What We Should Really Be Talking About During CBC Weekend
Too often, the focus is on partying with people in suits rather than real political engagement. It's time to put the "conference" back in the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference.
I'm not talking about those of you who compulsively found nonprofits, run for city council and mentor six students, one of whom you plan to foster-to-adopt. I'm specifically excluding my four acquaintances who have actually RSVP'd for the CBCF-ALC's Emerging Leaders Town Hall program.
I'm talking about those of us who have gradually replaced the not-so-sexy side of participation with cushy after-work affairs, like the one I recently attended in support of a mayoral candidate where 1) no money was charged or collected to support the campaign; 2) complimentary glasses of white sangria and shots of Remy were distributed to the crowd; and 3) the brief remarks were squeezed between serving of bruschetta and chicken wings to an audience too chatty from aforementioned free adult beverages to pay much attention. I didn't disagree when it was suggested to me that "the event" would have been more appropriately called "the club."
At another function for a California politician at a swank Georgetown lounge, the guest of honor closed her remarks by gently chiding "supporters" for the fact that many of us did not know anything about her and had simply shown up on the off chance that we might meet our future spouse that evening. The crowd laughed knowingly. It was true -- half the people there couldn't pronounce the candidate's name with the proper emphasis. But my roommate left with three phone numbers.
Mornings after these occasions, we get ego-inflating "Thank you for coming out" e-mails that make it feel almost as though we did something more heroic than sign the sheet, slap on a name tag, remember to tip the bartender, and maybe write a check barely covering food and drink consumed.
My fellow reception hoppers and I do have the capacity to do more. We did it during the Obama campaign, when the pure exhilaration of the whole thing made knocking on doors in the suburbs or phone banking at a stranger's home more compelling than mingling in a dark lounge. With guests high on hope and change, the conversations at debate parties were naturally on-topic.
We're not going to have another first black president, so what will it take to draw us back into the important drudgery of political engagement, both formal and informal -- following and debating the issues, making phone calls, and gluing ourselves to C-SPAN tapings of panels and town halls as if they're the Superbowl?
"Put the conference back in CBCF-ALC" doesn't have the same ring as "put the Christ back in Christmas." Nevertheless, we would do well -- for our own personal reasons and for the issues that motivate to us -- to remind ourselves to include some substance with all the style, this week and beyond.
When my future children ask what I was doing during what's known as one of the most important gatherings of African-American leaders in the nation, I don't want to say I was holding a seat for a friend at the bar. So I'm going to take another look at the schedule, this time focusing on the events that occur while the sun is up. Now, to find an outfit ...
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a regular contributor to The Root.