A letter from Hank Sanders to Barack Obama

Published 9:15 pm Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dear President Obama,

This letter is in part to let you know that we are proud of you and your leadership. We are proud of the positive images you and your family provide for the nation in general and African Americans in particular.

However, we also write to share serious concerns voiced by many African Americans. We feel that an open letter will stimulate a broader dialogue.

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First, we want to acknowledge the following: (a) we are a multicultural country with many diverse concerns; (b) it is extremely difficult for any president to navigate such diversity; and (c) you have navigated this diversity of concerns while being attacked from many quarters. We certainly appreciate the challenging circumstances under which you have led.

Second, we want to acknowledge your considerable accomplishments. Therefore, we strongly commend you for the following: keeping the economy from falling off the proverbial cliff into another great depression; keeping the auto industry from becoming extinct in the USA; for women in particular and workers in general with the Lillie Ledbetter Act; passing and implementing consumer protection legislation; passing and implementing financial reform that will help prevent another financial meltdown; ending the Iraq war; putting the war in Afghanistan on a road to end by 2014; removing the military Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy; speaking up for gender and sexual orientation equality; and so on. These are signal achievements for which we heartily lift you.

Third, we have been your most loyal supporters: we provided you nearly 95 percent of our votes in two consecutive presidential elections; and we gave you a full pass during your first term while every other constituency made forcible demands upon you. However, we do not believe that it is in our interest to provide such pass again. In our limited wisdom, we recognize the considerable wisdom of that age-old adage, “It is the squeaking wheel that gets the grease.”

Fourth, we recognize that it was critical that you be re-elected to build on the achievements of your first term. We fully understand that we must go forward and cannot afford to go back. That is why we have held our peace. However, now is the time to share our concerns.

President Obama, the following are some of our deeply felt concerns:

1. There is a widespread perception that you have not been accessible to African American leaders. Many members of Congress and leaders of various national organizations have privately, but strongly, expressed feelings that you have been less accessible to us than any occupant of the White House, except President Ronald Reagan. We ask that you be more accessible to our leaders.

2. The Justice Department has been less effective in handing Section 5 issues than any other administration since the 1965 Voting Rights Act passed. It is the most timid Justice Department in our lifetime.

One example involves the Alabama congressional redistricting plan, which was pre-cleared in spite of the great reduction of African Americans in two impact districts. The same situation unfolded with Alabama legislative redistricting plans. We ask for a stronger and more effective voting rights policy.

3. To our knowledge, you did not personally speak out even once on the massive voter suppression efforts deigned to roll back the voting rights clock. These actions ranged from voter photo ID to cleansing voter rolls to voter registration roadblocks, etc. We ask that you personally speak out clearly and strongly against these efforts.

4. You avoided addressing racial issues except on the one occasion that involved a Harvard University professor. Even then, the situation was symbolically reduced to a problem between two men that could be resolved over a beer. We ask that you address racial issues strongly and forthrightly.

5. The Justice Department continued politically motivated prosecutions that commenced before you became president. U.S. attorneys were left in place for up to two years who continued to use their offices to persecute Democratic officials and our supporters.

Two examples can be found right here in Alabama. In one, juries ultimately freed every one on trial for so called bingo crimes. A second involves former Alabama governor Don Singleman who, in our opinion, was strongly convicted, and is currently serving an underserved prison term in Oakdale, La.

6. The number of African Americans appointed to key positions in your first cabinet was less than those appointed under President Bill Clinton. We ask that African Americans be appointed in numbers commensurate with our support.

7. We have experienced a strong racial backlash in reaction to your being the first African American to be elected President. Your administration has not taken vigorous action to meet these increased attacks. We ask that the full weight of the presidency be used to meet such backlash attacks.

8. The U. S. Justice Department and U. S. Department of Agriculture are discriminating against women and Hispanic farmers by virtue of the process implemented to resolve their claims.

The claims process makes it virtually impossible for women and Hispanics farmers to succeed in obtaining compensation for the discrimination they experienced. The process for women and Hispanic farmers is very different and far more difficult than the process established in the Black and Native American farmers cases. Almost no women farmers will succeed under this process. We ask that the process be made fair and equal.

9. You have not instituted or advocated targeted programs for the poor, especially African Americans, Latinos and Native American youth, who suffer unemployment rates at more than twice the rate of whites.

President Obama, we recognize that race is still a powerful factor in our country. We acknowledge that you had to be deliberate in how you addressed issues.

However, we believe you dialed down your responses way too low just as you did in the first Presidential debate this year. We also acknowledge that it is up to us to strongly make our demands known to you just like other constituents. Otherwise, we will be taken for granted, our silence will be mistaken for weakness, and our needs will go unmet. That is why we fervently write in this space and time.

President Obama, we wish you the very best during this second term. We hope that our bringing these matters to your attention will help you have an even more successful presidency. We also hope that you will fully engage us on these and other heartfelt concerns.