As the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination rages, Black people across the country debate which candidate could defeat President Donald Trump and best serve the interests of a long disenfranchised electorate.
Some voices in the discussion have chosen not to unite around a particular candidate, but a set of concrete demands that they encourage Black voters to urge of the Democratic contenders. They said this move makes the 2020 election a mutually beneficial situation for Black people and the eventual nominee.
“The first thing [we’re asking for] — for Black people [who descended from slavery] to be considered a special class, like war veterans and Native Americans are — doesn’t cost a dollar,” Sharece Crawford, committeewoman for the D.C. Democratic Party and Southeast resident, said in her support of what’s been dubbed the Black Agenda.
Crawford and others have been slated to moderate a public debate on March 30 between supporters of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia.
In recent weeks, while promoting the event, she has circulated the tenets of the Black Agenda, developed by the American Descendents of Slavery and Foundational Black American movements. In addition to a special designation for Black people who descended from U.S. enslavement, the Black Agenda prioritizes the significant allocation of federal funds to Black-owned businesses and structural supports to alleviate the ripple effects of chattel slavery, Reconstruction-era land grabs, and other forms of Black disenfranchisement.
“In legislation passed in 1971, Alaskan natives received billions of dollars and several acres of land,” Crawford said. “They had the closest to what was promised to those coming out of slavey: 40 acres and a mule,” she added. “As the day goes by, the numbers [are getting higher]. There are deeds to this day that Black people can’t inherit.”
Last year, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) introduced H.R. 40, a reparations bill that the late Rep. John Conyers had long championed. On Juneteenth, the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hosted the first hearing in more than a decade on that bill.
If passed, it would launch a congressional study of reparations. The bill has since attracted the support of more than 120 lawmakers in the U.S. House.
In the early months of the Democratic primary, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, along with former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro — all of whom have since dropped out of the race — espoused support for reparations.
Biden and Sanders have yet to follow suit, with Sanders particularly adamant about not addressing structural racism by those means.
Though they’ve made significant legislative gains in the past 50 years, African Americans continue to lag behind their white counterparts in many areas of life. They make an average of 20 percent less than their white peers. The average white family also has 10 times more wealth than the average Black family, a study by the Economic Policy Institute determined. The same study found that the Black inmate population in the U.S. prison system tripled over the past 50 years, while aggregate homeownership among Black families only slightly improved.
Democratic contenders’ position on Black issues notwithstanding, the focus for some activists has shifted more to local matters, and less so on the national picture. The Black Voters Matter Fund, in existence since 2016, has been able to capitalize on this trend, increasing voter turnout in their travels around the country by organizing Black people around their community issues.
This strategy has been credited with helping Doug Jones win a U.S.Senate seat in 2018, the first Democrat to do so in the state of Alabama in nearly 30 years. That year, it also pitted a group of Black elders riding to the polls against Jefferson County law enforcement officials during the Georgia gubernatorial contest between Stacey Abrams and Brian Kemp.
In Durham, North Carolina, members of the Black Messiah Movement have taken on a similar philosophy, encouraging Black people of all ages to coalesce around economic rejuvenation of Black communities, implementation of a Black-centered curriculum in the public schools, and the end of mass incarceration and intra community violence.
For Black Messiah Movement founder Minister Paul Scott, any local candidate who hasn’t shown a genuine willingness to follow through on constituent demands don’t deserve the Black community’s support.
Earlier this month, he backed up his words by not voting for any of the candidates running for a seat on Durham’s public school board. This maneuver, which Scott said aligns with trips to the Durham City Council throughout the year, counts as part of what he called Pan-Hoodism, a political philosophy under which Black people organize as a local voting bloc and embrace African communalism, as explained by Kwame Nkrumah and Kwame Ture,
“[It’s about] establishing a fence around the Black community and controlling what comes in and what goes out,” said Scott, an activist of nearly 30 years. “That means knowing the politics of your local community. The old guard tells us to vote but they don’t tell us how the system works. You don’t have to vote to participate. They’re not checking your voter ID card before you go into a city council meeting. Withholding the vote is a political tactic if it’s organized.”