strength.
Four years ago, the first national Black Political Convention met in Gary, Indiana. Nearly four thousand black Americans from 43 states were there, representing all shades of political opinion; congressmen, mayors, civil rights leaders and members of the more extreme separatist organisations. They set up a National Black Assembly, and drew up a National Black Agenda.
The Agenda, which was passed by an overwhelming majority, was a twelve page list of goals which the Convention felt would help to improve conditions for black citizens. At the time, Mayor Richard Hatcher of Gary was optimistic that real progress would be made.
Now, nearly four years later, many black Americans feel that little progress has been made towards the goals set out in the Agenda. It called for the alleviation of poverty, for more federal programmes for low-cost housing and food subsidies. Today,there are still few black people getting housing subsidies, and the Administration is cutting back, rather than increasing, the food stamp programme.
Unemployment is normally about twice as high among blacks as among whites, in good tomes or bad. To try to ease the burden, the Agenda called for a guaranteed family income of 6,500 dollars a year. No move in this direction has been made in Congress.
A more surprising decision by the Convention was to demand the abolition of "bussing" -- the practice of taking children from one district to another to ensure a racial balance in schools. The more extreme radicals were against this: they preferred separate schools for black children, under black control. some delegates also argued that black children suffer more than whites from the violence that has sometimes accompanied "bussing". But, according to Mayor Hatcher, most black people now see that bussing is a necessity:
Most of those who are disappointed with the progress in implementing the Black Agenda consider the main reason is that blacks have relatively little political power. The agenda called for fifteen black senators by now -- but there is still only one, as there was in 1972 -- Senator Edward Brooke of Massachusetts.
The number of black Representatives in Congress has also fallen far behind the target but at state and local level, things have improved, from the black point of view. There are now about 3,500 black elected officials there, an increase over the past four years of about sixty per cent. And a number of important cities with a big black population have black mayors.
Phil Smith is a columnist for a black newspaper in Chicago. He was a delegate at the Convention, and is Convinced that it should have concentrated more on affairs at local level:
The President of the national Black Assembly, Ron Daniels, Says there is nothing wrong with the Agenda. The problem is to get enough people of power and influence to support it. and he points out that this does not mean just politicians.