Democrats, It's Time to Sober Up

"Keep us forever in the path, we pray...Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee," wrote James W. Johnson in "Lift every Voice and Sing," the Black National Anthem.

Now is a time of great celebration for the Democratic Party. But drunk upon our victories, we must not forget what all this winning is truly for.

For years Democratic candidates have courted the black community with promises, have played upon our fears of Republican rule. And it worked. In this election alone, we invested more than 90 percent of our vote in the Democrats.

And we would like to see some returns.

But signs that this will actually happen look bleak. In a Senate that as of this past June employed only 6 percent racial minorities, I find it unlikely that the concerns of the black community will be heard or met. In America right now, 55 percent of those dying of AIDS are African-American men, women and children, but the incoming House Majority's agenda does not even directly address the problem.

In urgent times like these, promises cannot stay promises. We need action to address the substantive issues of our community. Now. How can it happen? How can the Democratic Party show us that we have not foolishly squandered our vote? That it is interested, not in any more paternalism, but in real opportunity? To start off, there needs to be a true effort to bring people of color into the fold.

In the House, there are 22 members of the Congressional Black Caucus poised to take Committee and Subcommittee Chairmanships in the 110th Congress. Five members have a chance to preside over prominent Committees: Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald and the House Administration Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson and the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Alcee Hastings and the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. John Conyers and the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Charles Rangel and House Ways and Means. If, as their seniority and talent should dictate, they take the helm of these bodies, they will hold a great deal of legislative power.

But first they have to be appointed.

Subcommittee appointments are just as vital. Like with Full Committees, leaders of these entities also set agendas, conduct hearings, hire and manage Subcommittee staff, and coordinate deliberations on bills. In some of the most important of the 17 roles: Rep. Elijah Cummings could take over the Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources Subcommittee; Rep. Maxine Waters could helm the influential Subcommittee on Financial Institutions and Consumer Credit, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton could head the Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management Subcommittee.

I'm not just talking about elected officials. There needs to be an emphasis on ethnic, racial, and gender diversity in staff positions in both the House and Senate. Right now, there is not one black Chief of Staff in the Senate, and the number of African Americans in senior committee or personal office legislative positions is appallingly low.

This affects all of Washington. It is from these posts that agency candidates are found, that government contractors and lobbyists are found. Of the approximately 29,700 registered lobbyists, a Washington trade association for black lobbyists only holds about 200 people in its database. Lobbying obviously needs to be cleaned up, but it is integral to our government's process. And the dearth of black lobbyists is evidence that racial minorities are still - in the year 2006, more than 40 years after the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King's revered speech - not a valued or integrated part of the U.S. Government.

Ground has just been broken in Washington, D.C., to start a monument for Dr. King. This is laudable, but we must make sure that we do not allow the government to simply build monuments. The greatest tribute to Dr. King, is a government in which the faces reflect the true makeup of America.

I challenge the Democratic Party to diversify our government - not as some intangible beast, but to each individual Member of Congress.

As Mr. Johnson sang, only working together can we, "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us, Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us; Facing the rising sun of our new day begun, Let us march on till victory is won."