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Maxine Waters Hosts Black Caucus Jobs Town Hall

Aaron Schrank |
August 31, 2011 | 9:40 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus hosted a community town hall Tuesday in South Los Angeles, the final stop on the group’s multi-city jobs initiative tour.

 Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) (Photo by Aaron Schrank)
Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) (Photo by Aaron Schrank)

The event, aimed at addressing the issue of high unemployment in economically distressed communities, drew a crowd that quickly outgrew the Crenshaw Christian Center auditorium. Over 200 attendees watched the proceedings from an overflow room. The tour recently generated controversy due to Waters’ statements about the Tea Party at a community summit in August, where she said the group "can go straight to hell.”

Waters and other members of the panel addressed the topic Tuesday. Waters cited the Tea Party as an example of a movement with grassroots power that can shape policy.

"When you first mentioned the Tea Party, I thought you were going to ask me to repeat where I told them to go," Waters said in response to a question from the moderator. "But, you’re right—why does such a small group of people have so much power? It’s because they decided to show up. Somehow we think that something is going to happen even if we don’t show up. That’s what they did—they organized. They invested in what they wanted to do. We come from a legacy of organizers. We’ve got to get up and show up."

Each of the five town halls has been coupled with a job fair. The caucus’ Los Angeles job fair, held Wednesday, will host over 170 employers on the Crenshaw Christian Center campus, according to event organizers. While the fair was mentioned at Tuesday’s event, most of the dialogue centered on public sector job creation and calling on elected officials to address the problems of low-income communities in a failing economy.

“We want a full employment bill, but we want more than that,” Rev. Jesse Jackson told the crowd. “We want the Hurricane Irene bill. …. We didn’t send to Vermont today a tax-reduction bill. We said, you need jobs, you need contracts and you need them now. We need the same thing. We’ve been in a Hurricane Irene of our own for a long time now.”

Rev. Jackson likened the Tea Party agenda to state’s rights philosophies used in the Civil War era. “This is the Fort Sumter party, distinguished from the Boston party,” Jackson said. “This is in the legend of Jeff Davis and Robert E. Lee.”

Mostly, the panelists discussed what mattered most to those in the crowd -- jobs.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who labeled the U.S. debt deal a "Satan sandwich" earlier this month, said that the median net worth for white families in the U.S. in 2009 was $113,000 and only $5,677 for black families, citing a July Pew Research Center report. He also compared the general unemployment rate of 9.1 percent to that of African Americans—16 percent, claiming that this number was actually “hovering somewhere around 30 percent.”

Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) went on to discuss inequity in the country and in its approach to economic crisis.

“Should the richest nation on the earth in the history of the world use its resources to clothe, feed and house its population, or should those resources be completely accessible for 1 percent of the population to do as they will and should we wait for this trickle down I’ve been waiting for 30 years?” Rep. Karen Bass asked the audience. “It’s pretty clear what the fight is in our country right now.”

Other ideas discussed by the panel included Waters’ proposed plan to bring offshore call centers back to America, the extension of unemployment benefits as an emergency measure and reducing barriers to launching small businesses.

Recording artist, actor and Watts native Tyrese Gibson made a surprise visit to the forum to perform the national anthem. “A lot of us don’t have money to be giving $100,000 to an organization that they believe in, but you all have information," Tyrese said. “Outside of money, I want to encourage everyone in this room to start having more conversations with the lost generation so we can help save our kids.”

Reach reporter Aaron Schrank here.



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