The majority of the Black political establishment, which has closed ranks behind Hillary, has also closed down public debate on which candidacyâ€”Obamaâ€™s or Hillaryâ€™sâ€”makes the most sense for Black voters to support.
We are here today at the Apollo Theatre, a site with a long and deep history in Black culture, commerce and politics.
The Committee for a Harlem Debate Between Clinton and Obama will be marching in Sunday’s African American Day Parade to build the public call for a forum at the Apollo Theatre, a forum where two Democratic presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton—can lay out their vision for the empowerment of our community.
The call for this forum grows out of an absence of political dialogue in the Black community about the options we have. How did this lack of dialogue and debate occur? It is not due to lack of interest on the part of the Black community. I have spent the last few weeks talking with ordinary voters—at churches like Abyssinian Baptist Church and the Greater Allen AME Cathedral of New York and the St. Paul Community Baptist Church, and at Harlem Week and street fairs across the city.
Everywhere I go, Black people tell me they wish they could be exposed to a direct conversation between Obama and Clinton and they are surprised at the lack of engaged discussion in their own community.
But, in spite of this level of public interest, the majority of the Black political establishment, which has closed ranks behind Hillary, has also closed down public debate on which candidacy—Obama’s or Hillary’s—makes the most sense for Black voters to support.
Let me be very clear here. I have not endorsed Obama’s presidential campaign. Moreover, I am an independent and therefore not a voter in the New York Democratic presidential primary on February 5, 2008. But I am a political leader and I am concerned that the Democratic Party—including major Black Democrats—have shut down public discussion of critical issues affecting the Black community.
When Jesse Jackson ran for the presidency there were constant conversations in the Black community about the Jackson option. At every church, on every campus, in every Black media outlet, Black people talked about which candidate best represented our interests. In 2000, Al Gore and Bill Bradley were both invited to sit on the stage here at the Apollo and speak to their vision for Harlem and for Black America.
The question—Is it “Hillary’s time” or do we have the opportunity to elect a Black president and to “turn the page” —is thrashed out from the barbershop to the barbecue in black communities around the country. But in New York there is a strange silence.
Hillary’s endorsement rally in May at the state capitol with 400 lawmakers was a show of force intended to intimidate any wayward politicians, church leaders, and ordinary Black citizens and to prevent them from even considering an Obama option. This is a very unhealthy situation, particularly at a moment when there is a viable Black presidential candidate who has raised over $50 million.
This is why the Committee for a Harlem Debate Between Clinton and Obama is marching in the African American Day Parade on Sunday. Our contingent will be wearing these tee-shirts—which asks for a public accounting of “Who Decided Hillary Is Best for the Black Community.”
We will be conducting a survey of the crowd asking whether they feel the public dialogue and discussion about the presidential options have been sufficient.
Meanwhile, we continue to call for a forum at the Apollo where Senator Clinton and Senator Obama discuss the issue of how to expand Black political empowerment. The choice should be up to the voters, not to the politicians. That’s why our T-shirts also say, “Let the People Decide.”
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