And then there were two.
That’s right – the number of candidates vying for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee has finally been reduced from several dozen to just two: former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders. And both men have been actively courting the Black (and Brown) vote, realizing that victory could rest in the hands of the nation’s voters of color.
Said more succinctly, they, along with President Donald Trump although he may not often admit it, recognize that while petulant progressives and hardnosed Democrats continue to waste millions of dollars chasing white swing voters, an explosive population growth of people of color in the U.S. over the past 50 years has laid the foundation for a New American Majority. During the 2016 general election, this Majority, then 51 percent of all eligible voters, consisted of progressive people of color (23 percent) and progressive whites (28 percent). But that majority has continued to increase and will in short order have unprecedented impact on both U.S. politics and policy.
“Many articles and analyses look to a distant date when the United States will become a majority minority nation [which] according to the most recent census projections, is expected to be 2044,” writes Steve Phillips, the co-founder of the country’s first super PAC to help elect the nation’s first Black president [Barack Obama] in 2008 and the author of the provocative ‘Brown is the New White.’”
Phillips asserts that it’s both an “untrue and unfounded” presumption that all white people are and will continue to be at odds with all people of color and that those who focus on 2044 as the date when the equation shifts dramatically are making a serious error.
“America has a progressive, multiracial majority right know that has the power to elect presidents and reshape American politics, policies and priorities for decades to come. Not in 2044. Not 10 years down the road. Today,” he writes in his book’s introduction.
Historically, African Americans have tended to identify themselves as “conservative” to a far greater degree than either “progressive” or “moderate” – distinctions which Phillips fleshes out in greater detail throughout his book.
Labels notwithstanding, one could argue that such rhetorical musings evoke little concern for Black voters today. What dominates chatter at kitchen tables, barbershops, beauty parlors and church pews remains which candidate best represents Black interests and can that person win.
Blacks Must Register and Must Vote
The first of many tasks may appear obvious — registering as many eligible Black voters as possible, then ensuring that they show up in force at voting booths or through absentee ballots, both during the remaining primary elections and again in the fall.
But as the electricity connected to the current election cycle reveals, grassroots activists, leaders from America’s more vocal and celebrated non-profit organizations and faith-based groups have kept the heat on candidates vying for Black votes. And the questions they’re raising and the concerns which they pose to the candidates indicate how important they view the upcoming general election.
Under the leadership of Dr. Benjamin Chavis, president/CEO, National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA], publishers, editors and others who support the efforts of the collective Black Press of America, promise that they’ll bring the issues of their over 200 communities whom they serve to the District for NNPA Black Press Week (March 18 – 20).
Over the past several months, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s [NCBCP] Black Women’s Roundtable [BWR] has made its presence known, most recently hosting the 9th Annual BWR Women of Power National Summit” in Arlington and the District, bringing over 500 Black women from over 20 states to discuss its public policy agenda priorities and empowerment strategies aimed at improving the lives of the Black community.
In mid-February, NCBCP released its Black Women’s Roundtable Non-Partisan Voter Guide with responses to its candidates’ questionnaire from both party’s presidential candidates. The questionnaire focused on the issues and concerns of Black women, a critical voting bloc in the presidential race. Also during February, NCBCP, along with over 40 national and state-based organizations, launched the “Unity 2020 Black Vote and Be Counted” national campaign.
Melanie L. Campbell, NCBCP president/CEO and national BWR convener said every Black vote matters – and that Blacks must know where the candidates stand.
“We partnered with other organizations and first distributed our presidential questionnaire in 2007, then 2008, 2012, 2016 and now in 2020,” she said during a recent teleconference. “It’s comprehensive and provides a clear understanding on where the candidates stand on issues most relevant to Black women, Black men and Black youth. Of course, we want everyone to vote but we also want to make sure Blacks make an informed decision.”
Campbell says the questionnaire, developed in partnership with Essence Magazine, looks to past research from BWR’s annual reports and exit polls from recent elections to determine the issues of greatest priority and include: racism, hate crimes, criminal justice reform, economic justice, police reform and education.
“There’s no attempt to sugarcoat our concerns or our questions. Still, we are not in the business of criticizing or endorsing any of the candidates. We have direct questions and we want direct answers,” Campbell said, noting that while the remaining two candidates, Biden and Sanders both replied to the questionnaire, no one from the Republican Party, most notably President Trump, responded.
