Voices From Smiley's Black Agenda Summit
Thousands gathered in Chicago and got fired up, but did they leave with an action plan?
Over 5,000 people battled heavy snow and frigid temperatures to attend the event (The Root carried the live UStream of the event, which had about 1,000 participants). The Baptist preacher-like inflections of some of the panelists and shouts of "amen" from the rafters made the rally feel like Sunday morning church service. It lasted about as long, too--around four hours.
Donnell Sanderfer, 59, an attendee from Phoenix, Ill., south of Chicago, was one of the people shouting from the rafters as panelists urged President Obama to do more for blacks. He voted for him in 2008, but now Sanderfer expresses buyer's remorse.
"I voted for him, and I would fight you if you said you weren't going to vote for him,'' Sanderfer said. "I'm not going to be happy if things stay the same. The economy is getting worse and black people are suffering. I'm suffering. The president is afraid if he helps black people he's going to be called a racist. But do white people care about us? White people don't care.''
Sanderfer's was a point that was echoed throughout the day from panelists and attendees alike. But all African Americans do not agree that President Obama should do more for blacks. Obama does not agree either. He has argued that the economic job and stimulus programs he has put into motion will help everyone. The president's response and that of other black leaders defending his approach spurred Smiley to convene the panel.
Farrakhan, the controversial leader of the Nation of Islam, acknowledged during the discussion that he had kept a low profile and avoided speaking out during Obama's presidential campaign so as not to damage the candidate's chances during the racially charged contest. He argued that because 97 percent African Americans voted for Obama, the president should pay attention to the needs of the black community.
"I think he's brilliant and has fresh ideas, but I was under no illusion that if he became president, he could change black suffering,'' Farrakhan said. "When you sit in that seat ... you feel the forces that surround power ... President Obama does not run this country. He has been chosen to run white affairs ... If we get something, it's because we organized and forced the government to speak to our needs.''