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Black Organizers, Students Make Sense of Midterm Elections

For Black politicos in the throes of voter mobilization efforts across the nation, what transpired on Election Night determined the effectiveness of outreach strategies, and the potential for the United States to redeem itself after placing Donald Trump, an avowed nationalist, in the Oval Office.

As the results rolled in from across the country, a local historically Black university served as a hub for discussions about who carried the lead in several impactful congressional and gubernatorial races, and the significance of electoral victories that would change the racial, ethnic, and gender makeup of the U.S. political system.

“The number one issue has been racism and hate crimes; it hadn’t been by accident because of the current climate,” Melanie Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), said on election night from Howard University’s Carnegie Building, the site of NCBCP’s National Election Day Call Center.

Throughout much of Nov. 6, NCBCP, in conjunction with the Ronald W. Walters Public Policy & Leadership Institute, hosted the call center where organizers and students from Howard University in Northwest and other local colleges gained clarity on voter turnout, voter suppression, and key issues in what had anticipated to be a high-stakes midterm election season.

“This is about where we’re going, and the role Black people are playing in America saving herself once again,” said Campbell, also convener of the Black Women’s Public Policy Network. “You’re seeing a lot of things that show we can change the dynamics. This isn’t just about making history and voting for a Black candidate. This country is about to implode and there’s a sense of urgency in a historic time for a power shift.”

As they sat around tables with their eyes glued to two large flat-screen televisions, dozens of people who converged on a tightly packed room in the Carnegie Building saw Democrats gain the majority of House seats via congressional wins for Lucy McBath, mother of slain teenager Jordan Davis, in Georgia and Ayanna Pressley in Massachusetts.

They also witnessed the beginning of a post-election fight to count all votes for the gubernatorial races in Georgia and Florida, where Black candidates are neck and neck with their opponents.

Last weekend, Stacey Abrams, a Black woman and Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia, challenged the rejection of thousands of absentee and provisional ballots with a federal class-action lawsuit. A certification of those votes had been scheduled for Tuesday, the results of which would determine the likelihood of a Dec. 4 runoff contest that happens when neither candidate secures more than 50 percent of votes.

As of Monday, 50.3 percent of ballots were counted in favor of Abrams’ opponent Brian Kemp.

In Florida, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum withdrew his concession after the announcement of a recount in the gubernatorial and Senate races. In the days after the election, Gillum demanded that officials tally every vote.

As of last weekend, he trailed his opponent Ron DeSantis by less than a percentage point.

The outcome of the Georgia and Florida races perhaps speaks to the impact of an on-the-ground strategy implemented in those states and others with significant Black populations. For the Rev. Tony Lee of Community of Hope AME in Temple Hills, Maryland, last Tuesday’s event culminated months of conferring with young people.

“People devalue the influence of those of us who bring out the vote of Black and Brown people.” said Lee, a member of the Black Church PAC, an effort by faith leaders to reclaim community political power and push progressive candidates committed to ending mass incarceration, voter suppression, and gun violence.

“In the last election, we had a generation that was a bit naive in arguing that voting didn’t matter,” Lee said. “Elections have consequences and dealing with those consequences caused people to be on point. I believe what we’re seeing in the exit polls is a healthy turnout for midterm elections and I hope we continue that pattern.”

Organizers had cause for worry earlier this year when data from the Pew Research Center showed voter participation in the midterms to be 20 percent lower than during presidential contests. In 2014, young people cast 21 million fewer votes than their elders, though they accounted for more than half of the nation’s eligible voters.

Across the street from Howard at Banneker Recreation Center, Taylor Burroughs, a Howard University student from Atlanta who registered as a D.C. voter earlier this year, cast her ballot for local officials she said would do right by her peers and the Ward 1 community.

Earlier in the day, she and her grandparents, still living in Georgia, spoke of the significance an Abrams victory would hold.

“I’m astounded that the youth have a reputation for not voting,” said Burroughs, a 20-year-old junior. “There has been a huge effort to get us out and it worked. This is my second time voting and I realize it’s more important because this affects the way we live locally. I’m concerned about education and making sure the people whose legislation aligns with my views are in charge of our standards and getting federal money to private and public universities.”

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