President Obama recently challenged members of the Congressional Black Caucus to stop crying and to remove their bedroom slippers. "We have work to do," he said. Obama is right. It is past time to take action to put Americans back to work. And an economic recovery plan must include rural America.
As I travel from small town to small town, I find many rural areas that are boarded up, virtually closed for business. At town hall meetings I have held for black farmers, I continue to hear the cries and pleas for help. The meeting location may change, but the plea for help is still the same.
Many black farmers (thousands? tens of thousands?) have already lost their farms. For nearly 30 years, I have fought for black farmers and other minority farmers battling race discrimination by their government. On Dec. 8, 2010, President Obama signed into law his administration's settlement of a lawsuit by black farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture for $1.25 billion, and I am proud to have led that effort. On the same bill was the Native American mineral rights "Cobell" case for more than $3.4 billion. The Obama administration went on to settle lawsuits by Hispanic and women farmers against USDA for $1.3 billion, as well as $800 million for the Native American Indian farmers.
These settlements will provide infusions for the poorest counties in the nation. In the case of the black farmers, most of the funds will go to the Mississippi delta area and other Southern states where poverty is abundant.
All of the farmers' lawsuits were settled under the leadership and direction of President Obama. It's something you rarely hear about. When President Bush was in the White House, I tried for eight years to resolve the discrimination cases of black and minority farmers against USDA — to no avail.
That's not to say black farmers did not have support from some Republican leaders, such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa. But overall, Republicans make it hard on themselves, and their actions help explain strong black loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Last week, Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain called black people brainwashed. Last month, Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann called black farmers frauds. When you have two presidential candidates who make those kinds of statements in 2011, it shows there still are class and racial divisions. As for Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry hunting in an area called Niggerhead, how offensive that is!
If Republicans want black support they can start with one simple gesture: Stop saying degrading and stupid things to and about black people. If Republicans want the support of everyday people, they simply can't refer to Wall Street protesters as "the mob." I never heard Republicans refer to the tea party as the mob!
We need new jobs and we need them now. It's always the poor who suffer the most in economic hard times; 9 percent of Americans are out of work, and 16 percent of blacks are out of work. While we debate how to get all Americans back to work, we all have to do our part. To make America better, we all have to do our part.