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It’s bittersweet being part of a group or organization.  From college fraternities to street gangs to labor unions to political parties, group membership requires that you act collectively at times.  If you get a flat tire in the middle of the night, you can call a brother but sometimes you will be getting up at 3:00a.m.  It’s part of the deal. 

On his birthday, President Obama spoke with the AFL-CIO about sticking with Democrats during the mid-term elections.  Without Big Labor’s money and members, the Democrats have little juice.  But, labor rightfully expects loyalty and their money has supported some Democrats who have no problem picking and choosing when to be team players. 

In the 90s, I was proud to be part of a party that looked like America.  From sea to shining sea, the Democrat Caucus in Congress was a hodgepodge. Like any family or group, we had disagreements but understood that once the decisions were made membership for the most part should circle the wagons.  As a congressional staffer, I enjoyed visiting friends in the office of Rep. Charlie Hayes of Illinois. Mr. Hayes had hands like the gloves soccer goalies wear and he had a gravely voice that made him the unofficial uncle to young Black staffers.  “Whose office are you in…the Peanut guy from Georgia…good man…he’s alright.”  Mr. Hayes had labor union coursing in his veins; he loved what unions did for his community in Chicago.  

Rep. Charles Hayes

During this congress, most Democrats have made some tough votes while a few sidestepped the rough stuff.  Let’s not be naïve: these carefully crafted actions were planned deep inside the DNC.  While members and candidates from both parties will flex and bend on issues to win in swing districts, old school gentlemen like Mr. Hayes would never let members enjoy considerable union support and openly slam major Democrat policies.  That would be too much. 

When conservative to moderate Democrats stand with other Democrats, it confirms that the general body of the party is basically respectable.  I am glad Mr. Hayes isn’t around to see what is happening now to a president from Chicago. 

The AFL-CIO still has big shoulders and will only take so much; it’s not the AFL-CIO M-O-U-S-E.  After budget and appropriations votes, the congress only makes a dozen or so major votes each year.  The stats we hear about “this guys votes with his party 97% of the time” is window-dressing.  The National Journal and Congressional Quarterly list the major votes in an unbiased way.  A member who votes against his party on those issues could be on his or her own in November. 

Members of fraternities, college sports team, Masonic groups, elite military teams or even street gangs don’t ask questions when they see a brother in a fight; they come in swinging.  If you hit one Navy Seal, you hit them all.  Actually, the political party situation is more complex with some thinking that conservative Democrats are voting the will of their districts while functioning “deep cover.” 

In our community’s history, the original deep cover was house slaves and friendly Whites. Recently, I rewatched Roots on you tube and the White friend of Tom Harvey “masterfully” play his part in the exodus of the family.  At one point, skeptical freedmen didn’t want him in the meetings and plans; he rightfully questioned his position also.  I had forgotten O.J. Simpson acting in Roots. 

I was glued to the T.V. when Juice broke the rushing record and disappointed when he broke ties with our community.  Oh, but the second he gets in the ultimate drama, he comes home.  Right. Watching Roots as an adult poses great questions about loyalty and group membership that reflects into the current political situation.  Burl Ives played a former Senator who reassured his friends that a system could be created to protect their way of life. 

To me, political power and positions will always be secondary to economic power and money—Booker T. Washington was right after all.  We can have a million college degrees and thousands of political titles in our community but money determines power.  An old coworker once said that at the end of the day and after the speeches, the powerful are those few at the table when the money is counted. 

In Roots, the exodus plan was foiled when Lloyd Bridges’ character wisely had some guys with guns follow behind him.  Chicken George thwarted their plan by coming behind the new guys with his guns.  Old Chicken George one up them and stated that you must have a second plan or option if your first plan is not working.  Our community needs to do the same thing politically and economically because times are changing and we must change also. 

Union jobs, teaching positions, military service and government jobs moved many Black families into the middle class.  Unions fought for better wages, benefits and safer workplaces.  At some point, they pushed so hard that labor cost forced some industries out of business or overseas.  A union lobbyist once told me that a third of the cost of a new car was the benefit package for the autoworker; there’s too much.  A teamster can sometimes make more for driving crops to market than the farmer made for actually growing the produce for months. Teachers’ unions battle for better compensation but fight moves to tight salaries to student achievement.  In their defense, many families are half-raising kids and these students aren’t prepared to sit down, be quiet and focus on learning.  These teens need to watch Roots with their parents to better understand how lucky they are and on those shoulders they stand.

Yes, we can have a frank and honest discussion about improving our community and the role of government.  But, we must also remember Mr. Charlie Hayes and others who taught that membership in a political party involves commitment and loyalty.  President Obama said he was tough and he must have been to grow up as the only brother around during most of his childhood.  As we prepare for the middle term election, he should let us know who is with him and who is about the “okey dokey” —to use his term; start naming names or let big labor do it. 

http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=69  Bio Rep. Charles Hayes

Warning: These videos include the N-Word and are better watched at home. 

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