Omarosa Leery of Trump’s Promises to Blacks
Omarosa (Manigault Newman), the former political aide to Trump and director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison from January 2017 until her resignation December 2017, recently spoke with an MSNBC reporter about her former boss. Some of her views would become public knowledge with the publishing of “Unhinged” in August 2018 in which she detailed her tenure in the White House and leveled harsh criticism of Trump and his administration.
“On the surface, his outreach to Blacks has not worked, in part because many Blacks simply cannot get past Charlotte and his comments related to white supremacy,” she said. “But his strategy to sell the idea that Blacks had nothing to lose by voting for him instead of Hillary Clinton paid off. Since becoming president, despite what he has said, his record shows little evidence that Blacks are doing any better.”
“Those Blacks who voted for him, as I recall, often said they’d grown tired of the Democratic Party taking them for granted. Some believed what they say at the ‘Make America Great’ political rallies he held across the country and joined in. But that wasn’t real – it was reality TV. We hired actors who stood on stage with him while others were paid like extras in a movie.”
“Blacks were little more than window dressing and it was all one big show for Donald Trump.”
“Now we’re seeing Blacks take a much closer look at the candidates and the greatest priority is identifying the candidate who can defeat Trump,” she said.
Urban League Leader Calls for Civic Engagement
Marc Morial, president/CEO, National Urban League (NUL), says constant civic engagement remains vital in a year as critical as this.
“We’re working to achieve 2012 voter turnout percentages which were identical, 65 percent, for both Blacks and whites and making sure we avoid the drop we saw in 2016 for Black voters – down seven points at 59 percent while white voter participation remained constant at 65 percent,” Morial said.
“We don’t need a poster or expert to tell us that lower turnout in Milwaukee, Saginaw, Detroit, Flint, Pittsburgh, Charlotte and Hampton will determine how many electoral are ultimately secured for the competing candidates. We have the power to make a difference and the task for us, for this generation – we must refuse to allow a repeat of 2016 and its events that occurred including how easily the Black community became confused,” he said.
Morial also warns us to take reports about ongoing efforts to interfere with the American voting process, from those both here in the U.S. and abroad, very seriously. In fact, a breaking report on NPR earlier this week, pointed to documented examples of Russian interference targeting white supremacists and Black extremist inciting race riots which could result dependent on the outcome of the general election – that is, who wins the White House.
“We know that some states who purged or suppressed the vote of Blacks and others were aided and abetted by undercover campaigns run by social media teams and the Russian Confederation,” he said.
“They told our people, especially our youth, that voting would be a waste of time. They told us we should protest instead and not vote or participate in the political process at all. They posed on the Internet as our spokespersons. Sinister techniques are already out there.”
“Already some are saying, ‘if this one doesn’t get in, we won’t vote,’ and that does nothing but allow Pharaoh to win his game of divide and conquer. Blacks must understand that even if their candidate in the primary fails to prevail, they, we, all Blacks must vote in the general election.”
Bunch: ‘ASALH’s Theme, ‘African Americans and the Vote,’ Fitting’
Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, former director and founder of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (opened Sept. 2016), now the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, recently delivered the lecture for ASALH’s 94th Annual Black History Luncheon on the theme, “African Americans and the Vote.”
“It’s essential to remember how difficult the journey was to achieve the vote and what was lost in protecting that vote,” he said. “We need to vote and the embarrassment of the people who have a right to vote but who don’t is a stain on the legacy of those upon whose shoulders we stand. At this time with partisan conformity, it’s essential to remember that [Blacks] have always believed that protest is the highest form of patriotism. [We] always believe that so much of the struggle is gaining the right to vote, to find fairness in America at large. So much energy was spent on limiting access to the vote by legal tactics, intimidation, violence and the criminal justice system. We have forgotten about the African-American struggle for suffrage – centuries of struggle.”
“Blacks have gained the vote and lost the vote. Nothing is guaranteed without vigilance, struggle, leadership and a determination to make a country live up to its ideals. We often forget that without the vote, we don’t have the voice. So, there’s a silence and we know how people trample over those who are silent.”
“ASALH helps put a mirror to America and remind us of the struggle and the sacrifice we have endured for the right to vote. It reminds us that we don’t need reminding,” Bunch said.
Sam P.K. Collins contributed to this report.