By Lauren Victoria Burke
“Where do I start? How about undefinable frustration? It seems we can’t even catch our breath from our first tragedy before being hit by another gut-punch from a second, third, and fourth. The names Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice – and countless more. Too many more. That is the brutal truth – as brutal as the tactics employed with stunning regularity by some who are sworn to protect us.”
Those were the words delivered by Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) in Ferguson on January 18 at Wellspring United Methodist Church. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) had traveled to the hotspot in Missouri and Carson, who at 40 is the second youngest member of the CBC, took center stage as the keynote speaker.
“I come today with the Congressional Black Caucus because you ignited a flame,” he told the crowd. “You showed the world the cancer in Ferguson that continues to plague so many communities across our country.”
In addition to Carson, two other members of the Black Caucus spoke in Ferguson the day before the MLK Holiday: Chairman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), and Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO) whose district includes Ferguson. In all, 10 CBC members were in attendance. While the service was underway, a group of Ferguson activists were protesting at restaurants for their #BlackBrunchSTL direct action. In all, 1 young activists met with the Black Caucus members.
“I talked to some brilliant young activists. They expressed their frustration with the challenges with the older generation. It’s a universal gripe that everyone has when we’re younger. They say: ‘The old people should step aside and let us take over.’ But where are you taking us? What is the action plan? Where are we going? Yes, we see your brilliance but do you have the heart of a surgeon,” Carson told the packed church.
That question has become the million-dollar question: What is the plan? What do the leaders who have come out of the Ferguson movement want to push in terms of police and what is their strategy? So, far many of the new groups formed in the wake of Ferguson have been detailed about their demands. However, there has been less detail on how to get those demands implemented.
Carson also focused on the key issue of getting out the vote in a town where voting participation is down.
He said, “There are many ways that we can serve and contribute to society. But in Ferguson I humbly submit to you that there is one act that stands out clearly at this time and that is us leveraging out voting block and exercising our right to vote.”
That the message in Ferguson was delivered by one of the Black Caucus’ youngest members was noteworthy. The Black Caucus often operates on seniority. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) is now the oldest member of the U.S. House. He will turn 86 in May. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) will turn 85 on June 11. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC), who is a member of the House leadership, is 74. The Black Caucus has 12 members over the age of 69.
The CBC has five members who were born in the 1970s: Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), 44, Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), 43, Rep Cedric Richmond (D-La), 41, and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) who is 39. Another African American member of Congress, freshman Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), is the youngest Black member of Congress at 37.
Other members who took the trip to Ferguson were Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Jim Clyburn (D-SC), Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) and Don Payne (D-NJ).
With all the talk in the wake of Ferguson of “old leadership vs. new young activism,” Carson may have scored a breakthrough. Photos from the dinner meeting activists had with the Black Caucus showed the Congressman with young protesters Johnetta Elzie and Deray McKesson. Both Elzie and McKesson have been active and on the scene in Ferguson since last August after Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager was shot eight times by Darren Wilson, a White Ferguson police officer.
A St. Louis County grand jury refused to indict Wilson in connection with Brown’s death.
“We are here to support and encourage you to continue by engaging in the political process,” Carson said. “You have the power to determine the outcome of your mayor, school board, sheriff, and city council. The world is watching Ferguson – and Ferguson will always have the full force and power of the CBC, the conscious of the U.S. Congress as allies.”
Lauren Victoria Burke is a freelance writer and creator of the blog Crewof42.com, which covers African American members of Congress. She Burke appears regularly on “NewsOneNow with Roland Martin” and on WHUR FM, 900 AM WURD. She worked previously at USA Today and ABC News. She can be reached through her website, laurenvictoriaburke.com, or Twitter @Crewof42 or by e-mail at LBurke007@gmail.com.