Gary Convention Might Sharpen Democrats’ Focus
By: George E. Curry
Originally posted 8/16/2005
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – George L. Brown has been the kind of Democrat the Party has always been able to rely on. Fifty years ago, he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. A year later, he won the first of five terms as a state senator. And in 1974, he became Lieutenant Governor, the first African-American elected to that post in the nation’s history. In 1972, he co-chaired the Party’s credentials committee with the late U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan (D-Texas.)
“I’ve been a Democrat for a long time and I don’t see a lot of hope in the Republican Party,” he says in an interview. “But I am getting to the point where I don’t see a whole lot of hope in the Democrats.”
That’s why he is co-chairing the National Black Peoples Unity Convention next March 9-12 in Gary, Indiana. He is co-chair of the convention with former Gary Mayor Richard Hatcher. They were part of the team that put together a similar Gary gathering in 1972.
“You can’t ignore the fact that the underlining accomplishment of Gary was that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, to a lesser degree, changed after Gary in terms of access,” says Hatcher. “Up to that point, Blacks did not serve on committees, very few Black delegates went to national conventions. The role of Blacks within the Party was extremely restricted. After Gary, a lot of that changed.”
So did the political landscape, according to Brown.
He ticks off a list of Black office-holders: One Black U.S. Senator, 43 members of Congress, 168 Black state Senators, nearly 400 Black state Representatives and more than 9,000 locally-elected officials.
“All of those, if you want to be truthful about it, came as a result of Gary,” Hatcher says. “One of our purposes was to increase our political power.” Even in political circles, problems still remain, says Hatcher.
“We have seen an increase in the number of elected officials in the country, but our issues have moved to the backburner,” he explains. “So, while we have a greater presence as elected officials, our people are still suffering.”
He says next year’s agenda will be expanded.
”The one will have more than political power on the table,” he explains. “We’re certainly going after economic empowerment because that underlies everything. And we’re not going to stop at Gary [convention].”
Of course, they said that in 1972. The plan was to meet every two years. But that ended in 1976. Both Brown and Hatcher attribute that to an overemphasis on long-range goals.
Hatcher says it is a mistake for Democrats to presume that African-Americans will continue to turn out for them unless they have a clear message of inclusion.
“There is an alternative and I’ve seen that alternative for the last 20 or 25 years – declining votes, “Hatcher states. “If Blacks had come out in the numbers that they potentially have, Bush would not be president. From that point of view, that’s the alternative.”
He quickly adds, “We’re not advocating declining participation. There ought to be more participation. But it ought to be on a quality basis.”
And so far, that’s lacking, in Hatcher’s view.
“The biggest knock on the Democrats is they don’t have a message,” he says. “One of the reasons Democrats don’t have a message is because those issues that are important to people of color are also important to the country. They [Democrats] have chosen to turn their backs on many of those issues. The Republicans always turned their backs on those issues.”
Unlike 1972 when there were delegates, next year, anyone who registers for the convention can participate.
And George Brown thinks the convention can have a profound impact on Democrats, who receive more than 80 percent of the Black vote in every election.
“We got to come out of Gary with a voice that is loud and clear,” Brown says “We can get a voice strong enough for them to listen. They’re already losing everything they try.”