This week’s segment of Washington Watch’s What’s The Ask features Ryan Mack, activist and president of Optimum Capital Management; Janaye Ingram, D.C. bureau chief of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor at Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland and David Johns IMPACT director and former senior senate staffer.
What should we ask politicians who are running for office to do in order to earn our vote?
MR. MARTIN: Welcome back the “Emerging Leaders Town Hall Meeting: The Evolution of Politics and Empowerment” here at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation ALC. This is “The Evolution of Politics and Empowerment” coming to you from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the nation’s capital.
All right, folks. There’s a segment that we launched on the show last season. It is called “What’s the Ask?” and we did that because we felt it was important for African-Americans to make it clear what it is we want to get from our political leaders from Pres. Barack Obama to Mitt Romney to the other candidates running for congressional office, as well as statehouses as well as local races.
And so we[’ve] got a great panel right here to talk about that, and so I want to bring them up right now. First up on our panel – and trust me. They’re not going to be shy. First up, Ryan Mack. He’s an economic activist and president of Optimum Capital Management. Janaye Ingram, D.C. bureau chief of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network; a brutha who thinks he can out-dress me, but never can –
OFF CAMERA: [Laughs.]
MR. MARTIN: — the Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor at Empowerment Temple AME Church in Baltimore, Maryland. No Kappa can out-dress an Alpha!
MR. MARTIN: And David Johns –
[AUDIENCE LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE.]
MR. MARTIN: — IMPACT director and former senior se- — [chuckles] – former senior senate staffer.
Folks, welcome to the show.
PANEL: Thank you.
MR. MARTIN: Come on, Jamal. You know I – you know – we go there – go there all the time.
REV. JAMAL BRYANT: No, you – you did good today.
MR. MARTIN: Okay. Look at –
MR. MARTIN: — see? [Chuckles.]
REV. BRYANT: [Chuckles.]
MR. MARTIN: And last time. And last time.
MR. MARTIN: Let’s get right to it.
We – we hear a number of different folks out there – whether they are gay, whether they are Latino, whether they are elderly – a lot of constituents, they make it clear, “This is what we want from the candidates.” One of the things that I’ve seen in – and we’ve talked about this beforehand. A lot of A- — a lot of African-Americans on the presidential side, they say, “Hey, we don’t really want to ask for stuff. The brutha already got it too tough, and so let’s wait for the second term.”
The reality is we should always make it clear in an election year what are our issues, what we want to see accomplished. And so, Ryan, I want to start with you in terms of what’s your ask. What do you want from this president – or Mitt Romney – if one of them [is] elected, and also from other leaders as well? So, what do you want to see happen?
MR. RYAN MACK: Well, first of all, I always like to make sure that, whenever I’m looking at a politician, as opposed to them trying to be something, I want them to do something. And we’ve seen a lot of folks who will chase cameras and try to get the attention, even on a local level which, by far, are more the important elections, because they have more of a direct impact on you. But what are you actually going to do?
So, as – as far as Barack Obama’s concerned, I’m a Barack Obama advocate, and I’m a huge fan; but, again, I’m a progressive. And I’m a Democrat, so I want to continue to pressure him. Again, I – I was upset when I didn’t get the public option. I want to press him to get that public option. In terms of im- — immigration reform, it’s not enough for him to say that he was upset he didn’t get it. How much are we going to pressure him to be able to get it?
In terms of jobs programs, in terms of different things that allows individuals to actually get back to work and putting more things in terms of – yes, the American Jobs Act is there. It was held up, but how are you going to get beyond this obstruction? These are the type[s] of things I’d like sure we can try to pressure him to get.
MR. MARTIN: Anybody else? Jump in.
MS. JANAYE INGRAM: Yeah. I was just going to say I – I want to make sure that we make clear that it’s not just an election year that we are focusing on this. We have an obligation to hold all of our politicians – whether it be the President, whether it be our governor, our mayor, our city council person –
MR. MARTIN: Right.
MS. INGRAM: — to whatever they said that they were going to do. And we have to make sure that we follow through on a continuing basis.
But aside from jobs and the things that Ryan’s mentioned, I think when you look at sentencing disparities between African-Americans and other racial groups, that’s something that we at National Action Network are focusing a lot on, and it is something that we should be paying attention to.
MR. MARTIN: And, actually, to that point, Janaye, I was talking to a couple of civil rights leaders; and they said that when it comes to sentencing reform, they have gotten more cooperation from Republican governors than they have from Democratic governors. And the reason I’m making that point is that when we talk about “What’s the Ask?” for African-Americans, who obviously vote overwhelmingly Democrat, we always seem to only think about one side of the aisle. But the reality is if the other – if the opposition wins, you still need to ask them for something as well.
MS. INGRAM: And this speaks to civic engagement. I think being in- — informed about what’s going on in Washington, or in your state capital, in – or in your town – it makes all of the difference. And, I think, knowing what pe- — how people stand on certain issues is something that we don’t do enough of.
REV. BRYANT: Roland, we’re here at the Congressional Black Caucus, and thousands have come from across the country. There’s no way this will be a Jewish caucus and Israel not be on the agenda. We cannot have, in any consciousness, a Congressional Black Caucus and not promote Africa. If Israel gets seven times the funding of the entire continent of Africa, which is the wealthiest resource-based land on the entire planet, and African-Americans only want to be Black during Black History Month, there’s a disconnect.
REV. BRYANT: And so I think Africa has to be higher on our agenda.
MR. DAVID JOHNS: [Crosstalk] – you said, “What’s the ask?” Anybody who knows me knows that my “ask” is to teach the babies.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yeah!
MR. JOHNS: Right? We know the importance of education. A lot of us are here and have gotten the – enjoyed some of the opportunities that we’ve been blessed to achieve because of a high-quality education. It’s something that starts at birth, and the preparation starts well before birth, and the fact of the matter is – is that in our community, African-Americans start kindergarten well behind where they should be.
MR. MARTIN: But – but –
MR. JOHNS: We don’t have –
MR. MARTIN: — when you talk about –
MR. JOHNS: — access to high-quality –
MR. MARTIN: — education –
MR. JOHNS: — early learning –
MR. MARTIN: — though, what specifically are we talking about – because, again, education is broad. And so I’m saying, “What are pushing specifically that you can hold someone accountable to?”
OFF CAMERA: Right.
MR. MARTIN: Is it one piece of legislation? Is it – is it Head Start? Is it early childhood development programs? What specifically?
MR. JOHNS: It’s C. It’s all of the above. We have to have a – a – an approach to education that’s comprehensive; that, again, starts before birth, that continues until people enter college or a career. Especially in our community, we need to invest more in early childhood education.