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Presidential campaign faces same issues as 1972 Convention

By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III
On July 7, 2015

Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III( – “Our cities are crime-haunted dying grounds. Huge sectors of our youth -- and countless others -- face permanent unemployment. Those of us who work find our paychecks able to purchase less and less. Neither the courts nor the prisons contribute to anything resembling justice or reformation. …”

THE BLACK AGENDA - The Gary Declaration: Black Politics at the Crossroads 1972

In March of 1972, several thousand African Americans convened in Gary, Indiana for the Black Political Convention, also known as the Gary Convention. 

As the 2016 presidential campaign season begins, Americans of all classes, ethnicities and backgrounds find themselves confronted with the same problems articulated in Gary in 1972.

To highlight just a few issues, American citizens are grappling with high unemployment, mass incarceration, ineffective public schools and an increase in prescription drug abuse that is fueling a rise in heroin addiction. 

According to Jim Clifton, chairman and CEO of Gallup, a 5.6 percent unemployment rate is “the Big Lie.” There are actually more than 30 million Americans unemployed or severely underemployed. That’s closer to 11 percent of the population, not the 5.6 percent being touted by the White House. The “official” unemployment rate for African Americans is 11.4 percent. If the actual national unemployment number is 11 percent, then the real number in the African-American community must be closer to 22 percent.

According to Clifton, small businesses in America are steadily dying. Extrajudicial police killings, the exportation of jobs, income disparity, home foreclosures and homelessness are a few other pressing issues.

What are the contenders for the 2016 presidential race saying? What solutions are being put on the table?

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 kick off speech was filled with the typical Democratic populist themes and very short on bold policy initiatives. However, she did not take a position on the TPP, the Keystone XL pipeline, new drilling in the Artic or extrajudicial police killings.

She praised her husband’s administration, but let’s not forget that he ushered in a rash of neoliberal policies. The 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill resulted in more African Americans being incarcerated in the history of this country, as well as the state withdrawing its support for social welfare programs.

For the Republicans, Jeb Bush has entered the 2016 presidential field. What he has so far failed to acknowledge is that it was his brother, former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Cheney and his minions that charted that course and set sail. 

According to Jeb, he’s his own man. But how can this be when his father is raising most of his money and so many of his key foreign policy advisors are the same people who so poorly advised his brother?

Grassroots organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Code Pink, Students Against Mass Incarceration (SAMI), Occupy Wall Street and Business for a Fair Minimum Wage need to convene in a city such as Newark, New Jersey under the leadership of a progressive mayor such as Ras Baraka. 

They need to develop a national strategy to change the dominant narrative and develop a progressive platform that addresses the real issues facing average Americans.

This coalition could take this platform to the Democrat and Republican conventions and demand a seat at the table, as Fannie Lou Hamer did with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1964.

Understanding that, neither of the major parties will allow a coalition of this type into their platform committee meetings; it’s about the process and effort.

It’s that a coalition of this type with a national strategy and platform could develop momentum, capture the imagination of progressive individuals and change the narrative in this country.

Where is progressive political leadership in America? Can the leadership in these progressive organizations put their egos aside, organize, coalesce around a substantive policy agenda and pressure the political establishment to respond to Main Street instead of Wall Street?

If not, it will be more of the same. The lesser of two evils is still evil.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the Sirius/XM Satellite radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon.” He can be reached at and 

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