Antoinette Nwandu

Blacks Demand Real Debate

The hype over Election 2000 that started during the primaries is growing by the hour. With the candidates turning to media savvy advisors to improve their public image and devise campaign strategies that rival Hollywood's public relations, there is as much blockbuster-style entertainment surrounding the race for president as there is actual discussion of issues. Often the message behind the bright lights gets lost.

Both George W. Bush and Al Gore have outlined their opinions on the usual host of issues, from foreign policy to the environment, tax cuts to improving education. But the sound bites and promises for a better tomorrow have left many community leaders, especially those in the black community, hungering for more. In Los Angeles, black leaders gathered a few days before the start of the Democratic National Convention to publicly challenge both candidates to talk about the issues that concern urban blacks.

Though presented in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention, the Independent Black Leaders message was intended as a wake-up call to all politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike. In fact, the group chose to gather independently to distance itself from false allegiance to either political party, it said.

While urban blacks will be affected by some issues addressed by the Democrats' and Republicans' platforms, issues like tax cuts and gun control, the parties do not address the unique concerns of urban blacks at all, the group says. Issues that have not been discussed by either candidate like racial profiling, failing urban health care, affirmative action, and reparations for those who suffer racial discrimination dominated the agenda for the meeting.

"The Democrats are going to do what the Democrats want to do," said Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a leader of the group who is the director of the National Alliance for Positive Action, and a columnist in the Crenshaw and South Central community section of the Los Angeles Times.

Ndaji Ali, a leading representative from Project Islamic Hope is more optimistic about the electoral power of blacks in the Democratic Party. "I think you have to look at who's participating ... some of LA's finest black community leaders. We are at the forefront of what's going on in the community. Ultimately they will have to pay attention," Ali said.

Other public forums addressing the unique concerns of urban blacks will take place throughout the week, including gatherings at the nearby University of Southern California and a "village fair" featuring Rev. Jesse Jackson in the heart of Leimert Park, a predominantly black neighborhood. But will the Democratic bigwigs, in Ali's words, "pay attention?" That remains to be seen.