By: James Ball – Washington Post
Michelle Obama used a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation on Saturday night to urge delegates to register voters and encourage African Americans to turn out in November’s election.
Speaking in Washington at the foundation’s annual Phoenix dinner, the first lady likened turning out the vote to the civil rights struggles of previous eras.
“Make no mistake about it, this is the march of our time,” Obama told the audience at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “Marching door-to-door registering people to vote, marching everyone you know to the polls every single election.” That effort, she said, “is the movement of our era — protecting that fundamental right, not just for this election but for the next generation and generations to come.”
Another panelist who disagreed with Obama explained why she would not let her view change her support for him. The Rev. Mankekolo Mahlangu-Ngcobo said that “even though I was not in favor of what the president has said,” she supported Obama “because as an African immigrant, his immigration policy is what I can support. I am an educator — his education platform is what I can support. I am in health care, and his health-care — Obamacare — he really cares.”
Jesse L. Jackson, by contrast, said that he supported same-sex marriage but that he could not see why the issue had gained prominence.
“I support the proposition. I cannot put it on the front of the line,” he told the assembled delegates. “Don’t win the same-sex debate and lose the right to a house, health and education.”
This was a view echoed in remarks from the Rev. S. Todd Yeary of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, who said the issue was being used as a wedge to divide black voters.
“David slew Goliath with five stones,” he said. “We’ve got to decide when we’re going to stop stoning one another for the issues we really don’t all understand.”
The final day of the 42nd conference opened with the caucus’s annual prayer breakfast, addressed by Noel Jones, pastor of the City of Refuge Church in Gardena, Calif., who preached that God alone empowers people to make a difference in someone else’s life.
“We are living in a time when we as African Americans have given everybody else the rights to our lives because we believe that we need everybody to make our lives work,” Jones said in an interview after his sermon. “At the end of the day, we are responsible for whatever happens in our lives to make our lives work.”
With the November election only weeks away, the Rev. Barbara Williams Skinner reminded people in her prayer that lawmakers represent those who have no voice. She prayed for the children for whom “nobody checks their homework, nobody looks at their report card, nobody cares whether they come home or not.”
Drawing applause more than a dozen times during her speech later that evening, Michelle Obama’s remarks fared better than the president’s did at the same event last year.
Calling on the caucus to back his jobs bill, the president urged the audience in 2011 to “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes” and support him, comments that were not well received by some present.
Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.