The spoken words of “Mama” Brenda Matthews at the recent Kwanzaa event held at Austin Town Hall last Friday, hosted by the Austin African-American Business Networking Association rings true as Austin is about to embark upon a new season of political elections. Mama Brenda said somebody better feel something, somebody better say something, and somebody better do something about the conditions existing in this community before it is too late.
These three challenges offer a litmus test to judge political leaders by on election day. Another concept that should be added to the test was presented by Reverend Gregory Livingston who called for the attainment of power through financial wealth. The Austin electorate should ask this question on election day: “Has the person you are about to vote for acted in a manner consistent with the acquisition of power and financial wealth for this community?”
The 7th Congressional District was originally configured to assist African Americans in achieving political ascendancy and representation. If the process had followed the natural course of events, this should have resulted in political and financial empowerment for residents of the 24th, 27th, 28th, 29th and 37th wards. Instead, Lawndale and Garfield have remained the poorest areas in the state of Illinois, and Austin remains one of the most troubled.
Congressman Danny Davis of the 7th Congressional Distinct came into power with many believing that he would turn things around and begin a new era of revitalization and hope. As he moves closer to being re-elected it is not clear whether he feels the pulse of the black community. Nor does he speak out in a way that truly articulates the needs and desires of African-American people. Finally, one cannot say emphatically that he desires a positive, meaningful and concrete impact in the Austin community.
This is not to say that Davis has not been busy. He has either authored or been a part of H.R. 1199, the prescription drug discount act, an act to allow social security benefits for attendant services, employee rights for the Department of Defense, the Ex-Offender Act, the Sickle Cell Treatment Act (which was signed by the president) and more.
However, a review of his legislative activity does not demonstrate a clear impact on the 7th Congressional District or, specifically, the Austin community. Should a legislator be held to a standard that requires him or her to demonstrate they have met the needs of their constituents? The answer is yes. Unfortunately, Austin residents historically have refused to hold elected officials accountable based on the “What have you done for me lately?” standard.
This, despite the fact that Austin’s needs were not being met. In fact the part of the 7th Congressional District that includes Austin, Garfield and Lawndale, have many needs. It is clear, however, that jobs, housing and business development have ranked at the top of the list for the past four decades. In the Austin community, the need to revitalize the business strips, develop jobs for ex-offenders, and meet the housing concerns of residents is paramount.
It is imperative that Austin’s electorate change their ways this year and hold Congressman Davis and others accountable for their activities while in public office. Demand that he do more than host a parade, Christmas dinner and media events for ex-offenders. Austin needs millions of dollars from the federal government as well as new and innovative solutions to the problem of a large population of ex-offenders and single-parent households.
In his latest Congressional Report (December 2005) Davis mentions a host of legislative activities but fails to show how they will impact the Austin community. And in his list of requested projects, representing millions of dollars, not a dime was allocated for Austin.
Kanye West is famous for his words “Bush don’t like black people.” Maybe his constituents should ask whether Congressman Davis likes Austin?