It is hard to believe that just two years ago, many of us stood in the plaza in front of the Harlem State Office Building cheering and weeping for joy over the election of the first African-American president, Barack Obama. There is no other way to describe the feeling in the wake of the 2010 elections than terrible, especially for African-Americans in New York and nationally.
In New York State, we will no longer have an African-American governor, and with Democrats in danger of losing the State Senate that we only just won in 2008, leaders John Sampson of Brooklyn and Malcolm Smith of Queens, both African-American, could lose their posts.
Democrats retained all statewide offices and both U.S. senators with the help of African-American votes, but the situation we face in Albany, at a time when big budget cuts are set to be made, is dire.
The new U.S. Senate will have no African-American members, though it will keep a narrow Democratic majority. But the elections for the House of Representatives wiped out a tremendous amount of Black power. While there will be two Republican freshmen representatives, four African-American Democrats who held powerful committee chairmanships–including John Conyers of the Judiciary Committee–will now become the ranking minority members as right-wing Republicans take charge of all committees.
Our own Charlie Rangel had already stepped down as chairman of Ways and Means in response to a relentless attack on his ethics and integrity from the right that was dragged out by Republicans for more than two years so that it would still be news around election time. In the end, despite finding Congressman Rangel guilty of some sloppy bookkeeping, which he had already acknowledged, the prosecutor for the committee publicly stated that Mr. Rangel did nothing for personal gain and was not guilty of any corruption.
Around the country, Republicans now will control 30 of 50 governorships and the majority of state legislatures. This will give them the upper hand in drawing district lines for themselves and Congress based on the 2010 Census, helping them to solidify their power for the next decade. Some of that will be mitigated by the Voting Rights Act, requiring them to draw lines that do not dilute the voting power of people of color. But it still means things are likely to get worse electorally for us for a while.
All this is happening in the midst, and perhaps because of, the worst economic crisis that most of us can remember. And while most white Americans voted for a move to the right because unemployment is almost 10 percent, the unemployment figure is almost double that in the African-American community, which continued to vote for Democrats who are more likely to support measures that will ameliorate the damage to our people with things like extended unemployment benefits and health care reform.
President Obama, too, can stand up to the Republican-controlled House and veto some of the worst things that they are going to try to do. But unlike President Clinton after the midterm elections in 1994, President Obama will not be able to blame the entire Congress for obstructionism, since the Democrats maintain control of the Senate. That makes the outcome of the 2012 races for president and Congress even more uncertain.
We have a very tough road ahead and things will get worse before they get better. But we have absolutely no choice but to fight back and stand up for the things we believe in: living wage jobs, better education for our children, health care for all and equal justice.
Not all the races are resolved, but it looks as if we may very well lose the New York State Senate to the Republicans this year. I believe that we can turn that around in 2012, even with Republicans drawing the new district lines, because the Republican population of this state is disappearing fast.
Some of our Democrats lost this year because they turned down the endorsement of the Working Families Party. The Democrats running in 2012 understand that to win, they must stand with average working people.
We won’t win by trying to act like the Republicans we are trying to replace. The time to start fighting back is now.