Bankole Thompson: Conyers' legacy will shape race in 13th District
As the race heats up to see who will take Michigan's 13th Congressional District this year, the legacy of the late congressman and civil rights hero John Conyers will influence the race and how the issues are portrayed.
Conyers rose to political power during the Civil Rights Movement led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a staunch defender of civil rights, and he cared about poverty and inequality, issues central to King’s crusade.
He was a reliable "yes" vote on all the issues that defined African American socioeconomic and political empowerment including support for voting rights, addressing the plight of Black farmers and examining the corrosive impact sentencing disparities have had in the Black community.
Conyers also gallantly took on the fight to support the people of Haiti in the restoration of democracy and the rule of law. He was considered the most powerful ally Haiti ever had at a time when the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere was going through political and economic reconstruction.
Though Conyers is gone, the issues he championed both as a legislator and a fighter for justice have not disappeared and will resonate in the race to replace him in November.
Because debates concerning voting rights are playing out in the U.S. Senate, and the Haitian migration crisis has become an embarrassing failure under President Joe Biden, the candidates running for Conyers’ seat cannot escape these hot-button issues.
Many Black people saw last year’s treatment of Haitian refugees as a continuation of how Blacks in this nation are dehumanized in encounters with law enforcement.
None of the individuals who have declared their candidacy should be taken seriously if they fail to address the issues for which Conyers advocated. He understood that Detroit is an epicenter of the issues that have engulfed Black America. That makes the 13th District unique.
The district owes it to the memory of Conyers and the weight of history to pick a candidate who is well informed and demonstrates a profound commitment to fight for equality.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who epresents the district but is moving to run in the newly created 12th District, has not been able to walk the road that Conyers traveled.
For example, she failed to stand for Haiti, instead spending her political capital on the cause of Palestinians.
In contrast, Conyers was unequivocal about his stance on both Palestine and Haiti. The next member of Congress should emulate his example of fairness and equity.
The world was Conyers’ community and he saw everyone through the prism of human and civil rights. He didn’t hesitate to jump in a fight when freedom was at stake, regardless of geography.
The many evenings I spent with Conyers revealed a tireless man who wanted nothing but the best for his district members. The right candidate cannot escape the responsibilities the office demands on behalf of the constituency.
Real concern, not a nice resume, should be the way in to Congress.
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