Like most Americans, I am deeply concerned about the coronavirus and its devastating impact, particularly on the poor and on communities of color. At the same time, I kept tabs on the conclusion of this year’s historic presidential race as the votes came in from the Electoral College. I had no doubt that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would be victorious. My general impressions on the Electoral College is that the original constitutional purposes for it no longer exist. It’s abundantly clear that the nation has changed. The constitution is expansive enough to include many of the things that we never thought would happen. And I have confidence in the vote of the American people. As I said when I was in Congress, the Electoral College is an antiquated and obsolete system and it’s time to abolish it.
I am often asked if I miss being actively involved in the political arena where, as most of you know, I represented my district for more than 40 years. It is most distressing to see how the pandemic has altered so much of what we considered a relatively calm and normal life. Nearly every facet of our lives has been changed because of the virus and the situation is exacerbated by a president who has demonstrated very little regard for human life, very little respect for solid, scientific information.
And speaking of things I miss there is the passing of my good friend David Dinkins, and that leaves me the last of the Gang of Four. We presented a perception of unity that made it necessary for others seeking office or advice to deal with us on critical political issues. A similar assumption of unity prevailed when 13 of us created the Congressional Black Caucus. We had a closed meeting because various civil rights groups––the NAACP, the Urban League––were all waiting to see what we were going to do. That was something we had not fully thought out. We were 13 legislators trying to figure a way to maximize our vote to bring about change. Meanwhile, the other Democrats were scared as hell wondering what 13 Black legislators were up to.
I just hope that some unity can be achieved in the county government here and in Congress because if we were just talking to each other we could have a Reconstruction like never before. And you don’t need everybody; just the perception of unity can go a long way.
When it comes to Harlem, where I have spent most of my life, people want to know if I am optimistic about the community’s future, and will we recover from the pandemic. And coming out of this terrible period is of particular importance to our young people whose educational development has been temporarily sidetracked. Many of the problems we have had educating our children was not them, but the system. We have to try harder with the right programs and commitment, and we can do much better than we have in the past. But, having said that, so much depends on getting the vaccine and getting back on track to the championship form we here in Harlem have expressed during previous decades.
Now we hear that the vaccine is on the way, and at the same time that a good number of African Americans may be reluctant to be vaccinated. I am aware of these concerns and the reservations that Black Americans may have about getting inoculated given the experiments conducted on us in the past. To assure those people who may balk at getting the shots, they must be given the best information in order to convince them that it’s safe. We need at least 75 to 80% of the population vaccinated to reach herd immunity and this cannot occur without the participation of African Americans. When the test period is over I will be ready for my shot.
Meanwhile, as the holiday season continues, let me extend all my good wishes and that people take every precaution to protect themselves. Alma and I are blessed and faring pretty well. And when you consider what’s happening here and around the world, we are exceedingly grateful that the pandemic has not reached our door. I do believe that a better and brighter day is on its way.
Former Rep. Charles Rangel served as Harlem’s congressperson from 1971 to 2017; he was the second-longest serving incumbent member of the House of Representatives at the time of his retirement.