By Cat Boardman
(CBS News)–While the nation continues to discuss the meaning of the George Zimmerman verdict (Zimmerman was found not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin) with regards to race in America, Congressional leaders gathered Wednesday to reflect on progress made in civil rights since the March on Washington, which happened 50 years ago this month. Leaders acknowledged the progress made since that historic August day, as well as continued challenges.
Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., also noted the progress and the work ahead. “While we’ve made much progress, I hope at this 50th anniversary we can really take a deep look at – and an honest look – at how far we’ve come and celebrate that, but just recognize we’ve got a long way to go. Institutional racism is alive and well in America,” she told Nancy Cordes in an interview for “Face to Face.”
Lee, who raised her two sons in both Washington, D.C., and Oakland, Calif., said that African American families raise their children “in an environment of fear and anxiety.” Her personal experience doing just that have made the Trayvon Martin case all the more meaningful.
“For me, what is taking place now with the horrific, horrible death of Oscar Grant in my district, with Trayvon Martin and so many other Oscar Grants and Trayvon Martins, you know, I feel that very deeply.” Oscar Grant was a young African American man killed by a white transit police officer in Oakland, Calif., on New Years Day 2009. The new film “Fruitvale Station” is based on Grant’s story.
The Congresswoman called for a national dialogue on race and gun violence, which she believes could spark change in legislation–both national and local–especially with regards to the Supreme Court’s June decision on the Voting Rights Act and with regards to Stand Your Ground legislation, a key law involved in the Zimmerman case.
“There’s a lot that policy makers and members of Congress can do, but we have to also recognize that our community has a responsibility to engage in this dialogue. And at the local level, pass legislation, laws, policies that really help communities lift themselves up, become empowered, and give them the tools to live the American dream.”
Lee also weighed in on the state of poverty in the nation as another 50th anniversary approaches–that of the declaration of the War on Poverty. Lee said that the nation has come a long way in the war on poverty, but recently has been stymied by Republican efforts to reduce the deficit.
“They want to cut SNAP, food stamps, by $20 billion-plus, they will not allow for the expansion of Medicaid in states that are headed by Republican governors, they have cut Head Start.”
The Congresswoman advocated programs in jobs and infrastructure as a solution to both the war on poverty and reducing the deficit. She cited the Affordable Care Act as an example of a program which creates jobs.
“The best way you address debt and deficit is you invest in jobs and infrastructure. You give people the ability to work, to make decent wages and for benefits,” Lee explained.