By Caryn Freeman
President Obamas speech Saturday night at the Congressional Black Caucus Phoenix Awards dinner was a call to action for the black community. The President probed the crowd to press on in the face of adversity. He asked the jam-packed crow of three thousand gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to share in his fight against the Republicans and help him get working class American’s back on their feet. “Take off your bedroom slippers. Put on your marching shoes…. “Shake it off. Stop complainin’. Stop grumblin’. Stop cryin’. We are going to press on. We have work to do.” He reminded the audience that progress often takes time and the struggle for success has never been a straight line. “When it looked like we couldn’t find a way we’ve always found a way. We know the rightness of our cause, we know our cause is just,” he said. “The future rewards those who press on.” He encouraged the audience to become entrepreneurs and job creators. “I want you go out and start a business, build something.”
Hosted by local news anchor Maureen Bunyan and actor Hill Harper, a former Harvard classmate of the president. This year’s black tie ceremony honored EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson for her attention to environmental health impacts on the poor through the agency, boxer and entrepreneur George Foreman for his Houston-based ministry and youth charity work, civil rights leader and Southern Christian Leadership Conference founder Joseph Lowery for his lifelong commitment to justice, and Georgia Congressman John Lewis for his bravery in SNCC and the Freedom Rides during the 1960s.
After the speech, several CBC members said they were pleased with the message. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Maryland, said it was a "call to action." She said both sides of the aisle know where the battle lines are drawn on the issues and that complaining about that will not accomplish anything, members must fight for what they want. "He showed he's going to fight," she said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the president "took his gloves off" and that it was the right approach. "This is the first day of the beginning of a season of pressure" on Republicans in Congress, she said. "I think that this is now, for his own sake, a sense of reckoning that although his temperament as president of the United States for everybody – is to include everyone – there's a time now that the marching has to begin, because he's got to save this country and we're willing to save it with him."
Rep. Greg Meeks, D-New York, said it was important to see the president transition from governing mode to campaign mode and that he must keep the pressure on Congress, travel to districts where people are hurting and show them that he feels their pain. "He needs to fire up the base and that's what tonight will do," Meeks said
With campaign season fast approaching the president’s speech looks like an effort to galvanize the African American voting block while pulling the community out of despondency of high unemployment rates. The president needs the black community to turn out in record numbers as they did in 2008 to insure his presidency will continue to a second term. Independent voters dismayed by the economy may not come out and support the president as they did in the last election. Without widespread voter turnout among blacks and Hispanics the president will have a difficult time regaining the White House in 2012.