To be clear, while black America has spoken definitively, there is a clear split among black elected officials. Reps. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Eleanor Holmes Norton have made strong statements encouraging their colleagues to let the people’s voice carry and Reps. John Conyers, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee and David Scott have actively lobbied other black delegates to put aside their preferences and listen to the overwhelming chorus rising out of their districts.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus should, indeed, be able to support, and even endorse, whomever they please. But when it comes time to cast their ballot as a superdelegate they must use that power to amplify, not silence the voters in their districts and across the country. Many black electeds, closely tied to the political apparatus of both Clintons, have been shocked by the turn this election has taken. But they fail to realize that the question being raised across the country is not about which candidate they support, but to whom they are accountable. A ColorOfChange.org member writing to CBC members on this issue perhaps said it best:
Please remember that your job as a Congressperson depends on your respect and acknowledgement of your constituency. A vote against our chosen candidate will surely become a vote against your re-election.
Endorse who you want, the logic goes, but cast your vote with the people who put you in office.
That letter was sent along with more than 20,000 others to the CBC this week from voters in each of their districts asking the members to honor their votes and make clear they will stand with voters as a superdelegate. It’s a simple ask, but it’s been aggressively rejected by representatives stumping hard for Senator Clinton. In response to a question on CNN last week about how she would vote should her district go for Obama in the March 4 primary, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee of Texas made a passionate plea in support of Clinton adding, “the throngs of people voting one way or another should not impact [my decision as a superdelegate]”. It’s an inappropriate response for an official who serves at the will at the people, and particularly one whose official power is predicated upon protecting the voice of black people at the polls.
In this moment, with black America nearly unified on an issue of national importance, the CBC and its members must act boldly and speak in unison. Allegiances and friendships are a part of politics, but with the stakes this high, choosing politics over a democratic process will push people out of the party, discourage the many new voters who have come to the polls in this election and undermine the CBC’s credibility on voting rights. Taking a position to stand with voters, not against them will take real political courage; we can’t afford to settle for anything less.