Congressional Black Caucus Conference Begins on 9/11

By Jeff Johnson | July 7, 2008 | 8:29 PM EDT

Capitol Hill ( - What do you do if you have a convention center and hotel rooms reserved years in advance, and supporters flying in from all over the country to attend a highly-partisan political conference only to find out that the opening day now falls on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks?

That's the question that faced planners of the 32nd Annual Legislative Conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF), which began Wednesday - on schedule, but not as originally planned.

"All of our opening ceremonies are about politics and public affairs," confided Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in an interview with "But you didn't hear any politics here today, and the only public affairs you heard was about global understanding."

"CBCF: The Voice for Global Understanding" is the theme for the four day conference, which is an annual forum for 38,000 business, religious, civic, labor, entertainment, and political leaders to meet with the 38 U.S. representatives who are members of the group.

"It focuses on the natural connection and identification that the CBC has with oppressed people around the world whose voices may not be heard, or who may need a strong voice to speak to the hearts of the world's decision makers on their behalf," said Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), chairman of the coalition.

The congressmen and women who make up the group are all Democrats and, arguably, some of the most liberal members of the House. "Issue Forums" later in the conference, some led by members of Congress, include:

    Drugs: The Struggle Continues - The Need for Prison Reform and the Elimination of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing and the African-American Community;
    Leaving Our Children Behind: Racial Bias in the Education System;
    Developing a Strategy to Advance Reparations for African Americans; and
    Human Rights in the U.S. - The Murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - A Victim of COINTELPRO.

COINTELPRO is an acronym for the FBI's domestic "counterintelligence programs" to neutralize political dissidents. Although covert operations have been employed throughout FBI history, the formal COINTELPRO's of 1956-1971 were broadly targeted against radical political organizations and civil rights groups.

Conspiracy theories and claims of racial bias, however, were absent from the opening ceremony, which the CBCF used to venerate the victims, honor the heroes, and support the survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Undoubtedly, [the attacks] caused chaos and exacted a tremendous personal toll," acknowledged Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.). "But, what the terrorists didn't realize was that the buildings were just symbols. The spirit of our people remains intact. It is resilient and incredibly strong."

Norton said all Americans must remember the sacrifice of the "innocent victims ... who paid the ultimate price for our freedom."

"We will never forget what they have meant to us. Nor will we forget their courage, strength, and love," she said.

The group paid special tribute to the children and teachers from schools in Washington, D.C., who died when terrorists crashed their plane into the west side of the Pentagon, and to the two postal workers who died after being exposed to anthrax-laced letters.

"This is our first time to have this type of program for our opening," said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas.). But we thought that since this was September the 11th, we felt a responsibility and a desire to do so."

Norton agreed. "The shock of an attack on your homeland is something you never get over," she explained. "The question is: Are you strong enough to draw strength from it, rather than to be in perpetual mourning?"

The pause to look back is necessary, Norton added. But she urged that Americans not wait too long before turning their eyes forward, again.

"I don't believe that we should relive hundreds of funerals. I don't believe that's the best way to respect the lives that were lost," Norton said. "I think we have to draw on American notion of resilience. We're the nation that bounced back from Pearl Harbor."

The CBCF conference will conclude Saturday evening with the group's annual awards dinner. The featured speaker for the event will be former Vice President Al Gore (D-Tenn.).

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