For years, voters who didn’t participate in the 2016 presidential election shouldered most of the blame for Donald J. Trump’s ascent to the White House. Untold amounts of energy have since gone to ongoing voter mobilization efforts that involve a mixture of educating and shaming those who’ve abstained from the practice.
Even so, some Black people of varying political leanings and levels of engagement said they’ve made up their mind about the course of action they’ll take — or won’t take — this election season. For some nonvoters like Nicole Free, staying out of the voting booth highlights political maturity at a time when members of the establishment continue to circumvent the protections her parents and other Black elders have come to embrace.
“As a culture, we’ve been lobbying and advocating for the same things and not getting them. This is not just one election cycle,” said Free, a business owner, fitness enthusiast and proponent of Black economic advancement who’s registered as a Democrat, though she admits to having abandoned the political party.
Free said she voted for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, believing that doing so would prevent Trump from becoming president. However, Trump’s victory, along with what Free described as the Democratic Party’s conscious decision to focus on impeaching him more so than tackling the issues affecting Black voters, compelled her change in habit.
“There have been dozens of elections when African American voters aren’t getting what they want,” Free said. “I’m not concerned about race issues because the Democratic Party isn’t equipped to deal with them. I’m more concerned about economics and if laws will be more favorable for small businesses. The Democratic candidates have those plans, but I don’t think they’re at the forefront.”
With nearly 1,400 delegates declared, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), a self-avowed democratic socialist, stand neck and neck as the last prominent contenders for the Democratic nomination. For the most part, Blacks’ support is split among age, ideological leanings and desires for the country.
While older Black Democratic voters seeking a return to normalcy secured victory for Biden in South Carolina and other key states, some Black millennials and youth in the progressive wing of the party have espoused support for Sanders, identifying with the principles of a democratically controlled economy and expansion of social programs for which he has advocated.
In the coming weeks and months, Black voters immersed in the process will continue to debate these schisms at events — like a public debate scheduled to take place at Busboys and Poets in Anacostia in late March. However, for some Southeast residents, like one who said he’ll stay out of the ballot box again this election season, such conversations disregard the Democratic Party’s penchant for disrespecting their loyal Black voter base.
“Malcolm X had speeches about this process. You can go down to Lowndes County and study what our people did [once they] understood the Democratic Party was racist,” said Ben Bantu, 40, a Garveyite who hasn’t gone to the polls since giving his vote to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008. “Learning from Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington, once we establish economics, we can buy us a politician. America is about money, and without money you can’t move anything.”
In 2019, the pharmaceutical and health products industry spent more than $295 million in lobbying efforts — the highest amount recorded for that calendar year — with a 60-40 split between Republican and Democratic lawmakers. In December, President Trump threatened to veto a bill passed by House Democrats that lowers drug prices. Experts predicted that the legislation wouldn’t have amassed support in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Late last month, legions of Black people converged on Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in commemoration of Bloody Sunday, the historic event that, in part, led to the signing and implementation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though that legislation had been designed to overcome local and state-level legal barriers that prevented Black people from voting, subsequent developments in the Supreme Court and at the state level have threatened to dilute its power.
In 2013 for example, the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that required federal approval for changes in voting laws in states with a history of voter disenfranchisement. Immediately following that 5-4 decision, Texas announced that more stringent voter identification laws would go into effect.
Less than a year ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal counts cannot weigh in on the constitutionality of gerrymandering, the state-level practice of reshaping voting districts to dilute racial political power.
District resident and insurance salesperson Evan Brown said that, given the circumstances, Black people should hold out their vote until the U.S. government shows interest in creating conditions amenable to their collective advancement.
“Older people don’t have the ability to conceptualize how not voting is also a political strategy,” the Southeast resident told The Informer. “They remember a time when Black people weren’t allowed to vote. We appreciate our elders’ knowledge, wisdom and understanding, but they’re not creating the world they would have to live in. There are new ideals that need to supersede the old ones if we need to preserve the community we’re trying to build.”